Saturday, December 14, 2013

Nikita: Episode four

The fourth episode of the final season of Nikita aired last night.  There are only six in this fourth season so that means we have

Ryan: Who benefits from starting a war?  The people who manufacture what you need to fight one.


This episode was action packed and could have been episode six.

In fact, it looked like it would be.

This isn't an easy one to recap because it brought in a character I honestly don't remember from before.  I'm guessing season one if he was on it and this wasn't the first time he was mentioned.  There was a lot of things that don't really matter.

Let's do Alex because she will matter in terms of the next two episodes.

She and Sam go to get the only assets she has that the CIA hasn't frozen -- diamonds in a bank.  (Why?  The plane with Nikita, Ryan, Birkhoff and Michael is parked on a Pakistani runway and they need 10 million to stay.)  So they get the diamonds, Sam thinks about stealing them.  (Remember, he's going to be killed if he doesn't pay off the gambling debt.)  Alex meets with the rep for the opium dealers.  10 million isn't enough they want 15 million.  Alex says fine.

Sam runs off with the diamonds while Alex is on the phone with Nikita and company.  She wants to be there helping.  Sam hollers for a taxi and notices a man he saw at the bank head into the hotel.  He realizes the man's going after Alex.

The man is in the hotel room and about to surprise Alex when Sam surprises him.  As they fight and Alex enters the main room with her gun and they capture and knock out the guy.

Sam assumes he's someone who cases banks.

Alex finds out he's with The Shop.

This is the first time anyone from The Shop has been captured.  Usually, they kill themselves instead.  Which happened twice on this episode when Nikita and Michael tried to get info.

But Alex and Sam have more luck.

And she's able to pass the info about who's running The Shop on to Nikita.  M-something.  A huge multi-national corporation.

That's when Ryan says the line I opened with:

 Who benefits from starting a war?  The people who manufacture what you need to fight one.

So there you go.

Now when Michael and Nikita confronted The Shop workers in Pakistan, they'd stolen a missile.

And hacked into the computer. 


To get control of all of Pakistan's missiles -- to send them out and start a war.

After the man running The Shop (let's call him Head Ass) calls Nikita to try to buy her off -- give her money to stop fighting -- and it fails, he tells Amanda to use Birkhoff's father (played by Judd Nelson).  Amanda hands Judd a laptop in his cell and tells him to destroy Birkhoff's Shadow Net.

Birkhoff is at his laptop when he sees someone breaking into Shadow Net.  Nikita says she didn't think that was possible.  Birkhoff says if they can break in, he can find out who they are.  He sees it's his father and they are able to track the location (three hours away from them).  Ryan says they should bomb it with a missile.  Birkhoff points out that would mean killing his father.

Nikita's with Birkhoff.  They should instead go to Dubai where Amanda and Head Ass are.

The Shop guy tells Alex she should wonder how he got so far into her suite before Sam stopped him.

He explains Sam was running with diamonds.

Alex sets up a trap for Sam.  We'll see how that plays out in the next two -- last two episodes.

Now we're in Dubai.  Nikita, Ryan, Birkhoff and Michael break into the corporation.  They know they need to go to the fifth floor.  Nikita takes a gun to Head Ass who contacts Amanda elsewhere in the building: The launch of the missiles is off.


Nikita steps forward so she's on the video monitor.

The call is ended and people in the launch room begin to start the process of shutting down when Amanda grabs a gun and shoots everybody.  This isn't stopping. 

Michael, Ryan, Birkhoff and Head Ass release the prisoners.  Michael is shocked to see that the President of the US is alive.  They figured Amanda had killed her when the double committed suicide.  The President is thrilled to see Michael and thinks he's CIA.  Nope.  Seals?  Nope.  "Division" she says with distaste.  Yep.

Nikita shows up at the launch room but can't get inside.  Amanda starts the launch code.  Nikita tries to reason with her.  No luck.  Nikita asks Birkhoff if he can launch the missile from earlier?  He can.

He does as Nikita pulls the fire alarm to get people out of the building.

She makes an effort to get Amanda to leave.

Amanda says they always knew they wouldn't both survive.  Now Nikita will have to live with killing Amanda.

As Michael and company are out of the building, he's looking for Nikita and sees the missile hit the building.

After it's destroyed, Michael finds a wounded Nikita.

I'm going to f**k with the order here because we want Nikita to be safe.

She is.

And the news is saying that the President is alive and was rescued by Nikita Mears, her supposed assassin.  And when she opens her eyes she sees Birkhoff and Ryan and then Michael.  She wraps her arms around Michael.

So this was the last episode?


The next two will reveal what's really going on.

What do I mean?

We saw Head Ass in an orange suit and chained, taken into a room and handed -- get this -- a glass of booze.  Which he drank with Amanda.

She didn't die?


It was her double.

And now they're going on with their plan.

Amanda thinks Nikita remains a threat but Head Ass says no.  He says Nikita will ignore all the signs because she wants to believe it's finally over.

So that was the episode -- I didn't recap the fighting, sorry.  There was a lot going on.  And now we have just two more episodes. 

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

Friday, December 13, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Sahwa becomes more of a public menace, State of Law says they will only support one person to be prime minister (guess who), US Secretary of State John Kerry insists to Congress that the location of 7 Ashraf community members is classified, the stolen Jewish archives get some attention, and more.

As Stacy Lattisaw observed in "Love on a Two Way Street" (written by Sylvia Robinson and Bert Keyes):

How could I be so blind
To give up love the very first time
To be fooled is a hurting thing 
To be loved and fooled
Is a darn shame

Poor College Democrats, it's such a darn shame to be made such a fool of.

Anticipating their post collegiate years and a lifetime of whoring, College Democrats serves up a ridiculous column in the Badger Herald which includes:

Just more than four years ago, Americans saw no end to the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands of troops remained abroad, although former President George W. Bush had already declared, "Mission Accomplished." In the last four years, President Barack Obama has solidified his role on the international stage as hard on terror, while maintaining a more logical and diplomatic approach.[. . .]. During the Obama administration, we saw the historic end to the decade-long war in Iraq that took the lives of many American troops.

It's a darn shame.

First, Bully Boy Bush did not "declare" mission accomplished.  It was on a sign (that the White House prepared and ordered hung behind him for the cameras).  Second, that had nothing to do with Afghanistan.  Barack has not maintained "a more logical and diplomatic approach" (his many murders with The Drone War alone disprove that claim).  Third, what "historic end to the decade-long war in Iraq"?

David King (Akron Beacon Journal) observes today:

Here's a typical Obama quote on the subject from November 1st, 2012:
"...the war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, Al Qaeda is decimated, Osama Bin Laden is dead".
Not quite so, Mr. Obama.
The Iraq War is not over. We are just no longer involved in it. It rages on.
And Al Qaeda is not decimated either. Far from it:
Ten years after the capture of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is at risk of becoming a failed state again as al-Qaeda reclaims vast swathes of the country.

Friday’s anniversary of the Iraqi dictator's arrest sees the country still struggling with his legacy, with al-Qaeda launching a fresh campaign of terrorist atrocities from new territory carved out in western and northern Iraq.

The Iraq War has not ended for the Iraqi people.  How sad that College Democrats elected to be so xenophobic and self-centered.  When I was in college, fair or unfair, we expected that sort of behavior from Republicans.  We weren't xenophobic jingoists.

To be fooled is a hurting thing 
To be loved and fooled
Is a darn shame

And, we were also literate.  College Democrats don't know how to read these days?

Not only does the illegal war continue in Iraq but it does so with US forces.  That 2011 'withdrawal' (drawdown)?  It was followed in the fall of 2012 by what?   note Tim Arango (New York Times) reported in Septmeber 2012 (a year after the 'withdrawal'):

Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.        

So quick to offer whorish talking points, so slow to recognize facts.

Sad, sad College Democrats.

To be fooled is a hurting thing 
To be loved and fooled
Is a darn shame

It is a darn shame.

But it's also so much worse if you're an Iraqi living in the continued violence of the continued war.

EFE reports, "Eighteen men - 15 of them Iranian - were slain Friday by an armed group while they were working on a gas pipeline that runs from Iranian territory to a power plant in eastern Iraq, a source in the Iraqi security forces told Efe."  CNN adds, "Gunman ambushed the workers with small arms fire, authorities said."  Reuters quotes worker Ibrahem Aziz who as injured in the attack, "Three of them got out of a car and started firing on the workers inside and outside the trench."  Aziz was one of seven workers injured in the attack.  BBC News notes five of the injured were Iranians and two were Iraqis.

But don't worry, College Democrats didn't shed a tear, they were not troubled, they were too busy living in Bliss in the state of Ignorance.

NINA notes an armed attack in Ramadi left 1 police officer dead and another injured, 2 people were shot dead in the al-Shulah section of Baghdad, a Baghdad car bombing claimed 2 lives and left twelve injuted, and a Ramadi car bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers and 1 police officer with ten more people left injured.  All Iraq News notes 1 police officer was shot dead in Beji and 1 corpse was discovered in the streets of Tikrit (shot in head and chest, hand cuffed). Alsumaria adds that today 2 corpses were discovered in the streets of Aldiom (the two were security officers for the province) and a Baghdad home invasion last night left 1 woman dead.

Yet more violence today?  Another prison escape took place.  National Iraqi News Agency explains, "Conflicting stories about the number of escapees from the prison of al-Adalah of the Federal Police in Kazimiyah area at dawn today."  AFP says 22 escaped -- "most were later recaptured" -- and two guards were killed.  Reuers says the Ministry of Interior spokesperson is declaring that all but 3 of 22 escapees have been caught; however, "three police sources told Reuters at least 14" remained on the lam with eleven recaptured and that 1 prisoner and 1 police officer were killed in the prison break.  All Iraq News notes their police source states 30 escaped originally.   Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count notes 370 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

The prison break today?  All Iraq News notes the Ministry of Justice made a point to issue a statement declaring that they don't run the prison, "The escapees escaped from the intelligent department of the Eighth Brigade of the Federal Police where Adala prison is under the custody of the Ministry of Interior and the MoJ has no relation to it."  For those not grasping the point, Nouri al-Maliki is over the Ministry of the Interior.

Back in July, 2012, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."   He never has and he won't.  If elections are held at the end of April, Nouri's not going to rush, in the final moments of his second term, to finally nominate people to head those three posts.  This should be a huge issue in the election -- not just that this was a power grab, although it was -- but mainly that while the security situation worsened each year of Nouri's second term, he failed to nominate people to head the security ministries.

We're in politic now, so let's stay here for a bit more.  April 30th, parliamentary elections are supposed to take place in Iraq.  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) offers an analysis of the political groupings today:

Iraq’s Sunni Muslim politicians have re-grouped in preparation for the 2014 general elections. Their main alliance is split and it seems that they’ve left their non-sectarian former leader and turned toward their own kind. The country’s Sunni Muslim voters may well have a new leader in outspoken, high profile MP, Osama al-Nujaifi. 
During Iraq’s 2010 general elections, Sunni Muslim politicians formed one major bloc, which meant that, in effect, they won the elections. [. . .]
 And now, in preparation for the next general elections, slated for April 2014, Sunni Muslim politicians have split their group again
As a result, Iraq’s Sunni Muslims seem to have gained a new political leader in the form of Osama al-Nujaifi, the current Speaker of the House. Over the past fortnight, senior Sunni Muslim politicians have been conducting meetings to decide what will happen with former members of the mostly Sunni Muslim, opposition Iraqiya bloc next year.
The outcome of the meetings: instead of one, there will be three mostly Sunni Muslim alliances competing in the next elections. These are the United bloc, headed by al-Nujaifi, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue headed by current Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and then finally the National Iraqiya bloc to be led by the former head of the Iraqiya bloc, Ayed Allawi.
Sources inside the meetings told NIQASH that the reason that negotiations broke down on putting up a cohesive front was Allawi’s insistence that he lead the bloc again. However al-Nujaifi, whose profile has certainly been rising over the past few years, also wanted that position at the head of the table. Additionally neither Allawi nor al-Nujaifi wanted to ally themselves with an increasingly unpopular (with Sunni Muslims anyway) Saleh al-Mutlaq. Al-Mutlaq is seen as far too close to al-Maliki and he has recently been at the receiving end of Sunni Muslim protestors’ dislike for him.
The United coalition, led by al-Nujaifi, will include 14 other Sunni Muslim groups as well as a group of Turkmen politicians. Meanwhile Allawi’s National Iraqiya group is composed of a variety of different political entities from right around Iraq. These include Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim and tribal based groups and many of them don’t have major voter support. Allawi has said he is staying with this group because of his ongoing belief in non-sectarian politics. 

On the topic of Ayad Allawi, he posted to his Facebook today a note that he didn't participate in Iraq's current government because the governments of the United States and Iran colluded to give second place Nouri al-Maliki a second term.  He notes that per the Constitution, Iraqiya had the mandate.  In February 2011, Nouri was publicly insisting (to AFP) that he would not seek a third term.  And now?

All Iraq News reports that State of Law MP Ibrahim al-Rikabi declared that Nouri will be their nominee, declaring, "The SLC does not have any nominee for this post except Maliki."  As a leader, Nouri has been an abject failure. Iraq Times points out that Iraq is one of the richest countries in the world yet thousands of Iraqis are homeless.  All Iraq News noted earlier this week that cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr referred to Nouri's talk of distributing plots of land to be "electoral propaganda."  Noting the failures of the current government, Mutahiddon Coalition MP Wihda al-Jumaili tells All Iraq News, that she believes the country should elect more business people -- with successful track records -- in the next election.

Iraqi Spring MC reports protests took place in Baquba, Jalawla, Samarra, Falluja, and Rawa, Protests have been taking place non-stop since December 21st.  Next Friday will be one year of continuous protests.

Ghassan al-Hamid (Alsumaria) reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's coalition noted today that the protesters have been attacked -- most infamously the Hawija attack which left over fifty dead -- by Nouri's forces, that they've endured that and harassment in order to represent the ideals of Iraq, that their voices are only going stronger and that the choice is to be a part of the voice of Iraq or to be someone who cares only for themselves.

Hawija?  That's the April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija which resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP reported 53 dead  -- indicating that some of the wounded did not recover. UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

That's not the only attack on the protesters, it's just the most infamous one.

National Iraqi News Agency reports:

Sheikh Ali al-Suleiman Amir of Duleim tribes said that Sahwa forces should take out of Anbar province., if the central government want security and stability in the province for the next phase.
He said in a speech in the courtyard of the sit-in north of Ramadi : "At the beginning of the formation of Sahwa forces was to fight terrorism, and has been integrated into the security services , but in these days , Sahwa works in favor of a particular parties. so if the central government want security to preavail in Anbar then must get them out of the province.

That's the smartest request he could make.  Sahwa leaders in Anbar are becoming an embarrassment and a menace.  They are threatening the protesters and this week began telling the press that the way to deal with the protests is to go into the sit-ins and bash heads.

The heads that need to be bashed?  Sahwas.  No one really gives a damn about 'em.  They're part of the mafia in Iraq -- that's why so many leaders hail from the concrete business.  They're whorish little toadies who took money from the occupying power (the US) to spy on and attack other Iraqis.

Now the whores have sold out to Nouri and have become his muscle to attack the protesters.

They thought -- as did Nouri -- that they could take the heat of SWAT and other of Nouri's forces -- forces that are primarily Shi'ite.  But the Sahwa in Anbar?  Those are Sunnis.  Sunnis attacking Sunnis, they and Nouri thought, would be able to pull off violence.

It doesn't work that way.

And if Sahwa can't be put on a tighter leash, Iraq's really going to erupt.

The State Dept, the White House and US Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Beecroft need to explain this to Nouri real quick.

Call them militants, call them rebels, call them insurgents, call them terrorists -- it doesn't matter one damn bit.

What happens if Sahwa doesn't sit its ass down?  What happens if they go after the protesters?

The resistance/the terrorists/the militants/the insurgents suddenly and immediately get street cred in Anbar because they're the only ones who will be seen as standing up for the Sunni population.

If you think things are bad in Iraq right now, you're right.  But if Sahwa launches a violent attack on the protesters, things will get much worse and militants will be able to move much more freely because they will have many people in Anbar aligned with and/or sympathetic to them and their cause.

Nouri can't protect the Iraqi people, he can attack them -- as he's attacked the Camp Ashraf residents all along.  There are 7 Ashraf members who were kidnapped this fall.  Where are they?

Last month,  Brett McGurk, the State Dept's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, appeared  Wednesday before the  US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa (see the November 13th  "Iraq snapshot," the November 14th "Iraq snapshot" and  the November 15th  "Iraq snapshot").  In that hearing, this exchange took place.

US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee:   [. . .]  But there are hostages in Iraq that we must have now.  There's documentation that those hostages are there by our French allies, by the United Nations and other supportive groups and information.  I can't imagine with the wealth of sophisticated intelligence authorities that we have, that we have funded who have a vast array of information about Americans  cannot pinpoint where starving Iranians, loved ones [are] whose families are trying to save their lives after being on a hunger strike for 73 days.  And so I would ask this question of you, already knowing about your heart and your concern, I will not judge you, I already know that you're committed to getting this right/  Will you -- will you demand of Maliki, not next week or months from now, but can we expect in the next 48 hours a call to the head of the government of Iraq demanding the release of these hostages and demanding their release now?  Or the documented, undeniable evidence that they are not held in Iraq?  Second, would you be engaged with -- or  the Secretary [of State John Kerry] be engaged with -- and I have spoken to Secretary Kerry, I know his heart -- with Maliki to demand the security of those in Camp Ashraf  for now and forever until a relocation to a homeland, a place where their relatives are or where they desire to be? [. . .]

Brett McGurk:  [. . .] We can pinpoint where the people are and I'd like to follow up with you on that.  The seven are not in Iraq.  But I will guarantee in my conversations with Maliki on down, the safety and the security of Camp Ashraf, Camp Liberty, where the residents are, the government needs to do everything possible to keep those poeople safe  but they will never be safe until they're out of Iraq.  And we all need to work together -- the MEK, us, the Committee, everybody, the international community -- to find a place for them to go.  There's now a UN trust fund, we've donated a million dollars and we're asking for international contributions to that fund for countries like Albania that don't have the resources but are willing to take the MEK in.  And we need to press foreign captials to take them in because until they're out, they're not going to be safe and we don't want anyone else to get hurt.  We don't want anymore Americans to get hurt in Iraq, we don't want anymore Iraqis to get hurt in Iraq  and we don't want any more residents of Camp Liberty to get hurt in Iraq and until they're out of Iraq, they're not going to be safe.  This is an international crisis and we need international help and support. 

US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee:  May I follow -- May I just have a minute more to follow up with Mr. McGurk, Secretary McGurk?  And I hear the passion in your voice but let me just say this. We're in an open hearing.  You know where they are.  Who is going to rescue them?  Whose responsibility will it be to get them from where they are into safe haven?  Because otherwise, we're leaving -- we're leaving Maliki now without responsibility.  We're saying, and you're documenting that they're not there.  Let me just say that when my government speaks, I try with my best heart and mind to believe it.  But I've got to see them alive and well to believe that they're not where I think they are, they're in a pointed purse.  I'm glad to here that but I want them to be safe but I want them to be in the arms of their loved ones or at least able to be recognized by their loved one that they're safe somewhere.  So can that be done in the next 48 hours?  Can we have a-a manner that indicates that they are safe?

Brett McGurk:  I will repeat here a statement that we issued on September 16th and it's notable and I was going to mention this in my colloquy with my Congressman to my left, that within hours of the attack, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Score issued a statement praising the attack.  We issued a statement on September 16th calling on the government of Iran to use whatever influence it may have with groups that might be holding these missing persons to secure their immediate release.  And I can talk more about details and the status of these individuals.  And I've briefed some members of the Subcommittee. I'd be happy to follow up. 

Brett McGurk and the US government are not believed on this statement and, as we noted when we reported the above exchange, the whereabouts shouldn't be classified.

If the US was physically protecting the 7, that might -- briefly -- be a reason for not giving their whereabouts.  That is not what the government has suggested. So if they're being held against their will by the Iranian government or a proxy for the Iranian government -- or by Nouri or a proxy for Nouri's government -- newsflash, the ones doing the holding no where the 7 are being held.

It's not classified and kept from the holders.  So why the need for the State Dept to play like the location cannot be spoken of?

Tuesday Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  It was a testy hearing.   John needs to stop being so damn combative in hearings.  He also needs to stop insisting over and over that he get to yammer on.  There's a five minute rule in House hearings.  He was often rude (but at least he spread it around -- he was rude to Republicans and to Democrats). .

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: And lastly, two issues.  Regarding Camp Ashraf, are the Ashraf 7 being held in Iran or are they in Iraq?  And, Mr. Secretary, [. . .]

He went on and on.  I'm not including it.  I'd love to include the insult to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (and I agreed with him 100% on that), for example that took place in the exchange that followed Ros-Lehtinen, but I don't have the time.  As it is, I'm pushing back coverage of another hearing to Monday's snapshot.  So we'll ignore all of his words that had nothing to do with Camp Ashraf and pick up here.

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  If you could answer the Ashraf and the Cuba question?

Secretary John Kerry: Beg your pardon?

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  If you could answer the question about Ashraf --

Secretary John Kerry:  The question of Ashraf was where-where are they?

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  Iran or Iraq?

Secretary John Kerry:  Well they're in Iraq.

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  They're in Iraq?

Secretary John Kerry:  The people.

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: The seven hostages that were taken from Ashraf?

Secretary John Kerry:  I-I-I . . .

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  They have not -- We have not known where they are.

Kerry spoke with the people sitting behind him, then returned to the microphone.

Secretary of State John Kerry:  Uh, I can talk to you about that in classified session.

We're talking about the Ashraf residents so, before we note one more exchange, let's include the overview on the Ashraf community.  As of September, Camp Ashraf in Iraq is empty.  All remaining members of the community have been moved to Camp Hurriya (also known as Camp Liberty).  Camp Ashraf housed a group of Iranian dissidents who were  welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. This is key and demands the US defend the Ashraf community in Iraq from attacks.  The Bully Boy Bush administration grasped that -- they were ignorant of every other law on the books but they grasped that one.  As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp repeatedly attacked after Barack Obama was sworn in as US President. 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."  Those weren't the last attacks.  They were the last attacks while the residents were labeled as terrorists by the US State Dept.  (September 28, 2012, the designation was changed.)   In spite of this labeling, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."  So the US has an obligation to protect the residents.  3,300 are no longer at Camp Ashraf.  They have moved to Camp Hurriyah for the most part.  A tiny number has received asylum in other countries. Approximately 100 were still at Camp Ashraf when it was attacked Sunday.   That was the second attack this year alone.   February 9th of this year, the Ashraf residents were again attacked, this time the ones who had been relocated to Camp Hurriyah.  Trend News Agency counted 10 dead and over one hundred injured.  Prensa Latina reported, " A rain of self-propelled Katyusha missiles hit a provisional camp of Iraqi opposition Mujahedin-e Khalk, an organization Tehran calls terrorists, causing seven fatalities plus 50 wounded, according to an Iraqi official release."  They were attacked again September 1st.   Adam Schreck (AP) reported that the United Nations was able to confirm the deaths of 52 Ashraf residents.  It was during that attack that the 7 hostages were taken.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  I am introducing a bill today that will allow 3,000 refugees from Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty -- now Camp Liberty -- status --refugee status and thus will permit them to be able to come to the United States.  Hundreds of these people have been slaughtered.  They live under constant threat of being murdered, we know that.  And, uh-uh, will this administration be supporting my legislation to prevent these people from being slaughtered by this pro-Mullah regime that we have in Iraq now?

Secretary John Kerry: Well Congressman, I've gone to the lengths of appointing a special representative to work exclusively to get the, uh, -- 

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  I'm just asking about my legislation.

Secretary John Kerry:  Well I need to see the legislation but  in principle we're trying to find a place for -- 

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  So in principle -- you would agree with letting these refugees have status -- refugee status so they can come here

Secretary John Kerry:  Uh, we are -- We're trying to find a place for them to go now.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Okay, so in principle --

Secretary John Kerry: In principle, I'd like to see the legislation but I can't speak for the President. 

Turning to the topic of the Jewish archives that Saddam Hussein stole from the Jewish community and that the US government paid to restore, the ones the White House insist should be handed over to the Iraqi government despite the Iraqi government's lack of legal claim to this stolen property.  Ruth's already noted the column David A. Andelman wrote for U.S.A. Today:

At the end of World War II, there were more than 130,000 Jews in Iraq—a quarter of the population of Baghdad. By the time of the Six Day War in 1967, that number had dwindled to barely 3,000. Today there are at most seven Jews left — each fearful even of disclosing his identity — indeed not even a minion, the minimum number (ten) required for Jewish worship. But abroad, they constitute an enormous community, united under the banner of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq, according to its president, Maurice Shohet who himself fled Iraq in 1970 at the age of 21. The largest single Iraqi Jewish community, outside of Israel, is in the United States. And this is where the Iraqi diaspora wants these artifacts to remain.
Just why the Iraqi government wants these items returned is an open question—likely a pastiche of the public position authorities have expressed to Urman, that it wants to showcase the "contributions of the Jewish people to Iraq," and the reality that they are aware of their enormous and unchallenged value.
"From our point of view, they were taken from us and as a result we are the official heirs of the material," Urman observes. "This is not like material looted from national museums. It was taken by force by intelligence agents."
And now, some substantial force is being brought to bear on their behalf. On November 13, a bipartisan group of 47 House Democrats and Republicans signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to "facilitate the return of these items to their rightful owners or their descendants, and not to the government of Iraq." Why? "The government of Iraq has no legitimate claim to these artifacts," the letter concludes.

And they don't.  There's nothing in the law that allows the government to claim stolen property stolen by a previous government.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:An exhibit on now at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. features books, manuscripts and photographs taken from generations of Iraqi Jews that were found in Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters in 2003.  Cynthia Kaplan Shamash and Edwin Shuker were childhood friends in Bagdad. They escaped from Iraq in the early '70s and they're both members of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq. They're with us now. 

That's Jeremy Hobson speaking on Here and Now (NPR -- link is audio and text) Thursday.  Let's note an excerpt.

SHAMASH: We took the train from Bagdad to the North, to Kirkuk, to make it over the mountains in Iran, and we were caught and we were imprisoned. I was eight; I was interrogated separately, being the youngest in the family.
As a matter of fact, I have the doll here that was ripped apart. They took the intestines out that says Mama and that would be proof of espionage device. And then we were transported to Bagdad and separated with my sisters; my mother and me separated from my father and brother. We didn't know each other's fate and that went on for like five weeks.
Eventually we applied for passports. We got the passports after like two months and we left as if we're leaving on a vacation, because you, of course, cannot say that you're leaving for good, even though they knew how to read between the lines. And so we left to Turkey and eventually we ended in different countries abroad.

HOBSON: And you still have that doll?

SHAMASH: Yes, I have it with me right here.

HOBSON: What does it mean to you?

SHAMASH: It means something, now it's darkness, and it brings darkness and despair when I look at it. And I show it to my children. Like, when I came on the train to the studio, I held onto it for dear life. For me, this is more than gold. It is a part of my heritage. It is an evidence that I have where I came from and what oppression we had to go through to be where we are and not take for granted our safety.

HOBSON: Edwin, do you have something like that?

SHUKER: I do. I have something like that in the (unintelligible) exhibition.

HOBSON: Your school certificate?

SHUKER: My school certificate. This is my doll and my doll is behind glass and I can't touch it, and I'm waiting for the day, just like Cynthia did, to actually hold my doll.

HOBSON: Well, tell us the story of that certificate and how it was found, first of all.

SHUKER: Well, back in 2003, the American Army was informed that there was a cache of Jewish artifacts and documents, and what they saw was a huge collection of books and artifacts and documents, but unfortunately, because of the bombing, the water system had collapsed and the whole cache was under a meter and a half of water. So that was really the vast collection of our identity sitting underwater. Eventually the water was drained and they were transported to Texas, to America, and for the past 10 years they've been lovingly restored, preserved, digitalized, and a small collection of it is exhibited in Washington at the moment.

HOBSON: Do you think that it should stay in Washington, or do you think it should go back to Iraq or what?

SHUKER: Well, quite honestly, I have to tell you that when I looked at that certificate for the first time, my heart stopped. I just felt I have left this, but more than a certificate, this was the community's identity. That collection is much more than its intrinsic value. I just looked at that certificate and I saw that little boy staring at me, that picture of Edwin Shuker when he was 12, and I just felt connected back to him after 43 years, a little boy that was abandoned back home with his certificates, with his identity, with his toys, with his stamp collection. We just left him behind in Baghdad. And last month I got reconnected with him, and just as Cynthia described her doll, that was my identity, and boy, do I want it to be with me, do I want it to stay for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And no, I don't want it to go back.

 bbc news


mohammed tawfeeq

Friday, December 13, 2013

I stand with Sibel

First off, Friday night, The CW, Nikita.  This is our fourth episode.

There are only six episodes, it's wrapping up on Fridays this month.  Don't miss it.

Now . . .

I'm sure Glenn Greenwald is wasting everyone's time with another Tweet war but Sibel Edmonds is a real whistle-blower.  That doesn't mean she can't get something wrong.  It does mean she's earned my trust so when she writes about something I will pay attention.

She has an exhaustive investigation/review that doesn't paint Glenn in a good light.  It opens:

December 12, 2013 "Information Clearing House -  The 50,000-pages of documents obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden contain extensive documentation of PayPal Corporation’s partnership and cooperation with the National Security Agency (NSA), according to three NSA veterans. To date, no information has been released as to the extent of the working relationship and cooperation between the two entities- NSA and PayPal Corporation. What’s more, the billionaire owner of PayPal Corporation has entered into a $250 Million business partnership with two journalists-Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, a journalist duo who possess the entire cache of evidence provided by Edward Snowden. Despite earlier pledges by the journalists in question, only one percent (1%) of Snowden’s documents has been released.
BFP was recently contacted by a retired NSA official who claims that the documents obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden contain extensive documentation pertaining to NSA’s partnership with major U.S. financial institutions, including credit card companies and PayPal Corporation. The official, who requested anonymity, also alleges that a deal was made in early June, 2013 between the journalists involved in this recent NSA scandal and U.S. government officials, which was then sealed by secrecy and nondisclosure agreements by all parties involved.

I'm not interested in his response.  He's a known sexist with a long history of sexism and I'm sure he's utilizing that in his attacks on Sibel.

Reading that would only enrage me.

Sibel has a track record.

I do trust her.

If she's made a mistake, she's forthright enough to clarify or correct.  And if that happens, I will certainly run it.  But for right now?

Every word she typed above (and all the words in the article) are honest because she's demonstrated she is a very honest person.

I stand with Sibel.

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada notes the League of Righteous is working for Nouri, Nouri secures more weapons to terrorize the Iraqi people, the US Veterans Affairs Dept has been running a shell game tricking the press (no real skill required for that) among others, and more.

Let's start with nonsense.  The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee which held a hearing yesterday.  Veterans are grumbling about the footsie the Committee is playing with the VA and at some point the press will have to deal with that because the anger's only mounting.  Every veteran I spoke with yesterday that attended the hearing noted the nonsense from the Committee and specifically singled out Senator Sherrod Brown's ridiculous statements about how VA didn't need a lecture, they know how important it is to solve this problem.

Oh, no, they need many lectures.  Committee Chair Bernie Sanders can take comfort in the fact that Brown's sucking up distracted from Sanders' own problems with regards to confronting VA.  In the future, if Brown's going to have a future in the Congress (that's in doubt, he's close to losing veterans' votes and as we saw with Jim Webb, when you lose that support, you need to announce that you're not running for re-election), he's going to need to stop sucking up to the VA in public hearings.  Brown's lucky in that he's not facing re-election until 2018.  He's unlucky in that he's now on the radar and every move he makes regarding veterans will be closely tracked.  And Ohio is one of the worst states on the number of days to get a claim adjudicated.

Let's listen to Chair Sanders at yesterday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Nonetheless this Committee, at our hearing in mid-March, heard about the unacceptably large number of claims that were pending and the numerous challenges confronting the Department. It is my view, and the view I believe, of every member of this committee that no veteran should have to wait years to have his or her claim adjudicated. Today, as I understand it, the VA is going to give us some good news about significant progress made in this area. When we last met to discuss this issue, there were over 896,000 claims in the inventory. Of that number more than 632,000 or 70 percent were backlogged – or pending longer than VA’s goal of 125 days. That is a staggering number. Today, as I understand, those numbers look much different and are much improved. The number of claims pending longer than 125 days – or officially part of the backlog – has dropped to just over 395,000 claims or 57 percent of the total inventory. That is a large number but it is significant. The total number of pending claims has dropped to its lowest level since July of 2012 at slightly less than 694,000 claims. Let me be clear – many challenges remain and I will touch on some of them later in my statement. We must, however, begin today by . . .

Blah blah blah.  And he kept talking about a March hearing.

If you're talking backlog, March doesn't mean a damn thing and your citing it makes you look silly.

Granted, the April hearing wasn't a Senate VA hearing.  That's probably why it was an important hearing. April 23rd, Senator Patty Murray, as Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, chaired a hearing.  It is the most important hearing for veterans in 2013.  It was, it remains, the most important hearing.  Committee Chair Murray, of course, is the former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and she continues to serve on the Senate VA Committee.

In real time, we covered the pertinent exchange at length.  I'm both (a) not in the mood and (b) not going to waste space on it.  So we'll do a small excerpt.

For those who don't know, just to set this up, the VA claims system had a huge backlog and, at this hearing, Shinseki and the always laughable Alison Hickey explained a new way of doing things.  And the press just ignored it and continues to.  It's a shell game.  Let's go to the excerpt.

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

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

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

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

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

In real time, reporting on that hearing the day it took place, I wrote:

What the VA is proposing is that a temporary rating be created.  This temporary rating may become permanent.  Or it might increase or it might decrease.  If you're a veteran qualifying for some small-business program based on your rating, how does this impact that?  Hickey gave no response about that or how the temporary claim would effect anything.
Now I think she's an idiot who should be fired.  But can you be that stupid that when asked a direct question, you completely miss it?  Maybe so.  Maybe Allison Hickey is The Dumbest Person In The World.  However, I just see her as deeply dishonest.
As deeply dishonest is the new program that's being discussed.
Murray is correct.  This is going mean "increasing the workload by requiring two" or more "ratings decisions instead of one." And this is only more clear when Hickey asserts that after a veteran receives a rating he or she finds less than satisfactory and they return with more information, Hickey's words, "we will expedite that claim to the front of the line."
What's really going on here?
The VA has bad press because they've not eliminated the claims backlog, they have not reduced the backlog.  They have been given everything they've asked for.  Congress has actually spent the last years asking them, "Is that all you need?  What else can we do to help you with this?"  VA has insisted they had all they needed.
So this is VA's problem.  At the hearing, Senator Tammy Baldwin observed, "Veterans don't want to hear about new claims or new processes, they want results and so do I."  She's correct.  However, this program's not about veterans, it's about the press.  This is a distraction that will create the illusion of something new which, the VA hopes, will garner good press.
In what world, when you're failing at the claims system, are you allowed to create a new system that will pull more employees away?

There were members of the press at that hearing.

They ignored this significant development/change.

They have since falsely reported on the 'success' of the VA with the backlog.

And Chair Sanders was praising them yesterday.  'Oh, goodness, you're reducing the backlog.'

No, they're not.

They're slapping on 'provisional decisions' to rush these through so they can move them into the 'decided' column.  Even though they're not.

I have no problem with a hasty VA decision -- which comes with a real appeal process.  I have no fear that veterans are trying to game the system.  Unlike Senator Jon Tester, I don't have visions of them smoking and drinking and see that as abuse of the system.  I think -- whether they smoke, drink, dip, what have you -- they're trying to get the health care they were promised.  Promises were made, promises need to be kept.

But the provisional 'ratings'?  The VA can change them themselves -- even if the veteran doesn't appeal.  Why are these temporary calls being issued?

It's a shell game to move the numbers without really doing so.

"Reducing the backlog at the expense of accuracy is not acceptable," Chair Sanders declared Wednesday morning.

Two days after the April 23rd hearing, Mark Flatten (Washington Examiner) did something none of his peers could do, he reported on veterans fears (justifiable) about the VA's new rating:

Under the new plan, VA will issue a "provisional" rating within 60 days on cases two years old or more. Veterans would then have a year to submit new evidence to increase their rating, or ask that the rating be made final so they can file an appeal.
The apparent catch is that issuing the provisional rating may lead to creation of a new case, thus letting VA "close" the old one when in fact the veteran's claim remains outstanding.
Ronald Robinson, president of the AFGE union local that represents VA claims workers in Columbia, S.C., said the new rules are nothing more than an effort to make the agency's sinking statistics look better.

Chair Sanders declared at yesterday's hearing, "Veterans are still waiting too long for a decision.  And the Inspector General to find issues with the quality, with the quality of the work.  I am concerned by the most recent IG findings which found significant problems with the provisional decisions reviewed at the Los Angeles regional office."

Imagine that.

Problems with the provisional ratings?

Who could have seen that happening?

I said we'd cover a December House Veterans Affairs Subcomittee and I never did.  Sorry.  I don't like writing about this topic.  I can go on over and over about Tim Arango's September 2012 report for the New York Times where US President Barack Obama sent another "unit of Army Special Operations soldiers" into Iraq in the fall of 2012 -- so much for the 'withdrawal.'

But this nonsense?  Senators were present when this new 'system' was announced.  The press was as well.  And yet they've both failed on this issue.  Veterans groups have raised concerns and yet both groups continue to fail and every other month some mouth breathing press loser is trumpeting 'the numbers' and 'the reductions' and never noting provisional ratings or what's really going on.

At the December 4th hearing, the VA's Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations, Sondra F. McCauley was one of the witnesses.

Deputy Assistant IG Sondra McCauley:  On April 19, 2013, VBA implemented a special initiative to address the oldest pending disability claims in the current backlog. VBA stated the intent of the initiative was to work all claims pending for more than 2 years within 60 days, beginning April 19, 2013. VAROs were directed to devote all RVSRs and as many Veterans Service Representatives as needed to ensure all claims pending over 2-year old were processed and completed. According to VBA, RVSRs were to immediately process the 2-year old claims based on the available evidence in the veterans' claims folders. Further, rating decisions produced were to be considered provisional ratings unless all evidence in support of the claims had already been received (and the claim was considered ready-to-rate) or the ratings assigned provided the highest evaluation for the particular diagnostic code for each claimed issue. However, if medical examination reports or other Federal records were needed, these older claims could not be processed as provisional rating decisions.  During one review errors were identified at the Los Angeles VARO when leadership provided conflicting guidance on the proper procedures for processing provisional rating decisions. We determined 10 -- 91 percent --  of 11 provisional rating decisions we reviewed were not compliant with VBA's guidance related to the 2-year claims processing initiative. Eight of the 10 provisional decisions were determined to be non- compliant because the rating decisions were made without supporting VA medical examinations as required. One claim was decided without Service Treatment Records, which are considered Federal records and must be obtained by VARO staff prior to rendering a provisional rating decision. In the remaining case, the provisional rating was controlled by a future diary that scheduled the claim for review in 2 years instead of 1 year as required.  Requiring a rating decision to be rendered before a medical examination is obtained as a basis for a decision is in conflict with VBA policy. On May 14, 2013, conflicting guidance was sent to the Los Angeles VARO staff via an e-mail from the VARO Director’s office. The guidance incorrectly stated all 2-year old cases requiring a medical examination must have the medical examinations ordered by May 15, 2013. This conflicts with VBA guidance because if a medical examination was required to decide a claim, the claim could not be completed as a provisional decision until staff obtained the necessary medical examinations. The guidance also incorrectly indicated that any claims with medical examinations not completed by June 3, 2013, were to be decided by a provisional rating.
We are concerned similar errors may exist among other provisional rating decisions completed by the Los Angeles VARO after the conflicting guidance was issued. VBA provided data that revealed the Los Angeles VARO completed 532 provisional rating decisions between April 19 – June 19, 2013. VARO staff completed 470 of those 532 provisional decisions claims after the conflicting guidance was disseminated on May 14, 2013. All 10 provisional rating decisions that we identified as non-compliant were completed after this date. We recommended that VBA review all of the provisional rating decisions completed by the Los Angeles VARO after the conflicting guidance was issued to ensure they are accurate.

So in the only examination thus far, 90% of the provisional ratings in the LA area did not follow the (limited) procedures and are most likely incorrect.  The new rating is prompting the IG to call for all of the LA area's provisional ratings to be reviewed.

"In fact, it appears the employees were encouraged to violate VA policies," Senator Johnny Isakson noted yesterday of the IG findings on the LA area.  He noted that the IG recommendation of a review of all provisional rating decisions had been completed and the VA founds  "100s that contained errors."

Hundreds.  Plural.  And we're only talking 532 decisions.

Senator Patty Murray noted what she's hearing from veterans in Washington state, "[. . .] I have heard  repeatedly from veterans that they were confused and frustrated with the provisional rating process. Some believe their claims have been flat out rejected and others didn't understand that they have a year to submit additional evidence. Secretary Hickey, we need to hear more from you today about how the VA's going to improve outreach and communication with veterans [. . .]"  [Note, at the end of yesterday's snapshot, the press release issued by Senator Murrary's office can be read.]

"During Committee oversight," Chair Sanders declared yesterday morning, "my staff has identified clear and unmistakable errors in provisional rating decisions."

Appearing before the Committee was the VA's Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey.  In her opening remarks, Hickey declared, "In June, VA completed the first phase of the initiative, which focused on all claims that had been pending over 2 years. While some claims from that category were still outstanding due to the unavailability of a claimant and other unique circumstances, approximately 99 percent of these 2-year claims (over 67,000) had been processed for Veterans, eliminating those claims from the backlog. Since that milestone, VBA claims processors have focused on completing the claims of Veterans who have been waiting over 1 year for a decision. VA has processed approximately 96 percent of all 513,000 claims pending over 1 year."

Chair Bernie Sanders noted Shinseki's proposed goal for 2015, 125 claims processed within 125 days processed with 98% accuracy.  Sanders wanted to know if VA was "on track to achieve the Secretary's goal" by 2015.  Hickey responded that "we are on track barring any implications to our full" budget request for 2014 Fiscal Year, she stated they would meet the goal.  We'll note this exchange.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  In April of this year, VA rolled out an initiative to provide decisions on the claims that have been pending the longest.  While I appreciate VA's efforts to provide the veterans that have been waiting the longest with decisions, I continue to have concerns about this initiative.  The IG, the Inspector General's, recent findings regarding provisional ratings decisions at the Los Angeles regional office which found a number of errors was very, very concerning.  I understand the office corrected the inappropriate guidance that was issued to staff in June and is now in the process of correcting any errors in claims which may have been improperly adjudicated.  So this IG report is very, very concerning to many of us.  Can you explain to this Committee the actions that have been taken to remedy the problems in Los Angeles. 

Allison Hickey: Uh, Chairman, I absolute can do that but let me first --

I'm not Bernie Sanders.  I don't give a damn about Allison Hickey whose ass should have been fired long ago.  She was asked a question.  I'm not going to waste my time including her distractions and her efforts to avoid answering by eating up time.She said "the regional office knew in one week."  In one week of implementation, the regional office knew. May 14th

The obvious question there is, if they knew one week after it was implemented, (that would be May 21st) why did the IG find errors June 19th?

If, as Hickey stammer, "they themselves identified within a week," why weren't they fixed.  How incompetent is management at the VA?

I guess the answer to that question was staring at the Committee members (Allison Hickey).

3 veterans at the hearing that I spoke with yesterday self-identified as Democrats but stated that maybe the answer for veterans is to have one party in charge of the Senate and another in charge of the White House?  It was felt that the Committee is largely toothless, offers supposed indignation ("weakly stated," one veteran said) and then smooths over everything with ridiculous comments like Brown's that a lecture is not needed. It was noted that Ranking Member Richard Burr would be better right now as Chair Burr because he's not "playing footsie" with the VA.  Let's move to some of his exchange.

Ranking Member Richard Burr corrected Hickey's claims (lies) that the leadership knew in one week of the LA problems and immediately addressed them.  Under strong questioning from Burr, Hickey did admit that the same mistakes continued to happen for weeks

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Were provisional decisions included in determining the number of claims VA has completed during the calendar year 2013?

Allison Hickey:  I'm going to ask -- Well -- She's just told me "yes" so I will answer "yes" on behalf of Deputy Under Secretary.  There were 14,000 of those claims which were 3% of all of the claims we had done in the oldest claim initiative which was 67,000 two-years-and-older 512,000 one-year-and-older.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  You - you highlighted 90% quality or accuracy, you used both words.  Last week, the American Legion testified and I quote, "VA's accuracy statistics from the Monday accuracy reports are not consitent with the review of recently adjudicated claims as conducted by the American Legion.  According to the Legion, they reviewed 260 decisions and found errors in 55%.  Also National Veterans Legal Service Program testified that current error rate was somewhere between 30 and 40% -- in some RO's it's higher.  Are they wrong?

Allison Hickey: Uhm, uh, so Senator Burr, they -- It's an apple and orange discussion, if I may have a moment to clarify that. First of all, let me just state for the record and for every time I talk on this subject anywhere: We will not trade production for quality. It is an and equation.  Both must rise which is why it's 125 and 98.  But there is a very different way the IG and others are looking at issues then we do.  I will tell you that our process has been validated by an external agency --

Ranking Member Richard Burr: Ma'am, let me ask my question again: Are they wrong?

Allison Hickey: Uhm.  Uh-uh-uh.  [Laughing] Senator Burr, they are right for the way they look at it, we are right for the way we measure it which is statistically --

Ranking Member Richard Burr: General, General.  They're the customer, aren't they?

Allison Hickey:  Actually, the veteran, the family member and the survivor are my customers, Senator.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: Yeah and these are the organizations that represent them --

Allison Hickey:  They are, Senator 

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  -- and -- Should this Committee believe that there's any VSO in America that believes that the accuracy or the quality is at 97% right now?

Allison Hickey:  Uhhhh, Senator Burr, I would ask you to ask them for their opinions, I can't speak for them.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: They testified on it. But that's not necessarily something that computes. 

Allison Hickey:  Senator Burr, I have a statistically valid validated process that goes further --

Ranking Member Richard Burr: I asked -- I asked a very simple question: Are they wrong?  And I guess the answer is "yes" because you're saying your statistics are different than what their review has been. 

Allison Hickey: They have a different process, Senator.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Okay.  According to VA's Monday Morning Workload Reports, there are at least 266,000 appeals that have not been resolved. That's about 100,000 more than were pending five years ago although appeals are not counted in VA's backlog statistics, they represent individuals who have yet to know what benefits they will receive. Do the performance standards for regional office directors and service center managers include how quickly and accurately they're handling appeals

Allison Hickey:  So Senator Burr the answer is -- the simple answer to your question is yes, they do.  However, I would also tell you that a veteran does know our opinion to an answer on their claim.  Uhm, uh, they get and, uh, many cases, they are deriving resources uh-uh associated with that claim already even though they might be appealing only a part in piece of-of our decision.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  So you have a metrics that you use to determine this?

Allison Hickey: We absolutely have metrics on --

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Would you provide that metrics for the Committee?

Allison Hickey:  We will do that, sir.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  On average, how long have those 266,000 appeals been pending?

Allison Hickey:  Uh, Senator, the Chairman cites some, uh, 800 days so I will, uh, accept th--

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Do you track, does the VA track that?

Allison Hickey:  We do, Senator Burr. 

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Okay.  At what point is an appeal -- is an appeal considered to be backlogged?

Allison Hickey:  We do not have a backlog number for appeals.

We need to stop it there.  But hopefully you're getting what the press didn't.  The VA does not include "appeals" in the backog.  In April, they came up with the 'clever' (dishonest) policy to just slap decisions on claims -- provisional ratings.  And that moved them out of the backlog.  Every one of those 'provisional ratings' may be appealed.  The VA doesn't care, it doesn't count appeals as part of the 'backlog.'

You'd care if you went from an unacceptable 200 day wait to an 800 day wait.

But the press whores for the VA.  They're too stupid to do their damn job.  This was all apparent at the April 23rd hearing.  I'm not a genius and it was obvious to me then.  This is a con game and veterans are getting very outraged while it continues and people like Senator Sherrod Brown look the other way and insist that the VA doesn't need a lecture.

On veterans, Leo Shane III (Stars and Stripes) reports Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy will be hosting Taking The Hill on MSNBC starting this Sunday.  Currently, this is an as-needed program meaning it will appear as a series of specials.  (One aired last month.)  Murphy served in the House of Representatives after returning from Iraq.  He heroically led the overturning of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Hopefully, he will show similar strength and leadership on the airwaves.

Let's move to Iraq.  Zhu Ningzhu (Xinhua) reports Iraq has signed a contract to purchase "24 multi-role light fighters from South Korea" to help fight 'terrorism.'  'Terrorism,' in Nouri's Iraq, means the Iraqi people.  Nouri is quoted stating, "Today we have signed a contract to purchase the Korean 24 T- 50IQ aircraft for training and military operations. The deal signals a start of enhancing the performance of the Ministries of Defense and Interior in the aspects of defending the country and fighting terrorism."  Nouri, due to his illegal power grab, currently is the Minister of the Interior (police) and the Minister of Defense (military).

The big news out of Iraq today?  All Iraq News reports:

The leader of the Sadr Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, described the Asaeb Ahlulhaq as “Governmental Militias.”
During his response on a question from his followers over an operation done by a group of Asaeb wearing military uniform to kidnap citizens in Diyala province  , al-Sadr said “Yes. They are governmental militia and you should boycott them and sue them if they harm you or complain to their tribes.”

This is the League of Righteous.  Let's drop back to July 9, 2011:

Earlier we were mentioning the little scamp Ali al-Lami who was killed a few weeks back. A terrorist, in fact. The US military held him for awhile. They held others with the Shi'ite thug group the League of Righteous. They're responsible for the deaths of 5 American service members. Maybe more. But 5 they are known to have killed. And Barack let their leader and some of his followers go in a deal in the summer of 2009 -- a deal that the families of the 5 fallen soldiers were not consulted on or even given a heads up to -- because Barack didn't want to be president of the United States. That was too small for Barry. He needed -- his ego needed -- a world stage. So when the British needed something to get their 5 citizens kidnapped by the League freed, Barry said, "Screw dead Americans who were killed doing a job their government ordered them to do, I'm going to free the League -- this rag-tag group of killers -- because I don't give a damn about the safety of Iraqis and because I want to get in good with England." 
So Barry released them and, as usual from Princess Tiny Meat, his 'grand gesture' fell quickly. Because the addiction to the Kool-Aid was still so high in 2009, let's drop back we'll drop back to the June 9, 2009 snapshot with the realization that some who looked the other way in real time will now be outraged:

This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."

Agreed. Not only did Barry betray the fallen, he demonstrated yet again no one should trust him at the adult table by himself. His 'big' deal resulted in only one living British citizen released. Three corpses were released.
The fifth kidnapped victim?
Though Barry's 'big' deal was supposed to free all five, the League, years later, is now insisting they want a new deal (and figure Barry's just the pushover to give it to them?). Al Mada reports they have issued a statement where they savage the US government for not honoring -- and quickly honoring -- the agreement made with them. As a result, they say Alan McMenemy will not be released.
Peter Moore, the only one released alive, was a computer tech working in Iraq. Four British bodyguards were protecting him. The bodyguards were McMenemy, Jason Swindlehurst, Alec MacLachlan and Jason Cresswell. The families of the four have continued to publicly request that Alan McMenemy be released. 
They condemn the "procrastionation" of the US government after the deal was made and state that a promise was also broken when "US forces did not stop attacks" -- apparently Barack made very grand promises -- so now Alan McMenemy will not be released. The statement is credited to Akram al-Ka'bi.
What the statement really does is demonstrate what many condemned in 2009: The US government, the administration, entered into an agreement that did not benefit the US or Iraq. They freed known killers from prison. Killers of Iraqis, killers of American citizens. There was nothing to be gained by that act for Iraq or the US. At some point, history will ask how Barack Obama thought he was fulfilling his duties of commander in chief by making such an ignorant move?

The most important recent report by the New York Times on Asaib al-Haq was about Nouri al-Maliki (prime minister and chief thug of Iraq)  supporting them.  Tim Arango (New York Times) broke that story:

In supporting Asaib al-Haq, Mr. Maliki has apparently made the risky calculation that by backing some Shiite militias, even in secret, he can maintain control over the country’s restive Shiite population and, ultimately, retain power after the next national elections, which are scheduled for next year. Militiamen and residents of Shiite areas say members of Asaib al-Haq are given government badges and weapons and allowed freedom of movement by the security forces.

As cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr notes, the League of Righteous is working for Nouri's government.

The violence continues today in Iraq. NINA notes that a fahter and sun were kidnapped in Salaheddin Province by men "wearing military uniforms."

In addition, National Iraqi News Agency reports that Mohammed Qoja (assistant to the Governor of Salaheddin Province) survived an assassination attempt which left 3 bodyguards dead (two more are missing),  a Baghdad suicide bomber claimed the lives of 5 Iraqi soldiers and left twelve more injured,  Sahwa leader Sheikh Saleh al-Dulaimi was shot dead leaving his Ramadi home, a Baquba roadside bombing left three people injured, 1 person was shot dead outside his Baquba home,a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life, a bombing near a Baghdad grocery store claimed 1 life and left four more injured, another Bahgdad bombing near a grocery store left eight people injured, a Tikrit armed attack left 1 police officer dead and his son injured, a Ramadi armed attack left 3 people dead and one police officer injured, and a police shot dead 2 suspects in Ramadi,

Supposedly, Parliamentary elections will take place April 30th.  Yesterday All Iraq News quoted MP Jawad al-Hasnawi stating, "I do not think that Maliki will get the third term as the PM of Iraq due to the current situations and the security deterioration in addition to the floods."  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) examined the political situation in Iraq last Thursday:

As political parties prepare for upcoming general elections, some very important alliances are falling apart. Shiite Muslim parties allied in the current governing coalition led by PM Nouri-al-Maliki say they will campaign alone - and they won’t promise al-Maliki another term. Amid a surge in sectarian violence, could the country finally be entering a post-sectarian political era?  

Prominent Shiite Muslim politicians in Baghdad have confessed that there is one major reason why the previously strong alliance of Shiite Muslim parties is breaking up. This alliance was what allowed current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to form his ruling coalition, the State of Law bloc. But now, as political parties start negotiating partnerships and jockeying for position ahead of the upcoming general elections, scheduled for April 2014, the formerly strong Shiite Muslim alliances have fallen apart.

A special meeting was held in Baghdad on Nov. 18 at which all member parties of al-Maliki’s alliance were present. A statement was issued afterwards declaring, “Shiite Muslim parties are enthusiastic about competing in the coming elections together”. But this seems to have been spin: The reality on the ground is very different.

“The State of Law bloc has asked that all other parties that want to enter into an alliance with it agree ahead of elections that if they win, the future Prime Minister will come from the Dawa party and that that party will not nominate anyone other than Nouri al-Maliki,” a senior politician, who did not want to be named, told NIQASH. “This is why the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrist bloc are avoiding any such alliance.”

The strongest Shiite Muslim parties in Iraq are al-Maliki’s Dawa party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI, headed by cleric Ammar al-Hakim and the Sadrist bloc, headed by another cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. There are also other minor Shiite Muslim parties such as the National Reform Trend headed by former Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and the Islamic Virtue Party, or Fadhila, headed by controversial Najaf-based cleric, Mohammed Musa al-Yaqoubi.

Both the Sadrist bloc and the ISCI seem firm about their intentions not to enter into an alliance with al-Maliki’s party again. Both al-Hakim and al-Sadr have been critical of al-Maliki’s government, with al-Sadr being very harsh, very publicly and al-Hakim tending to be quietly critical.