Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Hot Topics Dumpster

"The Hot Topics Dumpster"


From March 19, 2011, that's  "The Hot Topics Dumpster.

C.I. wrote:

A man explains, "I am Danny Dumb Dump. Your Hot Topic Dumpster. The most pressing issue today is Japan. We must all focus. I really mean it. This time. Not like when I said the same thing about Egypt. Or about the economy. Or about Iraq." This is the first of four comics Isaiah's done for this weekend. Three (that's counting the one above) deal with the cowardly who can't speak to the Iraq War. One is White House comic. Isaiah archives his comics at The World Today Just Nuts.

The man, of course, was Danny Schechter.

Danny used Iraq to make his name bigger and then dropped it in pursuit of hot topics.

He has no consistency and no follow through.

I used to like him when he pretended to care about Iraq.

When he lost interest in it, I lost interest in him.

So by the time 2008 rolled around and Danny was on hands and knees with his fat ass in the air 'presenting' to Barack, it didn't matter all that much to me -- I already knew Danny Schechter was a fraud.

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the VA scandal continues, a VA official knew about the Phoenix wait list and did nothing to help the veterans, Congress holds hearings, Brett McGurk makes clear what the US government focuses on in Iraq (it's three letters but it's not s-e-x), and much more.

Starting in the US where James Warren (New York Daily News) notes, "By two counts (Military Times and ABC News), we’re up to more than 80 members of Congress calling for the scalp of Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki, including several Democratic senators who face very tough re-election fights as their party and President Obama strain to hold their Senate majority."  On CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, US House Rep Steve Israel joined the call today.

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following yesterday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, May 28, 2014                                                                          
(202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Murray Statement on VA OIG Interim Report

WASHINGTON, D.C --- Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released the following statement after the VA Office of the Inspector General released their interim report after their review of patient wait times, scheduling practices, and alleged patient deaths at the Phoenix Health Care System.

“Today’s interim report confirms what many of us have been saying for years: the VA has deep-seated structural and cultural challenges, and our veterans can’t afford to wait any longer for these problems to be solved. The VA needs to stop rewarding bad behavior and create a real system of accountability and transparency. It needs to put an end to what appears to be a pervasive culture of lying, cheating, and mismanagement. And it needs to act right away—without waiting for more reports to come out detailing even more system-wide failures. As I have told Secretary Shinseki, we are at the point where good intentions are no longer good enough—we need to see real actions to make sure our veterans are getting the support and care they expect and deserve, and we need to see that right away.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

Again, that was issued yesterday.  Last night, there was no accountability from the VA for their actions. There was even an attempt by the VA to insist that the Phoenix secret list was not, in fact, secret from the VA.

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Congressman, I don't think these lists were secret --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  How did you not find them, Dr. Lynch?  You were there.

Dr. Thomas Lynch: I did find them, Congressman!

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  How many were on the list?

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Pardon?

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  You told me you didn't even look at this list.

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  I told you we didn't document the numbers.  I told you we were aware --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  You saw the list?

Dr. Thomas Lynch: We were aware of the problem.

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Why didn't you report to the press and to Mr. Shinseki and to the President of the United States that there were 1100 veterans waiting for care on that list?  Did you tell anybody about this?  You waited 35 days.  35 days.  You said that you care about veterans, you care about them, they waited on a list, languishing!

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Congressman, I was focused on trying to improve the process --

US House Rep tim Huelskamp:  What about the 1100 veterans?  So you knew about these veterans that were waiting for care --

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, I wish I had identified the number of veterans and we could have moved forward more quickly.

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Did you try to do anything to get care for these veterans, 1100 veterans, waiting?  Some of them might have been on the list that died.

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, we identified the processes and we put people on the ground --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Yes or no?  Did you do anything for those 1100 veterans?

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, I put in place an understanding of the process which allowed us --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  They are still waiting for treatment. Sir, I think that is your answer.  I yield back to the Chairman.

Again, that's from Wednesday night's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the VA's inability to provide the Committee with information in a timely and accurate manner.  US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Committee Chair, US House Rep Mike Michaud is the Ranking Member.

The Committee held from one panel which was comprised of VA's Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations Dr. Thomas Lynch; the VA's Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney; and the VA's Congressional Relations Officer Michael Huff.

Inability to provide information?

Since March 14, 2013, US House Rep Tim Huelskamp has been asking for a list of "those who had been punished."  He still hasn't gotten the list.

"Meanwhile, the bonuses continue,"  Huelskamp noted.  "You realize, the information that we have, this is from a website source, we can't get it from your agency, but at Phoenix an $843,000 worth of bonuses. So it wasn't just the director.  It was over a two year period.  My question, what we haven't received yet is the listing of those who lost their bonuses for failures in the system?  Who are we going to hold accountable?"

Inability to provide information?

As Ruth reported on the hearing the VA has also been denying Congress access to VA employees.  Ranking Member Mike Michaud explained to Joan Mooney that when the Committee requested testimony from subject matter experts, these experts aren't allowed to testify.

Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  Okay, we have an e-mail and we'll be glad to share it with you, Ms. Mooney, from a subject matter expert saying that that is the policy of the VA.  Now we can address that, I brought it to Sloan Gibson's attention, I've talked to the Secretary [of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki] a number of times about the fact that the relationship between the Department [of Veterans Affairs] and this Committee is getting extremely strained because we are not able to get the information that we need to.  We tried to, at the beginning of my term as Ranking Member, we tried to smooth out some of the requests as far as going directly to the subject matter expert.  That has not worked.  And so hopefully, we'll be able to get that working the way it should be working, rebuild our trust and open line of communication.

At this point, there is no trust or open line of communication.  This morning, I noted US House Rep Beto O'Rourke

US House Rep Beto O'Rourke:  I hope you will do that.  Another thing that struck me, you were talking about a failure within the VA that resulted from elevating a performance measure into a goal which could possibly have led to the scandal in Phoenix and other -- perhaps other-other parts of the VA.  If the current performance measures are not working what are some recommendations that you have for how we measure performance at our VHA system?

Dr. Thomas Lynch: I-I -- Don't get me wrong, I think that we need to have performance measures.  I think that they need to be tools that help us understand our system.  And I think we need to focus on our primary goal which is: are we seeing veterans, is our system growing, are we providing quality care?  When those become the goals of the system, then you cannot game performance measures.  Performance measures become a tool.  If you ignore them, then you're actually hurting yourself because you're not growing your system like you're supposed to and as a director or an administrator you will fail.

So, according to Lynch's testimony, the goals of the VA were not "seeing veterans" or the growing system or "providing quality care."  If those had "become the goals of the system, then you cannot game performance measures." Performance measures were gamed via secret lists. That happened.

Lynch also told O'Roarke about one of VA's potential "plans."

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Congressman, one of the options we have been discussing internally is whether or not we could partner with the Veterans Service  Organizations and use their membership and use their members as, uh, an opportunity to identify the kind of service we're providing and where they're experiencing delays.  I think there is an opportunity there that clearly needs to be explored further.

The VA gets billions of dollars.  It's proven currently to be inept and criminal.  The answer VA floats is to utilize the labor of the VSOs and the veterans?  With all that money, VA can't provide its own oversight?  It's going to need to tax the VSOs?

And am I the only one who remembers that it was just months ago when the VA was slamming the figures of the American Legion?  But now it wants to use these VSOs to do the job that the VA should be doing on its own?

US House Rep David Jolly noted the "frustration" on the part of the Committee "because we do have an Article I authority to ask the questions but our frustration is rooted in the fact that while we conduct the necessary oversight as part of our Article I responsibility, we continue to hear of a wait list and know that there are wait lists.  And we are held accountable for that, from our constituents.  It's kind of a remarkable process that our constituents hold us responsible for a wait list created by the administration.  And that's probably fair because we have to execute our responsibility."

And if you're not grasping why the Committee is frustrated, let's note this very basic request made in last night's hearing and the VA response to it.

US House Rep Julia Brownley: My constituents and my veterans in my community are also saying there not so concerned about how we got there right now at this moment, but they want to resolve this issue in terms of getting a timely response and making sure that their health care needs -- both physical and mental -- are taken care of.  We've got to figure out the longterm problems, without question.  I think the one question that I wanted to conclude on is that I'm happy that we're going to do sort of a national audit.  I want to understand what that includes.  Does it include the Oxnard CBOC [Community Based Outpatient Clinic] in my district?  Does it go down to that level?  And I want to know 

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  It is my understanding that the audit has now been extended to all VA health care facilities. 

US House Rep Julia Brownley:  Very good.  Very good.  And then, if the VA could provide us with a timeline of every single facility and when this audit is going to take place  and when it will be completed and what are the results of that so that we have a timeline that we can report back to our districts on but so that we can also monitor and watch to make sure that we're covering every single facility across the country. Phoenix has brought a lot to our attention but I'm concerned about so many other facilites across the country.  And if I could get your commitment today that you will provide us with that information, I would be very appreciative.

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  I will do my best to get you that information.  I think it is available --

We're going to stop him right there.  "My best"?

The hearing took place because the Committee is having to subpoena the VA for basic information that the VA is required to supply Congress with.  Brownley's request is a basic one and it's nothing more than compiling a list and schedule.  If the VA hasn't already generated that internally, they should get on that.  But there should be "my best" to provide that basic information to Congress.  It should be, "Yes, we will provide that information."

On the audit . . .

US House Rep Mark Takano:  You state, Ms. Mooney, that the -- that you think the audit might be complete within a week -- a week or two?

Joan Mooney:  Yes.

US House Rep Mark Takano:  My question to you may seem a little perverse but how can you get the audit done so quickly given the scale of the department?  And is that a realistic, uhm, turnaround time for you?

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, maybe I'll try to answer that based upon what I know about the audits.  Uh, VA has mobilized resources from across our system.  We have asked each of the networks and facilities to provide volunteers to do these audits, to go out and evaluate hospitals so that we can get this audit completed in a timely fashion.

US House Rep Mark Takano:  Now, again, I go back to this issue of-of how good this information is that you're getting from people.  I mean, public officials have called for criminal investigations or turn this over to the Justice Dept.  Are people going to lawyer up, clam up?  I mean is that going to slow down the ability to get information out of people?

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  I am sure that there are people who are concerned.  I think that the IG is also our partner in this.  They have also been evaluating facilities -- particularly those with concerns.  They have authorities that we don't have to obtain the information that we need.  

Stop.  The Inspector General's office is not VA's "partner."  The IG exists to investigate VA.  The VA IG is already tasked with investigating over 40 VA medical centers currently.  They released an interim report on Phoenix this week.  They will not be able to release a report on the other medical centers for awhile.  So to claim that the two are working together is false in so many ways.

The IG is independent.  It can't coordinate with VA leadership in an investigation and be independent.  If Lynch understands what's going on an expressed it accurately to the Committee, the Committee needs to immediately take testimony from the IG's office because Lynch's remarks, if accurate, would indicate several walls in place to protect the independence of the IG office have now collapsed.

For the most part, the Committee did a good job.  Most part?

If I tell you a certain idiot not smart enough to grasp that when your wig has bangs, the bangs go directly in the front, will you know who I'm talking about?

If I say she referred to "Sinseki" and to hiring "hundreds of new peoples" and that someone "tol us" and "in fac" and "acquasations" and  all these words that, quite frankly, are not words and are beneath the US Congress.  If I told you that, you'd know who I was talking about, right?  If I told you she was among those called out this week by Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report, you'd know who I was talking about, right?

Corrine Brown, the biggest embarrassment in the House.   "Accusations," not "acquastations."  She really doesn't need to speak in public.  If her district is so desperate that she's the best they have to send to Congress, so be it, but she really needs to stop speaking in public unless she wants to be a monument to stupidity.  As Alex Leary (Tampa Bay Times) points out:

A stampede of Florida politicians, Republicans and Democrats, have joined the national outcry about problems at the VA. But Rep. Corrine Brown remains convinced about one thing:
“We’re doing fine in Florida,” she said this evening at a VA hearing, listing projects in the state.

Leary notes that Friday Senator Bill Nelson declared "heads should roll" over Florida VA conditions and that the Tampay Bay Times has "reported the story of a Largo veteran, Horace Lalley, a patient at the Young VA Medical Center, who died in 2012 of bladder cancer that his family says was misdiagnosed for years as a urinary tract infection."  Again, she needs to stop speaking in public.

This morning, there was another veterans hearing.

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Mr. Minney, my final question is about this electronic medical record that has been plaguing the VA and the DoD in attempting to communicate.  My understanding is that this often happens in the private world, they do communicate, it's actually a fairly regular process.  But the VA and the DoD cannot do that. That's my understanding.  Can you describe the situation that occured with Travis, given the current status, would that likely occur again? A veteran walks in and says "here's my medical records" -- where they show it's just paper.  Is that still the situation in many cases?

Glenn Minney: Yes, it is.  Travis is one of the unique individuals because he actually did have a copy of his health records.  But I've spent 21 years in the Navy as a corpsman in the medical field.  And then once I retired, I actually went to work for the VA.  So I can tell you right now DoD health records, they're not being transferred into the VA health system

This was a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing.  US House Rep Mike Coffman is the Subcommittee Chair and US House Rep Ann Kirkipatrick is the Ranking Member.  Blinded Veterans Association's Glenn Minney, veteran Rerry Kebbel and veteran Travis Fugate were the first panel.  The second panel was VA's Dr. Maureen McCarthy,  Lorraine Landfried, Dr. Mary Lawrence and Pat Sheehan.

I'll cover this hearing in tomorrow's gina &  krista round-robin.  We'll also note it in tomorrow's snapshot.

If the exchange above didn't make clear, there are serious problems with the 'seamless transition' of electronic records from the DoD to VA.
US House Rep Mark Takano:  One of my first Committee hearings was about this issue of the medical records not being able to be transferred from DoD into vista and I can barely contain the anger I feel about this situation and the millions and millions of dollars that have been spent trying to solve this situation and to hear that in the interum months between my first hearing and now that there seems to be no way to bridge this gulf between these two Departments.  It's bad enough to see a casualty of war but it's even worse to see that casualty of war made even more tragic by this systemic failure between these two Departments.  I don't know what to do about this.  It is frustrating to be a member of Congress and not be able to say "Fix this thing" and have it fixed. 

Phil Roe is a member of Congress and a doctor.  He noted something shocking.

US House Rep Phil Roe: Last year we had the VA and DoD come in and they just burned a billion dollars. A billion.  We're worried about three million?  We burned a billion dollars trying to make the DoD and the VA health care records speak to each other and they can't. They just quit.

We have noted this failure in snapshot after snapshot.  We've noted where the fault lies (Eric Shinseki) and who's failed on this (Eric Shinseki) and the press has ignored the failure in this area.

Maybe Roe's remarks will finally result in some coverage?

Meanwhile, Nouri's War Crimes continue in Iraq.  NINA notes his bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods have left 5 civilians dead today and eleven more injured ("including two members of the civil defense").  He just keeps on killing civilians and injuring them while pretending he's a leader.  And one worthy of a third term.

In other violence, National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baquba mortar attack left 2 people dead and five more injured, a Tuz Khurmatu roadside bombing left 4 family members dead, an al-Muqdadiyah bombing left two police members injured, an al-Aali Village battle left 2 Sahwa dead and a third wounded, 1 sniper was shot dead in Falluja, security forces say they killed 13 suspects in Falluja, Tigris Operations Command states they killed 14 suspects in Diyala Province, a Qayyarah bombing left 3 police members dead, a home invasion outside of Mosul left 1 police lieutenant-colonel dead, 5 farmers were shot dead in Shamsiat Village,  All Iraq News notes 3 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in Shurqat, 1 Sahwa was kidnapped in Shurqat, and the Basra Health Dept states the morgue has received 7 corpses (gun shots) in "the last three days."  Still on violence, Prashant Rao (AFP) notes that yesterday's death toll climbed to 74.

All Iraq News notes Ayad Allawi has sent a letter to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani "demanding him to intervene in the political and security affairs."  Adil E. Shamoo and Foreign Policy in Focus are becoming the Corinne Brown on Iraq.  Shamoo insists that it appears Iraq held free and fair elections.

Well if you don't count the documented -- with photographs -- ballot boxes tossed on the side of the road (with ballots in them).  From the May 5th snapshot:

Interesting picture documenting the credibility of the Iraqi elections.

El Sábado 3 de Mayo de 2014 15:37, Iraq Films <> escribió:
Ballot Boxes filled with Votes found on Suqoor Street just in front of the Agriculture college in Mosul University

Judge Qassim Al Aboudi the formal spokesman of the So called independen​t electoral commission in Iraq posing proud in a picture with the Mulla Style Military Commander of the Asaaib Militia in Baghdad Now what is an election official doing with a militia commander in the first place ???

There's the fact that Falluja and Ramadi weren't allowed to vote -- two of the most populated Sunni cities in the country, that even an NGO has questioned the vote in Australia (they feel the official tally is incorrect -- the NGO has made its concerns known to the United Nations, if they go public, we'll note their concern), that 2 million electronic voting cards were issued . . . to dead Iraqis who somehow managed to vote (talk about persistence).

Shamoo's either confused or lying here:

After the elections of 2010, Dawa Party head Nouri al-Maliki‘s Shia-backed coalition brokered a deal with other groups to win a second term for al-Maliki as prime minister. The central government under al-Maliki continued to enjoy the support of the oil-rich eastern and southern regions, which are Shia bastions. But al-Maliki accuses the Sunni Gulf states and Saudi Arabia of funding terrorist organizations in Iraq.

Nouri did not broker an agreement.  They're talking about The Erbil Agreement.  The US brokered it.  Nouri didn't have the standing with the political blocs to broker it.  The US government was behind that.

Shamoo wasn't paying attention in real time.  Foreign Policy In Focus really needs to learn how to be factual.  The US brokered The Erbil Agreement.  When it almost immediately fell apart, Barack was on the phone to Ayad Allawi.  These are what is known as "facts."  They were noted in real time here.  You can visit the following from November 2010 for starters:

On the elections, All Iraq News notes that Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission has extended the contesting of results period to Sunday (it was supposed to end today).

Moving over to the topic of oil, Baghdad is miffed at the KRG.  Despite generating tremendous oil revenues and despite it being the fifth month of 2014, the KRG has received no federal funds from Baghdad for the year -- has still received no funds.  Nouri's attempted to use these funds to blackmail the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. Possibly, as a result of this, last week, the KRG supplied Turkey with oil.  There is no oil and gas law in Iraq.

That didn't stop the State Dept's Brett McGurk from Tweeting 18 points last week:

2/18 This is an unfortunate development given the reasonable deal that has been on the table w/benefits for citizens in all parts of Iraq.
3/18 Our position: the US does not support export of oil from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the federal government.
4/18 This position is based on careful assessments of pathways to stability, economic models to max growth, existing laws, political risks.
5/18 We have informed all interested parties that any such transactions exposes them to potential legal risks.
6/18 This does not mean we take sides in internal disputes within Iraq.
7/18 Our aim is to encourage measures that have the broadest-possible consensus and help pull the country together.
8/18 Thus, we have worked intensely with all sides to forge a long-term solution on matters of energy exports and revenue sharing.
9/18 Over the past year, we helped develop a proposal with all sides that offers a win/win/win outcome.
10/18 The proposal resolves legal uncertainty over KRG exports and guarantees auto transfers for all revenues derived from KRG oil to Erbil.
11/18 It would immediately derive substantial and reliable revenues for the Iraqi people including tens of billions of dollars for the KRG.
12/18 We have encouraged the KRG to accept such a deal, thereby guaranteeing monthly revenue allocations based on Iraq’s total output.
13/18 We have also encouraged the GOI to guarantee full monthly revenue transfers to Erbil, regardless of budget deadlock. No excuses.
Moving over to news out of London.  RT reports:

An agreement to release details of communications between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-US President George W. Bush has been reached, promising to finally make public some extracts from sensitive conversations prior to the 2003 Iraq war.
The classified information is likely to be released as part of the Iraq inquiry – or Chilcot inquiry, after its chairman Sir John Chilcot – which was announced in June 2009 by Britain's then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The investigation aims to explore the UK's role in the Iraq war. The inquiry completed public hearings in 2011, and it was hoped the details would be delivered the same year.  

At the Iraq Inquiry's website, the following was posted today:

 On 28 May 2014 Sir John Chilcot wrote to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, to record his pleasure that agreement had been reached on the principles that will underpin disclosure of material from Cabinet-level discussions and communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States.  These documents have raised difficult issues of long-standing principle.
Agreement had already been reached on the details of what the Inquiry will publish in relation to more than 200 Cabinet and Cabinet Committee meetings. 
Detailed consideration of gists and quotes requested by the Inquiry from communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States has now begun.  It is not yet clear how long that will take but the Inquiry and the Government should work to complete the task as soon as possible.
Once agreement has been reached, the next phase of the Maxwellisation process can begin.  That process must be completed before the Inquiry's report can be finalised and sent to the Prime Minister

The Inquiry intends to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible.   

BBC News adds, "A deal between the Chilcot Inquiry and the government to publish only "quotes or gists" of discussions between President Bush and Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq war has been described as "disappointing" by the mother of soldier who died in the conflict."  Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) believes recent events suggest "that Chilcot himself gave quite a lot of ground some time back."  Rowena Mason (Guardian) reports:

However, on Thursday, a number of politicians raised concerns that the Chilcot inquiry had capitulated to the demands of the Cabinet Office by agreeing not to publish the full correspondence. John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said the failure to publish the entire dialogue "confirms suspicions of whitewash" and undermines the credibility of the whole report.
The level of disclosure was also criticised by Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, who said it was crucial the public was not simply given the partial truth about the decision to go to war in Iraq. "It's a shame it has been going on for so long and they are still unwilling to tell us the whole truth," he said.
Andrew MacKinlay, former Labour MP for Thurrock, who sat on the Commons foreign affairs committee, said he thought Chilcot had surrendered in a "bad, bad day for democracy and justice". "The establishment of this country, and the security and intelligence services have won again. Truth has lost out," he said.

Read on ...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mary Pops Back

Mary Pops Back

From March 6, 2011, that's "Mary Pops Back." 

C.I. wrote:

She's back. And this time she's pissed. Mary Poppins declares, "Forget spoonful of sugar. This time I'm bringing cans of whoopass." Isaiah archives his comics at The World Today Just Nuts.

The reason for this comic?

It came to me as I learned that Disney was going to make a making-of movie about their film Mary Poppins.  

I loved Mary Poppins and I couldn't see the movie (Saving Mr. Banks, released Christmas 2012) being anything but garbage (it was).

So I was thinking of an angry Mary Poppins anyway.

Then, while working on Third, the images came to mind and I mentioned them and everyone was like, "Yeah, do it."

It's not a political cartoon, I know.

But, again, I loved Mary Poppins -- in the movie and especially in the books.

So this was my attempt to acknowledge that.

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

Thursday, May 22, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, more charges of fraud surface in Iraq's recent elections, various people offer their take on the elections and what it means, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the US gets called out for the War Crimes, the VA scandal continues to mount, more Democrats emerge to call for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, Nancy Pelosi allows the scandal may involve criminal wrong doing, and much more.

Starting with the VA scandal.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Thursday, May 22, 2014                                                                            (202) 224-2834
Murray: “What we need from VA now is decisive action and I think this Committee should be clear to the VA what we expect. The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability are inexcusable and cannot be allowed to continue.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) continued her push for action at the VA during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s first Full Committee Markup of the year. During consideration of the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations bill, Murray reiterated her call for decisive, transparent action from the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the deep, system-wide problems when it comes to health care wait times. Murray also expressed support for provisions that would address those wait times and increase accountability through prohibiting the VA from awarding bonuses to VHA senior executives, medical directors, and assistant directors until the Inspector General completes a nation-wide review and the VA provides a plan to implement the recommendations.
The bill also funds Senator Murray’s key priorities for veterans, including mental health and suicide prevention, gender specific care for women veterans, Vet Centers, care for veterans in rural areas, and care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Full Text of Senator Murray’s Remarks:
“I want to thank Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Kirk and their staffs for all their work putting this bill together. 
“Like pretty much every American, I believe that when it comes to caring for our nation’s heroes, we cannot accept anything less than excellence.
“The VA and the Department generally offers very high quality health care—but it is really disappointing that the Department has failed to address wait times for that care.
“I was glad to see President Obama weigh in on this issue yesterday, but these recent allegations are not new issues – they are deep, system-wide problems, and they do grow more concerning every day. We should not be waiting to take action.
“The Inspector General and GAO have reported on this problem repeatedly for several years.  But many of the recommendations still have not been implemented by the VA.
“The Department has announced it’s going to conduct a nation-wide review of access to care.   And there have been some adjustments in personnel. But those are really only first steps. 
“There are still far too many unanswered questions about the review, including whether it is taking a serious look at the problem.
“As I told Secretary Shinseki last week, I continue to believe that he does take this seriously and wants to do the right thing.  But we really have come to the point where we need to have more than good intentions.
“What we need from VA right now is decisive action and I think this Committee mark should be very clear to the VA what we expect.
“The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability are inexcusable and cannot continue to be allowed. 
“Giving bonuses to hospital directors for running a system that places priority on gaming the system and keeping their numbers down rather than providing care to veterans – has to come to an end.  
“That is why I am very pleased the Subcommittee’s mark includes a provision to prohibit VA from awarding bonuses to VHA senior executives, medical directors, and assistant directors until the Inspector General completes a nation-wide review and  the VA provides a plan to implement the recommendations.
“And I also commend you Mr. Chairman for adding an extra $5 million to the Inspector General to conduct that review. 
“We cannot continue to not provide the resources for the care at the local level or for the IG to be able to conduct this very important review.
“So I really want to thank Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Kirk for including those really important provisions in this bill and addressing wait times and increasing accountability. I think this takes a very important direction, and I appreciate it.
“There are other issues in this bill very important to all of us. I do want to thank the Chairman for his willingness to continue to work with me on providing reproductive health services to our most catastrophically wounded heroes. I wasn’t able to include it in this, but we are going to continue to work on that.
“Madam Chairman, I just think it is extremely important that all of us recognize that this committee is making a strong statement with this bill about the challenges we’ve been hearing at the VA, and I appreciate it.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

The cooking of the books by the VA?  Two lists were kept at some VA medical centers (over 20 are now under investigation).  One was the fairy tale list known as the 'real' list and it was entered into the computer system.  It showed veterans needing medical attention being able to make appointments within 14 days of calling in for an appointment.

Senator Murray's calling for an end to the bonuses and that is smart because these fairy tale lists allowed VA officials to be rewarded for their 'good' job.

But the reality was there was an off book list.  It was kept by hand and it demonstrated that veterans were not receiving timely medical attention. Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN -- link is text and video) report:

Some veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made to wait for months in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System despite a national mandate they be given priority access to medical care, a VA doctor told CNN.
Dr. Katherine Mitchell, medical director of the Phoenix VA's post-deployment clinic, outlined the allegations in a report that aired Wednesday night on CNN's "AC 360°."
She accused the Phoenix VA -- up until at least three weeks ago -- of not following a mandate that the highest priority be given to new or injured veterans for scheduling appointments.

Wait lists in Phoenix for veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can be "six months, nine months or longer," Mitchell said.

In the video (from Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360), Drew Griffin comments on Barack's speech from yesterday.

Drew Griffin:  You know, I thought these poor veterans are going to have to wait now even longer to get care while the President studies the issue, Anderson.  The fact is veterans across the country have been waiting too long to get doctor's appointments.  That is a fact.  The other fact is, the VA has known about that.  Not only that, the VA has known that its offices out here in the country have been cooking the books to try and hide those numbers.  Those are facts which come from numerous government reports.  So those are facts that are already out there.  In the last several months, six months, on your program, whistle-blowers have come forward and told us, have told us, they have talked to the VA Inspector General reporting that due to delays in care, deaths have occurred as a result.  The VA has admitted to 23 deaths due to delays.  Now, I just want to tell you, Anderson, who this is harming and why many believe the President's speech today was completely inadequate.  Last night, here in Phoenix, I talked to a physician at the VA who runs the post-deployment clinic, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, and I had to ask her twice because I couldn't believe what she was telling me.  She told me even recent war vets, vets coming home injured are waiting months to get care.

The Economist weighs in on yesterday's speech noting:

Not for the first time, Mr Obama’s first response seemed oddly detached. He offered tepid support for Eric Shinseki, a former four-star general who serves as his secretary for veterans’ affairs, calling him a great public servant who “cares deeply about veterans”, before noting that, if Mr Shinseki were to conclude that he had let veterans down, “then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve.” With that out of the way, the president then explained how hard it is to run the VA, an agency that has endured backlogs for decades and now faces an influx of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as claims from newly-eligible veterans after rules were relaxed for those exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam or suffering from post-traumatic stress.

This afternoon, Dana Bash informed Jake Tapper (The Lead, CNN) that Shinseki told (bragged to?) reporters today that he has not offered his resignation and insisted, "You guys know me better than that."

Bret Hayworth (Sioux City Journal) reports Iraq War veteran Jim Mower, who is running for Congress, publicly called today for Shinseki to resign:

"I am appalled by the actions of the president and the V.A.," Mowrer said.
Mowrer is a veteran who served in Iraq for 16 months with an Infantry Battalion out of Waterloo, Iowa. He said Obama only reacted after weeks of media outcries about veterans hospitals, so he sees "a rudderless ship approaching disaster."
Mowrer is not worried about any fallout from his criticism of Obama, who is a fellow Democrat.
"I don't care who the president is, it needs to be fixed," he said.

Jim Mower isn't the only Democrat making the call for Shinseki to step down.  As noted in yesterday's snapshot, US House Reps John Barrow and David Scott (both Democrats) called yesterday for Shinseki to step down.   In addition, Andrew Johnson (conservative National Review -- link is text and video) notes Bob Kerry appeared on Hardball last night and called for Shinseki to step down.  (Disclosure, as noted before, I know and like Bob Kerrey.)  The Vietnam veteran, former Governor of Nebraska and former US senator told Chris Matthews, "In this case I think there's an urgency for General Shinseki, who is honorable man and served his country honorably, but he needs to step aside."

Mike Lillis (The Hill) notes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared that the scandal "could rise to the level of criminal misconduct" and points out, "She's not alone in suggesting the alleged misconduct might be criminal. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has urged VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to call in the FBI to investigate."

In related news, the following was issued by the office of US House Rep Jeff Miller who is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee office:

May 21, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following House passage of H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act, Chairman Jeff Miller released the below statement:

“The House has voted to take an important first step toward ending the culture of complacency that is jeopardizing patient safety within the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. VA’s widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems, including the department’s stubborn disability benefits backlog and a mounting toll of preventable deaths – including 23 recent fatalities due to delays in care – at VA medical centers across the country. While the vast majority of the department’s more than 300,000 employees and executives are dedicated and hard-working, VA’s well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for negligence and mismanagement is tarnishing the reputation of the organization and may actually be encouraging more veteran suffering instead of preventing it. With all the problems VA hospitals and regional offices have recently had and new issues continually arising, we need to give the VA Secretary the authority he needs to fix things. That’s what my bill would do, and I applaud my colleagues in the House for supporting it. Now the Senate is faced with a stark choice: stand with veterans who rely on VA health care or stand with poorly performing bureaucrats entrenched in a dysfunctional personnel system. For the sake of our veterans, I hope the Senate chooses wisely.  – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

About the VA Management Accountability Act

The bill was developed in response to reams of evidence supporting a widespread lack of accountability in the wake of the department’s stubborn disability benefits backlog and a mounting toll of preventable veteran deaths – including 23 recent fatalities due to delays in care – at VA medical centers across the country. More than a dozen instances of this trend are documented on the VA Accountability Watch portion of the HVAC website. In each instance, VA senior executives who presided over mismanagement or negligence were more likely to receive a bonus or glowing performance review than any sort of punishment.
Moving over to Iraq, the end of May is near and Nouri has been bombing residential neighborhoods in Falluja since January.  The civilian dead includes children.  Today's shelling has left a man, a woman and a child injured.

A family whose 'crime' was living in their home.

Hamid Shahab (Kitabat) traces the attacks to the decay of American standards which, he argues, were at their height with the leadership of then-President Abe Lincoln and have dropped steadily since then.arriving at the current lack of values which tolerates the attacks on civilians in Falluja despite these attacks being a flagrant violation of human rights and the law and, as this genocide continues, Americans either remain silent or turn a blind eye to the murders.

The assault on Anbar was a political move by Nouri in his attempt to increase support for himself among Shi'ite voters while decreasing the voting of Sunnis who largely oppose him due to his non-stop attacks on the Sunni population.

Al Mada notes that over 500,000 of Anbar's population was displaced due to Nouri's assault on the province.  That's a large number which -- along with Nouri's military turning Sunnis away from polling stations in Anbar for half the day on April 30th and refusing to allow voting in Falluja -- may explain the low turnout among Sunni voters. Iraq Times notes the growing charges of fraud in the elections.  The new electronic i.d. cards used in this election are part of the fraud charges.  Al Mada notes that two million people issued those cards were two million who should not be voting for one obvious reason: They were dead.  The voter rolls not only carried the names of 2 million dead people, voting cards for that dead segment were somehow distributed to living people who voted.  In addition, Ghazanfar Laibi (Al Mada) reports that although 12 million Iraqis voted in the election you're looking at 11.222 million votes because over 750,000 votes have been invalidated by the so-called 'Independent' High Electoral Commission.  The bloc of cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr is charging that these votes were tossed aside by the Commission to aid in Nouri's 'victory.'  The Economist notes:

The result “cannot be described as anything other than a victory” for Mr Maliki, writes Reidar Visser, a Norwegian expert on Iraq. Yet the prime minister is still not certain to hold on to power. With a quarter of the seats, he may need months to forge a new ruling coalition; last time it took nearly ten to do so. He is widely detested across the sectarian spectrum. He has many enemies in his own dominant Shia group, as well as among Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Alice Fordham (NPR) asks the question, "So why did Maliki do so well at the polls when Iraq is facing so many serious problems?"  But she notes none of the charges of irregularities being made and instead relies on things like this:

Kirk Sowell, a risk analyst who studies the country for the newsletter , reckons the answer is threefold: First, Maliki has manipulated media coverage of the bloody chaos in Iraq so that he looks like a strong military leader rather than the man responsible for the mess.

Sometimes, Grace Slick notwithstanding, you don't go ask Alice.

What Fordham can't even note in passing, Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) explores at length and notes:

If proved, the allegations of irregularities and vote-rigging will cast shadows over the legitimacy of the new parliament elected on 30 April and may further worsen the decade-long political ructions and sectarian violence that have been largely blamed on the nation's political class.

Fraud and election theft issues to the side,  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) offers an analysis of where things stand which includes:

Most significantly, the Shiite Muslim parties are now divided; previously they were all working together. But over the past few years, the leaders of the popular Sadrist movement, represented by the Ahrar bloc in politics, and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI, which is represented by the Muwatin bloc, have expressed their dislike of al-Maliki.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the spiritual leader of the Sadrists, has been overt and harsh in his criticism while Amir al-Hakim of the ISCI has been more guarded. Al-Maliki has previously said that al-Sadr is too young and inexperienced in politics.

The problem for al-Maliki though is that his two former allies are close and apparently they both agree that he should not be given another term in office.

The Sunni Muslim politicians of Iraq are of the same mind. But within the major Sunni Muslim blocs there are some conflicts. For example, the Sunni Muslim parties with the most seats – respectively, Nujaifi and al-Mutlaq – may find it hard to convince Allawi’s group to join them because the latter feels the former betrayed him after the 2010 elections, by leaving to form their own parties, affectively splitting the Sunni Muslim bloc. Additionally al-Mutlaq is considered by many Sunnis to be too close to al-Maliki.

So what will happen next? And how will these various and troubled political groupings choose Iraq’s next Prime Minister?

It’s going to be tough. For one thing, al-Maliki’s State of Law seems to consider their 92 seats enough of a victory to push for al-Maliki’s next term as Prime Minister. There is also talk that all of the anti-al-Maliki parties may get together to ensure that al-Maliki is removed from power – that would mean a cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic coalition united in one desire. And apparently there have been talks between the various players about this possibility, and about the potential to elect a leader from al-Hakim’s Citizen bloc. However it would still be difficult to achieve this because it ignores State of Law’s 92 seats, not to mention what one Iraq expert describes as the “psychological quantum leap” it will require of all of the players.

In 2010, the Iranian government forced Moqtada al-Sadr to support Nouri despite Moqtada's public opposition to Nouri.  That may not happen this go round.  At Gulf Today, Michael Jansen explains:

While Maliki has the most seats in the assembly and appears to be in a strong position, Tehran may not be prepared to put pressure on Hakim and Sadr to form a coalition with his State of Law faction. Maliki is deeply disliked by the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia which would not look with favour on a second intervention by Tehran currently trying to court their good opinion.

The Saudi invitation to visit Riyadh issued to Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javid Zarif has offered Tehran a chance to thaw relations between his country and the kingdom and it is unlikely that Iran will want to spoil this opportunity by backing Maliki. There are suggestions that another figure from State of Law could be a compromise candidate. 

Marina Ottaway offers an analysis for CNN which includes, "Elated by his victory, al-Maliki is sounding uncompromising, and although he has declared that he is open to work with any political party, he has made it clear that it would be strictly on his own terms. For example, he has told the Kurdish party that they are welcome in a government coalition as long as they accept his interpretation of the constitution, thus renounce their ambition to export oil independently."  Apparently while preparing that analysis today, Ottaway missed Sinan Salaheddin's Associated Press report which opens, "Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region on Thursday started exporting crude oil to the international market through the Turkish port of Ceyhan despite objections from the central government in Baghdad, Turkey's energy minister said."  On the Kurds, Borzou Daragahi (Financial Times of London) observes:

The various Kurdish parties, with 62 seats, are pressing for maximum gains, offering to lend their support only in exchange for concessions from Baghdad on oil revenues and amid constant disruptive warnings that they will bolt from the union if they do not get their way. “If they don't like us to be with them, they should tell us and we will take another path as well,” Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani was recently quoted as saying. "We are going to have a referendum and ask our people. Whatever the people decide.”

Daragahi's analysis includes more than the Kurdish aspect; however, both Daragahi and his former outlet (the Los Angeles Times) distinguished themselves in the early years of the Iraq War with their understanding of and focus on the Kurdish region of Iraq.  As for the referendum KRG President Massoud Barzani was speaking of, David Romano (Rudaw) explains:

Since 2003, most of us who closely watch Iraq knew that the threat to call a referendum on independence forms one of the cards up the Iraqi Kurdish sleeve. Any real move towards an Iraqi Kurdish state would need to be preceded by such a referendum, in order to provide the project with legitimacy both at home and abroad. Even just throwing this card down on the table involves significant risks, however, which explains why Kurdish leaders in Erbil remained cautious during the past ten years.
A referendum on Kurdish independence, whether in the form of confederalism or outright secession, would likely awaken forces that would prove difficult to contain or control. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Kurds in southern Kurdistan would vote for independence, that they deserve independence and that they will enjoy the enthusiastic moral support of fellow Kurds in neighboring states if they opt for independnece. Once these long-repressed passions are fully aroused, putting them back in the bottle might prove impossible. So although Iraqi Kurdish leaders may wish to play the referendum card in order to strengthen their negotiating position with Baghdad, they may quickly find themselves unable to step back from the process if they actually place the card on the table.

National Iraqi News Agency reports two police members were injured in a Mosul shooting, Joint Operations Command states they killed 23 suspects in Anbar, Joint Operations Command announced they killed 9 suspects in Falluja, a Mosul home invasion left 1 police member, his brother and another family member dead, Baghdad Operations Command announced they killed 15 suspects in Baghdad, an attack to the north of Tikrit left 1 police officer and his driver dead and three bodyguards injured, army forces say they killed 11 suspects in Ramadi, a battle in Shirqat left 4 rebels deadsecurity forces say they killed 15 suspects to the east of Ramadi, a Mosul sticky bombing left a bodyguard for Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi injured, an attack on a Ramadi checkpoint left 2 police members dead and two Sahwa and one more police member injured, an Alrashidiyah bombing left 1 police colonel dead, an Ur car bombing left 5 people dead and eighteen more injured, an al-Liqa suicide bomber took her own life and the lives of 6 people while leaving thirty four people injured, a central Baghdad bombing left 4 people dead and thirteen more injured,  and security forces say they killed 3 suspects in Abbid Weis.  All Iraq News adds 1 Sahwa was shot dead in Tikrit and three more injuredAlsumaria reports that a woman was shot dead in Mosul -- she was a university professor and had run in the parliamentary elections -- her name isn't given. NINA identifies the woman as Dr. Valihah Salih who taught at the Technical Institute and she was a candidate with Tahalof Nineveh.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "A suicide bomber blew himself up among pilgrims in western Baghdad's Mansour district, killing 11 other people and wounding others, police said."

Through Wednesday, Iraq Body Count counts 635 violent deaths so far this month.

Lastly, David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration  is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). We'll close with this from Bacon's  photo essay "WORKERS AREN'T A DISPOSABLE PRODUCT" (New Labor Forum):

Eulogio Solanoa is a Mixteco migrant from Oaxaca, and was a farm worker for many years.  After leading strikes and community protests, he went to work as an organizer for the United Farm Workers.  Today he lives in Greenfield, California, where he told his story to David Bacon.  Thanks to Farmworker Justice for the support for this project of documenting the lives of farm workers.

I've been here in Greenfield since 1992, so that's twenty years.  But I'm from a small town called San Jose de las Flores in the Putla district in Oaxaca.  My family has ejido land there -- not a lot of land, just what they call a cajon, less than a quarter of an acre.  That's about the amount of land everyone has there.  We only have enough to live, but not enough to buy a house or car.  My father didn't even own any land -- the land we have comes from my mother.

The entire town is an ejido [communities created by Mexico's land reform that hold their land in common], but everyone has their own little piece of land.  We don't choose a different plot each year -- whatever piece of land you first got is what you keep.  That is what Emiliano Zapata fought for, so that everyone can have their own land.  We didn't have that before.  But it's not enough land for a family to live, only enough to grow corn and a few beans.  It's enough to eat, but not enough to grow crops to sell.

That's why we didn't have clothes and barely enough to eat.  When I was fourteen and going to school I still didn't own a pair of shoes.  I was barefoot.  I really enjoyed going to school, though.  My teacher said I was the brightest one in class.  But I couldn't continue - I had to go to work with my family. 

chelsea j. carter
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