Saturday, May 19, 2012


Fringe is now up at Hulu (and you can probably stream it at Fox now as well -- even if you don't subscribe to Murdoch's Dish)..  It's the season finale (that aired two Fridays ago).

What do I think?

I'll say that not being sure if they'd get another season (they did) made for the best season ender since season one.

Not knowing meant that, for a change, they had to provide a happy ending so that things were tied up if this ended up being the last episode.

Leonard Nimoy continued his return as Billy. When I blogged about the previous e-mail, it resulted in an e-mail saying that Nimoy had retired from acting.  Sorry, I didn't make up his appearance on the show.  I remember that too, that announcement.  It's why we had the animated epiosde of Fringe one year -- still one of my favorite.  Nimoy did a voice over and Peter had to go through all these Florida houses looking for Olivia.  But Nimoy did come back for the last two episodes of this season and it was live action, not animation.

Most important point is Astrid.  She's alive.  She survived the shooting. 

But that's not where the show started.  It started with Billy explaining to Walter about the new world he was going to create.  He's collapsing our universe and Earth 2 to create a new world -- in the process, everyone on both of the earths will be killed except for those in eye of the storm (Billy's got a boat and they're going there).

Walter eyes a gun in a display case.

The Australian woman (the nurse with the daughter) that Olivia saved from the nanonites last episode calls as Peter and Olivia are at the lab looking for Walter.  Since she left them at Harvard, she's felt like someone is following her.  She's worried.  Olivia tells her to lock all the doors and stay inside.  She says she will.  But there's a Watcher in her home.  He takes a step towards the kitchen and then can't move.  He looks down at the floor that has some sort of script written on it.  Whatever it is, he can no longer move.

When Peter and Olivia arrive, the house is empty and Peter notes a section of the floor is carved out.  It's that section the Watcher was standing on.

Broyles calls.  He's at the hospital.  Astrid's been shot.

They go there and Astrid remembers what happened.  (Her body was dumped and a call made to 9-11.)  She's bruised and has a gunshot wound but is otherwise okay.  She tells them that they were in the warehouse and there were armed men, that she heard the sounds of animals she didn't recognize.  They go to the warehouse knowing that Billy's going to be gone but looking for clues.

Peter and Olivia find the Australian woman.  With the Watcher.  He's stuck to that piece of the floor that was cut out of her home.  She was a ringer.  She's been working for Billy the whole time.  And she's a wack job.  She pulls out a gun and shoots at them, one, two, three.  At all of them.  And the Watcher grabs each bullet with his hand.

The woman says it looks like magic but they just the technique to move faster than anyone.  Too bad, she says, Billy invented a gun that moves faster.  She fires it and the Watcher catches the bullet in his hand like before.  We think. Then he moves his hand and he's shot to the chest and bleeding.  He wasn't able to stop the bullet.

She's now going to shoot him repeatedly with the gun even when Olivia screams for her to stop.  The woman says the Watcher can't even feel pain.

Boom, boom, boom.

But Olivia stops them and propels them back at her.

The woman's now dead.

How did Olivia do it? Like how did she crossover to the other world and back all those times before?  The drug Billy and Walter used on her when she was a child.  It's also how she managed to move Peter's arms so he could fight with Jones the episode before.

The woman's dead.  How will they find out where Billy is?  Because Peter knows about a device -- from his trips to the other world -- that Massive Dynamics has.  They go see Nina who says she's won't ask how Peter knew about this technology.  They hook the woman up.  She 'comes to' and asks why can't she move her arms?  And she refuses to answer questions.  Finally Peter grasps Walter's on a boat.  She still won't answer.  Nina tries.  No luck.  And then Oliva grabs her to try to get her to speak.

And the device on the woman shorts out.

What si going on?

Nina thinks she knows.  Olivia's energy is what Billy's using to collapse the earths.  That's what everything was about.  The new powers emerging, getting her at her strongest so her energy vibrates at its strongest frequency.  Nina says they can use that frequency to chase down Billy.

They're at Fringe Division and using satellites to track.  Three places are reporting earth quakes.  Nina says it's starting (the end of the world).  They get the position and Olivia and Peter hop in a helicopter and go out to sea with a pilot. 

Nina's explained that it would be possible for Olivia to make it into that safe zone, an overlapping of the two worlds, because she's able to travel to both.  And that Peter, being from the other side, can see it whereas every one on this side (including Olivia) can't because the vibration has made it invisible to this world.

At this point or a little earlier, Nina tells Olivia, "You've had the most extraordinary gifts, the only one you were denied was knowing it.  You've had the power all along."

Which reminds me of Michael Douglas' speech to Kathleen Turner in Romancing The Stone and also reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.

Anyway --

Peter can see it and he directs the pilot.  Then he tells Olivia when it's time to jump.  They land on the ship and Peter almost falls off.  He's brought a gun, by the way. 

They run across the boat.  And this makes NO sense at all. 

Where are the guards?  They're not on the boat.  It's just Billy and Walter.  We know that and I'll tell you why in a minute.  But Billy took the boat out all by himself?  And what did he tell all those people who thought they were saving the world (they were destroying it, but he lied to them and told them they were saving it)?  None of it made sense if you thought about it.

Such as the people who were part people and part beast?  Where were they?  Were they being taken along or not?

When Olivia and Peter bust into the room where Billy is with Walter, he tells them he hadn't planned for his arc to carry humans.  He assumed he and Walter would die off and his new world would be human free but humans are a . . . .

Oh, shut up. Somebody shoot him already because the world's about to collapse.  Peter's got his gun on Billy and is telling him to stop it and Billy's saying it's too late and there's no way.  Walter uses the gun that was in the display case to shoot Olivia in the head.

Killed, her energy source goes with her.

Peter can't believe it.  He rushes to dead Olivia and screams at Walter, "You killed her!"

Billy tells Walter that was well played and he goes to a bell, rings it, and disappears.  He's done that before.  The bell changes his harmony and allows to vibrate elsewhere.

Peter is distraught and not listening to Walter who finally slaps him and tells him to get Olivia on the desk.  Walter explains the drug is at its highest level in Olivia's brain.  That means its power to self-heal should allow Olivia's brain to heal if they can remove the bullet.

Walter carves a spot int he back of her head and explains they need an exit point.

The bullet's out (I turned my head away and didn't watch that) and they're waiting and waiting.  And then, finally, it works and Olivia moves.

Now we're at the hospital.  They tell Peter he can see Olivia.  So he leaves Walter with the just arrived Astrid who shares licorice with him and he calls Astrid by her real name.  (Something he so rarely does.)  Broyles is with Congress and Fringe is getting a huge funding increase, Broyles is being made a general and they'll have a new science division.  As he leaves, he asks Nina to head the new science division. 

Olivia is acting weird as she hugs Peter and I honestly thought she was going to explain she was blind.  She wasn't looking at him when he was talking.  I thought, "Okay, the bullet.  She's alive but now she's blind."  And that's the sort of crap Fringe usually hurls at us in a season ender.

She wasn't blind.  She tells him she's pregnant. 

So not knowing what happened (if the show would get renewed or not) forced the writers to finally give us a season ender that wasn't a complete downer.

That wasn't the end though.  Walter's in his lab making something to eat and singing.  He looks over and there's a Watcher.

Watcher: We have to warn the others.  They are coming.

Watcher:  Who's coming?

We know, from the two episodes they did near the end of this season set in the future, that the Watchers destroyed their own world (our world in the future) and that they time travel and watch in part to find when they can take over our world.  In the future, they are evil. 

So that's the threatening part of the season finale.

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

Friday, May 18, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack tells the world things aren't good in Iraq (you think?), the political crisis continues, Moqtada either did or didn't receive a letter from the National Alliance regarding a no confidence vote on Nouri, Spokane gears up for their annual Armed Forces Torch Light Parade (that's tomorrow), the White House remains silent on burn pits, a wife whose husband died in Iraq is shocked by news about the man thought to have killed her husband, and more.
In Spokane, Washington, the Lilac Festival is taking place.  As usual, the third Saturday of the month (tomorrow) will be the Festival's Armed Forces Torch Light Parade. The festival has taken place since 1938 when the chair of the Associated Garden Clubs and the Spokane Floral Association, Ethyl Goodsell, organized the first event.  This Saturday's parade will start at 7:45 p.m. by the INB Performing Arts Center and will feature "high school bands, community floats, equestrian groups and individuals, and military with groups of veterans, and active military marching."  Iraq War veteran Danielle Nienajadlo's mother will be there and Lindsay Wediman will be carrying a picture of her daughter Danielle. 
John Stucke (Spokesman-Review) reports that, after graduating high school, Danielle enlisted in the army and served 13 years.  A year after she left the military, in 2009, Danielle was battling "an aggressive form of leukemia."  Like so many others who worked in and around the burn pits (open areas where every discarded item from standard trash to human waste to medication, etc. was burned to dispose of it), Danielle saw her record good health vanish.  While stationed at Balad, she coughed up blood, suffered sores and bruises over her body, experienced severe weight loss and had headaches.  Attempts to address the situation resulted in her symptoms being dismissed and ignored: "Danielle was finally sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.  She became one among hundreds of soldiers brought home from the war to battle cancers and other diseases.  Many -- though not all -- blame the burn pits for their illnesses, and class-action litigation is pending in federal court."
In March 2010, Beth Hawkins (Mother Jones) reported on Sgt Danielle Nienajdlo's passing and observed:
The government's reluctance to acknowledge the potential hazard has frustrated veterans' advocates, who remember how long it took for the Pentagon to recognize Gulf War Syndrome in the 1990s, and to acknowledge the health problems caused by aerial spraying during the Vietnam War. "We don't want another Agent Orange," says John L. Wilson, DAV's assistant national legislative director. "Silence does not do any good."
If the pits are harming troops and Iraqis, there's no telling how many. Many cancers won't reveal themselves for a decade or more, and many respiratory symptoms tend to be misdiagnosed as asthma. Like Nienajadlo, Air Force Reserve Lt. Colonel Michelle Franco, 48, had a clean bill of health when she shipped out to Balad three years ago. The 18-foot walls surrounding her quarters kept out mortar fire, but not the smoke: "You could smell it; you could taste it." As a nurse, Franco suspected the "plume crud" was hazardous. She knew that in addition to amputated limbs from her medical facility, the base's waste included hundreds of thousands of water bottles every week -- and she knew burning plastic releases cancer-causing dioxins. After just five months at the base, Franco sustained permanent lung damage. She's lucky, she says, that she kept asking questions when harried doctors handed her an inhaler. She expects her diagnosis -- untreatable reactive airway dysfunction syndrome -- to ultimately push her into retirement.
Last Friday, Iraq War veteran Spc Dominick J. Liguori died.  Bob Kalinowski (Times-Tribune) reports he died of sarcoidosis, "Family members say Spc. Liguori developed the disease from exposure to open-air burn pits while serving in Iraq, and the ailment slowly scarred and destroyed his lungs."  Denise Hook says of her 31-year-old nephew, "They did scans of his lungs.  You could see on the scans that most of his lungs were destroyed.  You'll see a lot more in the future.  You really will."  She also states, "Since he was little, he wore camouflage for Halloween every year.  He painted his wagon camouflage.  He painted his little trucks camouflage.  He hid in the trees with camouflage.  All he ever dreamt about was being in the military.  That was his lifelong dream.  I think if God could have made him better, he would have rejoined."

While the government collectively shrugs its shoulders, Iraq War veteran Leroy Torres and his wife Rosie Torres have continued to battle on behalf of veterans exposed to burn pits -- which includes Leroy Torres -- and they have contiuned to educate the nation on the issue. The Torres have a website entitled BURNPITS 360. They are also on Facebook.  Last month, she was interviewed by Rachel Cole (KRIS -- link is text and video):

His wife, Rosie, has been battling for years with Congress to get legislation passed that will recognize a connection with toxic exposure for soldiers and their poor health conditions. "To sum it up, at 39-years-old, he's lost both his careers that he's worked very hard for because of his health. Toxic exposure is something that it slowly takes over one organ at a time." Rosie said.
According to Rosie, her husband is in stable but she says others aren't so lucky. "There's several soldiers awaiting lung transplants and others on full liters of oxygen constantly." She said.
At RT for Decision Makers in Respiratory Care, Kalie VonFeldt, MS, PA-C; Maura Robinson, BS; and Cecile Rose, MD, MPH explore these issues and they note, "Reports of increased acute respiratory illnesses in deployed troops began surfacing in 2004.3 Subsequent epidemiologic studies showed that deployers have higher rates of newly reported respiratory symptoms than nondeployers (14% versus 10%), although rates of physician-diagnosed asthma and chronic bronchitis were not increased.4 More recent studies suggest that obstructive airways diseases, including asthma and constrictive bronchiolitis, are occurring in excess in returning troops.1,5 The magnitude and spectrum of respiratory illnesses from deployment are difficult to judge. Lack of predeployment spirometry and challenges with diagnosis limit accurate estimates of disease incidence and prevalence."

Currently, US House Rep Todd Akin is proposing a burn pit registry in the House.  If US Barack Obama wants to earn veterans votes or to stop his empty grand standing and actually have an accomplishment to his name, he could throw some public support being Akin's bill.   Yesterday, Barack did sign into law legislation Akin sponsored . . . to name three US Post Offices in Missouri after 3 native sons who died serving in Iraq: Spc Peter J. Navarro, Lance Corporal Matthew P. Pathenos and Lance Cpl Drew W. Weaver.  Though an honor, it also really doesn't cost the government much more than the cost of plaque.  Maybe that's why the president could get on board with that but has provided no leadership for or advocay of a burn pit registry?
Wednesday the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing.  Subcommittee Chair Ann Marie Buerkle noted the hearing was entitled "Optimizing Care for Veterans With Prosthetics."  The Subcommittee heard from four panels.  The first one was featured Gulf War Veteran John Register and Vietnam Veteran Jim Mayer.  Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association's Michael Oros, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Alethea Predeoux and Southeast Wounded Warrior Project's Jonathan Pruden made up the second panel (we covered the second panel in Wednesday's snapshot).  The third panel was the VA's Office of Inspector General's Linda Halliday accompanied by Nicholas Dahl, Kent Wrathall and Dr. John D. Daigh Jr. and Dr. Robert Yang.  The fourth panel was the VHA's Dr. Lucille Beck accompanied by Dr. Joe Webster, Dr. Joe Miller and Norbert Doyle.  Yesterday we covered some of Chair Ann Marie Buerkle's questions during the fourth panel. Today, we're going to note Ranking Member Mike Michaud questioning the same panel. 
Before we do though, we're going to note some of the remarks Iraq War veteran Jonathan Pruden made on the second panel.
Jonathan Pruden:  Under the change, only a contracting officer could procure a prosthetic item costing more than $3,000.  This policy would effect essential items including most limbs like mine and wheel chairs.  It would require the use of a system designed for bulk procurement purchases that involves manually processing over three hundred -- that's 300 -- individual steps to develop a purchase order.  This system may be great for buying cinder blocks and light bulbs but it is certainly not appropriate for providing timely and appropriate medical care.  Equally troubling, this change offers no promise of improving service to the warrior.  Instead, it would mean greater delays. The change could realize modest savings but at what cost?  A warrior needing a new leg or wheel chair should not have to wait longer than is absolutely necessary.  I know warriors who have stayed home from our events, stay home from school, from work, can't play ball with their kids or live in chronic pain while they wait for a new prosthesis.   I know first hand what it's like to not be able to put my son into the crib while I'm waiting for a new prosthetic, to live in chronic pain and to have my daughter ask my wife once again, "Why can't Daddy come and walk with us?"   With VA moving ahead on changing procurement practices, wounded warriors need this Committee's help.  A prosthetic limb is not a mass produced widget. Prosthetics are specialized, medical equipment that should be prescribed by a clinician and promptly delivered to the veteran.  We urge this Committee to direct VA to stop implementation of this change in prosthetic procurement.
That sets us up for the problem.  VA is proposing a change which will add steps to attempting to get prosthetics and which veterans groups fear (I agree with them) will lead to veterans not getting what their doctors are prescribing but instead some cheap knock-off that doesn't do what they need and that's why their doctor didn't prescribe it in the first place.   Will this fear come true?  That's a yes-or-a-no answer.  But as we saw in the hearing during the fourth panel, a lot of words flow out of the mouths of VA employees appearing before the Subcommittee but "yes" and "no" are not among them.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  I just want to follow up, Mr. Doyle, on your comment that you made where you mentioned that contracting officers do not change what the clinician prescribes but actually, in testimony that we heard earlier, from PVA, that is not the case -- because that is not the case. Their testimony states that contracting officers when they do receive the orders the request for the devices is modified and even denied in cases because of the cost. So that is a huge concern. There seems to be a disconnect between what you are hearing versus what the VSOs are hearing  The cost is a factor, it's not the veteran's health care. So do you want to comment on that and --
Norbert Doyle: Yes, yes, sir.  Thank you.  First of all contracting officers -- all contracting officers do have a mandate under Federal Acquistion regulations to ensure that there's a price reasonable aspect to the cost we're providing.  So I don't know if that is a concern or not.  I can't really speak to, uh, what may have happened before but I have put out to the contracting community that under 8123 that if a contract -- that if the contracting officer recieves a physicians consult for a specific product we'll do due dil -- due deligence to ensure that we pair a fair and reasonable price for that product but we're going to get that product for that individual.  So I -- So I don't know if it's a -- a concern that -- again I'll take full blame for not bringing the veterans service organizations into the loop, into this discussion, and we can fix that but I don't know if that's part of the issue there -- if that's why that concern was being raised.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud: Well its very clear from the VSOs, some of their statements, that it's not uncommon for  clinicians to prescribe something and it's being modified by contracting officers.  And primarily because of cost.  And that's a big concern that I would have.  My other question is, Mr. Oros talked about older veterans at his practice complaining that there appears to be a new administrative hurdle to prevent their continuing to receiving care at Scheck and Siress. The VA has assured veterans that they may choose their own prosthetist and yet veterans who wish to use community-based providers report wide-spread administrative hurdles and other pressures to choose in house VA care.  How would you explain the perception among the veterans and the community based providers because there seems to be a disconnect here as well as far as what you have told us versus  what's actually happening out there.
Dr. Lucille Beck:  Uhm, uhm, yes, sir.  I'll start and, uhm, uh, we do have contracts with 600 providers -- uhm, approximately 600 providers.  Uhm, we do offer choice to the -- to our veterans.  Uhm, and, uhm, when our  -- In our amputee clinic, when we initiate the process for the multi-disciplinary care that we provide, uhm, we have our physicians and our clinicians and our prosthetists there.  We also have contract -- our vendors, our contracted community partners, our contracted prosthetic vendors from the community are there as well.  The veterans do have that choice. That's part of our policy.  And, uhm, and, uhm -- We -- As we become aware of we-we will reaffirm that policy with the field based on what we have heard from our veterans today.  And, uhm, and we are improving the processes.  I think the Inspector General report pointed out that we -- There's some contract administration initiatives that we need to undertake including streamlining the way that we do our quote reviews so that they happen in a more timely fashion and, uhm, that they really clarify the prescriptive elements for fabrication of the leg and we are doing that -- or fabrication of the limb and we are doing that.  Uhm, the second thing that we are doing is, uhm, we are, uh, making sure that our contracting officers and their technical representatives who have as part of their, uh, responsibility to review those quotes and certify that they are doing that regularly and in a timely fashion, there's guidance that's being prepared even now, uhm, with, uh, to get -- to get -- to reinstruct the field and educate them on that.  And the third thing that we are doing is that we are taking a contracted -- what we call contracted template where we are developing policy and guidance that can actually go into our contracts so that it is clearly specified for the contract provider and the VA exactly what the requirements are and the timelines.  So, uhm, we've taken the report that we've had from the Inspector General about the need to improve contract adminstration and support our veterans seriously and we are making those corrections, uhm, and have been doing that over the last several months.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  And do you feel that with the new changes you're providing, which goes back to my original question, that the clinicians will have final say in what a veteran receives versus a contracting officer who has to look at contracts and saving costs -- which I believe that we have to do.  But the bottom line for me is to make sure that the veterans get the adequate prosthetics that they need.  And if it costs a little bit more then they should be able to get it if it fits them more appropriately.  And the concern that I have is that, yes, you have to look at cutting costs but not at the cost of providing what our veterans need and I do have a concern with contracting officers injecting, uh, more costs versus the clinician looking at the veterans' needs.  
Dr. Lucille Beck:  Uhm, yes, sir, I have a concern with that too.  I'm a clinician myself, working in another area, who provides rehab technologies to veterans.  And it is critically important that what the clinician requests and that of course is done in collaboration and in partnership with the veteran -- these are the choices and decisions about technologies that our veterans make with out clinicians.  And, uhm, we are absolutely -- Uhm, rehabiliation is not effective unless we are able to, uh, provide the-the products and services that our veterans need.  And, uhm, our role in prosthetics and in rehabilitation is to assure that any, uhm, uh-uh, that any, uh, contracts, uh -- And the way we procure items  uhm, enhances and-and, uh, not only enhances but provides high quality individualized care.  Uhm, we have done that successfully, uhm, for a long time.  And, uh, we believe that we are able to do that, uhm, as we move forward.  And as Mr. Doyle has cited, the, uhm -- We can certainly, uhm,  work within the framework of contracting requirements and the added authority that Congress gave us many years ago for 8123 is, I think, the other piece of-of sole source procurement that we can do when we need to provide and are providing highly individualized products and services.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  Thank you.  Thank you, Madam Chair.
The above dance was only topped by the moves Doyle proved when Chair Ann Marie Buerkle asked him more questions in the second round.  Specifically, when the Chair asked, "In the panel with Mr. Pruden -- Captain Pruden, I should say -- he talked about this new system that you're going to go to, the Electronic Contract Management System -- and talked to us about the fact that it requires 300 steps to get the request in.  Can you comment on that?"
Guess who couldn't comment?  Did you think it was Lucille?  Yeah, it was Dr. Beck.  Why was she present?  She had nothing to say, no answers to questions but after Doyle misdirected for two to three minutes every time he opened his mouth, Dr. Beck would jump in at the end to start offering slogans she must have read on hand outs in the VA's waiting room. 
She couldn't comment.  But Norbert Doyle did want to comment on the Electronic Contract Management System.  He began insisting that it "new" and that he knows the process is "labroious" and has many steps but 300?  "That's a new one on me." 
How many steps is he familiar with?
He never said.
What sounded like a highly frustrated Chair Ann Marie Buerkle replied that they weren't talking about "lightbulbs," they were talking about something "intimate," something that "becomes a part of the veteran's body."  And if she was frustrated then (she sounded it -- many of us observing the hearing had frustrated looks on our faces as well during the fourth panel's testimony), she most likely only grew more frustrated by the flat affect with which the VA witnesses greeted her comments.
Meanwhile if you're think Iraq falling off the US media radar means it's safe and rainbows flow from Nouri al-Maliki's armpits and carmel and butterscotch out of his ass, think again.  The White House issued the following today:
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 18, 2012

Message -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to the Stabilization of Iraq

Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent the enclosed notice to the Federal Register for publication continuing the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq. This notice states that the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq declared in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, as modified in scope and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13315 of August 28, 2003, Executive Order 13350 of July 29, 2004, Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004, and Executive Order 13438 of July 17, 2007, is to continue in effect beyond May 22, 2012.
Obstacles to the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Accordingly, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to this threat and maintain in force the measures taken to deal with that national emergency.
Recognizing positive developments in Iraq, my Administration will continue to evaluate Iraq's progress in resolving outstanding debts and claims arising from actions of the previous regime, so that I may determine whether to further continue the prohibitions contained in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, as amended by Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004, on any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process with respect to the Development Fund for Iraq, the accounts, assets, and property held by the Central Bank of Iraq, and Iraqi petroleum-related products, which are in addition to the sovereign immunity accorded Iraq under otherwise applicable law.
Alexander Abad-Santos (The Atlantic) offers, "Today Obama ordered the renewal of this executive order, which is just a tad bit disconcerting considering we are (were?) supposed to be finished in Iraq."  Indeed.
And the order comes just as explosions go off in the capitol of Iraq. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports Baghdad was slammed with three bombings today leaving at least 5 people dead and another thirty-one injured.  The Voice of Russia adds, "According to the Iraqi law enforcement agencies, three bombs went off in a busy marketplace, in a Shiite quarter of the city."  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) notes that the bombs all went off close to the same time.  Dar Addustour counts 5 dead and forty-seven injured.  Iraq Body Count notes that 5 people died in Baghdad violence yesterday ("Baghdad: 4 by IED, 1 by AED") and that 111 have died violent deaths so far this month.  Iraq Body Count counted 290 violent deaths in Iraq for the month of April.
Like the violence, the political crisis continues.  US news outlets haven't even bothered to delve into the deadline Moqtada al-Sadr gave Nouri al-Maliki last week, let alone cover all that's happened since.  A few days back, we noted a photo of Nouri and Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim in a public display of affection together, they were practically rubbing noses.  Al Mada reports al-Hakim gave a speech declaring that failure to resolve the political crisis will lead Iraq into a dark abyss.  Could things get darker?  Alsumaria reports that State of Law is invoking Saddam Hussein, likening him to Iraqiya.  Mp Mohammed Chihod insists that Allawi is an exile (as is Nouri, as are most the US allowed into leadership) and that he doesn't care about anything but authority, that he leaves the country to this day (as do most Iraqis in Parliament) and he leaves to plot with Iraq's enemies.

 On the issue of Allawi being in and out of the country, State of Law picked a bad time to make that argument -- the same day Lara Jakes (AP) reports members of Parliament "hightailed it out of town" as they leave on their six-week vacation in "free armored cars" (free for them, $50 million price tag for the people of Iraq) that outraged the Iraqi people and that the Parliament swore they'd be looking into -- how did it happen, they were just so confused and swearing they understood the public's outrage over it all.  Again, Jakes is reporting they headed out in those cars they never paid for themselves and that they swore they would be doing away with. Jakes also points out that while "raw sewage runs through the streets in many neighborhoods, polluting tap water," the MPs not only receive a salary (and those armored cars) but they've given themselves a $90,000 per diem to cover living expenses. 

 At any rate, State of Law's character smear on Allawi is quite lengthy, almost as lengthy as the political crisis itself.

March 7, 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, came in first, State of Law, led by Nouri, came in second.  Nouri did not want to give up the post of prime minister and, with support from the White House and Tehran, Nouri dug his heels in creating eight months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I.  This only ended in November 2010 when the US brokered a deal known as the Erbil Agreement.  At a big meet-up in Erbil, the various political blocs signed off on the agreement.  Nouri got his second term as prime minister in exchange for concessions to other political blocs.  But once he became prime minister, Nouri refused to honor the agreement.  By the summer of 2011, the Kurds were publicly demanding that Nouri return to the Erbil Agreement and Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr joined in the call.  More recently, April 28th, another meet up took place in Erbil.  Participants included KRG President Massoud Barzani, President of Iraq Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Ayad Allawi and Moqtada al-Sadr.  The demands coming out of that meet-up were a return to the Erbil Agreement and the implementation of 18-point plan by Moqtada.

All eyes are on Moqtada today.  Al Mada reports that Iraqiya states they are waiting for word from Moqtada regarding the withdrawal of confidence vote on Nouri.  Moqtada is thought to be either still waiting on a communication from the National Alliance (a grouping of Shi'ite political blocs including ISCI, Moqtada's bloc, Nouri's State of Law and others) or else contemplating which step to take now?  Alsumaria reports Moqtada is stating today that he received no response from the National Alliance yesterday and that there will be a meeting soon on outstanding issues.  These statements were made online in the Q&A he regularly does with his follwers. Al Mada notes that there are conflicting reports on whether or not the National Alliance sent Moqtada a communication with MP Ali al-Tamimi stating that Moqtada was sent a letter which was a formal response.  al-Tamimi states he does not know the contents of the letter; however, he states that Moqtada is expected to respond to the National Alliance no later than tomorrow.

According to Kitabat, a meetings already taking place, one that lasted several hours today and that involved Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and senior members of Parliament and US Ambasador to Iraq James Jeffrey.  Among the topics reportedly discussed were the Erbil Agreement and the fact that Nouri must not be permitted to run for a third term as prime minister. 

That's internally.  Externally?  As noted yesterday, Nouri and his Baghdad-based government have engaged in another war of words with the Turkish government.  Turkey is one of Iraq's biggest trading partners.  Today Hurriyet Daily News reports:

Turkey and the regional government of northern Iraq have taken additional steps to deepen economic and energy ties at a moment when both parties' relations with Baghdad are strained.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq received a high-level reception in Ankara yesterday as he met with President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Jonathon Burch (Reuters) sees the Turkish government making "tricky adjustments by cutting old alliances and forming new ones, jettisoning its 'zero problems with the neighbors' policy. That shift, coupled with a more aggressive diplomacy personified by an increasingly combative Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan -- has thrust Turkey into a regional strategic game pitting Gulf Arab states and Ankara against Iran."

One 'accomplishment' Nouri can claim is he's succeeded in building a wall between Baghdad and Anakara while allowing Turkey and northern Iraq to strengthen their ties to one another.  In related news, Hevidar Ahmed (Rudaw) reports:
Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad have been high since Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani's Newroz speech, in which he accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki of leading the country towards dictatorship. Some people have interpreted the situation as a personal war between Maliki and Barzani, who is also the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Days after Barzani's speech, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani appeared in an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera and defended the Iraqi prime minister, saying, "Maliki is not a dictator and he is not the only one responsible for the problems of Iraq; I am responsible as well."
Farid Asasard, a leading official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), says disagreements arose between the PUK and KDP, but soon disappeared.
"There were significant disparities between the views of PUK and KDP, but recently they have become much closer because, in the current situation, unity is important," he says.
We'll cover what Reuters is calling Nouri's "charm offensive" next week (Monday).  Right now, we'll note the shocked reaction of a widow whose husband died serving in Iraq and who can't believe that the man said to be responsible for the death of her husband and at least four other US soldiers will apparently walk away free.  Dropping back to earlier violence,  Christine Show (Daily Mail) reports, "The wife of a U.S. Army captain who was killed while deployed in Iraq is stunned that the person named responsible for his death will be freed.  Charlotte Freeman of Temecula, California expressed her dismay when she learned on Wednesday night that Ali Mussa Daqduq was cleared of all charges in the 2007 attack that killed Brian Freeman, 31, and four other U.S. soldiers."

On May 7th, Suadad-al Salhy, Patrick Markey and Andrew Heavens (Reuters) reported that Iraq's 'justice' system has cleared Ali Mussa Daqdug of all charges related to the "2007 kidnapping attack that killed five U.S. troops."  This was actually the second time that those said to be responsible for the five deaths.  Ali Mussa Daqduq is alleged to have been working with the League of Righteous (once known as "the Special Groups network") and the US had the leader and high ranking members in a US prison in Iraq.  Had.  Though right now there are many complaints regarding the decision to set Ali Mussa Daqdug free (he remains behind bars currently while the decision is appealed), the White House ordered the release of the leader of the League of Righteous, his brother and other high ranking LoR members.  That's in the summer of 2009.  Barack Obama is president.

Why did they do it?  The White House set them free in order to help England with their outstanding issues.  The White House made the call that 5 British citizens were more important than 5 US ones and they entered into negotiations with the League of Righteous.  All but one of the five Brits were already dead.   One of the dead wouldn't be released until a few months ago.  The League of Righteous would announce Barack went back on his promises to them so they weren't releasing all five.  After the bulk of US troops left Iraq in December 2011, the League of Righteous finally released the fifth corpse.

If you're late to the story, refer to the June 9, 2009 snapshot:

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."

Having made the decision to release those five in 2009, the Obama administration had no qualms about handing Ali Musa Daqduq over to the Iraqi legal system despite the fact that it was considered a good guess that he'd walk. December 16, 2011, Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported on the US handing Ali Musa Daqduq over to the Iraqis:

He was transferred to Iraqi custody after the Obama administration "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes," according to Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington.

Kitabat reported  in May that Nouri caved to pressure from Tehran and that's why he was released.   It was also noted that a number of US Senators were asking the White House not to turn Daqduq over to Iraq but to move him to Guantanamo or another facility.

Today Mike Jaccarino (Fox News -- link is text and video) quotes Charlotte Freeman stating, "It was like a pit (opening) inside of me. I briefly read it and couldn't read on.  I couldn't go there.  It wasn't like he was dying again.  It was more shock that these people get away with what they do.  There's no justice. It's amazing and shocking to me that someone who did what he did could go free."

Shocking seems to be the theme the current White House was decorated in. US House Rep Walter Jones is asking why the White House negotiated a treaty with Afghanistan without the input of Congress?  And if that question sounds familiar, it's one that Barack Obama asked throughout his 2008 campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.  How dare Bully Boy Bush ram through a treaty with Iraq -- one that their Parliament had to sign off on -- while violating the US Constitution's mandate that treaties need Senate approval.  We're referring to the Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq.

Bush was wrong. And the Senate Foreign  Relations Committee was united on that in 2008 -- that's Democrats and Republicans.  Before Barack grabbed the issue, then-Senator Russ Feingold had been among the prominent leaders on it.  But Barack played glory hog and took the issue as his own.  He then continued the cry throughout his 2008 general election campaign.  The day after the election he vanished the issue from his campaign site.  That's the sort of 'change' that has characterized his presidential term:  He campaigned on one set of goals and standards and then he 'changed' once he was elected.  That's Barack's only change you can believe in.  As Martha and Shirely observed four years ago in "2008 in books (Martha & Shirley):"

It really is amazing how little Iraq mattered to the alleged left after they had used the 2002 vote to tar and feather Hillary Clinton. They stayed silent as Barack immediately began backing off his 'pledge' in June. They stay silent today as Barack and Joe Biden -- two who grandstanded against the so-called SOFA throughout 2008 -- did nothing to halt the White House from ramming that treaty through or, in fact, even publicly offered a word of objection after the election.

Pete Kasperwoicz (The Hill) reports that Jones has introduced a bill:

In 2007, the Clinton-Obama bill read, "Congress is a co-equal branch of government and as such the extension of long-term United States security commitments to Iraq that obligates or requires the appropriation of United States funds requires the full participation and consent of Congress."

Jones's bill, like the Clinton-Obama bill, requires that within 60 days of passage, the State Department submit a report to Congress that justifies the administration's decision to conclude the agreement without consulting Congress. It would require the administration to include a legal analysis on this decision.
And we hear silence on the bill as we turn to the right -- which apparently has no problem with a violation of the Constitution -- and as we turn to the left -- which is too busy attempting to figure out if a passionate Barack kisses soft with a hint of pressure or full on tongue down the throat?  These are the 'issues' that occupy them today.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Zebra Cakes

Thursday and I'm exhausted.  Parenting is fun but it wears you out.

Or me anyway.

But Zebra Cakes.  I almost called Elaine tonight to ask her to stop and bring some home.  I wish I had.  All day I've wanted Zebra Cakes but work was crazy and then I picked our daughter up from school and on Thursday evenings Elaine does her veterans group session so it's me soloing as a parent.

We had fun and she loves her Barbies.  Loves them.  I'm thinking about getting her a Bratz mansion for them.  It's a doll house.  It's not a "mansion."  It's like four rooms or so.  But Bratz are high-life living dolls and so they have to have  a mansion.  She likes her Barbies better but she thinks the Bratz dolls are funny.  (They are the same height as Barbie but their heads are like twice maybe three times as large.)

So we played Barbies.  She's got these cars my brothers and I played with, big cars.  One is like a Jeep with a hardtop.  I used to sit on that thing and roll around the house and I'm talking like five and six.  That thing is tough.  And it also has seats and you can fit action figures or dolls in it.  So that's one of the cars.  But while I loved the idea that we could be racing, my daughter wanted the dolls to have tea.  And that meant going home.

They've got this incredible doll house that C.I. built for them.  She did dollhouses one night at Mom's.  And they all turned out great.  And my daughter loves it but points out there are only 3 bedrooms and she's got a ton of Barbies which is why I'm looking around for dollhouses to buy for her.  If I had C.I.'s talent, I wouldn't buy her one, I'd make it.

So the big caravan of cars pulls up to the dollhouse and suddenly she's changing everybody's clothes.  I said, "I thought they were having tea."  Yes, but they have to change first.

(C.I. sent a ton of clothes.  I think we got that Monday.  There are probably 60 dresses, 60 women pants and shirts, 60 men clothes and shoes and shoes and shoes.  But Elaine and I can't figure out the Beach Barbies.  Do you know those?  They're the line that has sunglasses and are dressed for the beach.  Some of them have towels.  Beach towels.  Well the women's feet are flat.  That means they can't wear any of the shoes for Barbie.  So our daughter puts Ken shoes on those ones and they stay on but they're too big really.  So Elaine and I've been trying to figure out where you're supposed to get the shoes for those dolls.)

Fridays are the best days of the week.  And I'm making sure my daughter agrees.  Friday is ("if you're good") the day she gets to go to the toy store and pick out a toy.  So she loves Fridays too.

Me, I love sushi.  After sushi, I think my favorite is Little Debbie Snack Cakes' Zebra Cakes.

Last Sunday, it was time to pack the lunch for Monday and Elaine said, "What are you doing?" I had bought some snack cakes cause I always liked those when I was in school.  Elaine said, "No, no, now.  She's not asking for sugar so we sure aren't going to get her addicted to it.  She can take apple sauce, she's not taking those snack cakes. Throw in the trash."

Which I did. Sort of.

I ate them all.  :D  Oh, they were good. I hadn't had them in forever.  The Zebra Cakes are devils food cake with white icing with black stripes on it.  They are so good.  And I'm so tired.  I always crave sugar when I'm really tired.

When I was in middle school, my favorite was the Little Debbie swiss rolls.  Those were good.  But they're actually too sweet for me now. I also can't eat the brownies these days.  They're too sweet as well.  So it's the Zebra Cakes and the Devil Food Cakes that are Chocolate.

Hostess was for the more well off kids.  I was one of eight kids, we had Little Debbies in our house.  :D

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

Thursday, May 17, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, a new political entity emerges in Iraq, the political crisis continues, Turkey and Iraq clash again, the VA speaks to unions about policy changes on veterans prosthetics but doesn't feel the need to seek input from veterans, and more.

Yesterday, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing. 
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, the Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to examine VA's current capabilities to provide state-of-the-art care to veterans with amputations. The Committee heard testimony concerning VA's proposal to change procurement processes for prostheses, potentially hindering a veteran's ability to acquire the latest prosthetic and corresponding care and support.
"VA has been struggling to keep pace with the rising demands of younger and more active veterans with amputations," stated Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Health. "VA must continue to provide multi-disciplinary care to maintain long-term and life-time quality of life. Placing prosthesis procurement into the hands of contracting officers is alarming. VA needs to match the determination and spirit demonstrated by our wounded warriors and recommit themselves to becoming a leader once again in prosthetic care."

Currently, VA provides care to approximately 42,000 veterans with limb loss. As of August of 2011, 1,506 servicemembers had experienced amputations on active duty from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. An additional 2,248 veterans underwent major amputations at VA in 2011. VA prosthetic costs have more than doubled in the past five years, yet, VA's care has fallen behind that of the Department of Defense (DoD).
"Prosthetics are a truly individualized extension of one person's body and mobility, not your typical bulk supply purchase," stated Jim Mayer, a Vietnam veteran, double amputee, and wounded warrior advocate and mentor. "When today's warriors are referred to VA and seek the newer, cutting-edge, technologically superior prosthetics they have been accustomed to [through DoD], will VA be able to meet that demand? DoD centers of excellence provide state-of-the-art and often newly evaluative prosthetics that have allowed warriors to thrive, not just in walking, but also run competitively, compete in the Paralympics, rock climb, play myriad sports and other endeavors."
"Prosthetic technology and VA have come a long way from the Civil War era. Following World War II, veterans dissatisfied with the quality of VA prosthetics stormed the Capitol in protest. Congress responded by providing VA with increased flexibility for prosthetic options and federally funded research and development," said Buerkle. "As a result, VA has been a leader in helping veterans with amputations regain mobility and achieve maximum independence. This is why I am troubled by VA's proposed changes in procurement policies and procedures which shifts the emphasis from the doctors to contracting officers."
So what kind of change is being discussed?
Jonathan Pruden:  Under the change, only a contracting officer could procure a prosthetic item costing more than $3,000.  This policy would effect essential items including most limbs like mine and wheel chairs.  It would require the use of a system designed for bulk procurement purchases that involves manually processing over three hundred -- that's 300 -- individual steps to develop a purchase order.  This system may be great for buying cinder blocks and light bulbs but it is certainly not appropriate for providing timely and appropriate medical care.  Equally troubling, this change offers no promise of improving service to the warrior.  Instead, it would mean greater delays. The change could realize modest savings but at what cost?  A warrior needing a new leg or wheel chair should not have to wait longer than is absolutely necessary.  I know warriors who have stayed home from our events, stay home from school, from work, can't play ball with their kids or live in chronic pain while they wait for a new prosthesis.   I know first hand what it's like to not be able to put my son into the crib while I'm waiting for a new prosthetic, to live in chronic pain and to have my daughter ask my wife once again, "Why can't Daddy come and walk with us?"   With VA moving ahead on changing procurement practices, wounded warriors need this Committee's help.  A prosthetic limb is not a mass produced widget. Prosthetics are specialized, medical equipment that should be prescribed by a clinician and promptly delivered to the veteran.  We urge this Committee to direct VA to stop implementation of this change in prosthetic procurement.
At the start of yesterday's hearing, Subcommittee Chair Ann Marie Buerkle noted the hearing was entitled "Optimizing Care for Veterans With Prosthetics."  The Subcommittee heard from four panels.  The first one was featured Gulf War Veteran John Register and Vietnam Veteran Jim Mayer.  Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association's Michael Oros, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Alethea Predeoux and Southeast Wounded Warrior Project's Jonathan Pruden made up the second panel (we covered the second panel in yesterday's hearing).  The third panel was the VA's Office of Inspector General's Linda Halliday accompanied by Nicholas Dahl, Kent Wrathall and Dr. John D. Daigh Jr. and Dr. Robert Yang.  The fourth panel was the VHA's Dr. Lucille Beck accompanied by Dr. Joe Webster, Dr. Joe Miller and Norbert Doyle. 
We're going to stay on the issue of the proposed change.  And we're going to go to the fourth panel. The VA is just eating up time in the excerpt below.  They have no idea what they're saying -- I don't think Dr. Beck even knows what "impetus" means judging by her answer -- and you would think, "At last they're done" but then they'd launch back in.  I really think that Congress needs to address the issue of witnesses whose words wander all over but never arrive anywhere.  Yes, some people speak that way.  But with government employees, it always seem to be an  attempt to run out the clock.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle:  I have a lot of questions.  A lot of it is based on what we heard from the three previous panels -- especially the veterans and the veterans service organizations.  I think they provide for us a reliable source of information and they identify needs for us.  My first question is: What was the impetus behind the change?  You heard the concern from the previous panels.  What was the impetus behind the change in the procurement policy?  And did you consult with the veterans service organizations and/or veterans?  Who did you talk to to make this change?
Dr. Lucille Beck: The impetus for the change, uhm, is an impetus from the department to assure compliance with federal aquistion regulations.  I have with me Mr. Norbert Doyle who is VHA's chief procurement logistics officer today.  We were anticipating some of these questions.  And he's available to provide more information about  the change and what's happening.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: And just if you would, before you start, so does that mean heretofore the VA was not compliant?  I mean if that's the basis for your change -- that compliance is an issue -- maybe you could make that clear to us.
Norbert Doyle:  Yes, ma'am.  Thank you, Dr. Beck.  I -- Ma'am, yes, the impetus was to bring VA contraction -- to include VHA and all the other VA contracting organizations and veteran alignment with the federal aquistion regulations.  We also, uh, it's my understanding the department recognized several years ago that they were weakened in certain areas, in contract administration and the awarding of contracts and this was also to bring it inhouse to ensure proper stewardship of the government dollars. In reference to your question "did we talk to veteran service organizations?" Uh, actually last, uh -- before -- I don't believe we did before we started the process;however, last week -- And I'm happy to meet with any organization to discuss what we're doing.  I heard the complaints from the veterans service organizations that they feel out of the loop.  I met last week with Dr. Beck, with the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Prosthetics and Special Disabilities.  We spent a great deal of time with them.  And I think that group has representatives from many veterans service organizations to east -- address their concerns that they may -- that they may have.  Again, I make that offer that I would be happy to meet with any group to discuss these.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you.  I think it would be in the best interest as we go forward to do what's best for our veterans and to hear from the veteran service organizations and from the veterans themselves and from those who have gone through this process who understand it intimately as did the first two panelists.  That -- It would seem like very basic to meet with them and have them identify needs and concerns.  You heard Wounded Warriors say, "We're asking you, Congress, to please freeze this change." And the other point I wanted to bring up was the pilot.  You heard Paralzyed veterans, their organization asked or mentioned a pilot.  Have you done a pilot?  If so, what were the findings?  Is that the justification for this change?
Norbert Doyle: Yes, ma'am, I actually have a number of issues to address along these lines.  First, uh, to put it in context -- and, granted, we're talking about the more expensive items that we're talking about today -- the transfer of authority from prosthetics to contracting only impacts those procurements above $3,000 which is the mandated federal aquistion -- or federal, uh, micropurchase threshold. So only 3% of orders that we estimate fall in that realm.  So 97% of prosthetic orders will stay with prosthetics.  Uh, as I said we-we are doing this to bring us more in line with federal acquistion regulations and also to address many of the issues that the IG has mentioned although those were identified, I think, previously.  Now I want to assure everybody that if a clinician  specifies a specific product for a veteran, contracting will get that product for that individual. I-I do not, as a-a-a chief -- as a chief contracting person in-in the Veterans Health Administration I do not want my contracting officers making a decision as to what goes in a veterans body or gets appended to it.  That is clearly a clinician decision. And how we, uh, going to get that, uh, product the clinician specifies for the veteran and we're going to do it under the auspices of the federal aquisition regulations.  We're going to cite the authorities of 8123 which one individual mentioned that, the broad latitude given by Congress to the veteran -- to the Veterans Administration.  We're going to do that by properly preparing justifications for approvals for sole source citing in paragraph 4 the authorities granted under 8123.  There are seven exceptions in part six of the FAR [Federal Acquistion Regulation] to full and open competition.  Exception 5 is the one that  as authorized by statute and that's the one that we will -- we will use.  We have gone through great pains to ensure success in this transfer.  And a little bit of history, even starting last summer when we started this process under the direction of the department, Dr. Beck's and my folks, uh, we formed a team.  And that team included field personnel -- both prosthetics and contracting which we thought was critical.  They developed a plan on the transfer.  It was a very detailed plan.  The plan, actually, as we got into it, got more detailed as we identified other issues.  We then worked with our union partners to make sure that they did not have issues and we could proceed successfully.  There were pilots as part of the plan which is probably the best part other than bringing field people into the planning process, the pilot was a great aspect.  We did pilot in three VISNs -- in VISN 6, 11 and 20 -- and that's the Virginia, North Carolina area, the Michigan area and the Pacific northwest.  We piloted beginning in January for about 60 days.  Those pilots concluded in March.  We did learn from those pilots and we're implementing changes to ensure that care is not impacted.  Some of the things that we learned is that our staffing models are incorrect in the number of procurements that we could do in a day.  In the contracting office, we are hiring.  We have received approval to hire additional people to ensure we can keep up.  We are streamlining the process by, I mentioned, justification approvals, by templating that process so it becomes more fill-in-the-blank with the clinicians prescription.  Those are the type process.  We're slowly now implementing in the rest of the Veterans Health Administration.  I think four more VISNs are starting that process now and the rest of the VISNs will be coming on in June and July.  The goal is to have all of this done by the end of July. There is a contingency plan that we have discussed.  Uh, we still have the legacy procurement system if something does not go right or something unexpected happens that we can fall back on.  But we don't expect-expect that to happen.
Dr. Lucille Beck:  I would like to add that this has been -- has been a very strong collaboration and partnership prosthetic and sensory aid services very concerned that we can continue to provide the services to the veterans that, uhm, they deserve and that we have always been able to do and so our prosthetics organization at our local medical centers and at the VISN level remain the eyes and ears so all orders still come through prosthetics.  Prosthetics is managing them and we're working with contracting officers to achieve the, uh, placement of the order in, uh, uhm, uh, as it's required to be, uh, meeting all of our acquisition requirements and, uhm, we-we are as Mr., uh, Doyle has said, very aware of the ability to use 8123 and have spent a significant amount of time developing justifications and approvals that allow us to use that and really reflect the needs of our -- the individualized rehab needs of our veterans.  We're very much aware that we customize these products and services, that they are selected based on an individual, uhm, veterans needs and that has been our goal as we have managed this transition.  We're coming into a critical time as we move the transition forward and extend it to other VISNs.  And, uhm, we, uh, have very, uh-uh-uh, very well developed and exact procedures in place to monitor this as we go.  And we are prepared,  I think, Mr. Doyle and I, as a team, to -- and our offices as teams to uhm, uh review this very carefully and make recommendations on the way forward based on how this process affects veterans.
Norbert Doyle:  And, uh, I'm sorry, ma'am
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Go ahead, Mr. Doyle.
Norbert Doyle:  I add that when I met with the Advisory Committee on Prosthetics and Special Disability uh, uh, last week, they had many of these same concerns.  I think after spending a degree of time with them, uh, they at least understood what we were doing. They're still very interested in ensuring that we do achieve success but I'll let Dr. Beck comment. I don't think we left there with a burning issue -- at least, I did not -- that we needed to address. Also as-as-as a veteran myself who made several trips to Iraq and Afghanistan both in a military and civilian capacity, you know, I am very sympathetic to the needs of the veterans population.  And I will do no -- I can assure you I will do nothing that hurts the veterans because, you know, there but for the grace of God go I actually and that's the way I look at it.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you.  My time is way run over. However, if my colleagues will indulge me, I just have a couple of quick follow up questions and then I'll allow you to have as much time as you need.  My first concern is that you said that with the procurements it just only pertains to those over 3,000 and you said only 3% of the orders are over 3,000.  How many requests do you have?
Norbert Doyle: Uh, that is still not an insignificant number. Uh, based on our planning estimate, our planning figures for Fiscal Year '10 in which we planned the transfer over it was, uh, 3% of the orders equals roughly 90,000 orders.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle:  So I would suggest that because we're talking about 1500 warriors with amputations that proably are in need of prosthetics that that is probably going to be a small percentage of what you are doing; however, all of those are going to exceed that $3000 threshold.  We heard earlier about a $12,000 limb.  And if it's $25,000 that doesn't matter because the veterans need prosthetics and need state of the art prosthetics.  So that concerns me, that piece right there. But the other thing that concerns me, you mentioned you talked with your union partners.  It would seem to me more appropriate to talk to your veteran partners and to the veterans who have gone through this and be more concerned with their thoughts about this being a program that works versus talking to the union partners. And, lastly, the pilot information, the results of those pilots?  If I could respectfully request that you provide us with -- I think you said that you did three: 6, 11 and 20 VISNs. If you could provide us with the findings for those pilot programs, I would greatly appreciate it.
Tomorrow's snapshot will include US House Rep Mike Michaud's questions.  Right now, whether you're pro-union or not (I am pro-union), the VA really doesn't get it or thought everyone would overlook that.  They failed -- failed -- to speak to veterans about this change but spoke to unions?  That just doesn't look or sound right.  You're talking about, as Chair Buerkle noted at the very end of the hearing, something more than isn't a sock or a pair of pants.  Why would you leave veterans out of this discussion?  It makes no sense at all.
The pilot program that Doyle babbled on about?  That pilot program was a failure.  By his own description, it was a failure.  You can't fine tune 'we're overwhelmed.'  When that's the case, you need another pilot program to see if your adjustments worked.
There are so many problems with what was said.  And while you could pan for bits of gold with Doyle, someone needed to tell Dr. Beck that she had nothing worth saying and she really wasted everyone's time.  I do get that there's a temptation to think, "I have to speak!  The other person's gone on forever! So let me rattle something off!"  Like many temptations, that one can be resisted.  And, in fact, it should be.
From the House Veterans Affairs Committee to the Senate where Senator Patty Murray is the Committee Chair.  Her office notes:
Thursday, May 17, 2012
CONTACT: Murray 202-224-2834
                 Burr 202-228-1616
VETERANS: Murray, Burr Introduce Bill to Ensure Dignified Burials
Comes after veteran's remains were discovered to have been buried in cardboard box

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member, introduced legislation to help ensure every veteran receives a dignified burial. The Dignified Burial of Veterans Act of 2012 would authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to furnish a casket or urn to a deceased veteran when VA is unable to identify the veteran's next-of-kin and determines that sufficient resources are not otherwise available to furnish a casket or urn for burial in a national cemetery. This bill would further require that VA report back to Congress on the industry standard for urns and caskets and whether burials at VA's national cemeteries are meeting that standard. Under current law, VA is not authorized to purchase a casket or urn for veterans who do not have a next-of-kin to provide one, or the resources to be buried in an appropriate manner.
Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr, joined by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), introduced this legislation after a veteran, with no known next-of-kin, was buried in a cardboard container at a VA National Cemetery in Florida. The exposed remains were discovered during a raise and realign project at the cemetery. The veteran's remains were later placed in a bag and reburied with what was left of the cardboard box.
"When America's heroes make a commitment to serve their country, we make a promise to care for them," said Chairman Murray. "That includes helping to provide them with a burial honoring their service. I was deeply disturbed when I heard this news. There is no reason why the remains of a veteran should ever be treated with this lack of dignity. I am pleased we are taking the appropriate steps to right this indescribable wrong."
"Those who have served our country in uniform deserve our honor, appreciation, and respect, and that responsibility does not end when they pass away," said Senator Burr. "My heart goes out to those affected by the problems at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. We must ensure that the remains of veterans and servicemembers are treated with dignity and respect and that the families of those who have passed away have no doubts as to the quality of the final resting place of their loved ones."
"All veterans deserve a dignified final resting place," said Senator Nelson. "A cardboard box certainly isn't one. That's why we've got to make sure this doesn't happen again."
"Those who serve our nation in uniform deserve our respect and support, from the moment they commit to serve through their deaths and even beyond as we honor their legacies," said Senator Rubio. "Providing dignified burials for veterans is a solemn pledge we must uphold. Cases like this are outrageous and need to be corrected so that no deceased veteran is ever dishonored in this way again."
Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Changing topics and dropping back to the December 29th snapshot:
Pinar Aydinli (Reuters) reports that Huseyin Celik, spokesperson for Turkey's ruling political party, has declared, "It has been determined from initial reports that these people were smugglers, not terrorists.  [. . .] If mistakes were made, if there were flaws and if there were shortcomings in the incident that took place, by no means will these be covered up."  That incident?  A bombing that took place near the border Turkey shares with Iraq.  BBC News (link has text and video) reports on last night's bombing, "An air strike by Turkish warplanes near a Kurdish village close to the border with Iraq has left 35 people dead, officials say. One report said that smugglers had been spotted by unmanned drones and were mistaken for Kurdish rebels." Reuters quotes Uludere Mayor Fehmi Yaman explaining that they have recovered 30 corpses, all smugglers, not PKK, and he declares, "This kind of incident is unacceptable. They were hit from the air." AFP adds, "Local security sources said the dead were among a group smuggling gas and sugar into Turkey from northern Iraq and may have been mistaken for Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels." Uludere is in the Turkish province of Sirnak which borders Iraq.  CNN notes, "The [Turkish] military statement claimed the the strike was in the Sinat-Haftanin area of northern Iraq, where many militant training camps are situated and there are no civilian settlements."  Peter Beaumont (Guardian) reports, "The donkeys had been sent across Turkey's south-eastern border with Iraq to ferry vats of smuggled diesel and cigarettes. On Thursday when they came back it was with bodies wrapped in carpets lashed to their sides: the victims of a Turkish air raid that killed up to 35 villagers from this remote region."

The attack demonstrates yet again how drones are not answers and how futile the Turkish government's response to the PKK has been. 35 people are dead, not one of them PKK. All were killed by the Turkish government in what the government insists (and believes) was a worthwhile action.
Today Mike Mount (CNN) reports that the attack decisions were based on "video surveillance provided by a U.S. drone"  and "The airstrike also raises questions on how U.S. partners use information given to them by U.S. drones."  Remember that as the government presses to distribute drones throughout the US.  35 people dead as a result of that 'intel.'
Still on the topic of Turkey, Reuters reports:
An official from Iraq's foreign ministry met Turkey's ambassador, Younis Demirer, to complain about the Turkish diplomats in the cities of Basra and Mosul, a statement on the foreign ministry website said on Thursday.
"Some activities conducted by the two Turkish General Consuls in Basra and Mosul ... are far from their Consular duties and obligations stated in the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations of 1963," the statement said, without elaborating.
This incident is part of a long back and forth as Nouri al-Maliki seems determined to prove that he can alienate all neighboring countries except Iran.  Among other issues, Nouri's furious that Turkey -- like Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- refused to turn over Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to Baghdad.  al-Hashemi's kangaroo trial started this week but he remains in Turkey.  In addition, Nouri has repeatedly insisted that Turkish officials comments are 'interfering' with his ability to rule. 
The latest conflict might be worrisome if Iraq didn't have so many internal problems -- including the continuing violence.
Alsumaria reports that the home of a member of the "military personnel" was blown up in Mosul by unknown persons andd that the house collapsed.  No one was killed or injured. In addition, police have closed down streets and are conducting a search in Kirkuk after a peshmerga was leaving his home this morning when two cars with unknown assailants pulled up and kidnapped him.  That's one of two searches and raids going on in Kirkuk today.  In addition, a neighborhood was raided after rockets attacked the Kirkuk airbase. At least one person was detainedAlsumaria reports that the mass arrests continued today with 118 people arrested and at least twenty-four 'suspects' were injured while 2 were killed. Today's wave of mass arrests follows yesterday's.  Al Sabaah reports 57 people were arrested Wednesday.  Alsumaria notes that attorneys staged a sit-in today in Diayala in protest against the random mass arrests taking place. The arrests came on the same day Nouri gave a speech promising to punish the 'Ba'athists.' Al Mada notes Nouri is promising to avenge the crimes of the Ba'ath Party. He declared that the uninformed and the intellectually deviant were participating in the political process and, sadly, he wasn't confessing to his own issues. He spoke of "mass graves" and how he will expose the crimes of the Ba'ath and that he's called on the Minister of Human Rights to assist with that.   Iraq Body Count counts 14 killed yesterday: "Kirkuk: 11 bodies. Mosul: 1 by gunfire, 1 body.  Shirqat: 1 pharmacist, by gunfire."

As the violence continues, so does the political crisis.  May 28th is supposed to be the deadline for Nouri al-Maliki to announce he is implementing the Erbil Agreement or face a no-confidence vote.  Moqtada al-Sadr publicly announced the deadline.  If you don't stick to a deadline, there's no point in announcing one.  And Nouri may believe that this is just one of many deadllines he's been given (such as the one regarding Article 140, the Constitutionally mandated deadline) which he can actually blow off.  And he may be right.

March 7, 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, came in first, State of Law, led by Nouri, came in second.  Nouri did not want to give up the post of prime minister and, with support from the White House and Tehran, Nouri dug his heels in creating eight months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I.  This only ended in November 2010 when the US brokered a deal known as the Erbil Agreement.  At a big meet-up in Erbil, the various political blocs signed off on the agreement.  Nouri got his second term as prime minister in exchange for concessions to other political blocs.  But once he became prime minister, Nouri refused to honor the agreement.  By the summer of 2011, the Kurds were publicly demanding that Nouri return to the Erbil Agreement and Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr joined in the call.  More recently, April 28th, another meet up took place in Erbil.  Participants included KRG President Massoud Barzani, President of Iraq Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Ayad Allawi and Moqtada al-Sadr.  The demands coming out of that meet-up were a return to the Erbil Agreement and the implementation of 18-point plan by Moqtada.

Who would replace Nouri?  A number of names have been floated.  Ibrahiam al-Jaafari has been the most promiment.  al-Jaafari has held the post before and, in 2006, the Iraqi Parliament wanted to name him to anotehr term; however, the US refused to allow that to happen and demanded that their puppet Nouri al-Maliki be given the post instead.  Just as Bush protected Nouri in 2006, Barack did in 2010.

Al Rafidayn reports today that Kurdish leaders say they are comfortable with the choice of al-Jaafari to replace Nouri as prime minister.  They also report that if Nouri doesn't meet the deadline, the plan is for Moqtada to meet with the National Alliance (Shi'ite slate that includes Nouri's State of Law, Moqtada's bloc, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq and more) and to address the issues and options.  Alsumaria reports State of Law's Bahaa Jamal al-Din has declared in an interview with them that withdrawing confidence from Nouri would pull the country into a series of crisies.  The obvious follow up to that would be: Is that really a warning because it sounds like a threat?  Alsumaria also notes that al-Din states Moqtada's meeting with the National alliance today.  Al Mada reports National Alliance MP Jawad Albzona confirms the meet-up but places it more up in the air with details not nailed down yet about issues such as the time of the meet-up.  Dar Addustour notes the National Alliance has already postponed one meet-up on this issue this week (they cancelled the planned May 15th meet-up).  Alsumaria reported earlier today that Moqtada al-Sadr is waiting on formal response from the National Alliance and it's expected to be in written form.  Moqtada  tells Alsumaria that the response will determine the next move. Did he receive the reply?  Alsumaria reports Moqtada's not speaking now about a no-confidence vote and, when they last spoke with him, he stated he hadn't received any response from the National Alliance.   Al Sabaah reports that  Nouri's calling for a face-to-face sit-down with political blocs.

Al Rafidayn reports on rumors that include threats to publish "secret documents" in an attempt to stop and/or start a no confidence vote.  The latest round of whispers today follow yesterday's allegation by Iraqiya that State of Law was intentionally circulating false rumors as part of a disinformation campaign.  (It's an allegation many will believe because State of Law has been doing that for weeks now.)  Still on the political scene, Khaled Waleed (Niqash) reports a new
group emerging on the political scene:
A leading Sunni Muslim authority has launched a new initiative to bring together extremist groups in a political alliance. What makes the alliance unusual is that the extremists, who laid their weapons down after US troops withdrew from the country late last year, come from the two major sects of Islam in Iraq: Shiite and Sunni. In practice, these sects are often rivals in a political, and sometimes a social, sense. During several years of unrest between 2005 and 2007, that rivalry turned violent in Iraq with extremist Sunni Muslim groups like al-Qaeda targeting Shiite Muslims and vice versa. 
But now leading Sunni Muslim religious leader, Mahdi al-Sumaidaie, a hardline cleric who is well known for issuing fatwas, or religious decrees, calling upon followers to fight the US forces in Iraq and who is also known to represent the Salafist jihadists, is not only bringing the extremist factions to the debating table, he is also planning to unite the two sides within one political party.
What will unite the various groups from different sects is the fact that they all fought against US troops in Iraq, after that country invaded Iraq in 2003. Al-Sumaidaie believes that, now that the US military has left Iraq, it is time for these groups to lay down their weapons and to participate in the political process.

In what Nouri hoped would be an easy political victory,  May 7th, Nouri's government  acknowledged that it can't protect the people, Al Rafidayn reported that Nouri's agreed to allow every Iraqi household to keep one gun provided they register it with the nearest police department.  Dar Addustour added that Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh has explained the one gun can be either a rifle or a pistol.  Al Sabaah noted that the Ministry of the Interior will issue guidelines on how the new procedure will be implemented.  Kitabat explained that the current policy had been for the Iraqi forces to confiscate any weapon they found during a house raid.  May 10th, the pushback began.  Alsumaria reported that State of Law MP Shirwan Waeli is questioning the wisdom of the decision and stating State of Law shouldn't be giving legitimacy to arming people and that, futhermore, it suggests that the government is unable to protect Iraqis so it is now the direct responsibility of the citizens to protect themselves.  Supporters argue that the move was an attempt to limit guns and that the one-gun rule will greatly reduce the number of firearms in each home. Alsumaria noted that objections to Nouri's one-gun policy are also coming from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Kurdistan Alliance.  Ala Talabani, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Alliance, spoke publicly today about the issue and declared that they fear making each household register their one gun with the nearest police station in their areas will provide temptation for corruption.  Talabani also states that they fear the rule could lead to an increase in so-called 'honor' killings as well as an increase in domestic violence.  Today
  Al Mada reports that his proposal of one firearm per household continues to be criticized.  Women for Peace's Shaza Nagi declares that a group of NGO members met to discuss the proposal and to put forward various counter-proposals.  The biggest concern remains, according to Nagi, the presumed acknowledgment of this move: That the government's making clear it cannot protect the citizens.