Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Spirit of Barack

the spirit of barack

December 13, 2009, that's "The Spirit of Barack." I think I need to do a Hemlock Grove spoof where Michelle's Shelley.  Shelley! OMG, I wonder if that's why she looks the way she does.  :D

This was a good drawing of Barack's face that fell apart when I tried to note the lines.  He has a lot of lines.  You'll notice that I immediately did not try that again for a very long time (over three years).  I'm also not good about applying the splotch by his nose because if I go to heavy it looks like something else.  So I generally don't draw it in.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2013. Chaos and violence continue, curfews and vehicle bans are imposed, armed clashes between rebels and federal forces break out, the press is s skittish about explaining how this whole situation arrived, Kevin Drum shows his tacky side (again) by using the dead and the wounded of Hawija to try to score cheap political points, and so much more.

Iraq is in crisis mode.  No one's helped by false 'facts.'  This, from World Bulletin, is wrong, "Thousands of Sunnis have been protesting since December, venting frustrations building up since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the empowerment of Iraq's Shi'ite majority through the ballot box."  Protests have been going on since December.  If you leave out Moqtada's followers who have participated from time to time, you can paint it as just Sunni.  But that's not the problem. You can't pin down a problem if you can't be honest.

"The empowerment of Iraq's Shi'ite majority through the ballot box"?  What have you been smoking? Quil Lawrence and all the other liars told us about that, remember?  Told us about it before the ballots were counted.  But, the ballots did get counted.  And the 2010 election didn't support the premise one bit.

Who came in first?  Not Nouri's State of Law -- a Shi'ite collection.  Iraqiya came in first.  It's often wrongly identified as Sunni by the press.  Ayad Allawi, the head of Iraqiya, is Shi'ite.  Iraqiya surprised the know-nothing press by besting Nouri's State of Law.

They misread 2009 elections and were sure they knew what was going to happen in 2010.  Which is how you got, the day after the election, Quil Lawrence on NPR raving about how Nouri's State of Law won by a large measure.  Didn't happen.

In 2009, one of the elements in the data appeared to be that voters were rejecting the sectarian identity.  That wouldn't have been a surprise.  The sectarian identity was seen by many as something imposed on Iraqis by the US after the start of the war.  Even those who want to quibble over that can generally agree that the US fostered that sectarian identity and encouraged it.

The 2010 elections repeated the pattern.  Iraqis were seeking a national identity (as they had prior to the start of the illegal war).  There are numerous reasons for this -- most of which we've repeatedly gone into while the know-nothing press has refused to do their job -- but the point is that Iraqiya won.
SOme in the press want to knock the win by insisting it wasn't big enough.  If you win a track race by a-half-a-second, you won that race.  If you win a US Senate race by one vote, you won that race.

If the vote was close, you might ask for a recount.  Which Nouri did, stomping his feet and whining as is usually the case for the overgrown baby.

But even after the recounts, Iraqiya won.  It was a new Iraq, that's what it presented.  Not an occupied Iraq, not an Iraq controlled by the fundamentalist thugs.  It was an Iraq made up of Sunnis and Shi'ites and anyone else who wanted to join, it was men and women and the women weren't decoration. It's slogan could have been "We are today's Iraq."  And that's what the voters embraced.

So, no, 2010 was not about "the empowerment of Iraq's Shi'ite majority through the ballot box."

The votes went with Iraqiya. Here's what happened -- and it matters and the people have said so, they said so this year, they said so in 2012 and they said so in 2011.  At some damn point, you either admit you don't care about what you're writing or you start listening to what the people are actually saying.

Per the Constitution, Iraqiya had first shot at the post of Prime Minister.  How it works in Iraq, confusing to many Americans, the prime minister-designate is decided by who has the most seats in the Parliament.  The prime minister-designate is a post that lasts no longer than 30 days.

During those 30 days, the designate has to be able to form a Cabinet.  Failure to do so within thirty days means someone else is named prime minister-designate by the president of Iraq. This is a full Cabinet -- another element that's too hard for the press to grasp.  If it was a partial or almost Cabinet there wouldn't be a 30 day deadline.  The 30 day deadline is to prove, as one of the writers of the Constitution now in the US explained to me, that you can govern by consensus, you can build consensus.  So you nominate people for your Cabinet and the Parliament approves of these people.  And then you move from prime minister-designate to prime minister.  Or, if you fail to build consensus, if Parliament shoots down a nominee and you don't manage to pull together the Cabinet in 30 days, someone else is named prime minister-designate.

Now Barack Obama couldn't support democracy.  That's bad enough but he and his staff were so stupid that they didn't even realize how to rig the process.

Bully Boy Bush wanted Nouri in 2006 (he rejected Ibrahim al-Jaffari -- some pin that decision on Condi Rice, doesn't matter Bush was the ultimate vote on that).  In 2010, A Problem From Hell Samantha Power insisted that the US had to stay with Nouri.  This was based in part on the fact that the idiot is f**ked-up beyond repair and also because she's a liar who believes in manipulation and not honesty.  (Is it any wonder that she'd end up with Cass I-Love-Propaganda Sunstein?) Her failings aren't the issue once Barack adopts her position.  Like Bush, he's ultimately responsible.

I'm not endorsing ignoring the will of the people, but if you're brazen enough to do that, have the damn sense to do it in a way that doesn't make the people feel cheated.

What does that mean?  After 2010 elections, the US government spread a lot of cash around Iraq and made a lot of verbal promises to get The Erbil Agreement.

That was always unnecessary.  They still could have rigged it and could have done so in a way that still followed the country's Constitution.  Have President Jalal Talabani name Ayad Allawi prime minister-designate.  Use the same cash and the same verbal promises to ensure that he didn't get a full Cabinet.  Parliament rejected one or two nominees and the 30 days had expired.  Then Jalal could have named Nouri al-Maliki to be prime minister-designate.

That would have followed the Constitution, it would have appeared to honor the will of the people.  It certainly wouldn't have created the hostilities that Barack's 'three-dimensional chess' did.

They wanted to rig the process and, suffering from the Freudian compulsion of a crook to confess, apparently they wanted it known.

So when Nouri refused to allow the process to move forward -- let's explain that.  In January 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as US President.  Following the end of the recounts, April 2010, it was time for a prime minister-designate to be named, for members of Parliament to be sworn in and hold sessions.  Nouri refused.  It was as if Bully Boy Bush announced January 1, 2009, "I'm not leaving the White House."  And Barack's White House backed up Nouri.

They begged the press -- which was eager to go along -- to downplay what was happening.  Some in the press were appealed to under the pretense of, "This is such a thorny issue, we really need to think about how explosive this could be."  So reality was downplayed.  Explosive?  Maybe it would have been.  But you can't downplay an explosion.  You may be able to push it back but it will go off.

We called it a "political stalemate" here and were the first.  After three months it began to be a popular term.  For over eight months, Nouri refused to step down.  That takes us to November.  The US has been bribing and promising the political blocs all along.  Nouri is the White House's choice.  That's become obvious to everyone involved in Iraq. 

It was also obvious to many in the press leading to humiliating moments for Barack like in  when the Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality."

While he was taking his licks on the international stage, he had US officials telling the leaders of the Iraqi political blocs, as the US brokered a contract known as The Eribl Agreement, "This has lasted eight months already, Nouri could hold out for another eight months.  Do the right thing here, be the bigger person, put Iraq first.  It really doesn't matter who has 'prime minister.' It's going to have to be a power-sharing government because State of Law didn't win.  So just give him the post of prime minister and we'll write up in this contract and we'll put what you want in the contract to and it will be a legally binding contract with the full backing of the US government."

Before it was signed, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Australia November 8, 2010 and stated:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Probably over the course of the last eight months, we've had many indications that they were close to an agreement, they were on the brink of government formation, they had worked out their power-sharing arrangements only not to see that come to fruition. But it is fair to say that we have been consistently urging the Iraqis to have an inclusive government that reflects the interests and needs of the various segments of the population, the there had to be legitimate power-sharing amongst different groups and individuals. And that is what we hope at the end of this process [. . .] will be the result of all of their negotiation.

That same day, Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reported Nouri's spokesperson "claimed an agreement has been struck for him to remain in office."  November 9th talks went on:

Today, meetings continued. Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reminds, "Leading up to Monday's meeting, officials had said they were close to completing an agreement, but remarks made by a number of the leaders indicated that they have yet to address key sticking points that remain unresolved ahead of this week's parliament session." And Raheem Salman and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) point out, "If they fail to strike a deal, the stalemate could drag on for months. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports the US is pressuring Kurds to step aside regarding the presidency so that someone from Iraqiya can be president -- Fadel names US Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain (in person in Baghdad) and US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden -- and that Nouri "is trying to garner the backing he needs [from Iraqi politicians] to keep his post without ceding any of his power.  Maliki emerged as the likeliest candidate for the top job in the new government when he secured the support of the Sadrists, a populist Shiite political movement opposed to the U.S. presence here." BBC News reports that Allawi and Tareq al-Hashemi did not show for today's meet up (al-Hashemi is also a member of Iraqiya as well as Iraq's Sunni Vice President) and that "[a]nother issue still to be resolved is whether parliament will meet on Thursday as previously announced." Sammy Ketz (AFP) reports that Iraq's Shi'ite Vice President, Adel Abdel Mehdi, walked out of today's meeting. Alsumaria TV reports that MP Saifya Al Suhail spoke out about the absence of women present in the deal making and that she stated, "A democratic Iraq cannot be built without women contribution to the political decision." Mazin Yahya (AP) adds, "Producing a deal by Thursday's scheduled parliamentary session will be difficult and while legislators have watched other deadlines come and go, there is a marked sense of urgency about meeting this court-appointed deadline to hold the session."  So, reports indicate, day two was actually less productive than day one since all players were not present and no big announcement was made.  When this was originally planned, it was thought it would be three days with main principles participating for the first two days only -- during which time, it was promoted, all the big points would be ironed out.  That does not appear to have happened.  Especially when Alsumaria TV is reporting that Iraqiya stated today "that the possibility of withdrawing is still open".

I believe  Leila Fadel (Washington Post) was the first to report what the rumors said the make up of the government would be: "Under the deal reached Wednesday, the parliament is expected to appoint a speaker from Iraqiya, then name the current Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, as president. He, in turn, will name Maliki as prime minister. Maliki will then have to put together a cabinet that a simple majority in Iraq's parliament will have to approve."  November 11, 2010, Parliament met:

Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports one hiccup in the process today involved Ayad Allawi who US President Barack Obama phoned asking/pleading that he accept the deal because "his rejection of post would be a vote of no confidence". Ben Lando, Sam Dagher and Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) confirm the phone call via two sources and state Allawi will take the post -- newly created -- of chair of the National Council On Higher Policy: "Mr. Obama, in his phone call to Mr. Allawi on Thursday, promised to throw U.S. weight behind the process and guarantee that the council would retain meaningful and legal power, according to the two officials with knowledge of the phone call."  So all is well and good and . . . Ooops!!!! Lando, Dagher and Coker file an update, Iraqiya wasn't happy and walked out of the session.  Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that "a dispute erupted in the Council of Representatives chamber when the mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc argued that the agreement they had signed on to was not being honoured, prompting the bloc's MPs to storm out. [. . .] Specifically, Iraqiya had called for three of their lawmakers, barred for their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party, to be reinstated before voting for a president." 

 Barack was deeply involved.  Don't pretend otherwise now.  And don't pretend that Sunnis are frustrated by "the empowerment of Iraq's Shi'ite majority through the ballot box." That is an utter lie.  And it does not one damn thing to explain what's happening on the ground today.  

Now we're going to move a lot quicker and if you need remedial, the links to the archives are to the right, scroll down.  We don't have the time or space to be pulling each day to explain with citations to everyone who forgot, or never paid attention, what happened.

In January of 2011, Nouri's Cabinet was still not complete.  The Erbil Agreement was extra-Constitutional.  It went around the Constitution.  Suddenly, the Constitution was trashed.  It no longer mattered if a Nouri had a full Cabinet or not.  Nouri's whores in the press, there are so many, assured you that this was temporary and that Nouri would soon nominate people to be the Minister of Interior (over the federal police), the Minister of Defense (over the military) and the Minister of National Security.  That never happened.  Ayad Allawi called it a power-grab back then and he was right and the press whores were wrong.

Last July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."  That remains true to this day.  Those posts are empty.

In 2011, the people do not believe that the government is working.  By the end of Februrary 2011, there are mass protests.  The Arab Spring or 'Arab Spring' (a media fascination with Cairo that never really translated into support or even interest in protesters in other areas) was sweeping the region and tossing out politicians.  Nouri feared he might lose the post the US government had given him twice now.  Jobs, he'd create them.  Public services, he'd improve them.  Abuse and corruption?  He would address it.  Give him 100 days.

Cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr appears to have matured over the years and today plays it very wisely in public.  That was not true in February 2011 when Nouri begged and pleaded with Moqtada to call off the protests.  Moqtada called on his people to go home and give Nouri 100 days.  Other Iraqis continued protesting.  No surpries -- we said it would happen repeatedly before it did -- 100 days came and went and Nouri didn't do a damn thing.  Nouri makes empty promises -- over and over -- and then doesn't keep them.  Apparently the February 2011 promise in an AFP interview that he wouldn't seek a third term as prime minister is one of those as well.  He had to make that promise then because protests were rolling Iraq.

By the time the 100 days ends, we're in the summer of 2011.  This is when Moqtada, the KRG (that's President Jalal Talabani, KRG President Massoud Barzani and others) and Iraqiya go public demanding that The Erbil Agreement be implemented.  All that happened was Nouri got to be prime minister.  Nouri refused to honor it.  That was obvious when the December 2010 census in Kirkuk was immediately called off by the end of November.  He lied the way he always does.

And Ayad Allawi never got the post he was promised.  This is the promise not just in The Erbil Agreement but that US President Barack Obama told him on the phone he would be getting.  Do you not get why the US image is yet again mud in Iraq?  Iraqis were hoping for a change with the exit of Bush and the arrival of Barack.  They just found another liar and another manipulator.

Let's leap ahead to 2012 when the press decided to whore big time for Nouri.  As the latter half of the year rolled around, Nouri began declaring that the government wasn't working.  Therefore, he stated, it was time to end the power-sharing.  And all the little whores and all their whore friends pretended to discuss this.  But their starting point was that day.

There whores who deliberately and repeatedly lie for Nouri.  It doesn't matter what he wants, he signed a contract agreeing to a power-sharing government.  That's a detail the bulk of the press just never find time to include in their reports.  

These are not minor points.  This is exactly why Iraqis are protesting.  

 And it's not that difficult to understand.  It can also be done a lot quicker.  If I had done it quicker, we'd have 1000 e-mails tomorrow insisting, for example, that Barack wasn't involved.  That's why we've included the excerpts from real time. 

We do need to again note John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq’s first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."

Yeah, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor wrote a whole book about how Iraq ended up where it is.  And what was the response to that?  As Ava and I pointed out last year in "TV: Media continued fail:"

Equally curious is who you don't see.  Gwen Ifill doesn't know a damn thing about foreign policy so asking her to moderate the segment was laughable.  Equally laughable was not going with a NewsHour foreign policy guest for the segment. In fact, we're thinking of one in particular: Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times. Gordon's appeared multiple times on The NewsHour.  Strangely, he wasn't booked for the segment on foreign policy last week. Why would that be? If you're wondering, he's not suddenly press shy.  To the contrary, he has a new book to sell, one he co-wrote with Bernard E. Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. The book came out Tuesday. Generally, that means you can expect to see and hear Gordon all over PBS and NPR. Strangely, that has not been the case.  No NPR coverage last week of the book.  No come on The NewsHour for a discussion.  Frontline loved to have him on in the past but now now.  Charlie Rose?  He has appeared 12 times in the last ten years on Rose's PBS and Coca Cola program.  But he was no where to be found last week. Did Gordon show up at the PBS office party loaded on booze with little Gordon hanging out of his fly? No, he did something far worse than that. He dared to criticize Barack -- the ultimate media faux pas.

I'm not a Michael Gordon groupie.  Most of the time when his name pops up here -- check the archives -- I'm calling him out.  He co-wrote an important book worth noting (The Endgame) but it was too uncomfortable for NPR and PBS.  Now they were fine -- and probably still are -- booking him to promote war on Iran.  But telling some truth about Iraq?  They didn't want to know him. Before that book, you couldn't escape him on NPR and PBS -- and I groaned through every one of those appearances.  But when he finally had something to say that really mattered?  Public television and public radio suddenly lost his number.

It's not unlike, for example, if you lie to try to start a war in Syria, getting a promotion at NPR -- but that's a tale Ava and I'll share on Sunday at Third.  Reporters whore not out of the love of whoring but because they make money by whoring.

You need to grasp that because a pattern emerges.  It's not by accident that the western media keeps getting the story wrong and keeps failing to inform.  At all levels, over and over, we see a refusal to honestly discuss or report on Iraq. 

I don't care for Colin Freeman (Telegraph of London) but a friend at his paper called and pointed out "gunmen" or "assailants" wasn't used in Colin's latest.  He called the people who 'seized' their own town "Sunni guerrillas."  Yes, that is an improvement.  So we'll link and we'll even note his first paragraph:

With civil war now raging in Syria, and post-Arab Spring governments taking their first unsteady steps in Egypt and Libya, it’s all too easy to forget the unfinished business that is Iraq. The tenth anniversary of the operation to unseat Saddam Hussein went barely noticed in the West last month, where neither the pro-war or anti-war camps seem particularly keen on to dwell on it. For some, it's a fiasco best forgotten altogether, while for others, it's time to move on now that the basics have been achieved: a dictator toppled, American and British troops withdrawn, and the trappings of a democratic government in place, even if it still suffers from corruption and authoritarianism.

Now, wait a second, you say, there were all those pieces.  No.  As we noted in real time those pieces weren't about Iraq.  They had nothing to do with the suffering children, with the poverty, with the ongoing protests.  They were "I paid attention in 2003 so let me pretend like these old observations are fresh and new."  It was about their grudge f**k against Bully Boy Bush passed off as Iraq commentary.  If you ever doubted it, check out the over-praised Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.  Drum links to the Los Angeles Times on the slaughter or Hawija Tuesday and then, after a lengthy excerpt, this is what Drum actually writes:

This is all Obama's fault, amiright? George Bush—currently enjoying a sudden resurgence of love from conservatives this week—was right on the verge of working everything out and bringing peace and harmony to Iraq when Obama was elected and ruined everything. That's the story I've been hearing for the past couple of years from the neocon rump, anyway.

You stupid piece of s**t.  I hope that's clear enough for Kevin Drum. Over 50 protesters died.  And what you have to offer is partisan bulls**t?  You should be ashamed to show your face in public. 
Alsumaria noted yesterday that Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk) has announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.  50 people are dead, 110 are injured and you don't say one damn word about them?  You are disgusting and inhumane.

Oh, I forget, Kevin Drum supported the illegal war.  Today he's at Mother Jones and whines about neocons.  But in 2003, Kevin Drum was a War Cheerleader.  He didn't give a damn about Iraqis then and he doesn't now.  So, yes, Colin Freeman's right about the lack of explorations on Iraq last month.

Kristin Deasy (Global Post) should slice of a piece of the shame pie before Drum finishes it all.  Her nonsense is mismash of half-facts and a lousy timeline.  This gets to what we were talking about this morning.  The press re-sets the clock for Nouri.  Doesn't matter that the alarm went off, for example, with the slaughter of Hawija -- the Nouri al-Maliki ordered slaughter, he commands those forces and he sent them there.  Doesn't matter that he spent last week verbally attacking the protesters in speeches around Iraq (until he was greeted with cries of "Liar! Liar!" and forced to retreat to Baghdad).  She has the nerve to say that Nouri's calling for peace (the headline, in fact screams it).  So after he set fire to the village, he hollered "Someone call 9-11?"  Is that it, Kristin?

This is what the bulk of the press does repeatedly with Nouri.  They strip away the background for whatever happens in Iraq so he is never responsible.  That's why the fact that violence has increased since 2011 isn't ever connected by the press to Iraq not having a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior or a Minister of National Security.  These are posts that Nouri is supposed to nominate people for.   He has refused to do so in order to have control over those posts and the federal police and the military. (Why?  Because his paranoia always sees a coup.)  Over 400 dead last month, it may reach 500 this month.  Violent deaths.  World Bulletin reports 92 deaths on Tuesday and Wednesday. And these positions aren't filled so Nouri's in charge of them.  At what point is he held accountable by the press for that?  Apparently never.  This was on display today at the US State Dept press briefing.  With all the violence rolling Iraq right now, you'll be happy to know Iraq came up.  At the very end.  With a question about oil.  That's where the press is at, never forget it.

The western press.  If you go to Lebanon, for example, you'll find the editorial board of The Daily Star hasn't been cowed:

Maliki’s government has done little to resolve long-standing disputes over the relationship of the Kurdish areas of the country to the central government in Baghdad; the Iraqi authorities also have a long-festering relationship with the Sunni political community. A vice president from that community, Tareq Hashemi, was officially charged in late 2011 with involvement in terror attacks, and was obliged to flee to Kurdistan, which highlights the dismal state of national affairs.
But the horrific violence that has erupted over the past few days in several Iraqi cities should serve as a reminder that the Arab world isn’t the same place as it was at the beginning of 2011. The sectarian and other fault lines were there before, but when Iraqi government forces respond to public protests by using bullets and helicopters, they have acted in the same, inflexible and violent way that has been used by authoritarian Arab regimes.

Alsumaria adds that former Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi declared today that the government has failed with regards to politics, security and public service and that the people are hostages of revenge and violence stemming from this failure. He decried the assault on the protesters in Hawija and said the country is in grave danger.  Adel Abdul-Mahdi was vice president for two terms.  He resigned, summer 2011, in the middle of his second term. The Shi'ite politician announced his disgust with Nouri's failure to keep his 100 day promise to end corruption and gave that as his reason for resigning.

Thank goodness for the Middle East press which shows more bravery and truth than the alleged free press of western society.  It is because of this kind of push back, especially in Arabic media, that Nouri's had to back down.  As Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports today, Nouri's had to drop his attacks on the dead in Hawija and stop calling them "terrorists." 

Hou Qiang (Xinhua) 'reports,' "The Iraqi cabinet decided Tuesday to hold the provincial elections in the Sunni provinces of Anbar and Nineveh on July 4, after they were delayed for security reasons, state-run television reported Tuesday."  Did they?  Reporting would require noting that it's the responsibility of the IHEC to set the dates.  Reporting would require so much more than Xinhua -- or other outlets -- have offered.  The United Nations issued a statement today which includes:

24 April 2013 – The top United Nations official in Iraq today expressed his disappointment at the Government’s decision to postpone until early July Governorate Council elections in two western provinces, reportedly due to security concerns.
Polls in Anbar and Ninewa, set to have taken place along with other provincial elections on 20 April, were pushed back until 4 July.

The Economist notes today:

In the provinces of al-Anbar and Nineveh, where Sunnis predominate and where anti-government protests have raged since December, the postponement of voting may help keep unpopular local politicians allied with Mr Maliki in power. But the government in Baghdad has become increasingly cut off from Iraq's restless provinces, literally as well as politically. Army roadblocks on the road from Fallujah, west of the capital, routinely prevent its residents from leaving their city.

The slaughter in Hawija continues to dominate events in Iraq.  NINA quotes Iraqiya MP Falah al-Naqib stating, "Since Iraq is still under Chapter VII that means the UN should play a bigger role, especially after what happened in Hawija."  All Iraq News reports Kurdish MP Latif Mustafa held a press conference today and declared, "The recent events in Hawija approved that the Premier, Nouri al-Maliki, represents a danger on Iraq."  He outlined Hawija events, "What happened in Hawija exceed the red limits of the government where Maliki announced the emergency condition and this a constitutional breach and the second breach is deploying the army inside the cities without the approval of the parliament.  The third breach is using the army for attacking the citizens since the demonstrations represent an internal issue and the police can deal with them."  Don't hold your breath waiting for AFP or Jane Arraf to ever note those basics.  Things like the law, they don't interest AFP and Arraf and make it harder to spin for Nouri.   MP Mustafa summed up, "Maliki became a danger on Iraq and we should investigate him at the parliament."

RT speaks with Westchester University Professor Lawrence Davidson who pins the violence on the the illegal war ["Since 2003, thousands, tens of thousands people have died as a part of this sectarian violence. We (US) opened Pandora’s box and we could not close it even when we were there."] and  he notes, "Maliki government's reputation has already hit bottom.  What we got is a government that is determined to maintain its position and crush opposition, particularly Sunni politicians."

The BRussells Tribunal carries this statement of solidarity with the people of Hawija and the rebels:

The government of Iraq, installed under occupation and maintained after the US retreat, has committed a new massacre against peaceful protesters in the town of Hawija. The forces used and the way it was achieved reminds us of the Fallujah massacre at the beginning of the occupation.
Although towns in six departments are protesting in the same way, the government chose to attack this town, to make it an example for other larger cities. They attack it because the peaceful protests are a success.
At dawn, protesters in Hawija were encircled by forces in great number, ground and air, their tents burnt while they were unarmed inside. Those who tried to escape were fired at or crushed by military vehicles. There is news that even the wounded are being killed. A wave of solidarity is mounting in reaction while armed resistance movements, in support of the peaceful protests until now, are moving to block a government escalation of violence. 
The reasons of the protest are well known: 10 years of targeted discrimination and oppression of every kind. Their peaceful protest has been ongoing since four months without an answer to their human rights demands. The government chose the second day after local elections to punish in cold blood the protesters, announcing it will continue its policies whatever the result of the election would be.
This massacre is not only a crime against humanity; it is genocide. It is neither a civil conflict nor a sectarian one. It is a crime of a government against a national group, the Sunnis, who would vote against its politicsand who demand to stop hangings, campaigns of mass arrests, systematic torture, unfair justice and false accusations, to stop the discrimination in jobs, in education, in services, making their regions and cities large prisons encircled by military checkpoints and towering walls.
We are in solidarity with the peaceful protesters and their just demands. We call on all governments and human rights organisations to condemn this massacre and to unite efforts to bring Nouri Al-Maliki and all those responsible before international justice, not only to punish individually, but to stop the state terrorism and to prevent a larger violence — like that used in Syria — that would endanger peace in the whole region and entail very heavy civilian losses.
We join calls for the end of the fascist Maliki regime; the immediate departure of the head of the army command, the minister of interior, Maliki, his government, and the fascist ruling party. The international community, the UN and relevant bodies, should endorse the same end.
We express our support for the Iraqi people struggling against state terror and salute the solidarity of Iraqis with Hawija.
Abdul Ilah Albayaty
Hana Al Bayaty
Ian Douglas

Abdul Ilah Albayaty is an Iraqi political analyst. Hana Al Bayaty is an author and political activist. IanDouglas is a specialist in the geopolitics of the Arab region and has taught at universities in the US, UK, Egypt and Palestine.

 On violence, through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 444 people dead from violence so far this month.  NINA notes that overnight in Mosul, armed clashes left 2 police officers and 1 military officer dead (and six more police injured) and ten people were killed in Mosul,  while today a Falluja home invasion left 2 Sahwa leaders dead, a Falluja drive-by left three of Nouri's federal forces injured, an Abid-Weis (north of Hilla) roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police and left two more injured, a sniper injured a police officer in Falluja, a Najaf bombing claimed 1 life and left twenty-five people injured, rebels stormed a Mosul military checkpoint and took weapons and military vehicles, rebels and the military clashed in Diayala Province, rebels and federal forces clashed in Falluja, rebels and federal forces clashed in Samarra and Dour, and  2 federal forces and 2 rebels were killed in another Samarra clash (with four forces left injured).

And the response to the above?  Ramdia and Falluja have a vehicle ban, there are curfews (Salahuddin and Diyala) and none of that's going to do a damn bit of good.

Calls for talks aren't either. There's is an incredible failure to understand the Iraqi people.  This is not occupied Palestine where, for decades, generations have grown up under an occupation.  This the Iraqi people who took the attitude of wait-out the occupiers (US forces).  They're not waiting now.  More than that, there's been a bodily reaction.  They're primed to fight now.  The fear-or-flight response has been engaged for days now.  Simple talk isn't going to change a damn thing.  In their chests is tightness, a strong physical reaction.  It can come out in violence, at it has so far.  It can come out in sobs.  What took place in Hawija shouldn't take place anywhere.  And the lies that get told do not help. This morning federal forces were claiming they had released all the protesters they rounded up that day in Hawija -- all 42.  Oops, they had some more. Okay, now they've released all 93.  These lies only add to the tension.  The failure of the world leaders, of all of them, to condemn what happened cannot be minimized.  One leader speaking up.  That's all it would have taken.  And those grieving would have felt recognized.  Instead, the world's told them they're on their own.  They're grieving, they're angry and they were wronged.  This is explosive and Nouri's going to have to make real concessions.  The world press should be preparing him for that or preparing for a blood bath.  It is as though a body memory is being created.  Nonsense about 'both sides were wrong . . .'  No.  One side had tanks and fired from helicopters.  The other side was engaged in a sit-in.  That's obvious to the Iraqis who are outraged now and the failure of so many outsiders to grasp that only increases the outrage.

In related news, Iraqi Spring MC reports that defections from the military are taking place in Hawija.  After the events, that's hardly a surprise and that's before you factor in what happened in Basra in 2008 when Nouri sent his forces there to attack.

 Last year, Iraq made it into the top five for executions as a result of at least 129 executions in 2012.  (The US was shamefully in the top five as well.)  Today Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the death penalty which includes:

 (Baghdad) – A striking increase in executions in Iraq points out the failure of Iraq’s justice system to meet international fair trial standards. The surge in judicial killings came shortly after the government conceded that justice system reforms are desperately needed.

 Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani has announced a series of reforms since January 2013, in response to widespread protests in which demonstrators demanded reforms to the ailing justice system, but it is unclear whether any of the promises have been carried out. Instead of any action on these reforms, Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari announced in mid-March that the ministry would execute 150 people in the coming days. At least 50 people have been executed in the last month.
“The government seems to think that the best way to combat the increase in violence and terror that Iraq has suffered since the beginning of the year is with yet more state killing and injustice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The concurrent escalation in attacks and in executions makes clear that its brutal tactics are not working.”


the telegraph of london
richard spencer

Read on ...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

It takes a starlet

It takes a starlet

That is the worst Barack cartoon I ever did in terms of looking like Barack. Here's what happens.  Over time, it doesn't really matter.  You are -- as the one drawing -- imposing your view and creating your own little character.  You can even -- as Doonesbury sometimes does -- make it a hat or invisible.  That's fine.

But I don't have that kind of confidence.  So I was forever asking, "What do I need to change?  What's not looking right?"  The feedback was that I was making Barack's face too wide. 

SO I tried making it longer there and I don't know what the hell that is.  A death mask?  A skeleton?

It's more than okay to make fun of that drawing, I do.

It's not my all time least favorite but it is the worst drawing I ever did of Barack.

From December 6, 2009, it's "It takes a starlet."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most significant flaw is this claim:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite that legal status and the the legal obligation on the part of the US government to protect the residents, since Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, Nouri has ordered not one but two attacks on Camp Ashraf resulting in multiple deaths.  Let's recap.  July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."  Under court order, the US State Dept evaluated their decision to place the MEK on the terrorist list and, September 28th, they took them off the terrorist list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary Eric Shinseki: That's correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lie?  Yes, Allison was present.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allison Hickey:  Uh, well, uh --

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

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

We'll close with this from The Headstrong Project:

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

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