Friday, July 27, 2012









Like violence, the political crisis continues. The Economist offers their take on the political crisis today:

But Mr Maliki, who has been in charge since 2006, is opposed not just by Sunni jihadists. Many moderate Iraqis, both Shias and Sunnis, fear he is heading down a path to dictatorship. The political atmosphere is toxic. No meaningful legislation, apart from an annual budget, has been passed for several years. One of the country’s two vice-presidents, Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, is being tried in absentia for alleged links to terrorism. Iraq’s Kurds are increasingly divorced from the rest of the country: their regional government has now signed 48 oil contracts without the consent of the national government in Baghdad, which is infuriated. Meanwhile people in the capital and other towns, suffering sweltering temperatures during the fasting month of Ramadan, are frequently bereft of electricity. There have been angry mass protests in Basra, the main town of the south, against dire public services.
However, Mr Maliki is still managing to shore up support, mainly among his fellow Shias, who make up a good 60% of the population. One of the Kurds’ two main leaders, Jalal Talabani, the country’s president, who wants to sustain the status quo by keeping Mr Maliki in place, has ensured that parliament does not have a chance to vote on a no-confidence motion.
Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. al-Mutlaq belongs to Iraqiya which came in first in the March 2010 elections while Nouri belongs to State of Law which came in second. Dar Addustour reports that the two discussed the stalemate, upcoming provincial elections and the election commission. Alsumaria notes that Ayad Allawi (head of Iraqiya) has stated today that the need to question Nouri before Parliament continues and needs to be speeded up. Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second to Iraqiya which should have ended any hopes Nouri had for a second term as prime minister. But the White House backed Nouri -- and spat on the Iraqi voters and the Iraqi Constitution -- allowing Nouri to create Political Stalemate I which lasted for 8 months. It was ended when the all parties -- including Nouri -- agreed to the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. It gave the Kurds this, Iraqiya that, etc. Nouri? It gave him a second term as prime minister. He used the Erbil Agreement to get that, pretended he was going to honor the contract but, as soon as he was named prime minister, he tossed it aside. Since the summer of 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr have been publicly calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. This is Political Stalemate II. Currently, there is a move -- and it's Constitutional -- to call Nouri before the Parliament and question him. After questioning, a vote could be taken to determine whether or not the answers he provided restored confidence in him or meant that the MPs registered a no-confidence vote.
Alsumaria notes that Ayad Allawi stated he was reviewing the strategy for the next move. All Iraq News adds that he restated, in the press statement, his opinion that the Reform Commission was a waste of time. Back on December 21st, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi (a member of Iraqiya) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) began calling for a national conference to address the ongoing stalemate and/or crisis. Nouri threw every road block he could think of to delay and stop that from happening. In June, suddenly he wanted a Reform Commission to 'solve' the problem. The Reform Commission is a joke. It's always been a joke. It's Nouri's pets declaring what they want for him and it has no teeth so even if the other political players had full participation, nothing would come from it. Allawi notes that the Erbil Agreement needs to be reinstated and that a series of 'reforms' prepared by (Nouri's) National Alliance isn't going to change that. He notes the demands remain the same as they've been all along.
In a sign of what a tool the National Alliance is becoming for Nouri (largely Ammar al-Hakim and Ibrahim al-Jafaari's segment of the National Alliance) on Saturday, Nasiriyah reported that the National Alliance was vowing to refuse to allow the bill to pass that would limit a prime minister to two terms (it would also put a two-term limit on the presidency and on the Speaker of Parliament but the National Alliance is only concerned with Nouri).
The Khaleej Times' editorial board notes, "While politicians squabble for control in the Iraqi parliament, the roads and streets of the country are stained with blood of innocent people. If the country’s politicians don’t realise the gravity of the situation and reach a compromise, there’s a possibility that Iraq might become ungovernable again."

Today the Parliament was supposed to pass an Election Law which would allow for provincial elections in March of next year. Nasiriyah reports that the vote has been postponed. Also today, Alsumaria notes, the temperature was expected to reach 49 degrees Celsius. That's 120 degrees Farehnheit (actually 120.2 degrees). Al Rafidayn notes that today's been declared a holiday as a result of the heat. AFP notes that it actually reached 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 degrees Farehnheit) and they report:

Hunched over, Yaqub mutters softly, "It's Ramadan, and I am fasting," as if to justify his actions, before he steps underneath an outdoor shower in central Baghdad to cool off in the boiling heat.
"It's hard," the delivery man admits, referring to the temperatures across Iraq which have topped 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent days, spurring authorities to declare Thursday a holiday for all government workers.
"This feels good," Yaqub, 53, says after a refreshing splash of water.
Yesterday's snapshot covered the joint-hearing of the US House Armed Services Committee and House Veterans Affairs Committee. I stated, "Sequestration was discussed. This is an automatic measure that will kick in if the buget is not balanced. Established in the hearing is the Veterans Affairs will not be effected but the Defense Dept will be." A community member noted Michael Levine's Honolulu Civil Beat who quotes VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stating VA "is exempt from sequestration -- except for administrative costs." Which is it? Levine's correct in his quote. But that's not what we've been covering or that veterans have been worried about. Their concern and what we've been covering is health care, etc. That will not be effected. Sequestration will not touch that. Administrative efforts? Though hard for many to believe, the VA could get slower. But if sequestration kicks in (automatic budget cuts), VA will not be effected in terms of what it supplies veterans. Senators Patty Murray and Richard Burr and House Reps Jeff Miller and Bob Filner -- among others -- worked very hard on addressing this: Veterans will not be effected. The White House is very clear on how bad that would look for them if veterans benefits were cut. Barack Obama already has enough problems with veterans issues as Reuters pointes out:

His 2013 budget request for the VA is more than $40 billion, or 41 percent, bigger than the one he inherited when he took office, helping to cover construction of hospitals and clinics, staff increases, and expanded disability benefits. That has come despite the warning from some in the outgoing George W. Bush administration that the VA apparatus "is broken, just play defense," according to a member of Obama's transition team.
Yet, based on interviews with veterans, their advocates, and VA and other administration officials, as well as a review of available data, life for many veterans has grown more challenging under Obama's watch.
Veterans returning home today join lines for disability payments much longer than those Obama called intolerable in 2008. Their chances of finding jobs in a bleak economy are worse than those of most other Americans. Veterans' complaints of employment discrimination by the federal government have actually risen.
Veterans remain more likely to be homeless than the general population. The VA estimates more than 67,000 sleep in shelters and on the streets or are otherwise considered homeless, a figure that is only slightly better than in 2009.
In the hearing yesterday, Shinseki and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were the two witnesses offering testimony. Ranking Member Bob Filner spoke of how he felt there should be an exit boot camp to address various issues that can come up in civilian life. Last night, Ava's covered that in "The joint Armed Service and House Veterans hearing (Ava)." On the continued lack of interface between VA and DoD, Steve Vogel (Washington Post) notes this morning, "The Washington Post reported in November that despite the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala commission in 2007 to create a single point of contact to cut red tape for the most severely wounded service members, DoD and VA had instead created at least a dozen programs to coordinate the care." Esther Carey (Federal News Radio) reports today, "The two departments signed a roadmap agreement that will let them develop a future integrated system under a common technology framework. Shinseki said a key difference between the current effort and other failures over the past 10 years was that the way ahead envisions an open-architecture system rather than one that hinges on closed, proprietary systems." Shinseki said a lot. A lot of hot air, a lot of justifications, a lot of nonsense. We'll note two members who called this happy talk out.

US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle: My question has to do with -- and you've heard some references to it -- the Dole - Shalala Commission and the fact that now, five years later, after they issued this urgent call to streamline, to make sure that we have a single point of reference for the care and service and benefits of our military we have to very distinct entities. We've had multiple hearings trying to get assurance from DoD and the VA as to how you're going to get this together so we can make sure that our veterans get the services without being overwhelmed by an extremely complex system. So I would ask you both today, please, how specifically -- what are the goals, what is the plan, to get these two entitites under one roof so that you're complying with the Dole - Shalala Commission and their recommendations for our veterans. I thank you both.

Secretary Eric Shinseki: The program, the Federal Recovery Coordination Program, in existence since 2007, and I think as Secretary Panetta indicated earlier, two good Departments launched and essentially developed good programs that don't quite harmonize. We have a task force with the specific direction to study and bring harmony to these programs, where are we being -- duplicating one another? Where are we not doing things that we should be doing? So it's going to get a good look here. And I'd say in the next couple of months. And I'd be happy -- and I think 

Secretary Panetta would be as well -- to make our people available to provide the results of that.

Secretary Leon Panetta: You know, we -- Look, we -- I think -- Secretary Shinseki and I share the same frustration. I mean, I -- We've been working on this and frankly we've been pushing on this to say why can't we get faster results? Why can't we get this done on a faster track? And, you know, bottom line is: Frankly, we're just going to have to kick ass and try to make it happen and that's what we're going to do.

US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle: I would suggest in your opening statement, Mr. Panetta, you mentioned commitment and we look to the military, their commitment, as an example to our country. We should be that committed to them to make sure that we get this job done. I thank you both very much.
Though he spoke several people before Buerkle, US House Rep Bill Johnson's comments really fit with her remarks .

US House Rep Bill Johnson: I understand that you can't account for the last 10 years, Mr. Secretary [Shinseki] and I understand that you've got two bureaucracies that don't necessarily like to be told what to do and get along all the time. But I'll submit to you that another five years is-is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me and, gentlemen, it ought to be unacceptable to you. This is not a matter of can-do or should-do. This is a matter of want-to and will-do. This is 2012. And one of the underlying issues, Mr. Secretary, quite honestly is the VA's lack of an overall technology architecture. You and I have talked about this before and it still doesn't exist today as far as I know. I've pointed that out. My Committee has pointed that out. Organizations outside that have looked at the VA's IT Dept have pointed that out. You know, I'm just not convinced that five years from now -- given that I don't know where you two will be -- but my fear is that we're going to be sitting right here talking about this same issue again because we're not going about it with the discipline that's needed. I come from an information techonology career of over 30 years. I worked at US Special Operations Command as the Director of the CIO staff. I know what it takes to get this stuff done and five years, gentlemen, is totallly unacceptable. And I don't really have a question for you I just want you to fix this for crying out loud.
Those are some pretty important statements even before you factor in that they came from someone with an Information and Technology (IT) background.  We'll close out on Wednesday's hearing by including this section where US House Rep Niki Tsongas is noting the documentary The Invisible War:

US House Rep Niki Tsongas: As you [Shinseki] say, "That which starts during military service ends up in the VA." And that movie so painfully highlights the multiple bureaucratic hurdles survivors of such assualts -- which are all too frequent across all the services -- must endure to prove that their physical or their psychiatric symptoms are connected to an incident of Military Sexual Trauma. And shows that too often, victims are unsuccessful in pursuing their claims for assistance. To address one aspect of this problem, the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Authorization Act included language that required the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to develop a comprehensive policy for the Dept of Defense on the retention of access to evidence and records relating to sexual assault involving members of the Armed Services. This policy is to be in place by October 1, 2012. Can you both comment on the status of this policy? I'd also welcome any further thoughts you may have on how these claims can be processed faster and more accurately.

Secretary Leon Panetta: It's a -- It's a very important issue for me. I'm not going to wait for the legislation to put that policy in place because I think it ought to take place in providing that kind of guidance and assistance to those that have been the victims of sexual assault so that they get the kind of support that they need in order to get not only the care they need but, if they want to continue their career, to get the support system that would allow them to continue their career. And I think it's fair to say that Secretary Shinseki and I are going to work together on to make sure that we can -- we can deal with this on both sides -- not only on the Defense side, but on the Veterans side for those that ultimately move in that direction.

US House Rep Niki Tsongas: Thank you both. I look forward to seeing that policy in effect.