Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gwen's mistake

Washington Week's Gwen Ifill has a column about Black History Month.  I wanted to enjoy it but there's this:

Like clockwork I am often asked: "Why do we talk about race at all?" And my answer is always the same: The only things we hate talking about are the things we fear.

Uh, no.  I don't fear reality TV but I hate it when a woman at work wants to talk about American Idol or, worse, The Bachelor.

I don't fear those shows, I just find them boring.

I used to hate to be around this woman who just retired because all she ever talked about was celebrity gossip and it was always about these D-list celebrities.  There's something very dull about a 64-year-old woman obsessed with teen stars.

I didn't fear it.

So, Gwen, you need to change your "always the same" answer because it's not correct.

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

Friday, February 17, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, hours are spent searching a few Camp Ashraf residents, State of Law takes to the airwaves to attack Tareq al-Hashemi and the country's Constitution, and more. 
If you're one of the many who've thought so much of the US coverage of Iraq in the last years has been sub-standard, you found out why today on The Diane Rehm Show.  Anthony Shadid has died.  He was an award winning writer for the Washington Post and then he (and his wife) moved over to the New York Times.  At the Post, there was an effort to impose some journalistic guidelines on the writing and he chafed at that.  The Times gave him free reign and that was not anything good.  I've noted my opinion of his feature writing passed off as hard news reporting. And he, many times, made his clear his opinion of my critique.  I had no plans to mention him or his writing today.  (He died in Syria from an asthma attack that people are assuming was brought on by exposure to animals -- horses -- on the part of the people smuggling him in and out of Syria.)
But there was Diane Rehm and her guests David Ignatius (Washington Post), Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) and James Kitridge (National Journal) describing what made Shadid -- in their opinion -- a great reporter.  I'm sorry but that's not reporting.  It's travel writing.  It's feature writing.  It's not reporting.
David Ignatius: What I would say about Anthony -- and Nancy and James also knew him -- is that he really represented the thing that makes great journalism special.  Uh, he had a way of grasping not the facts but the essence of the story.
Yes, David's correct.  And Shadid would have made a great novelist.  But that's not what makes a great reporter.  A great reporter grasps the facts.
"It was magical story teling," said Nancy Youssef.  It was.  It was the novelization of the news which is to reporting what novelizations of films are to movies.  They're similar, they're just not the same.  "You know to me his-his articles were almost love letters about the people he was writing about," gushed Nancy.  Again, you're not describing a reporter.
And that goes to why the news is so awful today.  Whether it's Iraq or any other topic.  The industry doesn't even embrace reporting.  They want to be something else.  And in the process, they are dumbing down America.  This is Bob Somerby's criticism, the heart of his criticism.   He  momentarily caught up in the 'framing' 'issue -- an early '00 hula hoop -- briefly.  But it's the novelization of the news -- news for people who can't process news.  It goes beyond the crimes of narrative and hook.  It's why Gail Collins is a columnist.  They won't cover the facts, they won't stick to whether something's legal or not, they want to give you the 'essence.'  They want to give you subjective because it's so much easier to produce and so much quicker to produce. (Anthony Shadid, to be fair, had a real talent for novelization.  He truly would have made a great novelist.  And as feature writing, some of his 'hard news' reports are amazing examples of style and even insight.  But it's  not news and that's only more obvious when he moves to the New York Times.) And the proof of that is in the coverage of Shadid's death which is not news, which treats him as though he's Whitney Houston or some other celebrity and refuses to offer an honest appraisal of his strengths and weaknesses.  Why else cover a reporter?  And the fact that the news industry goes into hype mode ('greatest foreign correspondent of his generation') goes to the tawdry excess that has for too long passed as hard news.  What should have been a private moment is turned into a media event.
It's the novelization, not actual news, bad writing that seizes on a partial quote to 'illuminate' -- not a full quote because a full quote actually rejects what the writer is trying to novelize. The public -- as well as the news industry -- would be a lot better off if the press realized that you can't distill the essence and instead started covering that which is observable and verifiable in the physical world?
And for those who will whine this was so unfair, oh heavens, clutch the pearls.  I didn't set out to write about Shadid today.  I focused on other things.  But we didn't get Iraq on The Diane Rehm Show's international hour.  We did get testimonials to Shadid.  And those who aren't functioning adults and don't grasp that blind praise isn't how we evaluate should take comfort in the fact that I avoided writing at length about the obvious point: 'Shadid was a wonderful person.'  A great reporter? When Sy Hersh dies, people will point to stories he wrote, stories he broke.  The same with Carl Bernstein, the same with Robin Wright, Ned Parker, Sabrina Tavernise, Alexandra Zavis, Nancy A. Youssef and many others.  Whether it's The Diane Rehm Show, The Takeaway or the multitude of programs covering Shadid's death today, no one could point to any news. Because feature writing isn't news writing. If I wanted to be mean, I would've opened with that point and expanded on it for several paragraphs.
I listened to The Diane Rehm Show because, with David on as a guest, I thought (wrongly) we might actually hear something about Iraq.  You know their Vice President is in the news cycle. That's actual news. And it matters a great deal on the international scene.
It certainly matters to the Iranian government which is why the Iranian media has been all over the story.  There's the Press TV article declaring, "The Supreme Judicial Council said on Thursday al-Hashemi and his employees were behind years of deadly terror operations against security officials and civilians in Iraq."  And of course they rushed to put on MP Saad al-Mutallibi (link is text and video) from the rival State of Law political slate who declared:
Because this is the independent, one hundred percent independent justice system, speaking on its behalf, and representing itself and putting forward the accusations and the implication of Mr. Al Hashemi to 150 terrorist attacks against the nation of Iraq against individuals, against the police forces, against the army, against national institutions and of tremendous, as I said, consequences, with direct implication from Mr. al-Hashemi. This would put a tremendous pressure, I believe, on the Kurds to take the right decision and probably surrender him to Baghdad to face trial.  Unless of course he escapes the country as the other terrorists have done and spend the rest of his life in exile. There is no way that this matter could be resolved politically.

The Voice of Russia reports Tareq al-Hashemi declared he may leave the country.  And why not?
It's not just State of Law using the meida to convict him.  It's also the so-called independent  judiciary of Iraq.  Nine judges with the Iraqi Supreme Court issued a finding that Tareq al-Hashemi is guilty. There was no trial.
And yet the Supreme Court issued a finding.  It is the Supreme Court because they used the Supreme Court spokersperson (Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar) for their press conference and because, as the BBC notes, the nine-member review was "set up by the Supreme Judicial Council."

Tareq al-Hashemi is an Iraqi citizen and, as such, the Constitution (Article 19) guarantees he is innocent unless convicted in a court of law. There has been no trial. The judiciary has not just overstepped their bounds, they have also violated the Constitution.

Lower courts hearing the case in Iraq now will know the feeling of the Supreme Court (which can overrule them) and that could influence a verdict. So, no, he cannot receive a fair trial now.  Also at issue is Judge Saad al-Lami.  Al Mada notes he can't stop whining about alleged threats against him from Tareq al-Hashemi's supporters and how al-Hashemi publicly named him. And whine on. He did this at the press conference. Is he a judge or not? That's not the behavior of someone reserving judgment. That's the behavior of someone with a conflict of interest.  Along with being very anti-Sunni (Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya and he is also a Sunni), the judge also has problems with Iraqiya.  Just a little while ago,  AFP was reporting on that judge, how he was demanding that Iraqiya MP Haidar al-Mullah lose his immunity so he (the judge) could sue him:

Abdelsattar Birakdar, spokesman of the Higher Judicial Council, said Mullah was accused of having offended Judge Saad al-Lami in a late November interview.
Lami filed a complaint, after which a court "studied the case and then issued an arrest warrant against him and sent a request to parliament to lift his immunity in order to prosecute him," Birakdar said.
Mullah said Lami was "influenced by Maliki."

(If that link doesn't work, click here for the AFP article.)  That's one of the 9 'objective' members of the court who decided Tareq al-Hashemi's guilt -- despite 'forgetting' to provide him with a trial.
Turning to the issue of Camp Ashraf, Victoria Nuland, US State Dept spokesperson, issued the following statement yesterday:
The United States continues to pursue a peaceful, humane solution to the untenable situation at Camp Ashraf. The critical next step is the voluntary movement of the first group of 400 Ashraf residents to the new transit facility at Camp Hurriya (former Camp Liberty). The United States supports the UN's call for the Iraqi Government and the residents of Camp Ashraf to continue to cooperate and begin this movement peacefully and without delay. Once the first group arrives at Hurriya, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can immediately begin verification and refugee status determinations, a necessary step for Hurriya residents to safely depart Iraq.
On January 31, following successful work by the Government of Iraq, the UNHCR and UN Human Rights Office in Baghdad determined that the infrastructure and facilities at Camp Hurriya are in accordance with international humanitarian standards for refugees, as required by the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the United Nations and Government of Iraq last December 25. Secretary Clinton, joining European Union High Representative Ashton, has publicly supported this MOU, which fully respects the sovereignty of Iraq. The United States welcomes the Iraqi Government's continued cooperation with the UN; urges the Iraqi government to fulfill all its responsibilities, especially the elements of the MOU that provide for the safety and security of Ashraf's residents; and calls on the leaders at Camp Ashraf to cooperate with Iraqi authorities and the UN to make this and all further stages of the relocation successful.
The United States urges this voluntary movement to Hurriya to begin on schedule February 17. The U.S. will not walk away from the people at Camp Hurriya. We will visit Hurriya regularly and frequently, and continue to work with the UN to support their temporary relocation and subsequent peaceful and secure resettlement outside of Iraq, consistent with our respect for Iraq's sovereignty and in accord with Iraq's responsibilities for their humane treatment and security.
Camp Ashraf?  Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out."  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."
Howard Dean is the former Governor of Vermont and a peace candidate in the 2004 race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.  More recently he was Chair of the Democratic National Committee (2005 - 2009).  Today Ellen Ratner interviewed him for Talk Radio News Service (link is audio -- and Ellen is the sister of Michael Ratner).  Excerpt.
Ellen Ratner:  I'm here with Governor Dean and, Governor Dean, you are really interested in the situation in Iraq.
Howard Dean: Right. As we have pulled out, there are 3400 unarmed Iranian dissidents who've been living in Iraq for about 25 years. And we promised to defend them when we disarmed them and then we left them high and dry.  And Prime Minister Maliki, at the bidding of the Iranian government. went in and killed 47 of them. Unarmed.  These are people who voluntarily disarmed and who the FBI has screened to make sure none of them are terrorists. And we need to get them out of there.  So what I'm involved with -- with a number of both Democratic and Republican  ex-officials -- is trying to get these people off the American terrorist list -- which they don't belong on and which they've been removed from other lists under threat of law and our courts have also told the State Dept they didn't belong on the terrrorist list -- so they can be moved to another country so they don't get killed basically. Shot. They're unarmed.  We promised to defend them.  We haven't done that.  We're trying to move them out so we can -- so we can save their lives
Ellen Ratner:  Well this is really interesting because of course America wants to keep it's promises. How did you personally get involved in this Governor Dean?
Howard Dean:  I got invited to go give a speech to this group and of course about a year ago I saw them on the terrorist list so I had a lot of qualms. Then I saw the other people who were speaking including people like Jim Jones who was a former security advisor to President Obama, Mike Mukasey a former federal judge who was the Attorney General under Bush,  Tom Ridge -- Honeland Security under Bush  who I served with as governor when he was governor of Pennsylvania, Patrick Kennedy, Bill Richardson -- former Ambassador to the UN. And I thought: If these people are all involved with this, this can't be crazy. So I went over there, I met them, I heard their stories.  And basically this is a group that was disarmed by the United States.  They were the guests of Saddam Hussein because they were against the mullahs in Iran. and during the Iraq-Iran war of course, Saddam Hussein wanted anybody who was against Iran.  But of course after Saddam was done in, they had no further role. They converted to a democratic opposition  and disarmed and we promised to protect them.  And I just think we ought to keep our promises any part in allowing genocide by an army that we trained and armed which is the army of Iraq.
Ellen Ratner: Well governor you and Governor and Secretary Tom Ridge are both involved in this. Have you been able to move this at all? Is our government responding?
Howard Dean: Well they are responding but it is very slow going.  There's lots of discussions, negotiations, and, of course, they responded late.  But today is the day that these first 400 of these folks are supposed to be moving to an interim camp. Now the problem with this interim camp is it's more like a prison than a camp.  But we are very hopeful that the State Dept -- which I think  is beginning to work hard on this problem -- we'll get these folks out of here and this will be a transient cetner which is what it's supposed to be.
Ellen Ratner: And two questions -- just foreign policy questions dealing this group.  How do they relate to the government of Iraq right now? And what is the government of Iran trying to do to them?
Howard Dean: The government of Iran is trying to kill them and unfortunately the government of Iraq essentially works for the government of Iran.  They've been in there twice  and killed 47 of them who were unarmed already. So the problem here is that we are not working with a friendly government.  Maliki is not our friend. He's a puppet of the Iranians.  And he's a big problem for us.  And, of course, all of which I predicted eight years ago when I was running for president, that this would be the end of the Iraq War, that we'd make Iran much stronger, which is exactly what we've done.
Ellen Ratner: You certainly did predict it, Governor.
Howard Dean: And it's a very difficult situation.  And, unfortunately, we delayed so we don't have as much leverage as we did when we had troops on the ground.
AFP adds, "The European Union called on Iraqi authorities yesterday to guarantee the security of an Iranian opposition group transferring to a new camp near Baghdad."  Ashish Kumar Sen (Washington Times) speaks to one of the 400 being moved, Bahzad Saffari, who states, "[The Iraqi authorities] are creating problems.  The process has been painfully slow.  We are expecting things to be much worse."  AFP adds, "Behzad Saffari, the legal adviser for residents of the camp, told AFP by telephone that the searches began around 2:00 pm (1100 GMT), and that more than 300 people had been searched as of 10:30 pm (1930 GMT). It was not clear when they would depart the camp."
Violence continued in Iraq.  Reuters notes a Hawija sticky bombing which injured on person, a Khalis attack which claimed the life of 1 police officer and, dropping back to Thursday night for the last two, 2 police officers were killed in a Baghdad attack and 1 police officer was killed and so was his driver.
Even with American troops reportedly no longer stationed in Iraq, the Pentagon has submitted a brand new budget request of $2.9 billion for post-operation "activities" in the war-torn nation.
After the U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq was completed in December, a new budget request by the Pentagon, called Post-Operation NEW DAWN (OND)/Iraq Activities (pdf), comes at a time when it has been reported there are no longer any U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. The new budget request likely includes a "black" budget for special operations forces still conducting business there.

The second report, in the Post, informs us that the U.S. is significantly ramping up the number of CIA personnel and covert Special Operations forces in order to make up for reducing the American military and diplomatic footprint. These added covert personnel will be distributed in safe houses in urban centers all across the country. This represents a new way to exert U.S. power, but it is betting on the Iraqis not noticing the increased covert personnel. Really? This is a bad decision as it contradicts the reasons for the decision to reduce embassy staff.
The Iraqis have suffered for nine years as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. The economic, educational and political systems in Iraq have been destroyed. Sectarianism, contrary to the belief of many in the U.S., has become the order of the day since the invasion. A significant percentage of Iraqis do not like us and do not want us to stay in Iraq. No Iraqi politicians want to openly be identified as pro-American.
Animosity toward the U.S. is on the rise because of the heavy U.S. presence in Iraq. Our projects in Iraq function to serve our interests, such as building and training security forces to keep the Iraqis in check (building the infrastructure for the promotion of democracy has taken a back seat). We have made sure that Iraq, for the foreseeable future, will depend on us for security equipment and spare parts, heavy industrial machinery, and banking. We built Iraq's security forces but made sure it has no air force. And the half-hearted democracy we built is a shambles; graft and corruption are still rampant.
Maj Troy Gilbert died in combat in the Iraq War. A small amount of tissue was found in his plane after it crashed. His body was carried off by assailants who would use it a year later in a propaganda video. His family was informed that any search for him was off, that the small amount of tissue discovered in the plane meant that he wasn't classified as found.
His widow Ginger Gilbert Ravella told Brian New (KENS 5 -- link has text and video) earlier this month, "Someday my five kids are going to ask me, 'Did you do everything, did the government do everything to bring Daddy home?' I want to be able answer I did and they did absolutely everything." New notes, "During a 2006 mission near Baghdad, Maj.Gilbert was credited with saving twenty Americans under fire when he destroyed a gun truck from his F-16 jet. The Air Force pilot then turned around to attack another truck when the tail of his plane hit the ground."  Jim Douglas (WFAA -- link is text and video) spoke with the parents Ronnie and Kaye Gilbert who explained that they were scheduled to meet with the Defense Dept later this month where they will attempt to convince the military to change the qualification from "body accounted for."
The Gilbert family (his parents, his sister and his wife -- among others) had waited and been patient. Informed that there would be no search for their loved one, they did something very smart this month, they took the issue public, shocking the nation in the process, a nation that only the month before had heard US President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, pontificate about how the military leaves no comrade behind. The family went public ahead of their February 24th DoD meeting.

The Pentagon wants to defuse a public relations nightmare before that meeting takes place. Luis Martinez (ABC News) reports:

An Air Force official said Thursday that Air Force Secretary Michael Donley agreed with the family that the search for the rest of Gilbert's remains should resume.
According to the official, Donley sent a letter to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy requesting an "exception to policy" so that the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) could "assume a proactive pursuit of Major Gilbert's remains and to bring the fullest possible accounting of his remains."
Donley's request must still be approved by the Under Secretary.

And approving a request doesn't necessarily mean that serious efforts will be made as many families from previous wars can attest. The reality is the American government did nothing for years. [Major Gilbert died in 2006.] There's a strong chance that when the media runs with "DoD wants to help," DoD goes back to ignoring the issue.
Honoring our Nation's fallen overseas has been our purpose since the Commission's creation in 1923.  We perform this mission by commemorating service and sacrifice worldwide -- at sites entrusted to our care by the American people.  It is our responsibility to honor America's war dead and missing in action, where they have served overseas.
That's former US Senator Max Cleland, Vietnam veteran, speaking before Congress yesterday.  US House Rep Jon Runyan chaired the House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hearing Cleland was speaking before.
Chair Jon Runyan noted the National Cemetery Administration, specifically a problem at the Fot Sam Houston National Cemetery which had a row of head stones misaligned.  Runyan reviewed that the families of the fallen were informed and that an audit of the national cemeteries to find out if there were others with those problems and five were quickly found while the audit was still in its first phase.  Where were the mistakes coming from?
The work being done by outside contractors.  Runyan explained "The reason this is relevant to a budget hearing is because in most cases the contractors' work was approved and payment made without adequate oversight or review to ensure the quality and accuracy of the work done. Because of an omission of fiscal oversight the work has to be done right the second time and a nationwide audit at great expense conducted."
On the subject of oversight,  US forces still have one Missing in Action service member in Iraq.  Matthew M. Burke (Stars and Stripes) reports on the only person classified MIA from the current Iraq War, Staff Sgt Ahmed Altaie:

The Iraqi-born reservist from Michigan was abducted more than five years ago in Baghdad after breaking the rules and sneaking outside the wire to meet his Iraqi wife.
In the days after he went missing, 3,000 coalition soldiers conducted more than 50 raids to find their comrade. At least one soldier was killed; others were wounded.
As the trail turned cold, Altaie's family and friends grew frustrated by what they say is the U.S. government's lack of effort to find him.
"They won't talk about it," Altaie's ex-wife and self-described best friend, Linda Racey, said from Michigan recently. "They feel he's not worth looking for. They're not doing anything."
Senator  Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES                           
Friday, February 17th, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
MONDAY: Murray in Olympia to Hear frm Veterans
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Monday, February 20th, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will hold a listening session to hear from area veterans on local challenges and to discuss her efforts to improve veterans care and benefits nationwide. This will be Senator Murray's first discussion with local Olympia veterans as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Senator Murray will use the struggles, stories, and suggestions she hears on Monday to fight for local veterans in Washington, D.C.
WHO:          U.S. Senator Patty Murray
                     Local veterans
WHAT:        Veterans listening session with Senator Murray
WHEN:        Monday, February 20th, 2012
         2:30 PM PT
WHERE:    Harbor Wholesale Foods
                                3901 Hogum Bay Rd. NE
                                Lacey, WA 98516
Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Whitney and Alex met

Whitney (NBC, Wednesday nights) was hilarious last night.  The premise of the episode was whether you knew in 48 hours if you should continue seeing someone.

This led to remembering how Whitney and Alex met in 2008.

And it turns out Lily almost met Neil twice. She and Whitney went to a club.  When Mark came on to her, Lily stormed out of the club and tried to get around Neil who was stuck outside.

"Weirdo!" Lily snaps.

Later, Neil tries to go into a diner but the closed sign is up and door locked.  Roxanne and Lily are in there eating after clubbing.  So twice they almost met.

Lily and Roxanne?  Lily didn't like Roxanne.  She thought Roxanne was boring and too much about Lance.

Whitney wanted them to be close.  So Roxanne and Lily went out to eat.

Roxanne: I usually only see you when we're out partying.  So what else do you like to do.

Lily:  Mushrooms.

Roxanne:  Oh.

Lily:  Yeah, I really like to do mushrooms

Roxanne: Oh, okay.  I was really thinking more along the lines of rock climbing --

Lily:  No, rock climbing on mushrooms would be super dangerous.

And we saw Roxanne fall in love with booze.

After clubbing with Whitney and Lily, Roxanne said, ""Oh my God.  This is so exciting.  You know what?  I'm going to have a second drink."

And later, "Am I drunk? Because if I am, I think I like it."

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the political crisis continues, another prep meeting for a national conference is scheduled for this weekend, Tareq al-Hashemi turns out to have been right about the Baghdad judiciary, US Senator Patty Murry gives an important speech about veterans, veterans groups wonder where the budget money goes, and more.
Big news out of Iraq today and apparently it's so big that the press can't handle it.  Doubt it?  Here's Sinan Salaheddin and Lara Jakes (AP) reporting, "An Iraqi judicial panel said Thursday the country's Sunni vice president and his employees ran death squads that killed security officials and Shiite pilgrims. The findings offer the first independent assessment of accusations that have thrown the nation into political chaos and threaten to re-ignite sectarian tensions." Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) misses it too.  Here's al-Salhy's opening, "A panel of Iraqi judges detailed Thursday 150 attacks they said were carried out by death squadsunder the command of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, in accusations likely to reignite political conflict."
What follows is how the announcement could have been covered:
After many claims that he could not receive a fair trial, Tareq al-Hashemi's
assertions were backed up today by the Iraqi judiciary.
BAGHDAD -- Today a nine-member Iraqi judiciary panel released results of an investigation they conducted which found the Sunni Vice President of Iraq was guilty of terrorism.  Monday, December 19th, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who had arrived in the KRG the previous day.  Mr. al-Hashemi refused to return to Baghdad insisting he would not receive a fair trial.  Instead, he was the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.
During the weeks since the arrest warrant was issued, Mr. al-Hashemi has repeatedly attempted to get the trial moved to another venue stating that Prime Minister al-Maliki controlled the Baghdad judiciary.  Mr. al-Maliki insisted that the vice president return and that he would get a fair trial.
Today's events demonstrate that Mr. al-Hashemi was correct and there is no chance of a fair trial in Iraq.  This was made clear by the judiciary's announcement today.
A judiciary hears charges in a trial and determines guilt; however, what the Baghdad judiciary did today was to declare Tareq al-Hashemi guilt of the charges and to do so before a trial was held. 
Not only do the events offer a frightening glimpse at the realities of the Iraqi legal system, they also back up the claims Mr. al-Hashemi has long made.
Get it?  You can't be the judiciary and declare -- before a trial -- that someone is guilty.  Tareq al-Hashemi is absolutely correct.  He has been proven to be correct.  Whether he was or was not guilty isn't an issue because there's been no trial yet.  But what is known is that the judiciary has already issued a finding of guilt before a trial took place.  There is no reputable legal organization in the world that would support Nouri's argument that al-Hashemi can have a fair trial in Baghdad.  The court's own actions have demonstrated that will not be the case.
The Iraqi Constitution is very clear on this point -- and it's really past time that Iraqi officials started following their Constitution.  Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  The judiciary chose to skip the trial and just declare him guilty.  They violated their own Constitution.  They didn't hem and haw and treat it like an indictment where they found cause to hold a hearing.  No, they declared him guilty. That is in violation of the Iraq Constitution.  If they had a functioning Parliament, Iraq should be moving to impeach everyone of those nine judgesand remove them from the bench.  Clearly, they do not understand the Constitution that they are supposed to be interpreting.
Article 19th's fifth clause is very clear: "The accused is innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial.  The accused may not be tried on the same crimefora second time after acquittal unless new evidence is produced." The judiciary issued a finding today publicly declaring Tareq al-Hashemi guilty.  In doing so, they violated his right to a fair legal trial and if they'll violate his legal rights -- a vice president of Iraq -- they'll violate any Iraqis legal rights.  Today the judiciary of Iraq has given the Iraq legal system a black eye.
We're being very remedial and highly redundant in an attempt to make clear that what just took place demonstrates that Tareq al-Hashemi cannot have a fair trial in Baghdad. There are other points that can be made -- Mike made some this afternoon including that the judiciary releases their finding and provides no evidence -- but in terms of the news value of these events, the news value is that Tareq al-Hashemi's repeated assertions that he would not receive a fair trial in Baghdad have been proven to be correct as evidenced by the fact that, without a trial -- without even a defense, nine members of the Baghdad judiciary have declared him guilty.
So what's going on Iraq?  How did a vice president (now in his second term) end up charged with terrorism?  Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) offers a few clues.  From the opening summary:
Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocratic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements.  Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i tragets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence. The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed.  The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous powers comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
To conservatives in the United States, particularly the architects of the war and of the ensuing state-building exercise, the crisis into which Iraq plunged after the U.S. withdrawal was final proof of the ineptitude of the Obama administration in failing to secure an agreement with Maliki that would have allowed a residual U.S. force to stay.  But the lesson is more sobering: Iraq demonstrates the resilience of domestic political forces in the face of even an eight-year occupation, thus the futility of nation-building and political engineering efforts conducted from the outside.  The U.S. occupation tried to superimpose on Iraq a set of political rules that did not reflect either the dominant culture or the power relations among political forces.  And while cultures and power relations are not immutable, they do not change on demand to accomodate the goals of outsiders.
For the second timethe 2003 U.S. intervention brought down Saddam Hussein and his regime, Iraq is facing a real threat of political disintegration.  In 2007, the United States held the country together forcibly, but the infusion of new troops could not secure a lasting agreement among Iraqis. This time, the outcome depends on whether the political factions that dominate Iraq and tear it apart find it in their interest to forge a real compromise or conclude that they would benefit more from going in separate directions.
Whether you accept their conclusions or not, the observations should make you wonder if the US is effectively using money in Iraq with the 'diplomatic' brigade or if more US taxpayer money is being wasted?
Al Mada reports State of Law MP Salman al-Musahwi states that the issue of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq will be discussed but outside of the national conference in a side meeting between State of Law and Iraqiya. Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Iraqiya bloc MP Itab al-Douri stressed today that both cases of vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi and deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlaq will be within the discussions of next Sunday national conference preparatory meeting."   Al Sabbah reports that the next prep meeting is supposed to take place Sunday and that one of the goals is to resolve the written plans various blocs have put forward. Kitabat notes that there's a climate of fear taking hold in Iraq as it appears that Nouri is building a dictatorship.

In other political news, Parliament is supposed to review the case of Sabir al-Issawi, Mayor of Baghdad, today. Al Sabaah reports they are supposed to consider whether or not to withdraw confidence in him. Kitabat explains State of Law's Shiran Waeli has brought forward charges of financial and administrative corruption. Parliamentary sources tell Kitabat that Parliament is expected to vote in favor of keeping al-Issawi on as mayor. On the potential targeting of politicians, Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Legal expert Tariq Harb said today that lifting immunity against the MP should be done with the majority of votes, pointing out the formation of a committee to lift the immunity is illegal and intervention in the judicial system." Lastly, CNN is reporting, "A leader of an exiled Iranian opposition group said Thursday that members living in a long-standing camp in Iraq are ready to begin moving to a new temporary site, under a plan agreed to with the United Nations."
Small protests took place in January and early February of last year in Iraq.  February 25th, however, marked the national protests around the country with an emphasis on Baghdad's Tahrir Square and Friday protests have followed since.  The anniversary is coming up.  As plans are underway to observe that anniversary, Al Mada reports that Zuhair Muhsin -- member of Parliament's Human Rights Commission -- is calling for peaceful events and for no one to distrupt the work of the government. Muhsin states the hope that all Iraqis are aware of their right to demonstrate in a peaceful manner.  Iraq Detainees notes that there will be a protest Friday, February 24th at 2:00 pm in front of the Iraqi consulate in Frankfurt, Germany to note the firt year anniversary of the February 25th protests.  This will be a protest against corruption and wrongful arrests, against stealing food from the people, against the international intervention in Iraqi affairs, against the puppet government, a protest to support human rights and the rights of all Iraqis.
Violence continued today.  Reuters notes a Baghdad attack in which two police officers were left injured, a Baquba raodside bombing which claimed the life of a shop owner (shop sold mobile phones) and, dropping back to last night, 2 Ramadi roadside bombings left six people injured.
In yesterday's snapshot, we covered the first panel of the Wednesday House Veteran s Affairs Committee hearing.  Last night, Kat offered her thoughts on the first panel in "Like Corrine Brown's grandmother's sweet potato pie."  The hearing was about the 2013 budget and two panels appeared before the Committee.  The first panel was Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (with the VA's Robert Petzel, Allison Hickey, Steve Muro, Roger Baker and Todd Grams).  Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, VFW's Ramond Kelley, Disabled American Veterans' Jeff Hall, AMVETS Diane Zumatto and the American Legion's Timothy Tetz. US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the Committee, US House Rep Bob Filner is the Ranking Member.  We'll emphasize some remarks regarding budget concerns. 
Carl Blake: [. . .]  What is more troubling to me is the discussion that I believe you raised, Mr. Chairman, this excess of resources that apparently they have identified to the tune of approximately $3 billion in 2012, about $2 billion I think they say in 2013.  It sort of begs the question: How has the administration determined that they have $3 billion too much for 2012 when we have seven months of this fiscal year still to finish? If they came back after the fact and said we have all this extra money, that would be one thing.  But in midstream, it is certainly a concern for us.  Doesn't mean that it wouldn't necessarily be realized but it's certainly a concern. They identify health care services, in particular, which is a big chunk of it, they identify long-term care. I wonder, where are those savings for long-term care? Does that mean that there are fewer veterans taking advantage of VA's long-term health care programs? This given the fact that the veterans population is actually aging?  So we have some concerns about that.  And the fact that they don't even meet what they're mandated to meet as far as their capacity requirement for long-term care.  We also have concerns about this roller coaster ride of medical care collection estimates.  I would note that two yars ago, the Fiscal Year 2012 collections estimate was $3.7 billion.  Last year, when they submitted the 2012 budget, it was revised to 3.1 billion.  And I would note that this year's budget's estimate now shows that there are 2.7 billion so that's a one billion dollar change over the course of the last two years and I understand there are factors that play into those changes but the fact is that that difference in resources which they factor into their ability to provide services has to have some sort of an impact on the delivery of services in a timely fashion and quality services to veterans. So I think those things need to be teased out. I go back to the excess resources they have as important as I would consider that issue, I think that there would be more than a couple of bulleted  points in a four-volume document explaining that.  That might be the most important fact that they outline in their entire budget cause that certainly has an impact on everything going forward. So we certainly hope that the Committee will pursue that and the VA will come forward with more information about it. Lastly, I would direct my comments towards the 2014 advance appropriation.  While the -- while the independent budget does not offer specific budget recommendations for that for any number of reasons, a couple of things that jump out at me about the 2014 recommendation, given our concerns about whether 2013 is actually a sufficient budget put forward, it could arguably be a fairly small increase for 2014.  Additionally, they predict a very huge jump in medical support and compliance over previous years' funding.  I would point out that I believe that's a part of the administrative arm of the medical side of the VA so that would certainly give us pause.  At the same time, there's an even larger decrease projected for medical facilities. While I know they project some transfer in resources and staffing in facilities to medical services, I'd also note the budget shows a substantial decrease in non-recurring maintenance in 2014, a very substantial decrease.
This thread is picked up at the very end of the hearing.
US House Rep Timothy Walz:  The president's budget and the VA budget is a suggestion. Constitutionally, we hold the purse strings.  We hold the final decision.  So this is where democracy works its best and works its will.  And it's very important that we have this so I want to thank you for that.  Again, I would be the first to say members of Congress are experts at gross generalization so I want to be very careful on what I do on this.  But I do concur and I think some of you brought up some things I'm hearing personally and I go out and talk to people in the field, I talk to those directors and I talk to the nurses and I talk to the people that are cleaning the rooms to hear what's going on and one of the things that I am hearing and this came from one of my areas, we have a -- out in Minnesota, to just give one of them -- we have dental equipment and the space needed ready to stand up three new dental facilities -- our ability to deliver that care -- however, we haven't hired anybody to do it, so it's boxed up and sitting there and that's what's going. Does that surprise any of you? Maybe I'm just looking at where you are at?  If that's the case again where our intent was to fund and put it out there. How are we making sure it happens? And I'm wondering -- and I think Carl brought up a good point along with the Chairman -- of how do we account? Is not standing those dental clinics accounting for some of the money that's not spent, that's going back to go elsewhere because I wanted the dental clinics, that's what I voted for and that's what I wanted to see.  So I'm just curious to get with you on this.  And I say that being very careful of a gross generalization and being very careful of the dreaded disease around here "Somebody Told Me And We Did It." It needs to be more accurate than that. I'm hearing it from you somewhat echoed.  If somebody can give me just your feeling on that, is that kind of what's happening here?  Are we not given the ability to follow through on some of the things that we're doing or intended to do?
Timothy Tetz: Mr. Walz, the System Saving Task Force that the American Legion stands up and sends around to facilities nationwide has made their visits this year and they continue to do so.  And it's not uncommon for us to come across empty facilities like this or empty rooms or 'Hey, when we have the right people we can have this tele-health center.' The problem with tele-health --  and it's a great program and I agree with Dr. Petzel on the future that it has tele-health requires somebody to be there to open up the office on the one end, the rural end, and somebody to be there,  professional, on the other end to take it. If you don't have those people, all the infrastructure in the world doesn't do anything for veterans.
US House Rep Timothy Walz: Yeah and I think it's, for me it's about following through and I think, best laid plans and good intentions, I'm pretty certain if those three dental services were up, they would be full.  We could keep them full if we had the dentists, the dental hygenists, everything else that goes with it.  So I'm concerned and that brings me to my next question. Again, don't want to over-generalize but this comes from a claims processor out there.  They're being asked to do 20 hours of overtime each month, pressures incredibly high, they lost three mid-range folks, they just simply didn't want to do it anymore.  And that happens in every business -- again, I don't want to over-generalize.  But I heard you mention it.  I'm hearing it and it's kind of if: "If there's smoke, there's fire." Is this a problem you're seeing? I think, Mr. Hall, you mentioned this in yours and I know this directly from the person who came to me and, again, said it but with the disclaimer on that, if you're hearing it too?
Jeff Hall: We are hearing it, we're hearing it as an organization. I think other members of the IB [Independent Budget -- the VFW, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America], maybe.  I personally have heard it because I have friends who work for the VA in various places and it was just basically said as mandatory overtime.  There is no choice.  It's not --
US House Rep Timothy Walz: That's the way it's being described to me.
Jeff Hall: So the mandatory, however they get the 20 hours -- two and a half Saturdays, an hour extra a day, whatever it may be.  The biggest concern to those individuals and shared by us is not necessarily the mandatory overtime, it's, to quote them, "Where are we getting the money for this if we're cutting training? How are they requiring this for me to come in on a Saturday to do this but we're cutting the training?  We're already disenchanted by the training that we 'don't receive'."  So --
US House Rep Timothy Walz: I want to give them the flexibility if they need to do overtime but I just don't think it's a good model to rely on. It always makes me question
Jeff Hall: I think it's certainly sending the wrong message.
US House Rep Timothy Walz: It's unsustainable too.
There was a budget hearing today -- veterans -- and I'd like to cover that in tomorrow's snapshot.  We have something else to include today.  And to try to squeeze that and the hearing in would mean giving very little attention to the hearing.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  There are a number of veterans issues that aren't being addressed in the national press -- either by reporters or by columnists (including veterans writing columns).  (Regional and local press have been very good about covering these issues.) So when Senator Murray speaks in public about those issues, it's news and it's needs to be noted.  One of the issues is employment and when she's speaking to potential employers, what she says is especially important and news worthy.  We're noting the speech in full and closing out with it. 
Contact: Murray Press Office
Thursday, February 16, 2012
(202) 224-2834

Murray Delivers Keynote Address on Private-Public Partnerships to Help Hire Veterans

Murray tells business leaders and veterans "we stand at a cross roads" moment in hiring and transition efforts

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered the following speech on efforts to improve veterans employment through public-private partnerships. Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, delivered the remarks in front of a gathering of national business leaders and veterans seeking employment.
The event, which was sponsored by GE and included members of the National Chamber of Commerce, included a workshop for veterans seeking employment.

Senator Murray is the author and sponsor of the
VOW to Hire Heroes Act which was signed into law last November and provides a comprehensive approach to improving veterans hiring.

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

"Thank you Jean for that kind introduction. I also want to thank GE for putting this wonderful, and critically important, event together. And for the tremendous commitment that they have reaffirmed today to hire our nation's returning veterans.

"You know, this gathering today of business leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, veterans in need of work, and Congressional leaders could not come at a more pivotal moment for our nation's veterans. As Secretary Shinseki no doubt discussed, we are facing a tremendous influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with new and unique needs, and I want to commend him for putting out a budget on Monday that reflects that reality.

"But while the needs are often new with more women veterans, more complex medical devices and technology, and more understanding of the invisible wounds of war. The moment is not.

"Today, we stand at a cross roads our nation has stood at before.

"We are at the end of a conflict that was bruising, but one that also reaffirmed the courage and strength of our service members. We are at a point where we as a nation have to come together to really examine what every single one of us can, and has, been doing to aid those who were asked to make the sacrifices.

"It's a moment that in the past we as a nation have responded to well -- such as in the era that built the greatest generation. And one where we as a nation have stumbled -- as in the aftermath of Vietnam when far too many veterans slipped through the cracks.

"But it's those moments that must our guide our work today.

"I can certainly say that they guide my own work as Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. And that's because those pivotal moments played such an important role in my own life.

"As many of you may know, my father was a World War II veteran who was one of the first to storm the beaches of Okinawa. I can remember as a little kid the reverence those in my little town of Bothell, Washington had for his service.

"The way he was treated -- not just by neighbors and community members -- but also by the federal government -- that provided him with a GI bill. And that was there with worker training programs for my mom many years later when he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and could no longer work. And that helped him and his fellow veterans prosper.

"But my experience with those returning from war was much different decades later when as a college senior I volunteered at the psychiatric ward of the Seattle VA at a time when veterans were coming home with the invisible wounds of war which they didn't yet call PTSD.

"I can remember the faces of the veterans, many of whom were even younger than me, who were being told they were shell shocked. I can also remember -- like many of you -- the lack of answers during that period. The feeling that we were not a nation firmly at the back of those who had served. The feeling that as a nation we were quickly turning the page on that war -- and those who fought it.

"Those moments have taught us.

"And one of the most important things they have taught us is how critically important it is for us to partner with the common purpose of supporting our veterans between the private and public sector. And nowhere is that more true than in the effort to find our veterans good, stable employment.

"Now I know that finding work today is a problem our veterans face along with nearly 13 million other Americans....but for our veterans many of the barriers to employment are unique. That's because 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.

"Too often our veterans are being left behind by their peers who didn't make the same sacrifices -- who spent their early careers in internships or apprenticeships. Too often our veterans don't
realize that their time in the military provided them with similar skills both tangible and
intangible that give them tremendous value in the workplace. And too often they are discouraged by a job market that is unfamiliar to them after their service.

"But as all those here today who know the character and experiences of our veterans understand, this shouldn't be the case. Our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century.

"But despite that being the case -- the statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is over 20%. That is one in five of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family, don't have an income that provides stability, and don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.

"And so the question becomes: How could this be?

"How could these young men and women who have performed so admirably, who know how to lead and know how to get a job done be struggling so mightily?

"Well over the last few years, that's the question that I set out to answer in preparing my bill to overhaul veterans employment efforts on the federal level. And it's a question that I knew I had to get answered first-hand from those veterans struggling to find work like the veterans with us today.

"So I spent a longtime crisscrossing my home state, which as many of you know has a tremendous number of young veterans -- and I visited worker retraining programs, VA facilities, and more than a few veterans' halls. And in discussion after discussion -- I heard from veterans about the roadblocks they face.

"What I heard was heartbreaking and frustrating.

"I heard from veterans who said they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume because of the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war. I heard from medics who returned home from treating battlefield wounds and couldn't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance. I spoke with veterans who said that many employers had trouble understanding the vernacular they used to describe their experiences in an interview or on a resume. I talked to veterans who told me that the military spent incalculable hours getting them the skills to do their job in the field, but little time teaching them how to translate those skills into the workplace.

"The problems were sometimes complicated and sometimes simple. Most importantly though, they were preventable.

"But strangely, when I relayed the concerns of my home state's unemployed veterans to some back here in the other Washington for solutions, none came.

"What did become clear is that for too long we have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women with skills to protect our nation -- only to ignore them once they leave the military. For too long, at the end of their career we patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone.

"So in May of last year, I introduced a bipartisan veterans employment bill that takes the challenges I heard and translates them into solutions to ease the transition from the battlefield to the working world.

"For the very first time, my bill required broad job skills training for every service member as they leave the military as part of the military's Transition Assistance Program. It allowed service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs in government. And it required the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector in order to make it simpler for our veterans to get the licenses and certifications they need.

"All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work.

"And late this year they were combined with a tax credit for employers that hire veterans and help to train older veterans for in-demand jobs in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. And I'm so pleased to note that late last year I joined with Secretary Shinseki -- right next to President Obama when he signed my bill into law.

"But while that bill is a critical first step -- it should only be that: a first step. The next step is why I'm here today -- to help continue or work of building partnerships with you -- the business leaders who know our military community better than anyone.

"Now, I do have to mention, you are already ahead of the curve. The Chamber of Commerce, working with companies like GE on the Hiring our Heroes initiative, has lead the way on veterans hiring. But we all know that more can be done by businesses large and small across the country.

"We can better utilize our workforce training system to get veterans the skills they need to fill the jobs that are open in their areas. We can build upon the relationships we have across the country with community colleges and universities.

"But in the here and now, we also need to spread the word on what all businesses can do to help. So, as I do whenever I'm given the opportunity to stand in front of so many big wigs that make the hiring decisions, I need to make my pitch.

"And I don't want to just encourage you to hire veterans -- because I know many of you are already doing that -- I also want to pass along the things that are working to sustain veterans hiring so that you can pass it along.

"First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the importance of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can't tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and in resumes fail to get through to interviewers.

"Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning service members. This is something I've seen done at large organizations like Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills developed during military service and on the job training.

"Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations and at local military bases to help connect veterans with jobs;

"Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,

"And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.

"If we can spread the message on just a few of these steps, I'm confident that we will be able to continue to build on the success you all have had in hiring veterans.

"But there's one other -- even more important thing you can help get the word out on. And that's the often difficult issue of the invisible wounds of war some potential employees face.

"As I mentioned earlier, I have heard repeatedly from veterans that they do not put their military service on resumes because they fear it stigmatizes them. They fear that those who have not served see them all as damaged, or unstable.

"We must understand what mental health challenges are, and what they are not.

"As we seek to employ more veterans, we need future bosses and coworkers to understand that issues like PTSD or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience. We need them to understand that these illnesses do not afflict every veteran.

"And most importantly, we need them to understand that for those who are affected by these illnesses they can get help, they can get better, and they can get back into their lives.

"I know GE is doing good work in this area. But we need to let businesses know that if they have a veteran who is facing some challenges, please, do the right thing and encourage him or her get help and get back to their lives.

"They need to know it is okay to reach out. Help them take advantage of the excellent mental health care that I know Secretary Shinseki and VA are capable of providing.

"The veteran will be better, and they will be an even stronger member of your team.

"You know, our veterans don't ask for a lot. Often times they come home and don't even acknowledge their own sacrifices.

"My own father never talked about his time fighting.

"In fact, I never saw his Purple Heart, or knew that he had a wallet with shrapnel in it, or a diary that detailed his time in combat until after he had died and my family gathered to sort through his belongings.

"But our veterans shouldn't have to ask. We should know to provide for them.

"When my father's generation came home from the war -- they came home to opportunity. My father came home to a community that supported him. He came home to college, then to a job. A job that gave him pride. A job that helped him start a family. And one that ultimately led to me starting my own.

"That's the legacy of opportunity we have to live up to for today's veterans. And it's one that we can only deliver on if we work together.

"You know, it's no secret that here in Washington D.C. we are sharply divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now.

"But this is one issue we are rarely divided on. It unites even the most unlikely partners, even Speaker [of the House John] Boehner and I, 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 so much is on the line. Because we are once again at that defining moment in how we treat our veterans. And the truth is that we stand perilously close to repeating some of the same mistakes of the past.

"But we don't have to. There is a sea of good will in this country. Non-profits, community leaders, and companies like GE who don't just talk about helping -- who actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

"Let's continue to take advantage of that support. Let's work together to ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Let's make sure that at this crossroads for our nation's veterans we come together as a nation to help them down the path of opportunity.

"Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I look forward to continuing this work together will all of you."

Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct

5 men, 4 women

Alice in Barackland

That's Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Alice In Barackland" which went up yesterday morning.  I will be blogging tonight.  I didn't blog last night because I couldn't log in.  I know some are more experienced bloggers in the community and they wisely knew, after a half hour of trying, to give up and do something else.  Sadly, I was trying from 11:00 pm my time until 1 in the morning.  With no luck.  At which time, I finally went to bed.

On the first hour of Wednesday's Diane Rehm Show, the guests were Nancy Bernkopf, Kenneth Lieberthal and Quanshen Zhao.  The second hour guests were Laura Kaloi, Jeffrey Gilger, Brock Eide and Guinevere Eden.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talks Camp Ashraf, another prep meet-up for a national conference takes place, Iraq continues to struggle to pass a 2012 budget, the US House Veterans Affairs Committee hears from the VA about their budget requests and more.
President Barack Obama, don't threaten veterans.  That was the message of House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller this morning.  What was he talking about?  He was noting that other departments know whether or not sequestration would effect them but VA doesn't.  In 1985, the Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Budget Act.  If the budget triggers sequestration, then automatic cuts would take place.  Chair Miller explained that they had repeatedly attempted to get a clear answer from the White House on this issue but that they still had no answer.  "If the president won't lead on this issue," Chair Miller declared, "then we will."
It was a lively hearing.  So much so that all overshadowed Miller's opening remarks.
The hearing was about the 2013 budget and two panels appeared before the Committee.  The first panel was Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (with the VA's Robert Petzel, Allison Hickey, Steve Muro, Roger Baker and Todd Grams).  Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, VFW's Ramond Kelley, Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante, AMVETS Diane Zumatto and the American Legion's Timothy Tetz.  We'll note the second panel in tomorrow's snapshot and focus on the first panel today.  The White House has put out their trial budget.  The House Veterans Affairs Committee was focusing on the budget in terms of veterans issues.
Chair Jeff Miller: In the -- in the current budget submission, it has a billion dollars for Veterans Job Corps. We all are keenly aware of the high number of unemployed veterans in our country today. And not a single member of this Committee nor this Congress should be in any way satisifed with that number. And we have tried to do things in this Commitee to help bring those numbers down.  My concern is there's no detail in the budget submission. Where did the number one billion dollars come from?  You know, it was chosen to be provided in your entitlement accounts to be dispensed over a five year period.  And so I think we all benefit from a conversation, Mr. Secretary, as to who's going to be focused on, what area of the veteran population, how's it going to work and what will happen to these jobs once the funds run out?
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Chairman, the proposal for the Veterans Job Corps, the $1 billion piece of that, is a program that we're seeking Congressional authorization on and we are putting together the details of that which we would provide to you and you would have a chance to review. I would say that the intent here is to put up to 20,000 veterans back to work over the next five years on projects that will protect and restore our public lands. Projects would be in national parks, forests, rivers and trails, wild life refuge, national monuments, other public lands. Veterans could work on park maintenance projects, patrolling public lands, rehabilitating natural and recreational areas and in administrative, technical, law enforcement-related activities. The Veterans Job Corps program is a project that's going to be coordinated with other departments and we are a -- sort of a oversight of the distribution of funds but there are others who will be participating.  I'm told that uh -- and I'm confident that uh VA resources won't be diverted to fund this $1 billion that it will come from elsewhere.  And I don't know exactly where at the moment.  But, Mr. Chairman, I'll share that with you as soon as I have clarity.
And we'll note, from his written statement about the Veterans Job Corps, "The program will serve all Veterans, but will have a particular focus on post-9/11 Veterans."  So the 20,000 jobs are not guaranteed to veterans of today's wars.  I'm not saying they should be but I am saying 20,000 wasn't, to me, an impressive number, and became less so when it was going to address not only the largest unemployed veterans population (young veterans of today's wars) but all veterans.  US House Rep Corrine Brown would bring up the issue of contracts and outsourcing and asking why every contract the VA outsourced didn't have a clause in it about hiring veterans?  Not really an answer. "You're not answering the question," Ranking Member Bob Filner pointed out to the VA's Allison Hickey as she went on about how one contract has seen a company hire 15% veterans and how they have conversations with contractors.  Filner pointed out that Brown's question was why didn't they mandate this in the contract, why have conversations when you should be writing it into the contract?  Hickey attempted to reply but Shinseki took over.
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Filner, we'll take a look at this.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Oh, come on, you can give me some kind of answer.  Are you saying we can't do it legally?
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: She must know the answer [gesturing to Hickey].  I mean, come on. This is not rocket science here.  You issue contracts 100 times a day.  Why can't we have contracts that do this?
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  You can. And I don't know the circumstances of this contract. And I would --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: But she apparently does. Why didn't we do it here?
Allison Hickey: So, Congressman, I will go back to our physician folks to ask --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Oh, come on.  You guys know the answer to this.  Why are you so afraid to just tell us?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I'm not sure it wasn't in the contract, Mr. Filner. That's why -- 
Ranking Member Bob Filner:  Well she's sure --
Allison Hickey: Congressman --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: You started off your testimony, "I know the contract." So did it specify or not?
Allison Hickey: I will find out and get back to you for the record --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I don't understand this.  You know this better than you're saying here.
US House Rep Corrine Brown then noted that one of the biggest complaints she gets is that VA does billions of dollars of work and they're not doing it with veterans, they're not hiring them and this at a time when so many veterans are unemployed. Brown noted employment elsewhere in the hearing as well.  US House Rep and Dr. Roe raised the issue of the large number of suicides and shared that one thing he's hearing from veterans is that they're doing well in one-on-one sessions and then they're moved on to groups and that's not working.  "These needs aren't being met in large group settings," he explained. The short answer is that the VA is currently evaluating with plans to increase in the numbers hired where needed.
US House Rep Corrine Brown: Sir, I have a follow up on that, you said can we hire -- are we not -- are we trying to hire all those people or are we working with other agencies as far as subcontracting out? Because we're not going to be able to hire enough people.  He talked about the group setting, some people can benefit from the group setting, everbody don't need that one-on-one but some people do. So based on the resources, how can we better utilize the dollars to meet the needs?
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Congressman Brown.  We do contract in the community.  We do provide on a fee basis mental health care. And as the Secretary was just pointing out to me a new modality that's becoming increasingly important is tele-mental health where we provide both evaluation and therapy in a tele-health setting -- where the patient may be remotely, a hundred miles away. They're on a television screen with an appropriate supervisor and the psychiatrist or psychologist is back at a larger medical center.  It has been very successful in treating PTSD and other mental health disorders.  And I think that this is going to become a more common practice as we move forward.
FYI, Petzel called every female House Rep, throughout the hearing, "Congressman." Maybe here we'll call him "Mrs. Dr. Petzel" in the future?
Last week, Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, participated in a Virtual Town Hall, an online Town Hall which allowed her and veterans all over the country to interact. The Virtual Town Hall was sponsored by Disabled American Veterans and a full transcript of the exchange can be found here.  Various veterans participating in the Virtual Town Hall noted the delays and backlog with regards to claims -- not surprising, over 500,000 claims are currently backlogged according to the VA's Allison Hickey testimony in today's hearing.  Senator Murray observed, "I receive so many complaints from veterans and their families about long waits for claims. I visited the Seattle Regional Office a few months ago and was astounded at the mountain of paper work and had the opportunity to really see what we are facing.  I am working hard to try and help the VA get a handle on this.  We do have to recognize that the claims are increasingly complex and there are more of them with the number of service members coming home today.  We want them to be done efficiently but correctly.  This will remain a top priority for me."  And in today's hearing, Ranking Member Bob Filner touched on the issues of backlog and Agent Orange.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And I just want to ask a couple -- focus on a couple areas that I've been involved with over the years. One is the claims backlog.  In your budget presentation ou title it "Eliminate The Claims Backlog." But I don't see any real estimate or projection or anything of when you think you're going to do that but I still think that -- in the short run, at least -- to get this turned around your notion of -- I think you used the word "brute force" a few years ago, if I recall that.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: It was probably a poor choice of words.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: No, it's okay. It was good. Gives me something to shoot at, you know? I don't think it's going to work.  I just think all this stuff you have is good stuff but it's too big and, as you point out, there's all kind of factors making it bigger.  I still think you have to take some, I'll say, radical step in the short run -- whether it's to grant all the Agent Orange claims that have been submitted or have been there for X number of years or, as I've suggested at other times, all claims that have the medical information in it and have been submitted with the help of a Veterans Service Officer you accept subject to audit. That is, unless you take some real radical step to eliminate a million of them or 500,000 of them, you're never going to get there. It's going to always be there.  You don't want that as your legacy -- I don't think.  So -- Nor do we.  I think you're going to have to take some really strong steps in terms of accepting stuff that's been in the pipeline a long time, again, that has adequate -- by whatever definition -- documentation and help from professional support. Plus this incredible situation of Agent Orange where, as you know, not only have those claims increaded but we're talking about -- as you well know -- your comrades for thirty or more years that have been wrestling with this.  Let's give the Vietnam vets some peace. Let's give them a real welcome home. Let's grant those Agent Orange claims.  Let's get those -- whatever it is, 100,000 or 200,000  of our backlog -- just get them off the books.  I don't know if you want to comment on that but I still think you're never going to get there with -- All this is good stuff.  We've talked about it on many occasions.  But it's not going to fundamentally -- or at least in the short run change it around so you can get to a base  level of zero or whatever you want to be and move forward from there.
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Filner, I'll call on Secretary Hickey for the final details but we've pretty much worked through the Agent Orange -- the increase in Agent Orange claims. I think we're well down on the numbers. I'll rely on her statistic here.
Many other issues were touched on.  We'll note the exchanges on women veterans.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: The House passed a bill that I had put forward a year or two ago called a Women's Veterans Bill of Rights.  It got through the House, it got stuck in the Senate.  [He's referring to HR 809 which he introduced in the 111th Congress and which the Senate didn't pass.  He reintroduced HR 809 in the new Congress in February of 2010.]  I would just ask that you look at that.  You can do stuff administratively. You could post something in each of our centers and clinics. We have a long way to go on this but women veterans need to feel that this institution is evolving to meet their needs.  And a statement at the front door of their rights, I think, would be very helpful. So I would just ask you to look at that.  We didn't do it legislatively but I think you could do some stuff administratively. 
Shinseki replied that women veterans' issues in the proposed budget increased by 17%. Dropping back to his written statement, he gives 8% as the number women make up in VA's total population, women are "nearly 15 percent of today's active duty military forces and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserves."  337,000 women access care through VA and, "The 2013 budget includes $403 million for the gender-specific healthcare needs of women Veterans, an increase of 17.5 percent over the 2012 level."  Later in the hearing, US House Rep Linda Sanchez would raise the issue of women veterans and we'll jump to her exchange.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Secretary Shinseki, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Patient Alligned Care Center at the Long Beach VA facility and I want to applaud the efforts there to provide an integrated system of care. But one of the things that's been brought to my attention is the levels of staffing for the new models that will be put in place. I heard from doctors, nurses and other pracitioners to discuss how thinly they feel they are being stretched in this new system. And it's a system that they want to see succeed. They're employed there because they believe in the mission, they want to provide the service.  But I'm wondering if you could maybe go into a little bit of detail  as to how the $433 million that is proposed for patient-centered care -- how that will go towards staffing to make sure that we have the staff availble to meet the needs of those veterans.
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel for the details.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Sure.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Congressman Sanchez, when we implemented the PAC [Patient Aligned Care] program, several years ago, the first thing that we did was a survey of what we call PAC readiness.  One of which was to determine how many support people there were in place for each one of the providers in a PAC clinic.  The desirable ratio agreed to in the entire health care community is 3 people per provider. We found that there were places that were reaching that goal and then others that weren't.  One of the major things that has been involved in the PAC model financing has been to provide the medical centers with -- and the clinics with -- the number of people that they need to support the provider.  I will look specifically at Long Beach and I can, in fact, get back to you. But our goal -- and we're very close to it as I understand -- is to have 3 support people per provider in each one of our clinics.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Okay because I hear stories about staffing being stretched and no new hires or people leave and are not replaced. And so the concern is to have the appropriate amount of people available to provide the services that are needed.  And I would appreciate you following up with me about that.  To the Secretary, I know that you and I have previously discussed some of my concerns -- specifically with respect to the VA employing female specialists to assist specifically female veterans with VA services.  And I know that the administration's budget contains $403 million to address the needs of women veterans.  I'm wondering if you can tease that out a little bit and provide more specifics on how that money will be used to address the growing needs of the female veteran population?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Uh, thank you, Congresswoman. I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel for the details but this is confirmed that you and I have had discussions about this.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Yes.
Dr. Robert Petzel: I thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Uh, the -- our goal is to ensure that every female veteran has a choice of providers and that, if they wish to, they will be able to be seen by a female provider.  About 75% of women choose to have a female provider.  And we are able to meet that need in virtually every setting except perhaps some remote community-based outpatient clinics where we just don't have those sort of uh facilities.  I can, for the record, give you the details about how much staffing -- what kind of staffing is to be associated with the $403 million increase we're seeing in women's health programs. I don't have that number at the tip of my fingers but it is important to us as I'm sure it is to you that women have a choice, that if they wish to see a female provider, they are afforded that opportunity.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez:  Yeah, one of the things on my tour of the Long Beach facility is that they do have a sort of separate women's clinic area where women can choose that to be their point of entry to the system.
Dr. Robert Petzel: About sixty of our largest medical centers have specific women's centers, women's health centers where all of the services are provided in that same environment. The rest of them are sort of associated with women specific primary care clinics when they're not as large. And then, in community based outpatient clinics we have trained the primary care providers in the necessities of women's health.
Homelessness was touched on by US House Reps Corrine Brown and Dr. Phil Roe.  We're ignoring that for two reasons.  1) Roe brought up that once a case worker has X number of clients, the VA isn't issuing vouchers so even though there is space a veterans left sleeping on the street or somewhere else (he or she receives no voucher).  Shinseki noted that homeless veterans were decreasing.  Are they?  Or is this program -- which tracks beds used in shelters -- not factoring in that veterans aren't receiving vouchers if their caseworker is maxed out?  That's not addressed and until it is, I'm not interested in going into the figures.  2) What we do know is that one group of homeless veterans is increasing and it's not the stereotype of the homeless veteran.  Earlier this week, Peggy McCarthy (The Day) reports on homeless veterans. Andy and Miriam Miranda live with their young son in a New Haven shelter. Andy's a veteran, they both have degrees and were teachers and their home was foreclosed during these economic hard times. McCarthy reports an emerging trend for homeless veterans is that it's no longer a single veteran but families. Connecticut saw 15 veterans family appealing for help via the homeless programs in 2008 but last year saw 135 families which mirrors what's happening on a national level (2010 saw "an 86 percent increase over 2009").  This increasing group -- homeless veterans with their femilies -- was not addressed in the hearing.  The VA budget calls for "$1.352 billion for programs that will prevent and treat Veteran homelessness" (Shinseki's written statement) and I'm fine with noting that figure but, repeating, if VA is saying that the number of homeless veterans is decreasing and US House Rep Roe is telling us -- without any dispute from Shinseki or anyone from the VA on the panel -- that homeless people are being turned away when beds are available, that they're not being given vouchers, then I think the VA needs to clarify how they're collecting their numbers.  I'll also note that Shinseki's defined as "VA's goal" for 2013 "to serve 32,000 homeless veterans."  Also on the issue of homeless veterans, Senator Patty Murray's office released the following this afternoon:
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tester Press Office (202) 228-0371
Snowe Press Office (202) 224-8667

VETERANS: Chairman Murray and Senators Tester and Snowe Call on VA and HUD to Provide Answers about Homeless Women Veterans

After GAO report emphasizes data collection partnership opportunities between VA and HUD, Murray, Tester, and Snowe ask Secretaries for answers ahead of the March 14 Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on veteran homelessness

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray, Committee Member Jon Tester, and Senator Olympia J. Snowe sent a joint letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinkseki and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan asking for explicit answers to questions in light of a GAO report highlighting missed opportunities for the two departments to improve services for homeless women veterans. The report also highlighted limitations in available housing options for women veterans with children and an inability to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of women veterans in mixed-gender housing facilities.

"It is critical that we continue doing absolutely everything we can on behalf of the brave men and women who have already made tremendous sacrifices for our nation," the Senators wrote. "Until every single veteran is off the street, we must not relent in our efforts to provide the services and assistance they need to find adequate and long-term housing for them and their families. In doing so, we must make every effort to ensure we are addressing the needs of our entire veteran population, particularly our women veterans, to ensure their needs are being met and they are not falling through the cracks."

The Senators have requested a response in advance of the March 14 Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing scheduled on veteran homelessness.

The full text of the Senators' letter follows:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Honorable Shaun L.S. Donovan
United States Department of
Housing & Urband Development
451 7th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20410

Dear Secretary Shinseki and Secretary Donovan,

We appreciate your ongoing efforts to reduce homelessness among our nation's veterans, and applaud your request for an increase of $333 million for programs to end veteran homelessness in the fiscal year 2013 budget. Recent reports of a 12 percent reduction in the homeless veteran population over the last year are certainly a testament to your hard work and leadership. Despite these gains, we have concerns that the particular needs of homeless women veterans are frequently being overlooked. As we see more and more women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is increasingly critical that we do more to help them transition home.

As you know, a recent Government Accountability Office report, "Homeless Women Veterans: Actions Needed to Ensure Safe and Appropriate Housing," highlighted an opportunity to increase collaboration between your two agencies when it comes to gathering data about homeless women veterans. As you would undoubtedly agree, without that data, it is impossible for us to have a clear understanding of the demographics of this population or to develop a strategy that can effectively address their particular needs.

The report also highlighted limitations in available housing options for women veterans with children. Although VA has a referral policy in place for temporary housing, it is not being implemented uniformly nationwide. As a result, homeless women veterans in some parts of the country are forced to return to the streets until they are admitted into the Grant and Per Diem or HUD-VASH programs. Additionally, infrastructure needs such as private and secure rooms and showering facilities are often lacking -- placing women veterans in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations. We can and should do better.

In light of this report, we request responses to the following questions:

* What steps are your agencies taking to better capture information on our homeless women veteran population?

* How do you track both the demographics and particular needs of this population?

* What strategies are being employed to effectively address their unique needs?

* What improvements will be made to VA's implementation of its referral policy?

* What type of gender-specific safety and security standards will be implemented for VA's Grant and Per Diem program?

* What additional steps need to be taken to reduce the rate of homelessness among female veterans?

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that, although the overall number of unemployed veterans has decreased significantly over the past year, the unemployment rate amongst women veterans is now more than double the national average. As unemployment rates often directly correlate with rates of homelessness, how closely are your Agencies working with the Department of Labor to reduce the homeless women veteran population by addressing one of the underlying symptoms of their unemployment or underemployment?

It is critical that we continue doing absolutely everything we can on behalf of the brave men and women who have already made tremendous sacrifices for our nation. Until every single veteran is off the street, we must not relent in our efforts to provide the services and assistance they need to find adequate and long-term housing for them and their families. In doing so, we must make every effort to ensure we are addressing the needs of our entire veteran population, particularly our women veterans, to ensure their needs are being met and they are not falling through the cracks.

We appreciate your attention to this matter, and request a response to inform our views in advance of the March 14 hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on veteran homelessness. We look forward to working closely with both of you to address this critical issue.


Chairman Patty Murray

Senator Jon Tester

Senator Olympia J. Snowe

Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Violence continued in Iraq today.  Reuters notes a police officer's Jurf al-Sakhar home was attacked with gunfire and grenades leaving his wife and their two daughters dead and him injured and a Baquba roadside bombing left two people injured.  Aswat al-Iraq adds that a Mosul bombing left 1 person dead and one police officer injured.
From the never-ending violence to confusion.  Confusion over AFP and Reuters' reporting and confusion over United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Let's set the stage by noting what we were noting this morning.  We're talking about the residents of Camp Ashraf, approximately 3,500 Iranian dissidents who were welcomed into Iraq decades ago, following the Iranian revolution. Nouri al-Maliki does not care for the residents and has, since Barack Obama was sworn in as US President, twice ordered their assault. They are protected persons under international law and Nouri gave his word that he would ensure their protection. Nouri's word is worthless. They are being relocated to Camp Liberty. The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom's Muriel Turner offers this in a guest column for UPI:

The 3,400 residents will be housed it what can only be described as veal crates, in an area not much more than half-a-kilometer-square. Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative to Iraq, has admitted to Ashraf residents that they will still be denied medical facilities. There will be no way to care for the disabled and nowhere to tend to the injured.
There isn't even any drinking water!
Their instructions mandate that, residents can only take "individual belongings" with them -- basically as much as they can carry. Vehicles and other property that they have worked hard for over the 30 years in Ashraf will have to be abandoned.
The Iraqi government has designated Camp Liberty to be a "temporary transfer location." That's because it does not meet the standards required of a refugee camp.
Once inside Camp Liberty, the 13-foot-high walls will close in on them and they will no doubt be forgotten. They will have no way of contacting U.N. observers other than by telephone, which the Iraqis will disconnect as they please. They are to be fingerprinted upon arrival, as if they were prisoners of war. One report said Iraqi guards, perhaps even the same guards who killed their friends and relatives, will be based inside the camp.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy to Iraq is Martin Kobler. He penned a column on Camp Ashraf for the International Herald Tribune which includes:

As a first step, it calls for the camp residents to voluntarily relocate to a transit site at the Baghdad airport. In contrast to Camp Ashraf, this site would be monitored around the clock by observers from the United Nations. There, the residents would be interviewed by the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, to determine their eligibility for refugee status, paving the way for their resettlement outside of Iraq. Most have filed refugee claims. A small number have returned to Iran in recent years, but many others will want to go elsewhere.
Under the same agreement, the government of Iraq has made two key commitments that it must uphold. First, it has accepted full responsibility for the safety and security of the residents, from the relocation process throughout their stay at the new facility. Secondly, it has promised that nobody would be forced to go to Iran or elsewhere against their wishes.
The new site is a former U.S. Marine base that can hold more than 5,000 people. It has been equipped at considerable expense to receive the residents of Camp Ashraf. It has cooking and medical facilities, space for recreational activities and provisions for women and religious observance. UNHCR has carried out a careful technical assessment and determined that the new camp meets the humanitarian standards it applies for refugee situations around the world.
Yes, the two are at odds over the conditions of Camp Liberty. First, Reuters, Kobler's column was not "an article in Wednesday's New York Times."  It was a column run by the International Herald Tribune.  The New York Times is now the sole owner of that paper and it elected to repost the column to the New York Times website today.  It did not run it in the paper.  This should have been clear with the note the Times' website attached to the column at the end: "A version of this op-ed appeared in print on February 16, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune."  Repeating, the column did not run "in Wednesday's New York Times."  That is an error you should correct.  It's also a minor point except to note that the wires obviously don't read the daily New York Times -- either in print or digital form.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just something worth noting.
Confusion.  For some reason, Ban Ki-moon weighed in today.  No indicationthat this would be happening from Kobler's column.  More confusing are his remarks.  The UN News Centre notes:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for the start of the relocation of residents of the settlement in Iraq formerly known as Camp Ashraf, urging the Government and the camp dwellers to continue to cooperate so that the process can be carried out in a peaceful manner.
"The Secretary-General reiterates that the Government of Iraq bears the primary responsibility for the security and the welfare of the residents of Camp Ashraf," said a statement issued by his spokesperson.
"At the same time, the residents of Camp Ashraf also bear a responsibility to abide by the laws of Iraq. Any provocation or violence must be avoided and would be unacceptable."
I'm confused why he made that last statement?  Are Camp Ashraf residents threating to riot or attack?  There's been no reports indicating that.  They aren't supposed to have any weapons, the US disarmed them.  It's a very interesting remark.  Did he say it? Let's go to the UN's post of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's remarks:
The Secretary-General continues to closely follow the situation in Camp Ashraf. Over the past few months, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), under the leadership of his Special Representative, Martin Kobler, and in close cooperation with UNHCR, the European Union, the United States and other interested Member States, has been tirelessly working as an impartial facilitator to promote a peaceful resolution of this issue, within the framework of UNAMI's humanitarian mandate.
At the request of the Secretary-General, the Government of Iraq extended its deadline to close Camp Ashraf from 31 December 2011 to 30 April 2012. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on 25 December 2011 between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq has laid the foundation for a peaceful and durable solution, respecting both the sovereignty of Iraq and meeting Iraq's international humanitarian and human rights obligations.
The Secretary-General acknowledges the efforts of the Government of Iraq to prepare the temporary transit location to host the residents and allow UNHCR to undertake refugee status determination. On 31 January 2012, UNHCR confirmed that the infrastructure and facilities at the temporary transit location are in accordance with the international humanitarian standards stipulated in the MoU.
The Secretary-General believes that the time has come to start the relocation process without further delay. He urges the Iraqi authorities and the residents of Camp Ashraf to continue to cooperate and complete the process in a peaceful manner. The Secretary-General reiterates that the Government of Iraq bears the primary responsibility for the security and the welfare of the residents of Camp Ashraf. At the same time, the residents of Camp Ashraf also bear a responsibility to abide by the laws of Iraq. Any provocation or violence must be avoided and would be unacceptable.
The Secretary-General reiterates his call to Member States to contribute to a durable solution by demonstrating their readiness to accept eligible residents of Camp Ashraf who wish to resettle in third countries.
The Secretary-General stresses that the United Nations remains strongly committed to continue to do its utmost to facilitate a peaceful and durable solution.
Yes, the remarks the UN intended to be attributed to him carry it.  So where is that in the Retuers report?  Or the AFP report?  Not present in either. That's the part that confuses me regarding the two news outlets.  In terms of Ban Ki-Moon, the remarks admonishing Camp Ashraf residents not to resort to violence and the timing of the 'you must move now'  statements are confusing.
Turning to the political scene, Al Mada notes that the Parliament discussed the 2012 federal budget yesterday, they also did a reading (the first reading) of it. The article mainly addresses MP Jaafar al-Moussawi. He is a part of the National Alliance and a member of the Sadr bloc. He is also an opponent/rival of Nouri's for many years now. He has repeatedly, over the years, called for the Constitution to be followed and castigated Nouri when Nouri refused to do so. November 28th, a bomb went off outside Parliament. Dropping back to that day's snapshot:

In the one that will probably have the most impact the Baghdad-based government, Parliament was attacked. Confusion remains as to what it was attacked with. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) puts it this way, "Also Monday, a mortar round landed inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing at least two people, police said. The round landed on the outdoor car park that belongs to the Iraqi Parliament compound and hit a car. " Citing the news channel Al-Arabiya, Adnkronos Security maintains it was a rocket. KUNA states mortars and that it "hit a parking lot near the parliament" leaving at least four injured. Aswat al-Iraq notes Parliament's Mohammed al-Khalidi states it was a car and a suicide bombing, "the car exploded outside the parliament building, where the driver was trying enter, but blocked by a military hummer, which obliged him to commit suicide." AFP emphasizes the confusion over details, "The explosion in the parking lot of the Iraqi parliament was caused by a mortar round, said Baghdad security spokesman Qassem al-Moussawi and several other sources. However, at least two sources at parliament said it was a car bomb." Parliament's spokesperson Aidan Helmi declares the attack was an attempted assassination of Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and states the car involved was similar to the cars used in Nujaifi's security detail and that when asked to display a security badge, the car slammed into anothe car, the driver got out and detonated a bomb on his person. Jack Healy, Yasir Ghazi, Andrew E. Kramer and Zaid Thaker (New York Times) observe, "An attempted bombing steps outside Parliament would represent a serious security breach inside one of the capital's most heavily guarded sectors, raising questions about the competence -- or complicity -- of security forces. Parliament sits inside the Green Zone, the locked-down expanse along the Tigris River that houses many Iraqi governmetn buildings and the American Embassy."

Immediately came the lies. In order to try to elevate Nouri to martyr status, he and his lackeys began declaring that it was an attack on him. He was no where near the Parliament nor scheduled to be. But his vanity is so great that everything must be about him.

The attacks were blamed -- by the press -- on the usual catch-all: al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
More recently, Nouri's asked that the Supreme Court lift Jaafar al-Moussawi's immunity and accused him of being responsible for the bombing. al-Moussawi held his press conference yesterday at the Parliament building and denied any involvement in the bombing or guilt of the charges. He decried unnamed politicians who were attempting to use the media to smear his name. He stated that a DNA test on the body of a corpse thought to be the suicide bomber demonstrates that the man, two hours prior to the bombing, killed someone working for al-Moussawi (a bodyguard). al-Moussawi states he has other information and will be sharing it. Dar Addustour has him declaring that it was not him or people supporting him that did the bombing but people wanting to harm him for Saddam Hussein's execution. Alsumaria TV reports this morning that Spain's Ambassador to Iraq, Jose Turbine, is stating that the national conference is going to resolve the al-Hashemi issue.

Today Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The preparatory committee for the National Conference held its third meeting today with the attendance of all parties, according to a Parliament statement issued today."  Since December, President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national conference to address the political crisis. All this time later, all that's taken place is meetings to prepare for it. Al Mada reports that al-Nujaifi attempted to meet with State of Law for a discussion but they rebuffed him. al-Nujaifi is a member of the Iraqiya political slate headed by Ayad Allawi. They came in first in the March 2010 elections. Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law slate came in second. Iraqiya's Haider Mullah is calling for the issues of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to be addressed prior to the national conference. Nouri is demanding that al-Mutlaq (a Sunni and member of Iraqiya) be stripped of his title (and immunity -- so Nouri can sue him for "libel" for his comparison of Nouri to Saddam Hussein) and he issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi (a Sunni and member of Iraqiya) on charges of 'terrorism.' This is what finally prompted press attention in the political crisis that's gone on since December 2010.