Saturday, April 20, 2013

Nikita: Broken Home

It's the weekend!  And another great episode of  The CW's Nikita aired last night.   I can't believe how great this season has been, the best season of Nikita ever.  Please, please let there be a season four.


Okay, background.  Nikita revolves around Division.  Ex-cons on death row were turned into assassins and told they were working for the government.  Percy ran Division and Amanda was under him. She was a doctor and over implanting false memories and erasing real ones. 

Amanda was also having an affair with a Russian spymaster.  And planning to take over Division.

Nikita was out of Division.  She had broken free.  She'd realized this was not what they were being told -- a government operation -- but a rogue agency.  She couldn't go back in to bring it down so she got Russian heiress Alex to do it.  Alex was one of Nikita's missions.  She was sent to kill Alex's family and Alex.  She did some killing (I believe Alex's father).  She couldn't kill Alex and saved her.  Disobeying Amanda.  It may have been the first time.

Amanda has always felt a bond with Nikita even though the two are nemesis.  But Amanda's also toyed with Alex for years.  So efforts to bring down Division brought in Nikita and Alex and computer guru Birkhoff.  Then Michael who trained Nikita in Division and who fell in love with her.  Eventually Owen -- a guardian -- was brought in.  To keep the government from ever attacking Division, Percy put all the information on their secret black ops mission on black boxes, distributed the boxes around the world and had Division agents act as guardians.  Owen was one.

He came on board.  Ryan was a CIA analyst.  He figured out a way to help Nikita.  Percy had him killed.  Only it was like a Division death.  Meaning he died in season one but it was a fake death.  Percy kept him alive and imprisoned to use Ryan's skills.  Season two, Nikita realized this and broke him out.

Sean was a Navy Seal who emerged on the scene in season two to go after Nikita.  It turned out his mother was a US Senator.  One of the ones that Division reported to.  She had concerns about Percy and his loyalties.  Percy had all the senators killed who were on oversight but she managed to live.  She's dead now.  They managed to kill her.  Sean fell in love with Alex and works with Nikita and Michael.  In season three, he 'died' after Amanda set him up.  She made him look like a killer so Nikita and company created a public death to allow the hunt for Sean to end.

Amanda seized control of Division in season two while Percy was imprisoned briefly.  Percy's now apparently dead.  Amanda lost control of Division at the end of season two.  Michael and Nikita began running it with Ryan.  Their goal was to bring in rogue agents and then free the ones working there.

That hasn't gone as planned.  Alex was kidnapped this season by Amanda who did things to her mind.  She's now part of a rebellion in Division as a result.  Last week, Amanda grabbed Owen on a mission and screwed with his mind.  He now thinks he's Sam.  She got him to bring her Nikita.  Alex and company implemented the take over of Division and imprisoned Michael.  Owen was there to get the black box for Amanda and got trapped when all the exits were sealed.  The rebellions was about to kill Sean which is when Alex lied and said he was with them to save him.  Rachel, whom Alex recruited, is out of control, ready to kill anyone and not concerned about people's safety.  Chris, Rachel's partner, is even worse.  Alex's notion that everyone could walk out peacefully is ripped apart now.

Now for last night's episode.

Sean:   You gotta' do something.  You gotta take control from Rachel, make them listen.

Alex:  Listen to what?

Sean: The truth.  The government's never going to let 300 former convicts turned assassins just disappear without the president's approval.   Look, if you take charge, we can free Michael and restore order but you need to make them stop following Rachel.

Alex:  I thought you were on board with this.

Sean:  That was just so the angry villagers wouldn't tear me to pieces. Alex, if we run, we are going to be hunted for the rest of our lives.  These people are not going to end up free, they're going to end up dead.

Alex:  No.  Not this time.  I will not let that happen again.

Sean:  Again?  What do you mean again?

Alex flashes back to the brothel days.


Throughout the episode, we saw Amanda with Nikita.  Nikita was chained up. Amanda kept going on about her plans and how much alike they were.  And how Alex had turned on Nikita and launched the rebellion.  If Nikita was there, Amanda said, maybe she could have stopped it, but Nikita wasn't there.

Nikita:   Ah, if you're going to keep talking Amanda, just kill me now.

Amanda: Not yet. 

Nikita: Or ever.  You can't kill me, you don't want to.


She wants to put Nikita under.  And does.  And traps her in a lop where she thinks she's Amanda in 1987.  Her sister Helen is being tortured by their father.  He's trying to create PTS.  (Post-Traumatic Stress.)  He works for the military and they won't let him test his theories on soldiers so he uses his daughters Amanda and Helen.  Amanda is the control.  Helen is the tortured one.

Let me do this pretty much all at once.  Amanda keeps trying to save Helen or saying she will.  She wants to go to the police. Helen has no birth certificate, her father's kept her off the grid.

She was born minutes after Amanda.  The whole point is to show Nikita that some people can't be saved.  As Nikita is stuck in the loop, she tries to free Helen but Helen kills their father and then Helen kills her.

Nikita realizes Amanda is really Helen and she killed her own family.

Birkhoff is the computer genius.  And they're forcing him -- at Division -- to transfer funds into each person's new account and create new identities for them.


Sean tells Alex this won't work and she doesn't agree.  He points out that they will be tracked down.

Alex rushes out to the main floor where Birkhoff and Rachel are with the rest.  She tells Rachel she needs to talk to her now.  Rachel says no.  Alex says yes, they have to disable shadow net otherwise the government will be able to track them down.

Now Rachel's interested. She wants Birkhoff to disable it.  He doesn't want to and he can't.  He'd need to be on another level.  Well then go there, Rachel orders him with Chris and another thug by his side.

Rachel also orders Sean killed.  Alex screams no and the compromise is they take him to the holding cells down below and toss him in with Michael. 


Down there, Birkhoff disables it.  But makes a point to see shadow net lives on here (points to his head) and here (points to his chest).  Chris says Birkhoff's right.  They're going to have to kill him.  But Birkhoff grabs Chris' gun, shoots the other thug and knocks Chris out.

He then gets to work on stopping the transfers, reversing them and reinstalling shadow net.

Up at the main deck (Division is several levels and it's underground, just FYI), Sonya's doing the transfers when she can't anymore.  Rachel calls Chris on the Comm but can't get him.

Alex and the thugs find Chris who says Birkhoff went crazy and started trying to kill everyone.  Alex says that's not like Birkhoff.  She sees Owen and she asks him to find Birkhoff. 


Birkhoff trips the circuitry using the panel he's been using.  The doors open freeing Michael and Sean from the prison.

As Birkoff tries to elude the thugs, he bumps into Owen.   "This place has gone all Crimson Tide or are you late to the party as usual?" Birkhoff asks Owen.

Owen wants Birkhoff to get him out of Division.  Sean and Michael get the upper hand.  They can't kill Owen, only he knows where Amanda is holding Nikita.  The plan is for Michael and Owen to go up the elevator and to Nikita.

But Owen's still working for himself and thinking he's Sam.  So he breaks free, shoots at Michael when he grabs a gun and makes it to the surface.  Michael needs the elevator back down.  Birkhoff tries to force it back down but they're under fire (Sean's shooting back at the thugs).  Michael gets in the elevator and Birkhoff gets it back up to the ground level before Sean runs out of bullets and he and Birkhoff are captured.

At the top, Chris repeats his lie and Sonya, like Alex before, says that could never happen.  Birkhoff says that they tried to kill him.  A battle breaks out on the main deck.  Alex doesn't want anyone hurt but ends up in the middle of it when they try to kill Sean.  Meanwhile, Birkhoff's being beaten by Chris when Sonya grabs a machine gun and starts shooting to save him.  (Sonya and Birkhoff are a couple.  They're the computer experts also.)

A lot of people are dead.  A lot are bloodied.  Birkhoff yells if you want to go, go, if you want to stay, stay.  A handful stay.

Owen walks in on Amanda.  He's shocked by Nikita hooked up to a machine.  Amanda says she's not done with Nikita yet so he'll have to wait.  He says he's waited long enough, he wants his money now.

Michael walks in.  There's a chip on the black box.

He tracked Owen that way.

Owen and Amanda split.

Michael releases Nikita and they hurry back to Division.


Everything on the deck is pretty much shot up. Sonya held on to her gun -- smart woman -- long after the rebels departed.  Sonya's a lot smarter than I've given her credit for.  People begin going to the medical bay and elsewhere until it's just Sean and Alex.



Sean's in pain and Alex notices when he sits down on the stairs.  He tells her it's just a cracked rib.

 

Alex: I couldn't save my father. I couldn't save Larissa.  I couldn't save those girls I left behind in the brothel.

Sean:  What's done is done.  I just want my girl back.

Larissa never existed.  That's the doctor whom Amanda planted in Alex's head.  But there are more important issues.

Alex tells Sean that (two episodes before) Rachel didn't shoot Ryan, she did.  Sean tells her he knew.  And he knew it wasn't her.  It was what Alex did to her brain.  As important as that may seem, it's not the most important issue.  What is?

It's not a cracked rib.  Alex sees he's bleeding.  There's no exit wound.  It's nicked an organ and he's bleeding internally.  He knows he's dying.

Sean: Alex, promise me you'll find a way to get better.

Alex:  Please! Please! Somebody help!

Sean:  Alex, just promise me.

Alex:  I promise.  Sean, look, you were wrong before when you said the thing that matters the most to me was saving everyone.  You were wrong.  What I was trying to say was the thing that matters to me the most is you.

Sean looks around at the empty bridge.

Sean:  Hey, this is where we first met.

Alex:  Hey.

They kiss and he dies.

And he's dead.  I still can't believe they killed off Sean. After Michael, he was the most likeable guy on the show, one you rooted for.  I can't stand Ryan and wish he would get killed off.

Nikita and Michael are back at Division.  They're at a lower level.  They see Sonya.  She's zipping up body bags.  She tells them that most people are dead or gone.  And that they need to go up to ops right now, Birkhoff's there.

They go up there and Birkhoff's by Sean's body.  He says Sean's dead and Alex's freaked out and ran off.  That's the end of the episode.

I am going to miss Sean so much.  He was a great addition to the show.  Dillon Casey played him and let's give him a round of applause because a lot of characters come and go on this show and Sean was clearly supposed to be a brief character.  But Casey brought Sean to life and did a great job.  Hope he gets a role on another action show real soon.


Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


 
Friday, April 19, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue in Iraq, Nouri's thugs attack the protesters (again),  a helicopter crashes in Anbar Province, Saturday elections mean curfews and border closings, we pick up on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing where Shinseki spins, Lynne Stewart remains a political prisoner in the United States, and more.



Protests continued today in Iraq.   They have been taking place now for over 118 days (April 1st, they reached the 100 day mark).  Key developments today?

They include harsh restrictions and targeting of the protesters.   Iraqi Spring MC notes that travel into Baghdad was cut off by government forces, the same was true in Hawija and in Samarra (where forces also shot at people trying to enter and they confiscated banners) and that protesters in Falluja are demanding the release of those Nouri's forces arrested for trying to enter the city. In Baiji, Nouri's forces lied about a bombing to clear the area.  Iraqi Spring MC reports that Sheikh Saad ami al-Assi has been arrested by security forces.  Iraqi Spring MC also reports that activists at the Hawija sit-in were targeted by Nouri's forces and three were injured.  National Iraqi News Agency adds that in addition to the three injured, 1 of the protestors was shot dead.


As the protesters were attacked and harassed by protesters violence took place.  Alsumaria notes 1 of Nouri's Tigris Operation Forces is dead in Hawija.  The forces attacked the protesters and some man (who may or may not have been part of the protests) darted into a home under construction, emerged with a gun and shot dead one of Nouri's forces as the protesters staging the sit-in were being attacked.  Again, the person may or may not have been part of the protests.  He may not have been and may have been a bystander, a criminal or a plant by the forces to create violence. 



 Iraqi Spring MC reports that Sheikh Adnan al-Hasanian spoke today to protesters in Amiriyah and was very critical of the government because of its hostility to the Iraqi people.  What's he talking about?  You'd need a functioning press in the west to know that and we don't have that.  Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:


  Kitabat reports that tribal leaders in Dhi Qar have signed a letter apologizing to activists.  For what?  For Nouri's "abusive verbal attack" on them.  Nouri gave a little speech where he called the peaceful activists lawless rebels and threatened to use force against them.  Peaceful protests have been going on across Iraq, peaceful protests against Nouri, since December.
They aren't the only ones condemning Nouri for those remarks.  NINA notes that Osama al-Nujaifi's party has condemned the remarks and called for Nouri to stop verbally attacking demonstrators and return to Baghdad to oversea security issues.  Osama al-Nujaifi is part of the Iraqiya political slate but this was his Motahedoon Coalition issuing the condemnation.  Iraqiya also condemned the remarks.  Maysoun al-Damlouji, Iraqiya spokesperson, is quoted by NINA stating, "Describing our honorable people who peacefully demonstrate across Iraq demanding their legitimate rights as conspirators is the ugliest words you can use against the oppressed people." Iraqiya MP Ahmed al-Alwani added that Nouri's attacks on demonstrators "incite sectarian strife."

Even Nouri's new bride Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling out the remarks leading Kitabat to wonder if the honeymoon is over for Nouri and Saleh or if this is just more propaganda from Saleh in an attempt to boost the votes for the National Dialogue Front?



See, Iraqi outlets can report what's going on.  For some reason the BBC, AP, AFP, et al can't or just won't.  It's probably the latter.  I would assume if Barack Obama gave a speech and the audience began chanting "Liar! Liar!" -- that



That's demonstrators in Adhamiya today where the Minister of Justice was called out for his public statements that he will continue to carry out death sentences.   Reuters and AFP note that mortars claimed 7 lives and left twelve people injured in Khales.



 2012 saw Nouri al-Maliki's government in Iraq execute at least 129 peopleTuesday saw 3 men and 1 woman sentenced to death as well as 21 executions carried out.  Today United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called out the executions:




GENEVA (19 April 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday condemned the execution of 21 individuals in Iraq earlier in the week, which brought the total to 33 in the past month, and said she was appalled by reports that the Ministry of Justice has announced that a further 150 people may be executed in the coming days.
She stressed that the justice system in the country was “too seriously flawed to warrant even a limited application of the death penalty, let alone dozens of executions at a time.”
“Executing people in batches like this is obscene,” Pillay said. “It is like processing animals in a slaughterhouse. The criminal justice system in Iraq is still not functioning adequately, with numerous convictions based on confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment, a weak judiciary and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards. The application of the death penalty in these circumstances is unconscionable, as any miscarriage of justice as a result of capital punishment cannot be undone.”
A total of 1,400 people are believed to be currently on death row in Iraq, and 129 people were executed in 2012 alone.
The Government of Iraq maintains that it only executes individuals who have committed terrorist acts or other serious crimes against civilians, and have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005.
The High Commissioner said she is concerned at the broad scope and wide application of article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which envisages the death penalty for a wide range of terrorism-related acts, not all of which can be considered to meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” allowing for the imposition of the death penalty under international law.
Pillay said she is also deeply concerned at Iraq’s lack of compliance with its international human rights obligations in relation to the imposition of the death penalty, in particular under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq has been a State Party for more than 40 years.
The High Commissioner emphasized the need for transparency and stringent respect of due process. She called on the Government “to halt executions, conduct a credible and independent review of all death row cases and disclose information on the number and identity of death row prisoners, the charges and judicial proceedings brought against them, and the outcome of the review of their cases.”
The High Commissioner also expressed concern at the apparent inability of prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges to exercise the right to seek pardon or commutation of their sentences, as prescribed in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and questioned why the presidential authority to pardon or commute death sentences (granted by article 286 of the Criminal Procedure Code) is hardly ever exercised.
Pillay said she was pleased to note that one part of Iraq – the Kurdistan Region – is already upholding an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, and urged the central Government to follow suit and heed the repeated calls by the international community to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to the abolition of the death penalty in accordance with repeated UN General Assembly Resolutions.* She pointed out that around 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, or introduced a moratorium.
“I am the first to argue there must never be impunity for serious crimes. But at least if someone is jailed for life, and it is subsequently discovered there was a miscarriage of justice, he or she can be released and compensated,” Pillay said.
*See GA resolutions 62/149 (2007), 63/168 (2009), 65/205 (2010) and 67/176 (2012).
ENDS
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KUNA covers the remarks at length here, AP offers a brief write up hereSky News noted yesterday that there had been 50 executions in Iraq so far this year.   Pravda also notes 50 executions so far this year.



Staying on the topic of violence, yesterday a Baghdad internet cafe with pool tables was attacked with a bomb.  Today AP notes the death toll has risen to 32 (sixty-five are injured).  Meanwhile National Iraqi News Agency reports an Iraqi military helicopter has crashed in Anbar Province leaving four people injured.  In addition, NINA notes a Hilla car bombing claimed 8 lives, a Kirkuk bombing claimed 1 life and left seventeen injured, a Baquba bombing claimed 6 lives and left seven people injured, security forces in Falluja shot dead a civilian "for unknown reasons,"


 Tomorrow, 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces are scheduled to vote in provincial elections.  Security forces voted last Saturday.  Nouri has refused to allow residents of Anbar Province and Nineveh Province to vote (he's hugely unpopular in those provinces where the protests against his government are the strongest).  His incompetence and inability to do his job means Kirkuk can't vote.   In 2006, the Bully Boy Bush administration refused the Iraqi Parliament's choice of Ibrahim al-Jaafari for prime minister and backed Nouri al-Maliki instead. By the spring of 2006, Nouri was prime minister.  He took an oath to uphold the Constitution.  That would include Article 140 which calls for a way to resolve the dispute over oil-rich Kirkuk (is it part of the Kurdistan Regional Government or part of the Iraqi central government out of Baghdad) -- a census and a referendum which must take place "by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007."  Clearly that never took place.  After voters failed to give Nouri a second term in the March 2010 elections (his State of Law came in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya), the US-brokered an agreement to give their puppet (now Barack Obama's puppet) a second term as prime minister via an extra-Constitutional legal contract.  To get the Kurds to sign off on the contract, Nouri scheduled a census for the start of December 2010.  After the contract was signed, Nouri quickly cancelled that census.  There has been no attempt since then.

Deutsche Welle explores Kirkuk in "Iraq's Kirkuk remains in legal limbo"

Over the years as deadlines to meet these obligations come and go, both sides have dug in. Kurdish troops are deployed in the north of Kirkuk, while Baghdad has stationed a military contingent of exclusively Shiite Arabs in the south. "We have no other choice because Baghdad does not respect the constitutional agreements," says Khaled Shwani, an MP with the Kurdish Alliance that represents the main coalition of Kurdish parties.
 "Arab families are being given US$20,000 to move back to their native regions but they are still here," says Shwani. He also accuses Baghdad of "deliberately delaying" the constitutional requirement of addressing the demographic issues in Kirkuk. The Kurdish MP can hardly hide his dismay about the complex status quo. "Kirkuk is the black well in which Iraq finds its reflection. There is no political agreement, no dialogue and no confidence between the different communities."


The other three provinces not voting tomorrow?  They're in the semi-autonomous north where Nouri has no control.  The KRG's three provinces will vote September 21st. Those three provinces are Dohuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah.  Had the Constitution been followed by the end of 2007 as it was supposed to be, the KRG might or might not include Kirkuk.  That's northern Iraq which shares a border with Turkey.

Eastern Iraq shares a border with Iran.  Southern Iraq shares a border with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia also borders Iraq from the west -- as do Jordan and Syria.  Petra reports, "Iraq has informed Jordan that it will close the 'Turaibeil' (Karama) border crossing for 24 hours to hold election."  KUNA continues, "They added in a statement that the borders would be closed against people and goods for 24 hours."  John Hannah (Foreign Policy) notes of tomorrow's elections:


[. . .]  in a highly controversial move, Maliki's cabinet decreed in March that balloting would be delayed by up to six months in Iraq's two most influential Sunni-majority provinces, Anbar and Nineveh -- both of which border Syria and have for months been the locus of large-scale (but mostly peaceful) anti-Maliki protests. Maliki claimed -- not entirely without justification, especially in Anbar -- that he was simply responding to the petition of local leaders worried that voters could not be adequately protected from growing collaboration between al Qaeda affiliates on either sides of the Iraq-Syria border. 
His opponents charge that the prime minister's real agenda is avoiding a massive anti-Maliki turnout that would further escalate opposition to his government. They correctly note that previous elections were conducted under far more threatening conditions. Both the U.S. and U.N. urged Maliki to reverse course, worried about the appearance of disenfranchising millions of Sunnis already agitated by claims that Maliki has been systematically moving to marginalize their community in the interests of establishing an Iranian-backed Shiite dictatorship. Maliki turned aside these criticisms, while suggesting the delayed elections might occur as early as May.


Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) offers:


Although overall attacks are at roughly similar levels as they were for the last provincial elections in 2009, at least 13 candidates and two political party officers have been killed in targeted attacks in the past few weeks – a record number.  Almost 150 candidates have so far been struck off the list of candidates, most of them for alleged ties to the banned Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.
“It’s a showdown,” says Iraqi political analyst Saad Eskander. “They use 'legal' methods – expelling the ones they don’t want or by force – physical liquidation. This is an extension of politics, not an extension of terrorism.”


It's 15.  That's what the Iraqi press has been reporting and that's what Tim Arango (New York Times) reported earlier this week.  The Times is notorious for erring on the side for figures being too small, not too large.  It's 15.  Tim Arango, "At least 15 candidates, all members of the minority Sunni community, have been assassinated -- some apparently by political opponents, others by radical Sunni militants."  And that's just the assassinated -- that doesn't include the attempted assassinations.  Nor does it include non-provincial candidates who are killed -- such as officials working the elections.  National Iraqi News Agency reports, "Police told NINA on Friday, Apr. 19, that gunmen opened fire from guns with silencers at Moshtaq Talib, the Deputy Director of Karkh II Education Department, while driving his car in Amil neighborhood, killing him instantly." 

Mayada al-Askari (Gulf News) reports on the efforts to have candidates listed on the ballot -- as per usual, the Justice and Accountability Commission has been gaming the election (which includes who they allow back on the ballot):

The ace card is with Al Maliki, who is also calling for a majority government -- something that will not please the majority of the political blocs in the country’s lame political process. However, it is something that will make Iraqis happy as they will know who exactly is responsible for all the corruption and failures in the country. Both Saleh Al Mutlag -- who returned to the government after calling Al Maliki a dictator -- and Osama Al Nujaifi have been more successful with their election pitch than Allawi’s Al Iraqiya list. The reinstatement of the top candidate of the Mutlag list in Baghdad and of the number three candidate of Al Nujayfi in Nineveh is positive news for the two men. Al Maliki only has problems with a single candidate (in Basra) who was reinstated.


 Niqash offers strong election coverage with Mustafa Habib's "voters look for something else: are iraq’s sectarian politics over?," Daoud al-Ali's "hot or not: epidemic of puppy love for female politicians strikes karbala," Mohammed Hamid al-Sawaf and Naba al-Dawalibi's "power, influence, money, god: which will iraqi voters choose?," and Christine van den Toorn's "special ballot: were iraqi military forced to vote for al-maliki?"--they have done the strongest reporting on the elections of any non-Iraqi newspaper or channel. 


Monday there was a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.  We attended the hearing that morning.  That afternoon, the attack in Boston took place and, like everyone else, we were trying to find out what was going on there.  Yesterday's snapshot covered the hearing and noted that we'd pick up on it today with regards to Senator Jay Rockefeller.  In addition, Ava offered "Sanders makes impression early in tenure as Committee Chair" on the hearing last night and Kat offered "I can always count on Senator Richard Burr."  The topic of the hearing was the VA's budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014.  Appearing before the Committee was VA Secretary Eric Shinseki -- with Allison Hickey, Dr. Robert Petzel, Steve Muro, Stephen Warren and W. Todd Grams tagging along.

Senator Jay Rockefeller apparently is too old to grasp the term "multi-task."  He wasted everyone's time with nonsense such as this, "It's homelessness on the one side, suicides on the other, how do you pick the tragedy?"

Does he think he's Barbara Walters and this was an interview?  Those are the problems.  The VA Secretary, whomever it is, will have to address them and a lot more.

Also, Eric Shinseki's title is "Secretary."  It is not "General."  We applauded Michael Hayden for using the title "Director" when he was made "Director" of the CIA.  Eric Shinseki is the Secretary of the VA.  That is his current title.  If it's beneath him and he needs by some other title, then he needs to resign.  Watching Jay lick his lips and call him "General" repeatedly was sickening.  And we need to review that title because it's not "Doctor."

So this crap from Jay Rockefeller was also a waste of time and had nothing to do with the VA budget -- which was the topic of the hearing,  "How do you take someone who's on a suicide watch list, how do you try to break through?"  If he really gave a damn about that question, he should have directed it to the only doctor present, Dr. Robert Petzel. 

Of course, Shinseki couldn't answer that question but he used it to eat up time, run down the clock and be a glory hog.  "You know four years ago," he declared, "we weren't receiving suicide information, veteran suicide information from the states.  So we wrote, and the states have been very responsive."  And he went on and on and on.  And Rockefeller let him.

Wow, Eric Shinseki, you're quite the man aren't you.  You're just accomplishing so much and that's why you can't backlog, right?  Reality, Eric Shinseki did nothing on that.

That was the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that repeatedly raised that issue and that was then-Chair of the Committee Patty Murray that did the heavy lifting.  August 2011, Adam Ashton reported on it for McClatchy's News Tribune and that article doesn't say a word about Eric's efforts -- because there were none.  It does however open with, "Washington Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday encouraged state government to start tallying veteran suicides, as [the state of] Washington already does.  Her goal is to quantify an under-reported number that could help health agencies improve their outreach to service members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Senator Jay Rockefeller:   I remember a couple of years ago the excitement when DoD and the Veterans Administration were planning to work together, I went to a number of common facilities, joint-facilities and everything was full of optimism and now all of the sudden, evidently, unless I'm wrong there's been a pull-back from electronic records, all things that flow from this cooperation, there's been a pull-back from DoD.  I'm curious about that.


Secretary Eric Shinseki:  We are both still committed to a seamless transition of service members into VA.  That has not changed.  We are also both committed to an electronic health record that we share in common and in the lnaguage that we have come to use in the past four years of growing the concept, it is a single, joint-common, integrated electronic health record -- open in architecture, non-proprietary in design.  And all of those terms are code to keep us focused on what we want in an electronic health record -- one that we share together and one that will be as good five years from now as it is on the day we first invest and purchase it as opposed to being faced -- over and over again -- with an aging electronic health record that we somehow have to refinance years down the road. So this is the concept that we have commit ourselves to and, uh, and I would say that, uh, my sense is that we have not backed away from that although Secretary Hagel who has just arrived is in the midst of, uh, getting into this issue and, uh, uh, I've agreed that, uh, he ought to have time to do that and -- 

Senator Jay Rockefeller: But you don't know of any back away? 


I noted in yesterday's snapshot that Jay's been saying he'd be leaving the Senate for years and that he never does.  A few e-mailed to note that he has declared he won't seek re-election in 2014.  I am aware of that.  I was also in DC all week so I'm also aware of certain individuals high in the Democratic Party structure entertaining at dinners -- including two I attended -- with tales of Jay's recent 'concern' that he might be really hard to replace and, if the numbers just aren't there, let him know, there's still time for him to run.  The laughter that greets those tales should have been greeting Jay's nonsense at the Senate hearing.


Shinseki should have been pressed hard on what he declared above.  He was not.  Last week, Shinseki appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  We covered it here with last Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and "Seamless transition? Shinseki wasted the last four years," while Ava reported on it with "Shinseki tries to present 134% increase as a gift for women," Wally with  "How the VA and DoD waste your tax dollars (Wally)" and Kat with "DAV calls for Congress to reject 'chained CPI'."  In addition, Dona moderated a discussion of the hearing at Third "Congress and Veterans."



The shocker of that hearing was learning that nothing had been done on the electronic record.  Not one damn thing.  Let's be clear -- and let's be quick -- since 2005, Congress has been funding this and holding hearings on this.  Shineski became VA Secretary at the start of 2009.  He and the VA (under him) have reported progress to Congress repeatedly over the last four years.  The first step of progress is deciding who's operating system will be used -- because DoD and VA computers systems are not currently compatible.  In last week's hearing, Shinseki revealed that this hadn't been decided but he favored VA's system.  This is the first step.  You can't design a record until you know what system is going to be using it.  So for four years nothing has happened.  That was shocking news.

Now let's deal with his nonsense before the Senate.  Let's go slowly over what he told Rockefeller (already quoted above) about the electronic record.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  We are both still committed to a seamless transition of service members into VA.  That has not changed.  We are also both committed to an electronic health record that we share in common and in the language that we have come to use in the past four years of growing the concept, it is a single, joint-common, integrated electronic health record -- open in architecture, non-proprietary in design. 


Repeating, to design that record, you need to know what system will be using it.  That's the first step.  If that's not been decided, nothing has. 

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  And all of those terms are code to keep us focused on what we want in an electronic health record -- one that we share together and one that will be as good five years from now as it is on the day we first invest and purchase it as opposed to being faced -- over and over again -- with an aging electronic health record that we somehow have to refinance years down the road. 

 Is he an idiot?  Or is he a liar?  I don't know but he's not qualified for his job.  I called and visited various records offices in DC and surrounding areas this week to ask about this.  Specifically, how often do you update?  How often do you switch?  One of my favorite and most helpful sources explained that she was about to retire after decades of service.  They have records on microfilm (rolls of film).  That predated her joining the office.  She could remember when they filmed records on micofiche.  They still had those.  Then she could remember the big push at the end of the seventies and start of the 80s for computers.  And they got this great computer system that they were never going to have to worry about again.  Everything would be entered and kept forever.  And then, in 1999, they got a new computer system which would communicate with the previous one saving the records.  That didn't in fact happen.  But then, in 2005, they got another new one and this one would pull from the 80s computer programs and the ones implemented in 1999.  Only it didn't.  See the old clunky terminal, she asked pointing to one lone terminal next to up to date computers?  They have to keep that in the office for those records from the 80s computer (records that span that decade through 1998).  The microfilm and microfiche are supposed to be digitized and converted over and maybe in five years that will be complete, the woman offered.

She and everyone else who works with records laughed at the notion that you can create something today and it will need no modifications to be used in the future.  If someone's having trouble grasping technology, then just think about music and how we've moved from vinyl, to cassette tape, to CDs and now MP3s.


Shinseki should be focused on providing an electronic record that works today.  He's not a pyschic, he's not a time traveler.  Focus on what's needed today and accept that the future will hold twists and turns that will surprise us all.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  So this is the concept that we have commit ourselves to and, uh, and I would say that, uh, my sense is that we have not backed away from that although Secretary Hagel who has just arrived is in the midst of, uh, getting into this issue and, uh, uh, I've agreed that, uh, he ought to have time to do that and --


Forgetting that he told the House last week that he had already had discussions with Hagel (two, and possibly three, he thought -- see the snapshot from last week, it's in there, he's quoted in full on that), we're still left with the idea that Hagel needs time.  That's idiotic.  In fact, it's so idiotic we should say, "That's so Jay Rockefeller."

In 2012, I'm using the Washington Post here, Barack Obama received 62,611,250 votes for president, securing a second term.   Mitt Romney, the GOP challenger, received 59,134,475 votes.  "Others" was 1,968,682.  About 3.5 million votes decided that election.  The percentages?  Barack got 50.6% of the vote, Romney got 47.8%.  That's less than 3% difference.

As I noted before, Eric Shinseki is neither a psychic not a time traveler.  It was a close election in 2012 (except by the electoral map), it could have gone the other way.

What's my point here?

He has had four years as Secretary of the VA.  He was supposed to implement this.  He had no idea whether Barack would win re-election or not and no idea whether he (Shinseki) would be alive in 2013 or in the position of VA Secretary.  So let's pretend Mitt Romney won for just a minute and that he appointed someone else to be VA Secretary.

What would Shinseki excuse be then?  He had a full term, a full four years to work on this.  He failed to.  He didn't know he'd get a second term as VA.  He is inept and he lacks focus.

A ton of money has been spent on this, a ton of time by Congress.  He's supposed to have kick started this long ago.  Now he wants to use Hagel as his excuse.  Chuck Hagel is Secretary of the Defense.  In Barack's first term, Robert Gates served as Secretary of Defense and was then replaced with Leon Panetta.  Chuck Hagel may end up replaced, Shinseki may end up replaced.

This program was supposed to have been started four years ago.  It is exactly where it was when Shineski was sworn in.  That is unacceptable.  As I stated last week, Barack Obama needs to sit down with Hagel and Shinseki and say, "This (VA/DoD) is the system we will use.  That discussion is now over, you need to begin working on implementing this immediately."

Only Senator Richard Blumenthal appeared to grasp the significance of what Shinseki was telling the Senate this week.   "So you have no assurance right now from the Department of Defense as to when or whether it will go forward?"

I wish we had time and space to include Blumenthal's careful probing on this.  We don't.  But he nailed Shinseki (and did so politely, he's a very polite person) and established just how little has been done.  Applause for freshman Senator Blumenthal for doing the job veteran Senator Rockefeller should have done himself.




Tuesday, there was a Senate Budget Committee hearing on the VA budget.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of that Committee.  Her office issued the following:





FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Friday, April 19, 2013
(202) 224-2834


Murray will question VA Secretary on implementation of plan to cut down claims backlog at Budget Committee hearing next Tuesday
(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, released the following statement on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) plan to expedite processing of benefit claims that have been pending for a year or more, in order to reduce the claims backlog. Senator Murray plans to question VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on implementation of the program this Tuesday, April 23rd at a Senate Budget Committee hearing that she will chair.
“This is a problem that continues to confound the VA and frustrate veterans of all eras. I’m pleased that the VA is taking action to get benefits into the hands of veterans quickly, but this has never been a problem that lends itself to easy fixes and I have a number of questions about how this program will be implemented.”
###
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct
Twitter: @mmcalvanah






I didn't attend that hearing.  I wish I had, I really wish I had.  Dona's planning to do one of the "Congress and Veterans" roundtables with us at Third Sunday.  I will try to watch the hearing on the plane ride home tomorrow so we can include some comments on it in Dona's roundtable.  Try.  Ava and I still don't know what we're covering TV wise at Third and we usually use the plane ride home to review scripts and discs.  We've got several discs of episodes we've already been sent by network friends.  Including CBS who needs a correction.  Ava and I wrote "TV: The Sewer Rises" Sunday.  We spoke with three people at NBC -- execs -- for that article.  In that article, we note that the hideous Hannibal came in second on a night when all the shows were repeats except CBS' Elementary.  A CBS friend corrected that this morning.  Elementary was a repeat.  Even as a repeat, it badly beat Hannibal.  We'll note that in the piece within 24 hours but I'm including it here because there just hasn't been time to do a correction.  That was our mistake and our bad.  We did not check it.  NBC told us it was a new episode (which may have been a simple mistake on their part or an attempt to make their Thursday night bomb seem like a hit) and we didn't check it.  A correction will go up on that piece within 24 hours and my apologies for the error.


The friend was a little upset because he'd gone through the public account on Wednesday to note the error.  And no change.  No correction.  He saw my note this morning about the problems there and called.  The problems there included a Yahoo outage on Wednesday ("scheduled maintenance" is what people displayed) and people e-mailing over and over and over to the public account.  We don't have time for those e-mails.  Martha and Shirley have been trying to cut back on those e-mails by replying to some.  The woman who wants gun control noted, for example, was informed that our primary focus here is Iraq.  There's no reason for gun control to be covered here.  I have no plans to ever cover it here.  We didn't cover Terry Schiavo here years ago.  There are a hundred-and-one 'hot button issues' that will never be covered here.  Martha and Shirley tried to cut back on these type of e-mails by informing those writing of our focus.  That has led some to send 20 and 30 and 40 e-mails in one day filled with arguments of why their 'hot button issue' must be included in the Iraq snapshot.


We're not doing that anymore.  If you're sending something and it doesn't belong here, it's trashed then.  If you start spamming us, we report you as spam.  I am furious -- not with Martha and Shirley or anyone else who works the e-mail accounts -- that I missed the Tuesday hearing.  I'm furious that we had an alert come in on it but we were drowning in nonsense in the inbox.  I'm also furious that we didn't know of the next thing I'm about to highlight until today and it came in yesterday afternoon:



Over 9,000 and counting!
“I shall refuse all solid food,” Dick Gregory declared on April 4, the date of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., “until Lynne Stewart is freed and receives medical treatment in the care of her family and with physicians of her choice without which she will die.”
Gregory, known for his social activism as much as his for comedic wit and political commentary, took this step to reinforce the worldwide petition in support of Stewart’s application for compassionate release.
Ed Asner, as committed to the struggle for social justice as he is to his acting career, issued a call to action on April 13, days before the April 19 anniversary of the 1776 battles of Concord and Lexington: “The fight to free Lynne Stewart is a front-line battle for basic rights secured through the American Revolution and is a measure of our will to reclaim a land of the free in the home of the brave.”
We can see the difference that your efforts make: as the Center for Constitutional Rights features the petition on its Facebook page, as individuals contact people they know, as journalists publish articles and conduct radio interviews, as organizations sponsor and reach out to their members. Now, let us ramp up our efforts – contact five more people this week and ask them to contact another five. The Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice are on notice: people of conscience worldwide are concerned and will continue to press on until Lynne Stewart is freed.
Visit the Justice for Lynne Stewart website www.lynnestewart.org for the full text of the declarations from Ed Asner and Dick Gregory and for the list of signers up to April 10.
View the petition  |  Reply to this message via Change.org



I can already hear the whines, 'Lynne's not Iraq!'   Lynne's someone I've known for years.  She's also a very brave woman and a very caring woman.  So she'll get an exception.  Equally true, she is Iraq related.  The Bully Boy Bush administration used 9-11 to scare the country into war with Iraq and did so by falsely linking Iraq to the 9-11 attacks.  The same administration scared up a conviction against Lynne -- who broke no law, there is no law that she broke -- by using 9-11 as a scare tactic, by falsely linking her (and her client) to 9-11.  There's no connection there.  There was never a connection.  But they played the same game with a bunch of jurors that they did with the American people.  They fooled a jury the same way they fooled a large number of Americans.


Lynne shouldn't have served one day in prison.  Barack Obama became president and I heard people swear to me that meant Lynne would be free.  I heard, "She's an activist, like his mother was!  She's a White woman who made a life with an African-American man!  Barack can relate!  She's a cancer survivor, his mother had cancer!"  I heard so many statements of nonsense.

And they were nonsense.  Under Barack, what happened was Lynne, who'd been receiving treatments for her cancer, was suddenly thrown in prison even though her appeal hadn't been decided.  As bad as Bush, Ashcroft and Gonzalez were, they didn't throw Lynne in prison while she was appealing.  And it's under Barack that her sentence goes from 28 months to 10 years.

Lynne is a lawyer.  She took on the clients who needed her and she fought to give them the best defense she could.  Anyone who faults that doesn't understand the American judicial system.  Which is why I have never been surprised to encounter conservative attorneys or judges who get that Lynne was made an example of by the government in an attempt to scare defense attorneys.  Even people on the right grasp that.  The attack on Lynne was an attack on the principles of defense that are part of the America legal system -- and that attack came from the government that acts as prosecutor.  They wanted to intimidate and they wanted to tip the scales.

Lynne's cancer has returned.  She's over seventy-years-old.  She's never been accused of being violent to anyone.  She's never been accused of breaking any law.  (She released a press release to Reuters in violation of an agreement the Justice Dept had her sign.  She did that when Bill Clinton was President.  Bill and Attorney General Janet Reno were aware of it.  They didn't consider it a crime.  They didn't let her see her client until they had her sign another agreement, but that was it.  And, it should be argued that when the Clinton administration had her sign another agreement, that was the 'judgment' on the press release.  Meaning what Ashcroft and Bush put her through was double jeopardy.)

Lynne's nowhere near completing ten years.  Most of us believe that if the government tries to make her continue to serve, she dies in prison.  She might have a chance at some good years, if she can get out of prison to return to her own doctor in New York (the government has sent her to a military prison in Fort Worth, Texas).  No offense to medical facilities in Fort Worth.  They have fine doctors there.  But -- as someone who went through her own cancer scare -- I know that it makes a big difference what your outlook is.  Lynne will be much happier and her treatment more effective if she can be home in New York with her family, her children and her husband Ralph.  I also remember the chemo and throwing up for hours in the toilet and crawling on the floor to the bed  because I was in so much pain from the treatment and my whole body ached.  I can't imagine trying to do that treatment while being put in and out of shackles or while being tossed into a prison cell where the bed's not soft, where the toilet's right there in the middle of the cell so I'm going to smelling my own vomit even after I've stopped vomiting?

I cannot believe what Lynne is being forced to endure.  And it doesn't have to be that way.  The petition calls for Lynne to receive a compassionate release.  That is doable.  That does happen.  And she deserves it.


On last week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) topics addressed include political prisoner Lynne Stewart.  We noted it last week and it's worth noting again -- plus it has all the information on the petition and on contacting the Bureau of Prisons.




Michael S. Smith:  Michael, we sorely miss our friend Lynne Stewart who's in prison serving a really unjust ten year sentence.  And, of course, as we've reminded our listeners over the last few weeks, Lynne has taken ill again.  And there's a petition for her and I know you want to talk about it and get as many active because we want to get Lynne out of prison on a compassionate release.  So tell our listeners how they can help and what the situation is now for Lynne.

 


Michael Ratner: Well we're going to link to how you can sign the petition.  Lynne's got Stage IV Cancer as a lot of you know.  That is, her initial cancer which was in remission when they put her in prison three years ago is now in full bloom.  It's spread to her bones.  It's spread to her legs. It's spread to her lungs.  It's spread to her lymph nodes.  And it really is fatal.  We all want to get her out and get her some better medical care that she can get.  She's in a seven person cell down in Fort Worth, Texas.  Get her up to New York, better medical care and be surrounded by her family and friends.  And in order to do that, the Bureau of Prisons, the people with the key have to make a motion to Judge Kotel to ask that she be given a compassionate release.  It's possible.  You can get that.  They don't do it very often.  But with all the friends and supporters that Lynne has, we're hopeful that we can accomplish that.  6,000 people have signed the petition so far.  And I want to read you what Lynne said in thank you to these people -- two of them were Dick Gregory and Desmond Tutu and I'll read you something that Tutu said also. But here's this from Lynne:  "I want you individually to know how grateful and happy it makes me to have your support.  It's uplifting to say the least.  And after a lifetime of organizing, it proves once again that the People can rise.  The acknowledgment of the life-political and solutions brought about by group unity and support, is important to all of us.  Equally, so is the courage to sign on to a demand for a person whom the Government has branded with the "T" word -- Terrorism.  Understanding that the attack on me is a subterfuge for an attack on all lawyers who advocate without fear of Government displeasure, with intellectual honesty guided by their knowledge and their client's desire for his or her case, I hope our effort can be a crack in the American bastion.  Thank you, Lynne."  Pete Seeger wrote her back and said, "Lynne Stewart should be out of jail."  And he signed the postcard "Old Pete Seeger" accompanied by a drawing of a banjo.  Bishop Desmond Tutu, this was his esprit de corps.  He said, "It is devastating.  Totally unbelievable.  In this democracy, the only superpower?  I am sad.  I will sign praying God's blessing on your reference. Desmond Tutu."  Let's hope Lynne gets out on compassionate release while she's still able to at least be part of her community.  And if you'll go to Law and Disorder.org, we'll put the link where you can sign the petition.  And if you'll grab a pencil, I'll give you the name and address of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons  because a well-aimed letter at him is not going to hurt.  His name is:

Charles E. Samuels Jr.
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534

Please send a letter.  Go to Law and Disorder.org -- our website -- sign the petition. We'll be updating you every week on how Lynne is doing.
















 

 the associated press
 

 
 
 

 

 wbai
law and disorder radio
michael s. smith
heidi boghosian
michael ratner

Thursday, April 18, 2013

RTT is lost, can someone help?

Yesterday, we had idiot of the week: Prashant Rao.

Tonight?  Idiot organization.

RTT had the stupidity to write this today:


Violence in recent weeks has affected the run-up to the April 20 local elections. At least ten candidates have reportedly been killed in attacks, prompting the Iraqi Cabinet to postpone the polls in Anbar and Ninewa provinces over security concerns.

It wasn't the Iraqi Cabinet.  It was Nouri.  Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr and the Kurds were all boycotting the Cabinet meetings at that time.

Second, the killing of candidates had nothing to do with it.

The numbers weren't that high.

And Anbar and Nineveh aren't the only locations.  Here's a map.

Even Baghdad has been the site of an assassination.

They're so stupid.

When Nouri ILLEGALLY postponed the elections in Anbar and Nineveh Province, he cited the protesters and said it was too violent.  Then he cited the protesters and said there would be fraud.  I forget his third excuse.  But there was one. 



Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

 
Thursday, April 18, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad gets slammed by a bombing in the evening and the western press comes to life, bad analysis of what elections mean may explain why the press doesn't know how to cover elections properly, we look at the attempts of Eric Shinseki and Allison Hickey to lie to Congress this week, and more.


It had already shaped up as a violent day in Iraq when the evening rolled around and a Baghdad bombing went off.  Xinhua reports, "The bombing attack took place at about 9:30 p.m. local time ( 1830 GMT) in Al Ameriyah neighborhood in west Baghdad, with children and women among those killed, a police source told Xinhua.  The cafe was located inside a small shopping building, which also contains clothes shops, Internet cafes and restaurants."  The Times of India describes the cafe as popular with youths "using the internet."   Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds that police state "the bomb was hidden in a plastic bag and then put in a cafe" and that most of the dead and wounded "are young men."  However,   Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) notes police declare the death toll includes 1 woman and 2 children.   Al Jazeera cites their correspondent Jane "Arraf said witnesses reported the force of the blast sent shrapnel and glass flying into an ice cream shop and a pharmacy on the ground floor of the building, severely wounding women and children."  Arraf discusses the bombing with Aaron Schachter for PRI's The World.   Kareem Raheem, Michael Roddy and Patrick Markey (Reuters) notes that some are saying it was a suicide bombing, that the cafe was on the third floor of the shopping center and an unnamed police official states, "Part of the building fell in and debris hit people shopping in the mall below." DPA also goes with a suicide bombing: "Police said the bomber set off his explosive belt inside the packed cafe."

While western media is describing the location of the bombing as a cafe, NINA describes it as a billiard hall.  Most Iraqi coverage is noting that the internet cafe had pool tables.   Max Meyer (Neon Tommy) notes 27 dead and fifty-one injured.

Prior to the Baghdad bombing, it was already a day of violence in Iraq.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Mosul roadside bombing has left three police officers injured, a Mosul car bombing claimed the lives of 3 Iraqi soldiers and left five more injured, a Basra explosion left two city workers injured, and a Falluja sticky bombing claimed 1 lifeAll Iraq News adds that the Basra explosion has left three city workers injured. All Iraq News also notes a Samarra bombing claimed 4 lives.  Xinhua reports, "Meanwhile, gunmen in a car opened fire on a fixed police foot patrol in Baghdad's southern district of Baiyaa, leaving a policeman dead and two others wounded before they fled the scene, a police source said."  That's 35 reported deaths and 64 reported injured.


Saturday, residents of 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces will vote in provincial elections.  Various bans and curfews are being imposed.  NINA notes a traffic ban in Dhi Qar, All Iraq News notes Tikrit's just been placed on curfew, and Alsumaria notes that Basra's announced a curfew and closing of border crossings.  You can be sure there will be more. 

Alsumaria reports that the expectation is that 13 million people will be voting on Saturday.  That's nearly half the country.  (The CIA estimates Iraq's population to be around 30 million.  There has not been a census in Iraq since the 90s and it excluded the KRG.  The last full census was in 1987.)  All Iraq News adds that the electoral commission says the results will be announced five days after the voting.

Jim Muir (BBC News) offers a lengthy analysis of the situation.  And praise to him for that.  I'm now going to point to two flaws.

Most significant flaw is this claim:

They will also provide an important test of the electoral strength of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and also of the man whose Iraqiyya coalition came out narrowly ahead in the last general elections but who was outmanoeuvred in the government formation process, Ayyad Allawi.


I have no idea what the results are going to be but if Nouri's undefined candidates do poorly, I'm not going to be here the day the results are released writing "The Political Death of Nouri."  Because I'm smart enough to grasp reality which apparently eludes Jim Muir.

If the 2016 United States elections take place in 48 states and exclude California and New York, that doesn't tell you how strong Republicans are even though they would likely win the White House in that scenario and would likely have control of the House (84 House elections would not take place in such a scenario -- whereas the Senate would just lose 4 senators).  If you have excluded the two largest states that Democrats do best in, that provide Democrats with 84 electoral votes, then the 2016 elections tell you nothing because it is flawed by design.

Do reporters not have to take methodology classes?  They need to.  They need to take sampling classes as well because more and more they're offering half-baked theories and people run with them because it's 'the press.'

Nouri has excluded the two provinces that are most opposed to him: Anbar Province and Nineveh Province.  That only means that the elections could not be seen as an indicator of Nouri's popularity or of his non-popularity.  These are not true elections.   In 2009, when you have 14 provinces voting in provincial elections, you saw whoring by the press.  They pretended it was a win for Nouri.  Now the KRG hadn't voted and they weren't going to provide Nouri's supporters with any real votes.  That's a given.  Yet when those three provinces voted, not one member of the Press Whore Corps went back and revised their opinion.  The data didn't even show 2009 was a win for Nouri.  The strongest indicator from the data was that you saw Iraqis reach for a national identity.  To make that claim on just that data would have been a mistake.  In 2010, however, you saw that it was a trend by the results of that year's parliamentary elections.

I'm real sorry that the press can't get it straight.  I'm sorry that their education programs failed them.

But when you exclude five provinces that will not go to Nouri from the elections -- the results don't tell you a damn thing about Nouri -- who is not appearing on any ballot.

Five provinces?  The KRG's three provinces will vote September 21st.

We were speaking on a campus today and I sat in on a friend's class.  He was discussing the Iraqi elections -- and unlike the press, is actually trained in the area of elections -- and one of his students asked about the KRG, specifically, since Iraq has had so many internal refugees and so many of those are Iraqi Christians who have fled to northern Iraq for safety, couldn't this lead to a significant vote for Nouri's party?

My friend asked what I did Saturday: What's Nouri's party?  What's the damn measurement.

The press keeps this crap around but they don't define terms and they don't because they're too damn stupid to know what they're talking about.  Nouri is in charge of the Dawa Party.  So are you judging by Dawa?  That's his political party.  Of course, Nouri refused to run with them in 2010 and instead ran on his own State of Law political slate.  So which is it, Press Whore Corps?  Try defining your damn terms. You won't though because then you couldn't whore for Nouri.

The student didn't have an answer -- nor will the press, the student is at least trying to learn which is the more than you can say about the press.

My friend then pointed out that if you were an Iraqi Christian raised in Baghdad who had to flee to the north because of safety concerns, would you really want to support the person who is supposed to be providing security to your country?

Five provinces that would not go for Nouri if his name was on the ballot are being excluded from the vote and yet the Press Whore Corps continues to whore for Nouri.  Which, by the way, I pointed out when my friend asked if I wanted to add anything.  I said the student's question was perfectly normal because people paid to inform others refuse to get it right, they just lie and whore and pretend to know something they don't.

What Muir could have done was an analysis of what does it say about Nouri's leadership that Kirkuk is not participating in the elections?  He could have pointed out, because he was in Iraq at the time, that in his first term, Nouri took an oath to the Iraqi Constitution.  And that includes Article 140 which ordered him to resolve the dispute over Kirkuk by a census and a referendum to be held no later than the end of 2007.  Nouri has still not followed that.  That's why Kirkuk's not voting.  I guess that wouldn't have us playing 'Is nouri going to win, is Nouri going to win?"

Muir writes, "With Prime Minister Maliki widely accused by his many political opponents of harbouring dictatorial tendencies and clinging desperately to power, it would not be surprising if there are allegations of irregularities."  What?

He wouldn't be surprised.  You know what? I wouldn't be surprised either.  I also wouldn't be surprised if Argo won Best Picture at the Academy Awards -- because it already did.  And allegations already surfaced.  Dropping back to Saturday:


The Electoral Commission had to make an announcement declaring special voting over and all centers closed unless people were in line waiting -- if they were, the center closed after those in line at that moment were done votingAlsumaria reports that there were 422 polling centers.  Yesterday, All Iraq News noted the electoral commission declared it has 110,000 vote observers to witness the special vote  and the regular vote April 20th -- the hope is that this will prevent voter fraud or voter intimidation.  Today, All Iraq News notes, Electoral Commission member Kadhim al-Zubaei declared that each polling station also has a complaint box.  Dropping back to Tuesday's snapshot:

 
Still on the political, from the April 2nd snapshot, "Alsumaria reports that Salah al-Obeidi, spokesperson for the Sadr bloc, declared today that pressure is  being put upon police and military recruits to get them to vote for Nouri's State of Law slate."  Al Rafidayn reports today that Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has also called out the efforts to pressure police and army to vote for a specific list of candidate (Al Rafidayn notes that al-Hakim avoided naming the list in question).  




Wael Grace and Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) report allegations have already emerged of voter fraud and others problems including that some forces are discovering their names are not on the voter rolls.  Movement leader and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc states that they have video proof of security service officers forcing those serving under them to participate and to vote for one party.  Kitabat adds that observers saw officers pressuring recruits to vote for Nouri al-Maliki's candidates in Karbala. 
Kitabat offers these hard numbers: 8143 candidates running for 378 seats in the 12 provinces holding elections.


He wouldn't be surprised if allegations emerged?  Me neither because they already did on Saturday during early voting.  I seriously question the knowledge pool Muir drew from when writing his analysis.

But let's the other big problem with Muir's analysis or 'analysis':


Two mainly Sunni provinces, al-Anbar and Nineveh (Mosul), have also been controversially excluded for the time being, on the grounds that continuing anti-government disturbances and demonstrations there have made polling too unsafe. The postponement prompted Mr Maliki's many detractors to accuse him of manipulation for his own electoral benefit.
The skills Mr Maliki displayed in outmanoeuvring Mr Allawi in the 2010 struggle for the prime ministerial job have certainly stood him in good stead in turning to his advantage the fragmentation afflicting both the Sunni and Shia political camps.


Nouri's skills? His mad skills?  Iran and the US governments are why he has a second term as prime minister.  The US government specifically brokered The Erbil Agreement.  You can accuse Allawi and all the other political leaders of ignorance for trusting the US government but don't credit Nouri's mad skills.  And stop the whoring.  Nouri's State of Law came in second in the 2010 parliamentary elections.  The Constitution was clear on what should have happened.  Maybe Muir doesn't know that, or maybe he's too busy whoring?  I have no idea.  But Nouri didn't win in 2010, he came in second.  He then stomped his feet like a petulant child for 8 months refusing to allow the process to go forward.  This is the well documented political stalemate.   Then the US comes in with their, "Hey guys, this could go on for 8 more months.  You know how stubborn Nouri is.  Be the bigger person.  Give him a second term so we can all move on.  And you know what, we'll help you.  We'll put it in writing.  And we'll make sure that, in exchange for giving Nouri a second term, your political bloc gets things you need and want.  We'll draw up a legal contract and it will have the full support of the US government behind it."  But it didn't.  The US government betrayed every political bloc in Iraq except Nouri's State of Law.  It's why that 2009 shot at redemption vanished -- the Iraqi people saw there was no difference between Barack and Bush.  Now that couldn't have happened without Iran.  Moqtada al-Sadr was forced to go along with Nouri by Iran.  Supposedly in exchange for being the next prime minister.  That's what government agencies believe the deal between Moqtada and the Iranian government was, that they would force all Shi'ite political blocs to back Moqtada as prime minister in 2014.  Prior to whatever deal was reached, Moqtada had declared he wouldn't support Nouri.  He had held follow up elections (April 2010) where he asked who his supporters backed for prime minister.  Nouri came in third.

We jumped to the second part, let's back up to the paragraph before.

What power does Nouri to call off elections?  The three presidencies set the date.  What power, in writing, does Nouri have?  Because the so-called Independent High Electoral Commission is supposed to be the sole authority for the elections.  How do you do an analysis and avoid questions like that?

Maybe the same way you do it on a day when Baghdad is yet again slammed with violence and, with a straight face, insist that Nouri stopped voting in Anbar and Nineveh due to violence.  As many pointed out -- including Iraqiya -- Baghdad's seen more violence.  But it's voting.  Muir's also unaware that when Iraqiya countered with that Nouri offered a second excuse and has now offered a third.  I'm not here to spoon feed Muir or anyone else, if you can't keep up with what's going on, that's on you at this point.

It's an interesting analaysis that breezes over the assassinations of 15 (though he says 14) candidates -- breezes so quickly over that he can't note what party they belong to or that they're all Sunni.  And certainly, he doesn't take the time to explores what those assassinations mean.

All Iraq News reported earlier today that Iraqiya MP Jamal Kilani has called out the lack of coverage in the media of the targeted killings of political candidates, "Targeting the candidates and killing them is one of the major violations that are neglected by the media." Jim Muir certainly proves him right.  (As I noted this morning, I have failed on that topic as well.)


All Iraq News reports that Anbar Governor Qasim al-Fahdawy entered the Anbar polling center and, as a result, the Independent High Electoral Commission imposed a fine of 50 million dinars on him.  If you read Jim Muir's entire analysis you won't understand that.  You'll be saying, "Wait, Anbar's not voting!"  No, but as we explained this morning, if you're a resident of province that's voting but you are an IDP -- internally displaced -- so you are currently living in Anbar or Nineveh, you will be allowed to vote.  They have set up polling stations.  Which is really just pissing off the actual residents of Anbar and Nineveh even more.  Muir's analysis also neglects to note that Nouri is saying that the provinces must wait at least six months.  At least six months.  Could be more.  Maybe it'll be four years.  Maybe it'll be eight years.  Maybe next time a thug calls off elections and does citing military powers, maybe then the BBC gets off its candy ass and calls it out instead of glossing it over and deep throating Nouri?

Muir's analysis also misses Nouri's attacks on protesters.   Kitabat reports that tribal leaders in Dhi Qar have signed a letter apologizing to activists.  For what?  For Nouri's "abusive verbal attack" on them.  Nouri gave a little speech where he called the peaceful activists lawless rebels and threatened to use force against them.  Peaceful protests have been going on across Iraq, peaceful protests against Nouri, since December.

They aren't the only ones condemning Nouri for those remarks.  NINA notes that Osama al-Nujaifi's party has condemned the remarks and called for Nouri to stop verbally attacking demonstrators and return to Baghdad to oversea security issues.  Osama al-Nujaifi is part of the Iraqiya political slate but this was his Motahedoon Coalition issuing the condemnation.  Iraqiya also condemned the remarks.  Maysoun al-Damlouji, Iraqiya spokesperson, is quoted by NINA stating, "Describing our honorable people who peacefully demonstrate across Iraq demanding their legitimate rights as conspirators is the ugliest words you can use against the oppressed people." Iraqiya MP Ahmed al-Alwani added that Nouri's attacks on demonstrators "incite sectarian strife."

Even Nouri's new bride Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling out the remarks leading Kitabat to wonder if the honeymoon is over for Nouri and Saleh or if this is just more propaganda from Saleh in an attempt to boost the votes for the National Dialogue Front?


Nouri has returned to Baghdad. Kitabat explains that he rushed back to Baghdad after his speech in Nasiriyah was interrupted with cries of "Liar!" when he began verbally attacking the protesters.

I appreciate that Jim Muir tried to do an analysis and it's lengthy and he clearly put a great deal of time into it.  But you can't crash course Iraq.  We used to have to use to point this out to political activists in the US who would go on radio and make idiotic statements.  For example, over six months after Nancy A. Youssef reported for Knight Ridder (KR's final piece on Iraq, it then became McClatchy) that the US government was keeping a count of Iraqis killed, that she'd been shown the count, an activist goes on CounterSpin and brings up the Iraqis killed and how the government says they don't do counts but the activist is sure that the government is keeping a count.  You're on to talk about Iraq, how do you miss Youssef's article from six month before with that major revelation?

But now, sadly, we have to explain to people like Muir who've covered Iraq for years that you can't walk away from it for repeated months and ease back in and not have missed out a hell of a lot.  I have a feeling I've been much kinder to Muir's nonsense than social message boards -- including Media Lens -- will be.  Repeating, you can't crash course Iraq.  There's no all night study session that's going to allow you to ace it.  And here's one more hint, when there's an election, there are issues involved.  I realize that the press is a very stupid body with barely a functioning brain among all of them and that's why they take elections -- which are about issues -- and try to turn them into horser aces.  I realize that.  But does the press get that we, the audience, grasp how stupid they are and we grasp that more and more each year.  Anyone can write a he's up-she's down piece.  It takes some work to do more than a horse race.  The lazy and stupid press try to Iraq into a horse race because that they can almost handle.

Let's go to The Economist because they have an editorial on Iraq and the KRG:

Kurdish officials will not speak of independence yet. But several factors point towards a reckoning. One of these is the dismal state of the rest of Iraq. Battered by al-Qaeda bombings and worried by the likely fall of Syria’s pro-Shia government, a growing number of Iraqi Shias whisper that they should let the Kurds go, better to control what remains.
Meanwhile Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s increasingly dictatorial prime minister, has grown more confrontational towards the Kurds. In December he sent troops to Kirkuk, prompting the KRG to mobilise the peshmerga. In March, over Kurdish objections, the federal parliament passed a $118-billion budget that allotted just $650m to pay what the KRG claims is a $3.5 billion debt it owes foreign oil companies. The angry Kurds withdrew their federal ministers and MPs. They now have no official representation in Baghdad; Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish president, whose easy-going charm has often soothed troubles, has been ill in Germany since December.



Yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry was asked about the Camp Ashraf residents.  These are
approximately 3,400 people were at Camp Ashraf when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  They were Iranian dissidents who were given asylum by Saddam Hussein decades ago.  The US government authorized the US military to negotiate with the residents.  The US military was able to get the residents to agree to disarm and they became protected persons under Geneva and under international law.

Despite that legal status and the the legal obligation on the part of the US government to protect the residents, since Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, Nouri has ordered not one but two attacks on Camp Ashraf resulting in multiple deaths.  Let's recap.  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."  Under court order, the US State Dept evaluated their decision to place the MEK on the terrorist list and, September 28th, they took them off the terrorist list.

 The residents remain in Iraq, most at Camp Liberty.  Secretary Kerry stated that a deal with Albania fell through -- a deal to accept some of the refugees.  Today the United Nations News Centre issued the following:

18 April 2013 – The top United Nations officials in Iraq today welcomed a generous offer by Germany of humanitarian admission for approximately 100 residents from Camp Hurriya, located near the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and urged the camp residents to cooperate with the UN for a speedy and safe resettlement.
“Germany’s offer follows a similar one by the Albanian government to relocate 210 residents in Albania, and I am very grateful to both countries for having offered durable solutions for the residents of Camp Hurriya,” said Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Martin Kobler.
Camp Hurriya serves as a transit facility for more than 3,000 exiles, most of them members of a group known as the People’s Mojahedeen of Iran, where a process to determine their refugee status is being carried out by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). With the latest offer, 10 per cent of the camp’s residents now have offers to relocate to third countries.
Mr. Kobler added that “this announcement also follows the Secretary-General’s repeated public and bilateral appeals to Member States to offer residents resettlement opportunities.”
In the same statement, UNHCR Representative in Iraq, Claire Bourgeois, encouraged other countries to follow Albania and Germany’s lead, “This generous offer by Germany is a demonstration of international solidarity and burden-sharing for a vulnerable population.”
Last month, following the offer by Albania Government, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he “unequivocally supports” Mr. Kobler’s efforts “to courageously and creatively, in exceptionally difficult circumstances, help resolve this situation.”
In addition, in his recent report about the situation in Iraq, Mr. Ban urged those who express support for the residents of Camp Hurriya and the remaining residents of another camp, New Iraq, to stop spreading insults and falsehoods about Mr. Kobler, who heads the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and instead help to promote a durable solution.
Also today, Mr. Kobler expressed his deep concern that Iraq continues to implement the death penalty. The most recent execution of 21 prisoners took place on 16 April, according to UNAMI.
“I regret that repeated calls of the United Nations to suspend the implementation of death sentences were not heard,” Mr. Kobler said.
“I urge once again the Iraqi government to immediately suspend all pending death sentences and to apply without delay the moratorium on the death penalty, in conformity with General Assembly Resolutions 62/149 (2007), 63/168 (2009), 65/205 (2010) and 67/176 (2012),” he added.
Meanwhile, final preparations are underway in parts of Iraq for the 20 April Governorate Council Elections.
Mr. Kobler today urged eligible Iraqis to actively participate for the success of the poll, “I am calling on all women and men to cast their ballots for a better future for them and their children.”
“My appeal goes particularly to the young Iraqis, because you are the future of this country,” he added.
Stressing that it is the duty of all political leaders to safeguard the integrity of the democratic process, Mr. Kobler underlined that “consolidation of democracy will depend on the willingness of Iraq's political leaders to collectively ensure a transparent and peaceful election, free of intimidation or political interference”.
“Of equal importance is my appeal to the Iraqi security forces to remain on heightened alert and to enable voters to reach polling centres and cast their vote in a safe environment, without fear of violence,” he concluded.
At least 15.5 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in upcoming polls, according to official estimates, where more than 8,000 candidates are reportedly vying for 378 seats.



In yesterday's snapshot, we covered Secretary Kerry's testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Camp Ashraf and on the issue of an Inspector General for the State Dept.  Other aspects of yesterday's hearing were covered by Wally with "The buget hearing that avoided the budget," by Ruth with "Kerry pressed on Benghazi," by Kat with "I'm sick of Democrats in Congress" and by Ava with "Secretary Kerry doesn't really support women's rights."  The bombs in Boston Monday afternoon meant no one was in the mood to cover a hearing on Monday.  Kat said she's going to review my notes and she'll write about Ranking Member Richard Burr in the hearing ("if nothing else because he remains one of the strongest advocates for veterans on the Committee and he refuses to put up with any crap").

We'll note a little of it today.  It was the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Appearing before them were VA Secretary Eric Shinseki accompanied by the usual motley crew (yes, that includes Allison Hickey).  The topic was the VA budget for Fiscal Year 2014.  If you're thinking that seems familiar, we covered the House hearing on that last week  in last Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and "Seamless transition? Shinseki wasted the last four years," while Ava reported on it with "Shinseki tries to present 134% increase as a gift for women," Wally with  "How the VA and DoD waste your tax dollars (Wally)" and Kat with "DAV calls for Congress to reject 'chained CPI'."  In addition, Dona moderated a discussion of the hearing at Third "Congress and Veterans."



Senator Bernie Sanders:  While the VA budget presented by the administration is a strong one -- and I applaud the president for that -- I remain deeply disappointed that the White House included in their budget request, the so-called 'Chained CPI.'  Switching to a Chained CPI would mean major cuts in Social Security and the benefits that disabled veterans receive.  Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1425 at age 45, $2341 at age 55 and over $3000 a year at age 65.  Tens of thousands of dollars within their lifetime.  This, to my mind, is unconscionable and I will do all that I can to prevent these cuts from taking place.


Those remarks are on an issue that Sanders has been raising for some time.  When I'm at a hearing and he mentions it, we'll try to always include it until Social Security is safe again.


He is the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair.

Most embarrassing person at the hearing?  Jay Rockefeller.  What a suck-up, what a fool.  Why is he still in Congress?  He has repeatedly told me, "Oh, I'm going to be leaving soon."  No, you never leave and you don't do anything as a member of the Senate.  You just take up space and waste time.  Monday, he wasted it by sucking up to Eric Shinseki in public.  Yes, Rockefeller the problem is veterans, the problem their unrealistic expectations ("Does that give veterans comfort?  No, but everything in life is a process.") -- which presumably include expecting health treatment when they're sick?  Jay whored yet again.  And he thought he was cute and funny.  Here's a hint, Jay, a 75-year-old man mincing in front of a room of people is never going to be cute.  (It may be funny.  Remember Annie Hall when Woody Allen watches the Bob Hope-type do his routine?)

Jay Rockefeller, when you feel the problem is that veterans unrealistic expectations -- this when the backlog reaches record numbers and there's a suicide crisis ongoing, it's probably time for you to retire.  You're not serving anyone.  And we'll back that up tomorrow when we emphasize what Rockefeller had to offer.

Jon Tester's probably thrilled Jay's on the Committee.  It lets him look like less of a suck-up.  He noted he had disagreed with Shinseki before.  Yes, he has.  He didn't say what it was so let's talk about it.  He sided with Senator Turncoat Jim Webb.  The two were opposed to Shinseki's move to grant more Agent Orange claims.  I don't think that's something to brag about.  Obviously, Tester agrees since he didn't mention Agent Orange at the hearing.  In fact, it's why Webb 'retired.'  Webb's position ensured that veterans would not vote for him.  Tester's really lucky that Webb was so annoying on that issue and became the large target.   Don't say I never say anything nice about Tester, the goatee is a nice visual improvement.


Committee Chair Bernie Sanders: If there is anything that many of us have learned in recent years, it is that the real cost of war is far, far greater than simply paying for the tanks and guns and planes and the manpower to fight those wars.  I believe that we now understand, more fully than we have in the past, that soldier who come home from war are often very different people than when they went.  We now understand that the cost of the war includes significant care not only for those who lost their legs and their arms and their eye sight, but for those who came home with what we now call the invisible wounds of war.  Most recently, this includes the tens and tens of thousands of brave soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. So while this $152 billion budget we discuss today is a complicated document with a whole lot of numbers, it all comes down to how the people of our country, through their government, honor their commitment to those who have sacrificed so much -- and to the spouses and children who have also sacrificed.


Sanders has just begun his term as Chair of the Committee and it's great that he has hope and energy and hopefully he'll do a great job.  He's already winning support from veterans attending hearings -- including Monday's -- for his support for various treatments and his refusal to go with one-size-fits-all when addressing issues like TBI or PTS.  And Ava just said she'll note that at Trina's so let me move on.  (Thank you, Ava.) 

I don't have that hope that Chair Bernie Sanders has.  And the reason is because I've heard it all before.  And I don't just mean in the last ten years.

When Jimmy Carter was president he gave many speeches that led to ridicule.  His energy speech was one of those and it may have been the cardigan that led to such derision.  Whatever it was, this part of the February 2, 1977 speech is largely forgotten:

The top priority in our job training programs will go to young veterans of the Vietnam war. Unemployment is much higher among veterans than among others of the same age who did not serve in the military. I hope that putting many thousands of veterans back to work will be one more step toward binding up the wounds of the war years and toward helping those who have helped our country in the past.



Maybe Chair Sanders is correct and something's been learned?  It would be great if he was and I'd love to be wrong on this.  But a lot of what I hear is a lot like what I heard then.  It's really sad or telling -- or both -- that our press doesn't explore that.  There are no pieces noting that.

Before the US government next deploys troops on the ground, possibly the Congress and the media could explore the costs of war so that everyone knows the bill that's going to be coming and the issues that will be faced.  I realize Congress and the media both shirked their responsibilities to provide oversight (and authorization in Congress' case) for the Iraq War.  They failed at examining the justifications.  I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about everyone being aware of what a ground war means.  It means dead and wounded among US forces and among the country being attacked.  It means health care for the wounded immediately.  It means health care costs on down the line for other veterans.  It means that the VA will have a large influx of new veterans.  It means there will be increases in veterans suicides. It means increased spending to treat all the issues of war.   It means that veterans returning will have issues finding jobs.  None of this, and there's a lot more, is particular to the Iraq and Afghanistan War.  If you don't get that, watch William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives from 1946.


I'm not calling Sanders naive and I think its great that he has hope.  Without it, he probably couldn't be the Chair.



Chair Bernie Sanders: Let me begin by addressing an issue that is a serious one, that I think every member here has spoken of and that you have acknowledged and one that is of great concern to this country.  Now my understanding is that the VA is now processing more claims today than they ever have before in significant numbers. But my understanding is that also, according to the most recent Monday workload report,  there were nearly 890,000 claims for entitlements to benefits pending, almost 70% of which have been pending longer than the Department's goal of 125 days.  And this number does not even take into account other pending work including award judgments and appeals.  So here's my question, you have -- and I believe you established that goal not long after you took your position -- you brought forth a very, very ambitious goal.  And you said that you wanted to process all claims in 125 days and with 98% accuracy by 2015.  Is that correct?

Secretary Eric Shinseki: That's correct.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Let me ask you this, what benchmarks have you set and must VA meet to make sure that VA achieves those goals?  In other words, I think all of us would agree that the task that you have undertaken, going from an unbelievable amount of paper -- a system that was virtually all paper when you took office to a paperless system is just a huge transformation.  The concern here, and others have raised it, is what reason do we have to believe that you are in fact going to be able to successfully undertake that transformation and meet the goals -- ambitious goals -- that you've established?

Secretary Eric Shinseki: Thank you for that question, Mr. Chairman.  I'm going to call on Secretary Hickey to add some detail. But let me just describe what, uh, situation existed when we arrived.  Uh, we're in paper and have been in paper for decades.  We continue to get paper today.  If you're going to manage a situation, it takes a certain kind of approach and resourcing.  Uh, we thought that for the longterm the benefit to veterans was to end the backlog and so we set the goal of ending the backlog in 2015.  We did some rough calculations. Uh, and the backlog when we arrived was not defined as 125 days, 98% accuracy.  If we want to make a bold move here and help veterans, then we have to move quickly.  And so we set ambitious goals, we did our best estimates and we have laid out a plan in this budget that is resourced, that drives those numbers towards ending the backlog in 2015.  I think, uh, all of you will remember after we established that goal of ending the backlog, we also, uh, took on some unfinished business.  Uh, we had Vietnam veterans, my first year here, as I moved around who were not very happy with the fact that they had not had their issues addressed.  Uh, many cases, I was told, that we were just waiting for them to pass so that we wouldn't have to take care of it. I can't think of a more demeaning circumstance for a veteran to feel that that's what their VA who exists for them, uh, looked upon the situation.  And heard the same kind of things from Gulf War veterans, 20 years after the Gulf War, no decisions, uh, regarding their health care issues.  And then, as I think all of us can acknowledge, PTSD has been around as long as combat and had never been acknowledged as associated with combat, verifiable PTSD.  So even as we established ourselves at ending the backlog, we took on three pretty significant decisions: for the Vietnam generation, three new diseases for exposure to Agent Orange;  nine new diseases never recognized before for Gulf War veterans,  and then for all combat veterans with verifiable PTSD service connection so that they could submit their claims.   I would say that those numbers added to the paper process that we had -- in fact was going to grow the inventory and complicate the backlog and we testified to that when those decisions were made.  There were a number of hearings on this and my prediction was we're going to go up but at the same time we're going to put in place an automation system that would correct all of that and, in time, we would bring the backlog back down.  Well we're in mid-stride here.  We are now fueling that automation tool.  It took us two years to develop it.  It is called VBMS -- Veterans Benefits Management System -- it's in 30 of the 56 regional offices.  Uh, we're seeing some indications that it is having good success and, uh, we intend to, uh, fuel the remaining offices as quickly as possible.  We have, uh, some good learning that came out of automating the new 9-11 GI Bill process.  And out of that, the learning indicated to us that there is a tremendous lift that comes once you have the system fielded.  Uhm, we followed that manner of fielding implementing and IT program that's robust enough to handle our claims processing. Uh, as I say, we are scheduled to complete this year, 31 December.  We are pulling that far to the left as we can and fielding as quickly as we can and doing it prudently where we don't run the risk of overreach. 

That probably sounded really good to fresh ears.  To those of us who've been attending the hearings?

The paper issue, I'm not even talking about electronic record that would be seamless, was dealt with some time ago.  We're talking before Barack Obama became president.  The scanning of old documents and digitziation process was outsourced from VA.  So I'm not really understanding why Shinseki feels he's living under a ton of paper.  Or why he thinks paper is an excuse for him when he has less paper to deal with than any VA Secretary to date.  I remember the June 19th hearing last year when Acting Chair Gus Bilirakis asked about VBMS, specifically how their scanning contract expired in about a week and how the VBA still hadn't decided whether to renew it or not.  So if there are problems or delays because of VBMS, maybe you should have focused on it and done your damn job?  Bilirakis wasn't the only one to raise that issue (or the only Acting Chair -- voters were being taken and another committee hearing was taking place).

 
Acting Chair Marlin Stutzman: I'd like to do a second round because I'd like to talk about the scanning issue.  Why did it take this Committee calling a hearing for the VA to meet with NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] to discuss next week's scanning contract expiration?  I mean this is, I think, the frustration that's felt around here.  It's these sorts of things that we find out about and why isn't there some sort of pro-active movement before this?  Can you -- can you give us an explanation of why the contract is set to expire next week?  There isn't a contract.  Is there some other plan that the VBA is planning on implementing? Is it going to be done in-house? I mean, I know for us, Congressional offices, we have folks that we could use to scan things in.  I'm sure that you're system is a little bit more complicated.  We're spending ten million dollars a year, if I remember the number correctly.  It seems like we could do it cheaper and it seems like we could get it done.  Is there a plan to address that?



Shinseki sure paints a rosy picture -- it's just not realistic.  Jeffrey Hall is with Disabled American Veterans  and he testified at that June 19th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

 
 
Jeffrey Hall: Mr. Chairman, even before VBMS was first conceived, it was clear that in order to have a paperless claims process there must be a comprehensive system in place to digitze paper documents.  Yet VBA has failed to finalize a long-term scanning solution, in part because it has not yet definitively answered fundamental questions about when and which legacy documents will be scanned into VBMS.  Although VBA has committed to moving forward with a papareless system for new claims, it has dragged its feet for more than two years in determining under what conditions existing paper claims files would be converted to digital files.  Because a majority of claims processed each year are for reopened or appealed claims and because files can remain active for decades, until all legacy claims are converted to digital data files, VBA could be forced to continue paper processing for decades.  We have been told that VBA's current plans are to convert claims files that have new rating-related actions, but not those with minor actions such as dependency or address changes.  However, the uncertainty over the past couple of years about how much scanning would be required, and at what cost, is at least partly responsible for VBA's reliance on NARA and its current rush to find a new scanning vendor.  While there are very difficult technical questions to be answered, and significant financial considerations involved in transitioning to all-digital processing, particular involving legacy paper files, we believe VBA would be best served by taking the most aggressive approach feasible in order to shorten the length of time this transition takes.  While the conversion from paper processing to VBMS will require substanital upfront investment, it will pay dividends for VBA and veterans in the future.  We would urge VBA to provide -- and Congress to review -- a clear plan for eliminating legacy paper files, one that includes realistic timeliness and resource requirements.


So if this has been a problem, as Hall notes, it was made worse when VBS "dragged its feet for more than two years in determining under what conditions existing paper claims files would be converted to digital files."




Then there's his issue that Agent Orange has put them behind.  Really?  Did he miss the May 11th House Veterans Affairs hearing last year?

Because I remember the Committee being told by the VA that "we've pretty much worked through the Agent Orange -- the increase in Agent Orange claims.  I think we're well down on the numbers."  And you know what else?  I remember that statement coming from Eric Shinseki.  Because he's the one who said it. 

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was a Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee during Shinseki's first two years.  I don't remember one hearing -- whether she was a Committee member or it was her Subcommittee so she was Chair -- where she didn't ask the VA witnesses, "What do you need? Just tell us what you need?"  Congressional Democrats and Republicans did not question efforts to defeat the backlog.  They funded every logical proposal.  They never balked at any VA hires, they usually suggested them, they often argued with VA witnesses saying that more employees were needed only to have VA witnesses declare that it would slow them down due to the amount of training required.




So Eric Shineski's excuses lost currency long ago and all he's left with now is attempts to mislead the Committee.




Lie?  Yes, Allison was present.

To the question Sanders asked above, she wanted to add . . .

Another automated system.  And it's a success.  Of course, it's the failed system from the start of his term.  The GI Bill.  I don't know why she thinks that's something to be proud of considering the lies that the VA told on that previously.  I don't know why she hoped to spin like that.  She tries distraction, she tries to lie. 

Ranking Member Richard Burr: Madam Secretary, the VA backlog reduction plan shows that in order to eliminate the backlog by 2015, VA will need to decide 1.2 million claims this year, 1.6 million claims next year, 1.9 million claims in 2015.  But VA's projecting in the budget submission that it will decide 335,000 fewer claims in 2013 and 2014.  So can the VA reach 2 million claims in 2015?  That would be a 92% increase in productivity over the 2012 level.

Allison Hickey:  So Senator Burr, I'm sorry, I don't exactly know your numbers but I'm happy to take your numbers and go look at them and come back to you and sit down and visit with you.  But I can tell you --

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  -- I'm pulling them right out of the Budget Reduction Plan which was submitted in January.  I got it January 25th in my office and the math would work out to eliminate the backlog in 2015, VA would need to decide 1.2 million claims this year, 1.6 million claims next year, and 1.9 million claims in 2015.  Now in the projections from the budget submission by the President, that says that over the next two years you will decide 335,000 less claims then what the backlog reduction plan said.  I'm trying to figure out, if 2015, you're certain on that, then that means that you have to process over 2 million claims in 2015.  Is that - is that how your math looks at it.

Allison Hickey:  Uh-uh, Sen-Senator Burr, I would love to come sit down and talk to you about that.  Those numbers are a little different to me than the numbers that we sent across.  And follow up in questions with your staff, I'm happy to do that with you.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Well in the budget submission, you do say that you will decide 335,000 fewer claims in 2013 and 2014, right?

Allison Hickey:  Uh, uh, Senator, the uh-uh, budget submission --

[At that point the VA's Robert Petzel dropped his head and began rubbing his bald scalp in what appeared to be frustration or embarrassment.]

Allison Hickey:  -- is slightly different than the plan that you received in January that was based on some assumptions made last fall.  Uhm, and there has been some differences in terms of what we have seen in the actuals that have been submitted to us.  We've seen a significant drop -- well, not significant -- Uh, uh.  That's not a good word.  We've seen a drop in the number of claims that have been submitted to us of late so we have adjusted the budget based on those issues.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Okay.  Currently, nearly 70% of the claims have been backlogged meaning that they've been waiting for a decision for more than 125 days.  The strategic plan that you submitted less than three months ago predicted that the backlog plan would be reduced to 68% in 2013 and 57% in 2014.  But according to the budget submission, you now expect no more than 40% of the claims to be backlogged during either of these two years.  So in revising these projections, what metrics did you look at and what did they -- how did -- what did they show you?

Allison Hickey:  Sena-Senator, I looked at the, uh, actual submission of receipt claims that we have received from our veterans over the last five months and each month they have been lower than our expected volume.


Ranking Member Richard Burr:  So the math works out to where you would have only a 40% backlog situation in five months?

Allison Hickey:  Uh, no, Senator.  And I don't think -- You all would throw me out of here if I said that would happen.   Uh, uh, it's not where we are.  We are, uh, uh, about at 69% of, uh, our claims right now that are older than 125 days. We're working every single day to drive that number south.  We're doing it by focus on our people process technology solutions and as far as we can pushing up our productivity by our folks.  I can tell you today that my raters are 17%  more effective and a higher productivity than they were prior to us moving into this transition plan --

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  General Hickey, last year you testified, or, excuse me, the Secretary testified, that during 2013, the backlog would be reduced from 60% to 40% and that would -- and I quote -- "demonstrate that we are on the right path." At the time, did you anticipate that the backlog would stay above 65% for the first half of the Fiscal Year or that it would be 70% in April?

Allison Hickey:  So-so, Senator, we do have, uh, uhm, uh, some APG guidance in our annual guidance planning that we communicate with to our federal government partners and, uh, the -- they are usually aspirational in nature. When we see a change or a difference, as the Secretary has pointed out in terms of the workload increase that we saw due to Agent Orange, the increased claims associated with PTSD and the like, we did note that we would probably not be able to meet that 40% APG guidance but the thought was you leave your stretch goal out there so that you keep working hard to get to it.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Well, here would be a simple question.  Is the strategic plan that you sent to Congress aspirational?

Allison Hickey:  So, uh, Senator Burr, I grew up as a strategic planner for, uh, in the military for quite a while and I know that every strategic plan I've built over the years for the United States Air Force a plan.  And plans are always, you know, in-in contact.  You know, they change and, uh, adjust for reality and actuals.  So we have and we will continue to improve upon that plan as it continues.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  But when you developed that plan was it developed to be aspirational or was it developed to give us an accurate blue print of how VA perceived the timeline would move on disability backlogs.

Allison Hickey:  Uh, well, uh --

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Senator, I think in all planning there is an aspect of aspiration at the beginning and then it is with assumptions and the availability of resources, then it's adjusted for what we think is achievable.  Uhm, a longterm plan like this one with as much, uh, dynamics, uh, involved, uh, we make an assumption that, for example, that the flow of veterans out of uniform to the VA is going to follow a pattern that we've been provided by the Department of Defense.  If that changes, that, uh, adjustment, we'll have to look and see whether we can accommodate that change and if not we'll have to say that, uh, we have a requirement for resourcing.



If US House Rep Jason Chaffetz caught that exchange?  If so, he probably had a good laugh because Hickey's tried that with him too.  Don't confront her with the number she supplies, she will try to weasel out of it, she will try to eat up time and she will never, not in front of the press, admit that the numbers don't add up. 




We'll close with this from The Headstrong Project:



The Headstrong Project is proud to be hosting the first ever “Words of War” event on May 8th at IAC HQ in New York City.
This cocktail fundraiser is designed to further support the mission of the Headstrong Project, to help veterans recover from the hidden wounds of war in order to lead full and meaningful lives. Specifically, “Words of War” will support comprehensive mental healthcare for military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The evening will include a war poetry reading by Jake Gyllenhaal. Additionally, Adam Driver (from HBO’s Girls and major motion picture Lincoln) and Joanne Tucker of “Theater of War” will perform a scene from Sophocles’ Ajax. This short presentation of wartime poetry, literature, theater and letters articulate the exuberance and ideals that drive men and women to war, the thrill and horror of combat, the difficulties of returning home, and the experience of family members worried about their loved one at war. Iconic wartime images, by photographers Ashley Gilbertson, Lucian Read and Jonathan Alpeyrie will be projected during the presentation.
“Even for those who have fought and served in combat, PTSD can be a tough term to understand,” said Zach Iscol, Executive Director, Chairman of Headstrong Project. “It isn’t accessible and there is a stigma attached to it. This event will speak to how normal and timeless the reactions and emotions felt in and returning home from war can be. Of course you’re going to feel grief over losing a close friend. Of course you’re going to feel shame and guilt about life and death decisions made in the fog of war…any good person would.”
The Headstrong Project began treating military veterans in August 2012, and will be using funds raised from this event to expand care to veterans and their families. In partnership with their media partners Google, Newsweek/Daily Beast, and Pixel Corps, Words of War will also benefit Team Rubicon, Team RWB, and Student Veterans of America. These organizations have been incredibly effective at building communities of veterans- a strong antidote to the effects of PTSD and moral injuries.
Over 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report symptoms of PTSD. The VA estimates we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide and the Department of Defense reports 30-50 active duty troops take their lives every month. Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are at particular risk. It has been estimated that for every troop we have lost in combat this year, 25-30 take their own lives. These numbers also do not reflect increases in dangerous and destructive behavior – such as astonishing increases in domestic abuse, substance abuse, and even motorcycle accidents.
The evening will benefit the Headstrong Project, Team RWB, Team Rubicon and Student Veterans of America. For more information of the Headstrong Project or to purchase tickets to the “Words of War” please visit www.getheadstrong.org.







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