Thursday, May 31, 2012

Debutante Barack

Debutante Barack

From January 4, 2009, that's "Debutante Barack."

Even from the start, Barack chose not to show restraint (or taste).  Although we on the left had slammed Bush for his big White House bash in January 2005, noting there was a war, that didn't stop Barack either.  Or whores like Amy Goodman who even auctioned off ball tickets to raise money for her CIA-friendly show.

Barack was the gift that kept giving.  Those who stood with him were whores and government assests.  

With the political campaign about to heat up in July (if not June), I probably need to figure out how I'm going to draw Romney.  I haven't even thought about it or followed him.  I'll have to get a sense of him before I can put him in a comic. 

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada says he can bring 40 votes to a no-confidence vote on Nouri, Baghdad is slammed with bombings, Iraq's energy auction is a bust, the US House Veterans Affairs Committee reviews the progress on the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and more.
"We just spent last weekend, and in particular Monday, honoring our nation's defenders that are no longer with us.  Now it's time for us to renew our focus on those who still need our help in securing a good job," declared US House Rep Jeff Miller drawing this morning's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to order.    The hearing explored the VOW To Hire Heroes Act which Chair Miller hailed as  "an excellent example of what we can do when we all work together."
The Committee heard from VA's Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey who was accomanied by VA's Curtis Coy and they heard from the Labor Dept's Acting Assistant Secretary of Veterans Employment and Training Ishmael Ortiz who was accompanied by Kathy Tran.  Why the hearing?
Chair Jeff Miller:  While I am impressed by the level of effort being made by program level staff at both departments, I am concerned that not enough is being done by either cabinet secretaries [VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis] or the President [Barack Obama] himself to promote this benefit.  Getting the message out about this opportunity is critically important to putting unemployed veterans on a path to a job in a high-demand field.  Clearly, aggressive promotion by the nearly three thousand One Stop Employment Centers are the key to filling the 99,000 training slots that have been authorized by the VOW Act.  I want to give you just one example -- one example of why I am concerned that despite VA's significant outreach efforts -- for which I commend them -- problems are still arising.  Staff was contacted by a community-based organization in Georgia about what appears to be a lack of effort to get the program started.  Shortly after the passage of the VOW Act, the organization contacted the Augusta One Stop Employment Center about how to enroll unemployed vets in the program.  They asked again in mid-March and the DVOPS and LVERs were still not aware of the program.  Two weeks later, Augusta told them the Georgia Department of Labor was not aware of VRAP.  In early April, both the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Labor stated they were waiting for policy from DC.  In late April, there still appeared to be little understanding of how the program would work.  It appears that finally, on May 11th, 2012, a mass e-mail from VA was released detailing how the program would be implemented, only 4 days later on May 15th.  Obviously, if that is typical of the level of awareness at the One Stop Centers, I think we all agree we've got big problems with the potential launch coming up shortly.
On the subject of veterans hiring, the Dept of Labor is holding a Veterans Hiring Fair next week on Wednesday, June 6th.  It will be at the Great Hall of the Frances Perkins US Dept of Labor Building on 200 Constitution Ave. starting at ten in the morning and ending at one in the afternoon.  So that's just three hours and they're hoping for a large turnout.  After this morning's hearing, I went to talk to a friend at the Labor Dept to make sure I understood some of the issues from the hearing.  When I brought up Miller's solid issue of getting the word out, I was told that even in DC it can be a struggle to get the word out and that job fair was used as an example.  So I'm including it here at the top.  You will need veteran i.d. to enter the job fair.  And it is open to all adult veterans.   Repeating, that's next week on Wednesday. 
Also for FYI purposes, we'll note Allison Hickey's opening remarks regarding Veterans Retraining Assistance Program applications:
VA and the Department of Labor collaboratively developed the VRAP application process and the requirements for the information technology system changes to support this process.  To efficiently leverage existing systems, VA modifided its application for VA education benefits for use by the VRAP applicatns.  The VRAP application is available online at, a web site developed specifically for portions of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act.  This site can be accessed through eBenefits, the GI Bill web site, DoL web sites and numerous other web sites.  Additionally, Veterans can visit their local DoL One-Stop Career Center locations for application assistance.  Applications can be submitted through VA's Veterans Online Application web site.  To be eliglbe for participation, DoL must determine that the applicant is unemployed, not enrolled in any federal or state job-training program and is between the ages of 35 aand 60.  VA verifies the applicant's veteran status and type of discharge, and confirms that the applicant has no other VA education benefits available for use, and is not in receipt of compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally disabling by reason of unemployability.  After eligibility has been established, the applicant identifies his or her intended high-demand occupation category and applicable training institution.  Information about the high-demand occupations, identified by DoL, is availabe on VA's VOW to Hire Heroes web site as well as DoL's web site.
In his opening remarks, Ortiz noted that the Labor Dept had "repurposed approximately $5.4 million of our 2012 Project Year Budget in order to implement the provisions of the VOW Act."  This statement in passing led to the first question.
Chair Jeff Miller:  I was just asking staff a question.  You talk about repurposing five-plus million dollars to assist.  Was it not funded properly in the legislation?  Where's the money that the legislation appropriated?  Just trying to figure out why would you need additional -- to repurpose additional money?
Kathy Tran:  There were several provisions that did not have -- that appropriated funds were not included in.  So for example, the section 222 study on equivalency is one example.
Ortiz had indicated Kathy Tran should speak to the question.  She did.  But it wasn't really clear.  The Chair would say he was still trying to figure out this money issue and that this was paid for in the legislation but then he would note that people behind Tran were shaking their heads "no" on that last part.
So let's delve into that.  Tran's referring to the fact that the legislation required the Dept of Labor to identify skill equivlance between military and civilian employment.  Was this fully funded?  That's one of the questions I asked when I went to the Dept of Labor today.  No, it wasn't funded at all, I was told, and the Labor Dept had to take from their budget for it.    In addition to the five million budgeted, more money will likely be spent on this because the study is not yet completed -- and, again, the legislation requires this study take place.  The Labor Dept is hoping to piggybag on a DoD study.  If they're able to, that would reduce the cost.
In addition to wanting to know if the study was funded, Chair Miller also wanted to know what happened in this program -- limited to 99,000 -- if someone signed up, was accepted and ended up having to drop out due to some reason.
Chair Jeff Miller: What happens if a veteran enters the program and he drops out?  Is that counted a "used slot"?  Or, if there's still funding left, can that be reallocated to another veteran?
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Miller, we have been -- We have been instructed that, uh, that it works similar to the other Mongtogmery GI Bill and other GI bills and when that veteran drops then that authority drops in the 99,000 that are available. 
Chair Jeff Miller: Drops in or?
Allison Hickey:  So if the veteran -- I apologize, Mr. Chairman, let me be a little more clear about that. If the veteran applies and then doesn't fulfill the whole year's worth of training and let's say they stop mid-pointm  then that is one of the 99,000 and we cannot recycle the rest of that benefit on to a different veteran.
Chair Jeff Miller:  Is that right?
Allison Hickey:  Sir, I think that's the provision of the law that has been laid out for us so that's the way we're working it.
Chair Jeff Miller: Sounds like the provision needs to be corrected, doesn't it?  Would you recommend that that slot be re-allocated?
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Miller, from my perspective, from the advocacy that we have in VA for all veterans, we would certainly like to see every dollar that you all have put towards this be used to train veterans so if you are inclined to do something different in the legislation, we would be happy to consider that.
Chair Jeff Miller: That's a great political answer. [Laughter.]  I appreciate that.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the pieces of legislation that was passed during the current wars.  The first fall semester checks for that legislation, in fact, didn't go out until the fall of 2009 (and many waited much longer than that to receive their checks, but that's another story).  The retraining opportunities offered by the VOW to Hire Heroes Act was an issue Representative Mike Michaud wanted to explore and he wanted to delve into job training, not just academic training. 
US House Rep Mike Michaud:  I have a couple of questions.  The first is I've heard from a couple of small towns and cities  and county government, the fact that they're looking for fire fighters as well as police officers and when you look at the unemployed in the military -- particularly for the military police --  they'd like to hire veterans.  Under the VOW Act, what are you doing to help encourage municipal towns for police officers and what's available to them?  And that's my first question.  My second question is, having done several manufacturing tours throughout my district over the past year, one of the things I hear a lot from businesses is that they would like to hire more employees but they found that they're not trained.  When you look at the extension patnership program, the MOST Program, I don't know if you're familiar with it?  It stands for Mobile Outreach Skill Training, it made it's MEP, they go into these businesses and actually are willing to train and they guarantee a job after training or else they do not get paid for the training.  Are you working with extension partnership programs throughout the country in that regard since they do guarantee jobs?  And do you have the resources needed?  So i guess both of you or who wants to answer both of those questions?
Ismael Ortiz: Congressman, first of all -- Let's -- I want to hit your first question first, sir.  Fire fighters and police officers are on a high demand list so as far as VRAP is concerned, this is an opportunity for them to be able to go in there if they meet the elegiblity requirements, sir.  On the second part of that, sir, if they don't, we also have local veterans employment representatives in each one of the One-Stop Centers our LVERs [Local Veterans Employment Representatives] who go outreach and make sure  and talk to different employers and places to help them find the skilled person that they're looking for.  So our One-Stops are a very important piece of getting that outreach part and also local communities, that is the biggest piece of what we are talking about, working with the communities as much as possible to get that information to us so that way we can find the proper individuals to help them fill their needs.
US House Rep Mike Michaud:  And what type of a benefit will a local community receive since they are tax exempt?  Is there any specific training piece or is there any other benefit under the VOW Act that will be beneficial for the communities?
Ismael Ortiz:  Actually sir -- You know what, I'm not really sure on the specifics on that, sir.  But I'll be more than happy to find out.
US House Rep Mike Michaud:  Okay.
Allison Hickey:  Congress Michaud, let me just tell you how we have generally worked with the education programs in relation to this -- especially the non-degree programs which we started thanks to this Committee and the Senate Veterans Committee's support from the first of October of last year when we were allowed to use GI Bill benefits towards non-degree efforts.  We still require your state approving agency to certify the training.  And if you have on in everyone of the states, I would highly recommend that the counties contact the state approving agencies and submit their training program to them and let them go through their normal process, certify it and then I can -- I can cover them under GI Bill or VRAP for either one.
Ismael Ortiz:   As far as the MOST, sir, the MOST Program, I'm going to turn it over to Ms. Kathy Tran.  She works specifically on those issues.
Kathy Tran:  Sir, regarding our partnership.  We have a federal partnership with the US Dept of Commerce and the MEP Program and we have been encouraging local partnerships in communities and regions across the country to partner between the workforce system and MEPs in order to support employment in the manufacturing arena.  And we actually issued a training guidance letter  or notice -- I can't remember which one, we can get back to you on that -- recently to encourage those partnerships and that letter included examples of existing successful partnerships at various different levels whether it be working with MEPs  on layoff aversion strategies or working with MEPs to help fulfill, you know, job openings and training.  But also just to add to the question earlier, One Stop Career Centers are available to help local muncipalities in their hiring so they can work to help do recruitment, to do job screening, to do post job openings and so that is a good relationship between the One Stop Career Centers and those muncipalities.  Many local webs have good representation from their city and county councils and such.
These are highlights from the hearing that I'm choosing because they go to issues that may require further attention.  US House Rep Jerry McNerney raised a very important issue in his questioning.  It needed to be explored further but was instead dismissed.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney:  I don't think the VA is doing enough to outreach, I don't think just for this program, there seems to be a reluctance to go to the media, to advertise on TV, to put up billboards.  I'd like to see the VA do more of that, in general.  Especially in this case.
Allison Hickey:  Congressman, I appreciate your comments and your questions.  I will say that we have been to the media quite extensively, in the print media and have gotten it out that way, quite extensively. The -- I don't know about billboards except to say that we have a lot of veterans in many, many communities and it would be difficult to figure out the expense associated with a billboard in a single community.  We would start to, I think,
create some discussion around funding that would be a little bit untenable.  We have been online.  I have literally done, as has the Secretary done on camera interviews about veteran employment issues and about the opportunity for education to help those employment opportunities. And I know that Secretary Ortiz' Secretary [Hilda Solis] has done that as well so I will let him comment further on that but we have reached out quite extensively through lots of media different environments including 75 newspapers nationwide for those communities where veterans -- the unemployment rate for veterans is the most -- is the highest.  We're not stopping.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney:   So what kind of budget does the VA have for media outreach.
Allison Hickey:  Well Congressman McNerney, we are -- We are actually trying to be good stewards here.  So we are leveraging our current network operation, we are leveraging the good will of communities and newspapers and others to get this word out as well including all the military alumni groups, all the -- the Military Times are carrying this for free, many of the local newspapers are carrying this for free --
US House Rep Jerry McNerney:  So in other words, you don't have a budget specifically for outreach?
Allison Hickey:  Congresmman McNerney, I've not found the need at this point in time especially when, in very short order, we have over 12,000 applicants and they're growing every single day.  Yesterday, it was 11,000 as the Chairman well noted, today it's twelve.  If in fact we do require, I will be happy to come and share that need with you.
First, "Military Times" -- that's a publication.  Elsewhere, she noted them as well as Air Force Times, Federal Times, Marine Corps Times, Army Times and Navy Times.  I want to be sure they get their credit.  The Philadelphia Inquirer was mentioned elsewhere in the hearing as was USA Today, the Fayetteville Observer, the San Antonio Express News and the  Wall St. Journal.  Those newspapers had all run the VA's notice and run it for free.  They deserve credit and praise for their public service. 
But McNerney is correct, there should be a budget.  If he had more time, it would have been interesting if Hickey could have answered how many turned them down?  Or how many people they had to speak to at the Wall St. Journal?  And how much time was used on this?
My point here is that just because the VA did not spend money paying for advertisement, money was still spent in that staff had to call around.  And I'm sure they got rejections.  I'm also sure they got, "This is great but you need to speak to ___."  So how much time was used?
There should be a budget and I don't think the VA has staff that can afford additional duties.  The backlog at the VA is so huge -- backlog on claims processing (but really backlog on anything) -- that I don't understand how they're able to work on this and claim money was saved.
I also don't think this is what the authors of the legislation intended.  (I could be wrong.)  You're already limiting the program to 99 slots.  Now you're saying that it's not even an equal playing field.  That whether someone hears about it in a publication depends a great deal on if they live in San Antonio or Philadelphia?
The Labor Dept estimates that the number of unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 is 400,000.  Repeating, there are only 99,000 slots.  And thanks to Chair Miller's questions, we now know that if someone has to drop out due to illness or maybe they get a great job offer, that slot doesn't get refilled.  It seems like the VA needs to be targeting all veterans. 
This is not supposed to be a secret program.  All 400,000 should know it's out there and be able to compete equally for the 99,000 spots.  This is probably the strongest veterans legislation passed since 2009.  Refusing to spend money to get the word out on the program is ridiculous and goes against the whole point of it.
Good for the newspapers who did run it for free, good for the VA staff that worked on that.  But there should be an advertising budget.  The government's more than happy to foot the bill for lots of TV and print advertising to recruit into the military.  They should have the same --if not more -- willingness to spend the money to get the word out on programs.
Winding down before we move on to Iraq, US House Rep Jerry McNerney raised the issue of billboards.  In political campaigns, billboards are largely a vanity issue.  Studies have found repeatedly that they have less impact on voting than other forms of advertising.  Those studies are on voting for a particular candidate.  There are no studies on what impact they have on raising awareness of new programs.  My guess is that they would be rather effective since they are stationary and many people pass them.  That's just my guess.  But the VA should be using a wide range of techniques to reach veterans. And the very last thing on the hearing.  No one asked Allison Hickey a question that she should have been asked (two veterans asked me if I heard the same thing in the hearing -- I did).  She noted a mass mailing sent out to veterans, 460,000 e-mails.  That's fine.  But what bothered the two veterans (and bothered me as well) was that Hickey stated that they "were viewed or opened by 23 percent of recipients" -- how does she know that?  What is the VA attaching to e-mails that allows them to know if they were opened or not?  Veterans get e-mails from the VA all the time and if there's something additional that they aren't seeing but is in those e-mails, they need to be informed of that.  She didn't explain how she knew the number (or how she knew it was 12% above a standard opening rate) and no one asked her.  We'll note another veterans issue as we wind down the snapshot, right now on to Iraq.
Today, Baghdad was yet again slammed with bombings.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports the bombings took place over "a three-hour period" today in Shi'ite and Sunni neighborhoods.  Laith Hammoudi (AFP) observes the bombings are "underlining persistent security concerns even as international energy companies met in the centre of the capital to bid on oil and gas exploration blocks."  Deutsche Welle adds, "The last major bomb blast to hit the Iraqi capital was in mid-May when a suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint in the city."  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) quotes survivorNaseer Ali stating, "I was in my shope when I heard a powerful explosion and everybody rushed to the explosion site. Part of the restaurant was damaged and the windows of the nearby shopws were shattered. We saw several wounded people screaming for help."
The number of dead and wounded climbed throughout the day.  Early on, Patrick Markey and Alison Williams (Reuters) count 9 dead and twenty-seven injured. Then the  BBC News counted 12 dead and twenty-seven injured.  Citing security sources, KUNA stated 18 were dead and sixty-four were injured and did so before 10:00 a.m. EST and while other outlets had a much lower figure for the death toll and the number wounded.  As the day faded, AP reported the death toll had reached 18 and the number injured was at fifty-three.
For anyone wondering, neither the White House nor the State Dept issued any statement regarding the bombings or the dead.
Of today's Baghdad bombings, Al Rafidayn points out that they take place during a shapr increase in the political crisis.  The Irish Times observes, "Some argue that the ongoing political impasse has opened the door to violence. The unity government headed by Mr al-Maliki, a Shia muslim, has been largely paralysed since the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq late last year.  There is mounting criticism of Mr al-Maliki within the ruling coalition, amid complaints that he is shutting out Iraq's two main minorities -- Kurds and Sunni Muslims -- in decision-making."

A group participated in decion making yesterday in Sulaymaniyah Province (KRG).  Al Rafidayn reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Iraq's Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Moqtada al-Sadr, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (who represents the National Dialogue which is a part of the Iraqiya political slate), Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi  and others and it was decided that a no-confidence vote would be taken on Nouri if 164 MPs would sign on.  Kitabat notes Moqtada is stating he can get the signatures.  Middle East Online quotes him stating online, "I promised my partners that if they got 124 votes, I will complete the 164 votes." 

Deeply alarmed is Ammar al-Hakim who insists to Alsumaria that he was not part of the meet-up.

Dar Addustour reports that al-Nujaifi is said to be ready to call an emergency session of Parliament to vote on the issue of Nouri.  They also note US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffries continues to try to shore up support for Nouri among the National Alliance and that he met with Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Karim Abdzaair (Al-Monitor) notes, "The National Iraqi Alliance responded to anti-Maliki political activities by sending their president, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to meet with US ambassador in Iraq James Jeffrey to discuss the political crisis in Iraq. Khadr Khuzai, a member of the National Iraqi Alliance's presidential council and another pole within the Alliance, met with UN representative in Iraq Martin Cooper to discuss the crisis. These were the first two meetings that the Iraqi National Alliance held with US and UN representatives after the Alliance explicitly rejected internationalizing the crisis, one which it considers to be purely internal."
Ethyl al-Nujaifi, brother of Osama al-Nujaifi, tells Alsumaria that they already have enough signatures for a quorum, in fact they've exceeded that required number. 

As Al Sabaah notes, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's trial is supposed to start today.  Alsumaria reports the judges has refused the defense's request for testimony from President Jalal Talabani.    AFP explains:
The three-judge panel hearing the case denied the request, however, and [. . .] adjourned the trial until June 19. "They have asked for Jalal Talabani, (former Vice President) Adel Abdel Mahdi, (Talabani's chief-of-staff) Nasser al-Ani," and four MPs belonging to Hashemi's mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc to testify, one of the judges said.
In related news, the targeting of Iraqiya's Laith al-Dulaimi continues and Kitabat reports Iraqi human rights activists joining Talabani's call for al-Dulaimi to be released.  al-Dulaimi was arrested days ago on Nouri's order.  He is a member of the Baghdad provincial council.  Nouri began airing al-Dulaimi's 'confession.'  al-Dulaimi -- still in prison -- has declared he was tortured, that the 'confession' was forced and false.  Realizing he had another p.r. disaster on his hands, Nouri recently began calling for an investigation into these torture allegations.  Abdul-Jabbbar al-Jubouri (Kitabat) reports that the 'confession' has now aired on Iraqi TV.  That's in violation of the law.  al-Jubouri terms it not only a political scandal but an ethical one as well.  Kitabat also doesn't take seriously Nouri's 'investigation,' noting it was his forces acting on his orders that tortured Laith al-Dulaimi and now he's going to investigate himself?

While Nouri flounders, Alsumaria reports the Russian government has extended an invitation to KRG President Massoud Barzani to visit Moscow so that Russia and the KRG can strengthen their ties with one another.  In other bad news for Nouri, he's signed a multi-million dollar contract -- valued at a quarter of a million dollars.  Al Rafidayn reports that this is to build 100,000 housing units.  The bad news?  While Iraq suffers record unemployment, Nouri's farming this job out to South Korea.
Iraq's two day energy auction ended today.  Yesterday brought one successful bidW.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) explain, "Iraq on Thursday closed a landmark auction of energy exploration blocks with just three contracts awarded out of a potential 12, dampening hopes the sale would cement its role as a key global supplier."  The offerings weren't seen as desirable and the deals offered even less so.  But big business began sending signals this auction would not go well over two months ago.  (And we've noted that at least three times in previous months.)  That's due to the instability in Iraq caused by Nouri -- and it is seen as caused by Nouri in the oil sector because he is the prime minister, he did pick a fight with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, he did order Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested.  All the instability in recent months have not helped.  His attacks on ExxonMobil and their deal with the KRG has not helped.  Nouri al-Maliki is bad for business.  If Iraq had the arrangement they did under Saddam Hussein, Nouri could get away with that.  But he's going to have to grasp real soon that state oil isn't what it was under Hussein.  The economic model (imposed by the US) is mixed.  And if Iraqis hadn't fought back, it would be strictly privatized.  Nouri's not yet learned that his actions impact Iraq's business.  (And, in fairness to Nouri, this is a new thing for Iraq.  Saddam Hussein could do anything and it wasn't an issue unless the super powers decided it was.  But, again, it's a mixed model now.  Nouri might need to bring in some economic advisors from out of the country.)  W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) report Iraq's response to the poor showing at the auction is to declare that they will hold another one.
Finally, US Senator Patty Murray chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office noted yesterday an important concern she and two other senators have:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Murray, Blumenthal, Nelson Call on Departments of Justice, Treasury to Investigate Charitable Organizations Exploiting Veterans for Own Financial Gain

Recent findings raise serious questions as to whether organizations are violating federal law and abusing their tax exempt status by misrepresenting work on behalf of veterans

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee joined with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) in sending two letters regarding the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), addressing potential violations of federal law and abuse of tax exempt status by the 501(c)(3) organization. The first letter was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, requesting an audit and, where appropriate, an investigation of the VSO for potential violations of federal law.
In a second letter, sent to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Senator Murray, again joined by Senators Blumenthal and Nelson, expressed concern about the membership criteria used by the Department of Veterans Affairs' Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate prospective member organizations and the NAC's failure to require any standards of conduct for its members. The Senators point out the lack of internal controls for membership on the advisory committee and call for the removal of any organization that fails to conduct itself in a manner befitting the Department's mission or that exploits its relationship with the Department for its own financial gain.
"Without a meaningful review process or standards of conduct, the Department risks legitimizing organizations engaged in questionable business practices by permitting their membership on the NAC," the Senators write in the letter to Secretary Shinseki. "For example, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a way to represent itself as a reputable organization. But throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from state authorities, veterans service organizations, local news organizations and veterans themselves. VSO's business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law."

The full text of both letters follow:
May 30, 2012
The Honorable Eric H. Holder
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Dear General Holder and Secretary Geithner:
We write to request that the Departments of Justice and Treasury audit and investigate, as appropriate, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), a registered 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation, for potential violations of federal law.
Throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, including Connecticut and Florida, VSO has attracted scrutiny from state authorities, reputable veterans service organizations, local news organizations and individual veterans. VSO's business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading, and fraudulent and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law. Taken together, these actions and allegations raise serious questions as to whether VSO has repeatedly and intentionally misappropriated public donations and abused its tax exempt status in violation of federal law.
At the heart of VSO's suspect practices is its use of paid solicitors, violation of state solicitation laws and financial irregularities. VSO presents its paid solicitors to the public as veterans, providing them with camouflage-style uniforms and instructing them to keep thirty percent of their collected donations as commission. Through its use of these paid solicitors, VSO has been found in violation of state charitable contribution laws and has faced civil penalties as a result. VSO's paid solicitors program is its single largest expenditure, with executive and employee compensation following close behind. In 2009 alone, VSO paid its chief executive officer $255,000, or over four percent of its total revenue. That same year, VSO's spending on its paid solicitor program and executive and employee compensation was over eight times greater than its direct grant awards to other veterans service organizations, government entities, and individual veterans. Clearly, VSO's disproportionate spending on paid solicitors and its own executives, coupled with its admitted violation of state solicitation laws and general lack of transparency and accountability is cause for serious concern. For your reference, we have enclosed a background paper that details VSO's questionable conduct in greater detail.
As an increasing number of our servicemembers return home and transition to civilian life, it is especially critical that charity organizations act as good stewards of the American people's goodwill and generosity towards our veterans. On behalf of our nation's veterans and those who serve them, we thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your timely response detailing the steps you have taken auditing or investigating, as appropriate, VSO.
May 30, 2012
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:
We write to express our concern about the membership criteria used by the Department's Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate prospective member organizations and the NAC's failure to require any standards of conduct for its members.
It is critical that organizations permitted to affiliate themselves with, or invoke the name of, the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct themselves in a manner befitting the Department's mission, its reputation and the integrity of its work. Yet today, any organization that meets a minimum level of monetary and material support to VA facilities is eligible for membership on the NAC. No other review is undertaken by the Department to evaluate a potential member organization, nor does the NAC have in place any standards of conduct to which its member organizations must adhere.
This is both troubling and unacceptable. Without a meaningful review process or standards of conduct, the Department risks legitimizing organizations engaged in questionable business practices by permitting their membership on the NAC. For example, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a way to represent itself as a reputable organization. But throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from state authorities, veterans service organizations, local news organizations and veterans themselves. VSO's business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law.

In response to VSO's suspect practices, we have written to the Attorney General and to Secretary Geithner, requesting that their departments investigate whether VSO has misappropriated public donations or abused its tax exempt status in violation of federal law. We expressed our concern that charity organizations must act as good stewards of the American people's generosity towards our veterans. Surely an organization, such as VSO, which has admitted breaking state law, should be ineligible to serve on the NAC or use the Department's name in furtherance of its own financial interest.
To protect the integrity of the NAC's work, we ask that you review this situation and take such action as you consider appropriate. It is our hope that you will rescind the membership of VSO and any other organization that fails to reflect the caliber and character of the Department's mission and work, and institute safeguards to regulate the NAC's membership accordingly. We look forward to hearing from you regarding your review of this issue. Thank you for all that you do on behalf of our nation's veterans.
Eli Zupnick
Press Secretary
U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Read on ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Princess Brat Speaks

Princess Brat Speaks

From December 28, 2008, that's "Princess Brat Speaks."  It may be my favorite of the Caroline comics.  (I'm toying with a series right now.  Hopefully, I'll be able to pull it off.  If so, I'll have several comics up in the next days at The Common Ills, if not I'll only have one.)

The point of this comic was that Caroline Kennedy wanted to lie and claim that her decision to lobby to be appointed into the Senate (Hillary's seat that she vacated to become Secretary of State) because of 9-11.  Something 8 years prior is why she was doing that?  She also was talking about hard work.  Yeah.  Whatever. 

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, heavily protected Baghdad sees a mortar attack, the summit with Iran wraps up, a new US report offers a very chilling view of life in Iraq, there are claims of enough votes existing to oust Nouri as prime minister, and more.
Violence has not ended in Iraq.  Yesterday alone, Iraq Body Count notes 14 violent deaths and, through yesterday, 173 violent deaths for the month of May thus far.   The hot spots yesterday were Ramadi (3 deaths), Hamam al-Aleel (4 deaths), Abu Saida (2 deaths) Mkhesi (2 deaths), Kirkuk (1 death) and Rawah (1 death).  Not on the list?  Baghdad.
Before we get to Baghdad, a Tikrit sticky bombing left a police officer injured.  Now to Baghdad.

Al Jazeera and Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jane Arraf Tweeted today:
Explosion heard in #Baghdad green zone while #Iran talks on was roadside bomb near Tahrir square, security sources tells AJE. Three injured.
Loud explosion - rocket or mortar - heard just now in #Baghdad green zone as Iran nuclear talks continue here, breaking relative calm.
This morning,  Alsumaria reported mortar attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone had left three people injured.   AFP later updated that to note six people were injured and 1 person died.  In Baghdad -- heavily guarded Baghdad.  From yesterday's snapshot:
RTE reports, "Around 15,000 Iraqi police and troops will protect the venue inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone."  In addition, James Reynolds (BBC News) explains, "Outside the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone), Iraqi soldiers wearing balaclavas stand up on the turrets of armoured jeeps." AFP offers, "Thousands of additional Iraqi security personnel have been deployed in areas north, west and south of Baghdad to try to prevent the firing of mortars and rockets into the capital, a security official said. The official also said without providing figures that additional forces have been deployed at checkpoints in the Iraqi capital, and that searches have been increased. "
All of those precautions were for yesterday and today's meeting that Baghdad was hosting.  The UN Security Council permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States  -- and Germany are in Iraq for talks with Iran.  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that it appears the six nations "were dropping demands that Iran completely halt the enrichment of uranium.  Instead, the six powers formally asked Iran to halt enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a proposal that would allow it to continue enriching uranium to the 5 percent level Iran says it needs for electrical power generation."  Last night on The NewsHour (PBS -- link is audio, text and video), the New York Times' Steven Erlanger told Judy Woodruff, "Well, we're hearing that they're not going wonderfully well. The six powers put down a proposal for the Iranians which they claimed would be a set of concrete agenda to really get to the heart of the most urgent problem with Iran, which is their enrichment to 20 percent of uranium."  Earlier today, Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) discussed the summit with journalist Peter Kenyon.
Steve Inskeep: OK. So the shape of some kind of a deal here would be freezing enrichment at some level in exchange for a loosening of sanctions, but that's turning out to be difficult for both sides to do, both sides to obtain. Now, do the Iranians expect to have a little more leverage here, a little more leeway, because they are reported to be on the verge of agreeing to let UN nuclear inspectors have more access to the country?
Peter Kenyon:  I'd say that did appear to be the case. That was their hope. The international side, on the other hand, was quick to distinguish these talks from the nuclear inspector's work. Western officials also say, you know, this agreement, if it comes between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, won't be real until it's signed. And so there's still a possibility that this was some kind of a maneuver by which Tehran would hope to see what it could get out of these talks.  The IAEA, though, I should say, does seem confident that an agreement will be reached soon. And I think we need to point out that these inspections are about alleged experiments that happened years ago. There's no clear and convincing evidence that Tehran is right now actively seeking a weapon. What experts are worried about is that Iran wants the knowledge and the capability to do so should it choose to build one.
Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports that Saeed Jalili who is representing Iran in the talks held a press conference with Catherine Ashton of the European Union and he declared, "We emphasized that having peaceful nuclear energy, especially uranium enrichment, is our people's inalienable right." Today on All Things Considered (NPR -- audio -- text will be posted by Friday morning), Peter Kenyon reported, "After two days of what she called for intense and detailed discussions, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said the talks had established a new level of seriousness to grapple with the international community's longstanding concerns about Iran's nuclear activities."   From the joint-press conference, we'll note this.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton: First of all, I would like ot thank the Iraqi government, and in particular Foreign Minister [Hoshyar] Zebari, for the excellent hospitality and organisation of these talks.  The E3=3 remain firm, clear and united in seeking a swift diplomatic resolution of the international community's concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, based on the NPT, and the full implementation of UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors Resolutions.  We expect Iran to take concrete and practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence and to meet its international obligations. We have met with our Iranian counterparts over the last two days in very intense and detailed discussions.  In line with our agreement in Istanbul, the E3+3 laid out clear proposals to address the Iranian nuclear issue and, in particular, all aspects of 20% enrichment.  We also put ideas on the table on reciprocal steps we would be prepared to take.  Iran declares its readiness to address the issue of 20% enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognie their right to enrichment. Having held in-depth discussions with our Iranian counterparts over two days -- both in full plenary sessions and bilaterals -- it is clear that we both want to make progress and that there is some common ground.  However, significant differences remain.  Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground.  We will go back to our respective capitals and consult.  We will maintain intensive contacts with our Iranian counterparts to prepare a further meeting in Moscow with arrival on 17th June with talks on 18th and 19th June.  As we have already agreed, the talks will be based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity.  We remain determined to resolve this problem in the near term through negotiations and will continue to make every effort to that end. 
 While Jalili and Ashton were holding their press conference, US State Dept spokesperson hid behind that to avoid answering questions at today's State Dept press breifing.
Victoria Nuland: Well, as you said, Arshad, she [Catherine Ashton] is speaking even as we are speaking, and so I think it's probably not appropriate for me to comment on top of her.  Why don't we let her conclude her remarks?  I'm sure there will be U.S. officials out in Baghdad who will be commenting to the press, and we'll continue this tomorrow.
Victoria Nuland: Again, Arshad, she's in the middle of characterizing the round on behalf of the EU3+3, so I really think it would be highly inappropriate for me in the same time and space to jump on top of her, much as you would like me to.
Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) quotes China's Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu and he states, "Based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity, all sides, during the meeting, declared their willingness to address the issue through dialogue." One of the few concrete outcomes was the decision to meet in Moscow next month and continue the dialogue.
Russia?  Today another nail was driven in the coffin of Iraq's tourism industry.   RIA Novosti reports Alexander Orlov has revealed to them that 4 members "of the Moscow-based mororcyle club RAMCC" were arrested in Iraq at the start of the week: Oleg Kapkayev, Alexander Vardanyants, Oleg Maksimov and Maxim Ignatyev.  The charges? The four bikers, Baghdad insists, are spies.  Remember that depiste the Iraqi Constitution putting into writing that all are innocent until proven guilty, judges and officials haven't familiarized themselves with that principle yet.  And it's Thug Nouri's Iraq, remember.  So you don't just get booked, you get printed -- finger printed, fist printed, etc -- you get beaten in custody:

According to Orlov, the men, who have been severely beaten, are accused of espionage, visa forgery, and are being threatened with the death penalty. "They are one of the most experienced moto-tourists in Russia. They have crossed the whole world…the speculations that they had forged the visas is mere nonsense."

RT adds, "Their text messages suggest they were finally taken to a military prison at a base in Baghdad, handcuffed, and that all their belongings were taken away except for one hidden mobile phone.  Suddenly at night they texted they were being beaten, accused of espionage and visa forgery and threatened with the death penalty."  Orlov tells the Russian Legal Information Agency,  "They had another 20 kilometers to go before reaching Bagdad. They were detained by individuals in military uniform, who did not introduce themselves. They were delivered to an Iraqi military base and their documents were taken away from them."  The Voice of Russia notes that Russian Embassy spokesperson Sergei Cherkasov has confirmed that the four are being held and on charges of being spies.  Of Cherkasov, The Moscow Times adds, "But in a separate interview with NTV television he said the embassy's efforts had been complicated by Iraqi authorities' distraction with international talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program, which are being held in Baghdad this week."  A relative of one of the bikers spoke with The Voice of Russia and stated that the four had "been transferred to a prison cell containing over 100 people." Today in Russia, RIA Novosti reports, over "300 people, including 200 bikers, gathered near the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow, protesting against the arrest of four Russian nationals".  The Moscow Times reports that both Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari have declared that the bikers will be freed shortly. AFP quotes Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich declared of those promises, "We hope that this is exactly what happens."  Meanwhile The Moscow Times also reports that Oleg Kapkayeve texted that he and the other three were being threatened by Iraqi forces with 10 years in prison or the death penalty. 
Meanwhile Fars News Agency reports that, as the summit ended, Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbaq declared, "My country is prepared to host future negotiations between Iran and the Group 5+1." But they were done with Iraq.  Not that there wasn't a parting gift.
During the year the most significant human rights developments were continuing abuses by sectarian and ethnic armed groups and violations by government-affiliated forces. Divisions between Shia and Sunni and between Arab and Kurd empowered sectarian militant organizations. These militants, purporting to defend one group through acts of intimidation and revenge against another, influenced political outcomes. Terrorist attacks designed to weaken the government and deepen societal divisions occurred during the year.
The three most important human rights problems in the country were governmental and societal violence reflecting a precarious security situation, a fractionalized population mirroring deep divisions exacerbated by Saddam Hussein's legacy, and rampant corruption at all levels of government and society.
That's about Iraq and it's not from a newspaper or a human rights group, it's from the US State Dept's 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices just released today.  Of the report, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared today (link is text -- video should be added by tomorrow), "As Secretary, I have worked with my superb team on advancing human rights in a 21st century landscape, focusing on new frontiers even as we stand up against age-old abuses.  Where women have been and continue to be marginalized, we're helping them become full partners in their governments and economies.  Where LGBT people are mistreated and discriminated against, we're working to bring them into full participation in their socieites.  We're expanding access to technology and defending internet freedom because people deserve the same rights online as off.  And we know that in the 21st century, human rights are not only a question of civil and political liberties, it's about the fundamental question of whether people everywhere have the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."  One of the State Dept's Assistant Secretaries, Michael Posner, had some strong opening remarks but that press briefing was a joke -- due to Victoria Nuland trying not only to field questions (Posner can handle a press briefing all by himself) but also to tell jokes (while the topic is human rights abuses -- she is so tonally deaf) and the general appalling questions offered by the press.  The main message from the press briefing was that the press covering the State Dept doesn't give a damn about Iraq or the people of that country.  All the US taxpayer money spent, all the Iraqi lives, all the US lives, all the British lives, all of it, none of it matters one damn bit.  The Iraq War was nothing but a summer popcorn movie for the US press.  They've already forgotten it and wet their pants with excitement over the next possible war.
Here's more from the opening of the report's Iraq section:
During the year the following significant human rights problems were also reported: arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life; extremist and terrorist bombings and executions; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; poor conditions in pretrial detention and prison facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of fair public trials; delays in resolving property restitution claims; insufficient judicial institutional capacity; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; limits on freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; extremist threats and violence; limits on religious freedom due to extremist threats and violence; restrictions on freedom of movement; large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees; lack of transparency and significant constraints on international organizations and nongovernmental organizations' (NGOs) investigations of alleged violations of human rights; discrimination against and societal abuses of women and ethnic, religious, and racial minorities; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and limited exercise of labor rights.
A culture of impunity has largely protected members of the security services, as well as those elsewhere in the government, from investigation and successful prosecution of human rights violations.
Terrorist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq committed attacks against a wide swath of society, including Sunnis, Shia, and members of other sects or ethnicities, security forces, places of worship, religious pilgrims, economic infrastructure, and government officials. Their means were suicide bombings, attacks with improvised explosive devices, drive-by shootings, and other acts of violence aimed at weakening the government and deepening ethnosectarian divisions. Certain militant organizations, such as those influenced by Iran, also committed numerous terrorist attacks, primarily against foreign embassies and foreign military forces.
It didn't prompt one damn question about Iraq at the press briefing.  But one reporter wanted the US 'to talk about' balancing human rights issues with security issues because, goodness, Amnesty International had a few bad things to say about the US' own record on human rights.  That's called lackey or boot licker, it doesn't really say "reporter" -- or "CNN producer" to be more specific.
The US press largely ignored the targeting of Iraqi youth -- especially those thought to be Emo and/or LGBT.  Did the report?
No.  So we'll make room for this section of the report:
There was no law specifically prohibiting consensual same-sex sexual activity, although the penal code prohibits sodomy, irrespective of gender. There were no data on prosecutions for sodomy. Due to social conventions and retribution against both victim and perpetrator of nonconsensual same-sex sexual conduct and persecution against participants in consensual same-sex sexual conduct, this activity was generally unreported.
In light of the law, the authorities relied on public indecency charges or confessions of monetary exchange, (i.e., prostitution, which is illegal) to prosecute same-sex sexual activity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons often faced abuse and violence from family and nongovernmental actors. UNAMI reported that at least six individuals were killed because of their perceived sexual orientation and that an NGO relocated a 17-year-old boy after his family attempted to kill him because they thought he was gay. The procedures used to arrest LGBT persons also were used to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with persons other than their spouses.
Due to social conventions and potential persecution, including violent attacks, LGBT organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, occupation, and housing was common. Information was not available regarding discrimination in access to education or health care due to sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no government efforts to address this discrimination.
At year's end authorities had not announced any arrests or prosecutions of any persons for violence against LGBT individuals.
The report does not paint a pretty picture of Iraq today.  The US government launched an illegal war and now wants to ignore the reality of what that illegal war has produced.  There were a lot of self-righteous reporters in 2002 and 2003 insisting that the Iraqi people needed to be remembered and that the impending war would be for the good of the Iraqi people.  I guess the reason the US press is so silent on Iraq today is because talking about Iraq right now means choking on their lies.
On to the political crisis, the never-ending political crisis in Iraq.  In another major blow to Nouri al-Maliki's already fragile public image (in addition to the State Dept's today there is a damning report that came out last week -- click here for Human Rights Watch's report on his torture prison), Alsumaria reports that it is said that there are now 200 MPs ready to vote to withdraw confidence in him -- and 20 of those votes would come from Nouri's own State of Law political slate.

March 7, 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Nouri is the head of Dawa, a political party.  He didn't want to run with Dawa and wasn't crazy about the Shi'ite groupings that existed.  So he ran on his own political slate, State of Law.  Despite using the Justice and Accountability Commission to force various rival politicians (such as members of Iraqiya, such as Saleh al-Mutlaq) out of the election, despite tarring and feathering the other new political slate  Iraqiya as "terrorists,"  Ba'athists and controlled by foriegners, despite suddenly taking an interest (as he does two months before every election) in 'public works' project such as water -- no, not improving the infrastructure so people can have potable water, instead he sends a water truck to the area to try to make the residents feel they owe him  -- and so much more, State of Law still came in second to Iraqiya.

Because he is the US puppet, the White House backed him over the Iraqi people and the notions of democracy and the process outlined in Iraq's Constitution.  Because he had the backing of both the White House and Tehran, he could bring the country to a standstill and did.  For eight months following the election, Iraq suffered from gridlock.  That means one, brief embarrassing session of Parliament and nothing else.  Nouri refused to step aside and let the country move forward.  Finally, in November 2010 (over eight months later), the US brokered a contract known as the Erbil Agreement.   Nouri was given his second term as prime minister.  The political blocs agreed to that provided Nouri met their demands such as finally implementing Articel 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, such as creating an independent security body headed by Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya).  Every one of the blocs gave up something and did so to try to end Political Stalemate I.  The day after the agreement was signed by all parties, Nouri was named prime minister-designate (Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq, would 'officially' name him that days later to give him more time than the Constitution allowed to create a Cabinet).

Iraqiya wanted to discuss the independent security council, Nouri and State of Law said "too soon."  Allawi led many members of Iraqiya in a walk-out.  The US worked over time to get Allawi and his MPs back into that session.  They told him that the agreement would be honored but that Allawi had to give it time.

In December, having failed to name a full Cabinet (a Constitutional requirement), Nouri was illegal moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister.  And still people waited for the implementation of the Erbil Agreement.  Last summer, the Kurdish bloc was tired of being put off and ignored and declared publicly that Nouri needed to return to and honor the Erbil Agreement.  They were quickly joined in that call by Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr.

Political Stalemate II has gone on for over a year.  This is the ongoing political crisis.  Nouri's decision to target Sunnis and Iraqiya in the fall of last year didn't help.  His attacks on provinces who wanted to -- as they are allowed in the Constitution -- move towards semi-autonomy went along with his arrests of various innocent Sunnis (such as elderly college professors) in an attempt to destroy their lives and then, in December, he went after Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi -- both Sunni, both members of Iraiqya.

A real leader would have resolved the political crisis long ago.  Not just because it's good for Iraq but because it's good for the leader's own image and legacy.   Nouri's not a leader.  Puppets so rarely are.  April 28th, there was another Erbil meet-up and among those attending were Allawi, Moqtada, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabni.  At the meeting, it was decided that the Erbil Agreement needed to be implemented and so did Moqtada's 18-point plan.  Moqtada al-Sadr then informed Nouri that if this did not take place, they would pursue a no-confidence vote against him.  If unsuccessful, it still leaves him wounded image wise.  If successful, it leaves him out of a job.  So you'd think a real leader would say, "Sure, I promised to abide by the Erbil Agreement, let me implement it right now and stop all this fighting."  But Nouri's no leader.

And now there are supposed to be 200 votes against him.  Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly stated that Nouri still has time so you'd think, before the deadline got here, Nouri would implement the agreement.   Dar Addustour reports that Jalal Talabani met with Nouri yesterday and urged him to resolve the crisis by implementing the agreement but Nouri refused.

Nouri's sometime political ally, sometime political foe, Ahmed Chalabi is in the news today.  Alsumaria reports he has stated that the National Alliance (a political slate of various Shi'ite groups including Moqtada's and Nouri's) to determine what their plan of action will be and how to best resolve the political crisis.  Ibrahim al-Jaafari is said to have called the meet-up.  Chalaib also insisted that the supposed move to have a vote of no-confidence on Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi (a member of Iraqiya) was not a National alliance plan, did not originate with the National Alliance and that the alliance has received no request for such an action.

 Remember how Nouri was illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister at the end of December 2010?  He had not filled a Cabinet.  That's nominating them, that's getting the Parliament to vote for them.  The security ministries were left vacant.  Iraqiya stated Nouri was doing that intentionally because it would allow him to control them.

Because Iraq's system's different than the US, let's explain that.

If Barack Obama wants Noam Chomsky to be Secretary of Education, he nominates him and the Senate votes on whether or not to confirm him.  If he's confirmed, he begins serving.  Barack might decide Chomsky's not doing a good job or that he's a liability to his election campaign or that he just wants someone else in the job.  So he would convey that to Chomsky who would offer his resignation and depart.  Then Barack could name someone else to the post.

That's not the way it works in Iraq.  Nouri nominates.  The Parliament votes.  If the Parliament votes someone into the Cabinet, only the Parliament can remove them.  So if Nouri nominates Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers journalist) to be Minister of Defense and the Parliament approves that nomination, Laith is in place and running things and has a great deal of power including that he can't be forced out of the post by anyone but the Parliament.

Nouri has 'named' 'acting ministers' to the security posts.  Acting ministers are not real ministers.  They are not approved by Parliament.  They have no independence and no powers.  (The notion of them doesn't even exist in the Constitution.)  Nouri can name Ahmed Chalabi acting Minister of the Interior tomorrow and fire him three days later for no reason other than Nouri had gas the night before.  Because it's not a real position and it doesn't require a vote from Parliament.  These are people Nouri puts in place and that Nouri controls.  As his first term established, Nouri does not control the Cabinet.  He is a member of it, the alleged head of it but he has to work with these members he can't fire or risk more gridlock.

Dar Addustour reports today that Nouri is nixing names for Minister of Defense.  There is no Minister of Defense.  All this time later.  None.  Nouri was supposed to have nominated and seen one confirmed  before he could move to prime minister (from prime minister-designate).  The Constitution gives the designate 30 days to form that Cabinet.  It's two years later and Nouri still doesn't have a Minister of Defense.  Or Interior.  Or National Security.
And turning to the United States where US Senator Patty Murray led on the Hire Heroes Act and is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes an important speech she gave.  I'd love to include it in full but we've had to edit the top part of the snapshot and aren't even including Al Rafidayn's report that Jalal Talabani wrote his resignation, gave it to KRG President Massoud Barzani and wants Barzani to hold it -- it's an apparent effort by Talabni to demonstrate that his goals are the goals of Kurds in the KRG.   So we're going to include a large portion of it but we can't include the speech in full today.

Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

VETERANS: Senator Murray Discusses Progress in Veterans Hiring, Importance of Working with the Private Sector

With Memorial Day approaching, author of VOW to Hire Heroes Act discussed 5 important steps private companies should take to bring veterans on board, debunked stigma many employers have attached to the invisible wounds of war, and cited success stories

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the state of efforts to hire veterans. The speech focused on what steps private businesses are taking that are improving veterans hiring and what challenges veterans still face in the job market. The speech comes after extensive discussions Murray has had with private employers, veterans, and employment experts on what's working and what isn't in the effort to hire veterans. Recent labor statistics show that unemployment, particularly among young veterans, remains unacceptably high.

Full text of Senator Murray's speech:

"Next week Americans will spend time honoring and commemorating the men and women who died fighting for our great country. Memorial Day is a day to reflect on and give thanks for the sacrifices made by those who made the ultimate sacrifice—but it is also a day to look forward and to think about what we all can do to help our veterans who have also sacrificed so much -- and who deserve our support when they come home. So, I come to the floor today to discuss an issue that, quite frankly, defies common sense.

"The high rate of unemployment among recently separated veterans is an issue that continues to make the transition home for veterans harder than ever. Despite the fact that our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century. Our veterans continue to struggle.
"Despite the skill, talent and training of our veterans, statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is nearly 20%. That is one in five of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family, don't have an income that provides stability, and don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.
"We know this shouldn't be the case. We shouldn't let the skills and training our nation's veterans have attained go to waste. And that's why we all joined together to overwhelmingly pass my VOW to Hire Heroes Act here in the Senate late last year. Among many other things, this law provides tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire veterans, makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for most separating servicemembers, and expands the education and training we provide transitioning servicemembers.
"Thanks to this legislation we have been able to take a real, concrete step toward putting our veterans to work. The tax credit is working. And VA is set to begin accepting applications for a retraining program that will benefit unemployed veterans ages 35-60 and help get them back to work. This bill is only that, a first step.

"Today, I'd like to talk about the next step. And that step is to build partnerships with private businesses large and small – all across the country – to hire our nation's heroes.
"Just recently I was in New York where I participated in a lively roundtable discussion hosted by the Robin Hood Foundation. This discussion on veterans' employment was moderated by Tom Brokaw on the USS Intrepid and brought together people of various backgrounds – including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan – to talk about this important issue. What is very apparent is that there is momentum to build public/private partnerships. What is also apparent is that there
is a lot of room for improvement in this area.
"Now, I want to first make it clear that a lot of companies across the country are far ahead of the curve on this. In fact, many private sector companies have already joined our efforts in addressing this critical issue. For example, JC Penney, one of America's largest retailers, and Joseph Abboud, a men's clothing company, partnered with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to launch the Welcome Home Joe – Thanks a Million Program. To prepare veterans for job interviews, this program has provided 5,000 veterans with certificates to purchase business attire.
"For the last decade we have expected our brave men and women in uniform to prepare for the battlefield. In the process, they have become accustomed to wearing combat boots and battle dress uniforms. Now they are expected wear a suit and tie for job interviews - something that sometimes seems foreign to them. But thanks to this program, thousands of transitioning veterans can now hang-up their battle dress uniforms and dress for their next challenge.
"Other companies like, Schneider National, one of America's largest trucking companies, are realizing that the skills our veterans have gained over the last decade of war are directly applicable to their businesses. Schneider National recognizes that a veteran who has driven a seven-ton truck across Afghanistan's dangerous and rugged terrain is more than qualified to drive a freight truck across our nation's roads. And in addition to providing many veterans with new jobs, Schneider National also provides newly separated veterans with on-the-job training through their Military Apprenticeship Program. As part of the program, veteran employees are eligible to earn a monthly educational benefit check from the VA in addition to a paycheck. Schneider National serves as an example of how companies can hire veterans that have proven they can perform the job, but lack proper certifications for civilian employment.
"The US Chamber of Commerce also must be commended for launching its Hiring Our Heroes initiative which has sponsored 150 hiring fairs in 48 states. At one of these recent hiring fairs, General Electric, the employer of 10,000 veterans
launched its Veterans Network Transition Assistance Program. As part of this program General Electric has vowed to hire 1,000 additional veterans every year
for the next five years and will provide job-seeking veterans with one-on-one mentoring sessions. These sessions help transitioning veterans improve resume writing and interviewing techniques so they can capitalize on the skills they've developed during military service.
"This is just a fraction of the work being done at our nations employers. There are many other success stories at big companies like Home Depot, and at small companies like General Plastics in my home state - which has created a pipeline to hire veterans at its aerospace composites factory. All of these companies are not only examples of success stories – they have also created a roadmap for how best to find, hire, and train veterans. And it's our job to make sure those lessons are being heard. So today I want to lay out a few things that all businesses – large and small – can do to bring our nation's heroes into their companies.

"First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the benefits of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can't tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and on resumes fail to get through to interviewers.
"Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning servicemembers. This is something I've seen done at large organizations like
Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills
developed during military service but also utilize on-the-job training.
"Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations, at local military bases to help connect veterans
with jobs, and to work with local One-Stop Career Centers.
"Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,
"And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.
"Thank you. I yield the floor."

Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
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