Saturday, February 18, 2012






If you're one of the many who've thought so much of the US coverage of Iraq in the last years has been sub-standard, you found out why today on The Diane Rehm Show. Anthony Shadid has died. He was an award winning writer for the Washington Post and then he (and his wife) moved over to the New York Times. At the Post, there was an effort to impose some journalistic guidelines on the writing and he chafed at that. The Times gave him free reign and that was not anything good. I've noted my opinion of his feature writing passed off as hard news reporting. And he, many times, made his clear his opinion of my critique. I had no plans to mention him or his writing today. (He died in Syria from an asthma attack that people are assuming was brought on by exposure to animals -- horses -- on the part of the people smuggling him in and out of Syria.)
But there was Diane Rehm and her guests David Ignatius (Washington Post), Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) and James Kitridge (National Journal) describing what made Shadid -- in their opinion -- a great reporter. I'm sorry but that's not reporting. It's travel writing. It's feature writing. It's not reporting.
David Ignatius: What I would say about Anthony -- and Nancy and James also knew him -- is that he really represented the thing that makes great journalism special. Uh, he had a way of grasping not the facts but the essence of the story.
Yes, David's correct. And Shadid would have made a great novelist. But that's not what makes a great reporter. A great reporter grasps the facts.
"It was magical story teling," said Nancy Youssef. It was. It was the novelization of the news which is to reporting what novelizations of films are to movies. They're similar, they're just not the same. "You know to me his-his articles were almost love letters about the people he was writing about," gushed Nancy. Again, you're not describing a reporter.
And that goes to why the news is so awful today. Whether it's Iraq or any other topic. The industry doesn't even embrace reporting. They want to be something else. And in the process, they are dumbing down America. This is Bob Somerby's criticism, the heart of his criticism. He momentarily caught up in the 'framing' 'issue -- an early '00 hula hoop -- briefly. But it's the novelization of the news -- news for people who can't process news. It goes beyond the crimes of narrative and hook. It's why Gail Collins is a columnist. They won't cover the facts, they won't stick to whether something's legal or not, they want to give you the 'essence.' They want to give you subjective because it's so much easier to produce and so much quicker to produce. (Anthony Shadid, to be fair, had a real talent for novelization. He truly would have made a great novelist. And as feature writing, some of his 'hard news' reports are amazing examples of style and even insight. But it's not news and that's only more obvious when he moves to the New York Times.) And the proof of that is in the coverage of Shadid's death which is not news, which treats him as though he's Whitney Houston or some other celebrity and refuses to offer an honest appraisal of his strengths and weaknesses. Why else cover a reporter? And the fact that the news industry goes into hype mode ('greatest foreign correspondent of his generation') goes to the tawdry excess that has for too long passed as hard news. What should have been a private moment is turned into a media event.
It's the novelization, not actual news, bad writing that seizes on a partial quote to 'illuminate' -- not a full quote because a full quote actually rejects what the writer is trying to novelize. The public -- as well as the news industry -- would be a lot better off if the press realized that you can't distill the essence and instead started covering that which is observable and verifiable in the physical world?
And for those who will whine this was so unfair, oh heavens, clutch the pearls. I didn't set out to write about Shadid today. I focused on other things. But we didn't get Iraq on The Diane Rehm Show's international hour. We did get testimonials to Shadid. And those who aren't functioning adults and don't grasp that blind praise isn't how we evaluate should take comfort in the fact that I avoided writing at length about the obvious point: 'Shadid was a wonderful person.' A great reporter? When Sy Hersh dies, people will point to stories he wrote, stories he broke. The same with Carl Bernstein, the same with Robin Wright, Ned Parker, Sabrina Tavernise, Alexandra Zavis, Nancy A. Youssef and many others. Whether it's The Diane Rehm Show, The Takeaway or the multitude of programs covering Shadid's death today, no one could point to any news. Because feature writing isn't news writing. If I wanted to be mean, I would've opened with that point and expanded on it for several paragraphs.
I listened to The Diane Rehm Show because, with David on as a guest, I thought (wrongly) we might actually hear something about Iraq. You know their Vice President is in the news cycle. That's actual news. And it matters a great deal on the international scene.
It certainly matters to the Iranian government which is why the Iranian media has been all over the story. There's the Press TV article declaring, "The Supreme Judicial Council said on Thursday al-Hashemi and his employees were behind years of deadly terror operations against security officials and civilians in Iraq." And of course they rushed to put on MP Saad al-Mutallibi (link is text and video) from the rival State of Law political slate who declared:
Because this is the independent, one hundred percent independent justice system, speaking on its behalf, and representing itself and putting forward the accusations and the implication of Mr. Al Hashemi to 150 terrorist attacks against the nation of Iraq against individuals, against the police forces, against the army, against national institutions and of tremendous, as I said, consequences, with direct implication from Mr. al-Hashemi. This would put a tremendous pressure, I believe, on the Kurds to take the right decision and probably surrender him to Baghdad to face trial. Unless of course he escapes the country as the other terrorists have done and spend the rest of his life in exile. There is no way that this matter could be resolved politically.

The Voice of Russia reports Tareq al-Hashemi declared he may leave the country. And why not?
It's not just State of Law using the meida to convict him. It's also the so-called independent judiciary of Iraq. Nine judges with the Iraqi Supreme Court issued a finding that Tareq al-Hashemi is guilty. There was no trial.
And yet the Supreme Court issued a finding. It is the Supreme Court because they used the Supreme Court spokersperson (Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar) for their press conference and because, as the BBC notes, the nine-member review was "set up by the Supreme Judicial Council."

Tareq al-Hashemi is an Iraqi citizen and, as such, the Constitution (Article 19) guarantees he is innocent unless convicted in a court of law. There has been no trial. The judiciary has not just overstepped their bounds, they have also violated the Constitution.

Lower courts hearing the case in Iraq now will know the feeling of the Supreme Court (which can overrule them) and that could influence a verdict. So, no, he cannot receive a fair trial now. Also at issue is Judge Saad al-Lami. Al Mada notes he can't stop whining about alleged threats against him from Tareq al-Hashemi's supporters and how al-Hashemi publicly named him. And whine on. He did this at the press conference. Is he a judge or not? That's not the behavior of someone reserving judgment. That's the behavior of someone with a conflict of interest. Along with being very anti-Sunni (Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya and he is also a Sunni), the judge also has problems with Iraqiya. Just a little while ago, AFP was reporting on that judge, how he was demanding that Iraqiya MP Haidar al-Mullah lose his immunity so he (the judge) could sue him:

Abdelsattar Birakdar, spokesman of the Higher Judicial Council, said Mullah was accused of having offended Judge Saad al-Lami in a late November interview.
Lami filed a complaint, after which a court "studied the case and then issued an arrest warrant against him and sent a request to parliament to lift his immunity in order to prosecute him," Birakdar said.
Mullah said Lami was "influenced by Maliki."

(If that link doesn't work, click here for the AFP article.) That's one of the 9 'objective' members of the court who decided Tareq al-Hashemi's guilt -- despite 'forgetting' to provide him with a trial.

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Friday, February 17, 2012






There’s just one problem with their cries of liberal racism — the offensive portion of Messina’s tweet was a partial quote from a speech Sen. John McCain gave on the floor of the U.S. Senate. That quote ended up in an article by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank before ending up on Messina’s twitter.





Big news out of Iraq today and apparently it's so big that the press can't handle it. Doubt it? Here's Sinan Salaheddin and Lara Jakes (AP) reporting, "An Iraqi judicial panel said Thursday the country's Sunni vice president and his employees ran death squads that killed security officials and Shiite pilgrims. The findings offer the first independent assessment of accusations that have thrown the nation into political chaos and threaten to re-ignite sectarian tensions." Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) misses it too. Here's al-Salhy's opening, "A panel of Iraqi judges detailed Thursday 150 attacks they said were carried out by death squadsunder the command of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, in accusations likely to reignite political conflict."
What follows is how the announcement could have been covered:
After many claims that he could not receive a fair trial, Tareq al-Hashemi's
assertions were backed up today by the Iraqi judiciary.
BAGHDAD -- Today a nine-member Iraqi judiciary panel released results of an investigation they conducted which found the Sunni Vice President of Iraq was guilty of terrorism. Monday, December 19th, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who had arrived in the KRG the previous day. Mr. al-Hashemi refused to return to Baghdad insisting he would not receive a fair trial. Instead, he was the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.
During the weeks since the arrest warrant was issued, Mr. al-Hashemi has repeatedly attempted to get the trial moved to another venue stating that Prime Minister al-Maliki controlled the Baghdad judiciary. Mr. al-Maliki insisted that the vice president return and that he would get a fair trial.
Today's events demonstrate that Mr. al-Hashemi was correct and there is no chance of a fair trial in Iraq. This was made clear by the judiciary's announcement today.
A judiciary hears charges in a trial and determines guilt; however, what the Baghdad judiciary did today was to declare Tareq al-Hashemi guilt of the charges and to do so before a trial was held.
Not only do the events offer a frightening glimpse at the realities of the Iraqi legal system, they also back up the claims Mr. al-Hashemi has long made.
Get it? You can't be the judiciary and declare -- before a trial -- that someone is guilty. Tareq al-Hashemi is absolutely correct. He has been proven to be correct. Whether he was or was not guilty isn't an issue because there's been no trial yet. But what is known is that the judiciary has already issued a finding of guilt before a trial took place. There is no reputable legal organization in the world that would support Nouri's argument that al-Hashemi can have a fair trial in Baghdad. The court's own actions have demonstrated that will not be the case.
The Iraqi Constitution is very clear on this point -- and it's really past time that Iraqi officials started following their Constitution. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The judiciary chose to skip the trial and just declare him guilty. They violated their own Constitution. They didn't hem and haw and treat it like an indictment where they found cause to hold a hearing. No, they declared him guilty. That is in violation of the Iraq Constitution. If they had a functioning Parliament, Iraq should be moving to impeach everyone of those nine judgesand remove them from the bench. Clearly, they do not understand the Constitution that they are supposed to be interpreting.
Article 19th's fifth clause is very clear: "The accused is innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial. The accused may not be tried on the same crimefora second time after acquittal unless new evidence is produced." The judiciary issued a finding today publicly declaring Tareq al-Hashemi guilty. In doing so, they violated his right to a fair legal trial and if they'll violate his legal rights -- a vice president of Iraq -- they'll violate any Iraqis legal rights. Today the judiciary of Iraq has given the Iraq legal system a black eye.
We're being very remedial and highly redundant in an attempt to make clear that what just took place demonstrates that Tareq al-Hashemi cannot have a fair trial in Baghdad. There are other points that can be made -- Mike made some this afternoon including that the judiciary releases their finding and provides no evidence -- but in terms of the news value of these events, the news value is that Tareq al-Hashemi's repeated assertions that he would not receive a fair trial in Baghdad have been proven to be correct as evidenced by the fact that, without a trial -- without even a defense, nine members of the Baghdad judiciary have declared him guilty.
So what's going on Iraq? How did a vice president (now in his second term) end up charged with terrorism? Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) offers a few clues. From the opening summary:
Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocratic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements. Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i tragets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence. The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed. The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous powers comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
To conservatives in the United States, particularly the architects of the war and of the ensuing state-building exercise, the crisis into which Iraq plunged after the U.S. withdrawal was final proof of the ineptitude of the Obama administration in failing to secure an agreement with Maliki that would have allowed a residual U.S. force to stay. But the lesson is more sobering: Iraq demonstrates the resilience of domestic political forces in the face of even an eight-year occupation, thus the futility of nation-building and political engineering efforts conducted from the outside. The U.S. occupation tried to superimpose on Iraq a set of political rules that did not reflect either the dominant culture or the power relations among political forces. And while cultures and power relations are not immutable, they do not change on demand to accomodate the goals of outsiders.
For the second timethe 2003 U.S. intervention brought down Saddam Hussein and his regime, Iraq is facing a real threat of political disintegration. In 2007, the United States held the country together forcibly, but the infusion of new troops could not secure a lasting agreement among Iraqis. This time, the outcome depends on whether the political factions that dominate Iraq and tear it apart find it in their interest to forge a real compromise or conclude that they would benefit more from going in separate directions.
Whether you accept their conclusions or not, the observations should make you wonder if the US is effectively using money in Iraq with the 'diplomatic' brigade or if more US taxpayer money is being wasted?

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Thursday, February 16, 2012






President Barack Obama, don't threaten veterans. That was the message of House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller this morning. What was he talking about? He was noting that other departments know whether or not sequestration would effect them but VA doesn't. In 1985, the Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Budget Act. If the budget triggers sequestration, then automatic cuts would take place. Chair Miller explained that they had repeatedly attempted to get a clear answer from the White House on this issue but that they still had no answer. "If the president won't lead on this issue," Chair Miller declared, "then we will."
It was a lively hearing. So much so that all overshadowed Miller's opening remarks.
The hearing was about the 2013 budget and two panels appeared before the Committee. The first panel was Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (with the VA's Robert Petzel, Allison Hickey, Steve Muro, Roger Baker and Todd Grams). Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, VFW's Ramond Kelley, Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante, AMVETS Diane Zumatto and the American Legion's Timothy Tetz. We'll note the second panel in tomorrow's snapshot and focus on the first panel today. The White House has put out their trial budget. The House Veterans Affairs Committee was focusing on the budget in terms of veterans issues.
Chair Jeff Miller: In the -- in the current budget submission, it has a billion dollars for Veterans Job Corps. We all are keenly aware of the high number of unemployed veterans in our country today. And not a single member of this Committee nor this Congress should be in any way satisifed with that number. And we have tried to do things in this Commitee to help bring those numbers down. My concern is there's no detail in the budget submission. Where did the number one billion dollars come from? You know, it was chosen to be provided in your entitlement accounts to be dispensed over a five year period. And so I think we all benefit from a conversation, Mr. Secretary, as to who's going to be focused on, what area of the veteran population, how's it going to work and what will happen to these jobs once the funds run out?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Mr. Chairman, the proposal for the Veterans Job Corps, the $1 billion piece of that, is a program that we're seeking Congressional authorization on and we are putting together the details of that which we would provide to you and you would have a chance to review. I would say that the intent here is to put up to 20,000 veterans back to work over the next five years on projects that will protect and restore our public lands. Projects would be in national parks, forests, rivers and trails, wild life refuge, national monuments, other public lands. Veterans could work on park maintenance projects, patrolling public lands, rehabilitating natural and recreational areas and in administrative, technical, law enforcement-related activities. The Veterans Job Corps program is a project that's going to be coordinated with other departments and we are a -- sort of a oversight of the distribution of funds but there are others who will be participating. I'm told that uh -- and I'm confident that uh VA resources won't be diverted to fund this $1 billion that it will come from elsewhere. And I don't know exactly where at the moment. But, Mr. Chairman, I'll share that with you as soon as I have clarity.
And we'll note, from his written statement about the Veterans Job Corps, "The program will serve all Veterans, but will have a particular focus on post-9/11 Veterans." So the 20,000 jobs are not guaranteed to veterans of today's wars. I'm not saying they should be but I am saying 20,000 wasn't, to me, an impressive number, and became less so when it was going to address not only the largest unemployed veterans population (young veterans of today's wars) but all veterans. US House Rep Corrine Brown would bring up the issue of contracts and outsourcing and asking why every contract the VA outsourced didn't have a clause in it about hiring veterans? Not really an answer. "You're not answering the question," Ranking Member Bob Filner pointed out to the VA's Allison Hickey as she went on about how one contract has seen a company hire 15% veterans and how they have conversations with contractors. Filner pointed out that Brown's question was why didn't they mandate this in the contract, why have conversations when you should be writing it into the contract? Hickey attempted to reply but Shinseki took over.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Mr. Filner, we'll take a look at this.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Oh, come on, you can give me some kind of answer. Are you saying we can't do it legally?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: She must know the answer [gesturing to Hickey]. I mean, come on. This is not rocket science here. You issue contracts 100 times a day. Why can't we have contracts that do this?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: You can. And I don't know the circumstances of this contract. And I would --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: But she apparently does. Why didn't we do it here?
Allison Hickey: So, Congressman, I will go back to our physician folks to ask --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Oh, come on. You guys know the answer to this. Why are you so afraid to just tell us?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I'm not sure it wasn't in the contract, Mr. Filner. That's why --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Well she's sure --
Allison Hickey: Congressman --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: You started off your testimony, "I know the contract." So did it specify or not?
Allison Hickey: I will find out and get back to you for the record --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I don't understand this. You know this better than you're saying here.
US House Rep Corrine Brown then noted that one of the biggest complaints she gets is that VA does billions of dollars of work and they're not doing it with veterans, they're not hiring them and this at a time when so many veterans are unemployed. Brown noted employment elsewhere in the hearing as well. US House Rep and Dr. Roe raised the issue of the large number of suicides and shared that one thing he's hearing from veterans is that they're doing well in one-on-one sessions and then they're moved on to groups and that's not working. "These needs aren't being met in large group settings," he explained. The short answer is that the VA is currently evaluating with plans to increase in the numbers hired where needed.
US House Rep Corrine Brown: Sir, I have a follow up on that, you said can we hire -- are we not -- are we trying to hire all those people or are we working with other agencies as far as subcontracting out? Because we're not going to be able to hire enough people. He talked about the group setting, some people can benefit from the group setting, everbody don't need that one-on-one but some people do. So based on the resources, how can we better utilize the dollars to meet the needs?
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Congressman Brown. We do contract in the community. We do provide on a fee basis mental health care. And as the Secretary was just pointing out to me a new modality that's becoming increasingly important is tele-mental health where we provide both evaluation and therapy in a tele-health setting -- where the patient may be remotely, a hundred miles away. They're on a television screen with an appropriate supervisor and the psychiatrist or psychologist is back at a larger medical center. It has been very successful in treating PTSD and other mental health disorders. And I think that this is going to become a more common practice as we move forward.
FYI, Petzel called every female House Rep, throughout the hearing, "Congressman." Maybe here we'll call him "Mrs. Dr. Petzel" in the future?
Last week, Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, participated in a Virtual Town Hall, an online Town Hall which allowed her and veterans all over the country to interact. The Virtual Town Hall was sponsored by Disabled American Veterans and a full transcript of the exchange can be found here. Various veterans participating in the Virtual Town Hall noted the delays and backlog with regards to claims -- not surprising, over 500,000 claims are currently backlogged according to the VA's Allison Hickey testimony in today's hearing. Senator Murray observed, "I receive so many complaints from veterans and their families about long waits for claims. I visited the Seattle Regional Office a few months ago and was astounded at the mountain of paper work and had the opportunity to really see what we are facing. I am working hard to try and help the VA get a handle on this. We do have to recognize that the claims are increasingly complex and there are more of them with the number of service members coming home today. We want them to be done efficiently but correctly. This will remain a top priority for me." And in today's hearing, Ranking Member Bob Filner touched on the issues of backlog and Agent Orange.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And I just want to ask a couple -- focus on a couple areas that I've been involved with over the years. One is the claims backlog. In your budget presentation ou title it "Eliminate The Claims Backlog." But I don't see any real estimate or projection or anything of when you think you're going to do that but I still think that -- in the short run, at least -- to get this turned around your notion of -- I think you used the word "brute force" a few years ago, if I recall that.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: It was probably a poor choice of words.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: No, it's okay. It was good. Gives me something to shoot at, you know? I don't think it's going to work. I just think all this stuff you have is good stuff but it's too big and, as you point out, there's all kind of factors making it bigger. I still think you have to take some, I'll say, radical step in the short run -- whether it's to grant all the Agent Orange claims that have been submitted or have been there for X number of years or, as I've suggested at other times, all claims that have the medical information in it and have been submitted with the help of a Veterans Service Officer you accept subject to audit. That is, unless you take some real radical step to eliminate a million of them or 500,000 of them, you're never going to get there. It's going to always be there. You don't want that as your legacy -- I don't think. So -- Nor do we. I think you're going to have to take some really strong steps in terms of accepting stuff that's been in the pipeline a long time, again, that has adequate -- by whatever definition -- documentation and help from professional support. Plus this incredible situation of Agent Orange where, as you know, not only have those claims increaded but we're talking about -- as you well know -- your comrades for thirty or more years that have been wrestling with this. Let's give the Vietnam vets some peace. Let's give them a real welcome home. Let's grant those Agent Orange claims. Let's get those -- whatever it is, 100,000 or 200,000 of our backlog -- just get them off the books. I don't know if you want to comment on that but I still think you're never going to get there with -- All this is good stuff. We've talked about it on many occasions. But it's not going to fundamentally -- or at least in the short run change it around so you can get to a base level of zero or whatever you want to be and move forward from there.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Mr. Filner, I'll call on Secretary Hickey for the final details but we've pretty much worked through the Agent Orange -- the increase in Agent Orange claims. I think we're well down on the numbers. I'll rely on her statistic here.
Many other issues were touched on. We'll note the exchanges on women veterans.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: The House passed a bill that I had put forward a year or two ago called a Women's Veterans Bill of Rights. It got through the House, it got stuck in the Senate. [He's referring to HR 809 which he introduced in the 111th Congress and which the Senate didn't pass. He reintroduced HR 809 in the new Congress in February of 2010.] I would just ask that you look at that. You can do stuff administratively. You could post something in each of our centers and clinics. We have a long way to go on this but women veterans need to feel that this institution is evolving to meet their needs. And a statement at the front door of their rights, I think, would be very helpful. So I would just ask you to look at that. We didn't do it legislatively but I think you could do some stuff administratively.
Shinseki replied that women veterans' issues in the proposed budget increased by 17%. Dropping back to his written statement, he gives 8% as the number women make up in VA's total population, women are "nearly 15 percent of today's active duty military forces and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserves." 337,000 women access care through VA and, "The 2013 budget includes $403 million for the gender-specific healthcare needs of women Veterans, an increase of 17.5 percent over the 2012 level." Later in the hearing, US House Rep Linda Sanchez would raise the issue of women veterans and we'll jump to her exchange.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Secretary Shinseki, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Patient Alligned Care Center at the Long Beach VA facility and I want to applaud the efforts there to provide an integrated system of care. But one of the things that's been brought to my attention is the levels of staffing for the new models that will be put in place. I heard from doctors, nurses and other pracitioners to discuss how thinly they feel they are being stretched in this new system. And it's a system that they want to see succeed. They're employed there because they believe in the mission, they want to provide the service. But I'm wondering if you could maybe go into a little bit of detail as to how the $433 million that is proposed for patient-centered care -- how that will go towards staffing to make sure that we have the staff availble to meet the needs of those veterans.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel for the details.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Sure.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Congressman Sanchez, when we implemented the PAC [Patient Aligned Care] program, several years ago, the first thing that we did was a survey of what we call PAC readiness. One of which was to determine how many support people there were in place for each one of the providers in a PAC clinic. The desirable ratio agreed to in the entire health care community is 3 people per provider. We found that there were places that were reaching that goal and then others that weren't. One of the major things that has been involved in the PAC model financing has been to provide the medical centers with -- and the clinics with -- the number of people that they need to support the provider. I will look specifically at Long Beach and I can, in fact, get back to you. But our goal -- and we're very close to it as I understand -- is to have 3 support people per provider in each one of our clinics.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Okay because I hear stories about staffing being stretched and no new hires or people leave and are not replaced. And so the concern is to have the appropriate amount of people available to provide the services that are needed. And I would appreciate you following up with me about that. To the Secretary, I know that you and I have previously discussed some of my concerns -- specifically with respect to the VA employing female specialists to assist specifically female veterans with VA services. And I know that the administration's budget contains $403 million to address the needs of women veterans. I'm wondering if you can tease that out a little bit and provide more specifics on how that money will be used to address the growing needs of the female veteran population?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Uh, thank you, Congresswoman. I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel for the details but this is confirmed that you and I have had discussions about this.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Yes.
Dr. Robert Petzel: I thank you, Mr. Secretary. Uh, the -- our goal is to ensure that every female veteran has a choice of providers and that, if they wish to, they will be able to be seen by a female provider. About 75% of women choose to have a female provider. And we are able to meet that need in virtually every setting except perhaps some remote community-based outpatient clinics where we just don't have those sort of uh facilities. I can, for the record, give you the details about how much staffing -- what kind of staffing is to be associated with the $403 million increase we're seeing in women's health programs. I don't have that number at the tip of my fingers but it is important to us as I'm sure it is to you that women have a choice, that if they wish to see a female provider, they are afforded that opportunity.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Yeah, one of the things on my tour of the Long Beach facility is that they do have a sort of separate women's clinic area where women can choose that to be their point of entry to the system.
Dr. Robert Petzel: About sixty of our largest medical centers have specific women's centers, women's health centers where all of the services are provided in that same environment. The rest of them are sort of associated with women specific primary care clinics when they're not as large. And then, in community based outpatient clinics we have trained the primary care providers in the necessities of women's health.
Homelessness was touched on by US House Reps Corrine Brown and Dr. Phil Roe. We're ignoring that for two reasons. 1) Roe brought up that once a case worker has X number of clients, the VA isn't issuing vouchers so even though there is space a veterans left sleeping on the street or somewhere else (he or she receives no voucher). Shinseki noted that homeless veterans were decreasing. Are they? Or is this program -- which tracks beds used in shelters -- not factoring in that veterans aren't receiving vouchers if their caseworker is maxed out? That's not addressed and until it is, I'm not interested in going into the figures. 2) What we do know is that one group of homeless veterans is increasing and it's not the stereotype of the homeless veteran. Earlier this week, Peggy McCarthy (The Day) reports on homeless veterans. Andy and Miriam Miranda live with their young son in a New Haven shelter. Andy's a veteran, they both have degrees and were teachers and their home was foreclosed during these economic hard times. McCarthy reports an emerging trend for homeless veterans is that it's no longer a single veteran but families. Connecticut saw 15 veterans family appealing for help via the homeless programs in 2008 but last year saw 135 families which mirrors what's happening on a national level (2010 saw "an 86 percent increase over 2009"). This increasing group -- homeless veterans with their femilies -- was not addressed in the hearing. The VA budget calls for "$1.352 billion for programs that will prevent and treat Veteran homelessness" (Shinseki's written statement) and I'm fine with noting that figure but, repeating, if VA is saying that the number of homeless veterans is decreasing and US House Rep Roe is telling us -- without any dispute from Shinseki or anyone from the VA on the panel -- that homeless people are being turned away when beds are available, that they're not being given vouchers, then I think the VA needs to clarify how they're collecting their numbers.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012







Wally: Who determines what diseae's or ailment's is agent orange. I have several health issues and when i get a agent orange exam they tell me it is not on the list, yet I know there are other vets witht he same problems. I know the doctor I see at the exam does not record the symtoms. Why can't we see someone who monitors the health issue to verify it might be agent orange related. I was told the way health issues make the list is when the population of all viet nam vets have a higher number of health issues than the regular population. I know I was sprayed with agent orange why should my health issues be diluted with vets that were not exposed?
Senator Patty Murray: We worked hard last year to defeat an amendment in the Senate that would have changed the VA standard for determining presumptions for Agent Orange because some wanted to just "save money" I knew that was wrong and we beat that amendment. We will have to remain vigilant this year as well. Research is going on as we speak and hopefully we will be able to better help you and many more in the future.
That was Senator Patty Murray conversing with veterans last week and we'll come back to that in just a moment. First, if you need to know how ugly the Agent Orange issue got on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, you can refer to the September 23, 2010 snapshot reporting on that day's hearing when Senator Jim Webb had his little hissy, when Senator Roland Burris insisted that "budget shortfalls" do not mean you cut needed health benefits for veterans and, as Senator Burris said that, Senator Jon Testor, with an angry look on his face, rose and stormed out of the hearing. Earlier Testor had been backing up Webb who was furious that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was attempting to see to it that the victims of Agent Orange got the help they needed.
And we're going to drop back to the June 15, 2010 snapshot:
WAVY reports (link has text and video) that victims of Agent Orange (specifically Vietnam era veterans) could recieve addition beneifts for B-Cell Leukemia, Parkinson's disease and coronary heart disease. Could? A US Senator is objecting to the proposed changes by VA. Jim Webb has written VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that ". . . this single executive decision is estimated to cost a minimum of $42.2 billion over the next ten years. A regulatory action of this magnitude requires proper Congressional review and oversight." Besides, Webb wrote, "Heart disease is a common phenomenon regardless of potential exposure to Agent Orange." That is really embarrasing and especially embarrassing for the Democratic Party (Webb is a Democrat today, having converted from a Reagan Republican). It also goes a long way towards explaining Webb's refusal to get on board with Senator Evan Bayh's bill to create a national registry that would allow those Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans to be able to receive treatment for their exposures without having to jump through hoops repeatedly.
Veteran Jim Webb did everything he could to prevent victims of Agent Orange and Burn Pits from receiving the medical treatment they needed. That's why he can't run for re-election. Veterans in Virginia pulled their support in 2010 over the Agent Orange issue. His decision not to seek re-election has to do with the fact that he doesn't have the votes to win. And he shouldn't after what he did. There's an important lesson there: A veteran isn't necessarily the one to elect to Congress if you're concerned about veterans issues.
Back to Senator Patty Murray's remarks. She made them last Thursday at a Town Hall. It was the first of its kind for veterans, being able to speak with the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and from their home or work or library. It was a Virtual Town Hall which Disabled American Veterans sponsored. A full transcript of the exchange can be found here. Face to face contact is always best, yes. And that's why Murray takes part in Town Halls frequently. But the Virtual Town Hall allowed her and veterans from around the country to meet up online and that was especially helpful to veterans who may have issues with mobility. Many issues were raised, from VA charging for services that they are supposed to provide for free, the need for better transitioning of Wounded Warriors, the long wait time for medical appointments for mental treatment. One question dealt with an issue on many veterans minds.
Jeremy K.: We have about 2 million combat veterans who are going to be coming back, or are already back, from Iraq and Afghanistan. Too many of them are sick and injured and will need VA. Given the government's debt, is VA going to have the money and people to meet those needs while continuing to serve 5-6 million older veterans?
Senator Patty Murray: There is no doubt that we as a nation must address the issue of our national debt. However we send our men and women into combat and should never allow our budgets to be an excuse for not providing them with the care that has been promised. We will be getting the Presidents budget next week, and I will be looking at it very carefully to make sure we are meeting the needs of our nation's veterans.
Veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan have health needs. Martin C. Evans (Newsday) is apparently the only reporter at a major daily newspaper to cover yesterday's Burn Pits Symposium at Stony Brook College. Evans reports that the Army sent Veronique Hauschild from their "Public Health Command" to speak and she insisted that the military needs to do its own studies and added, "I don't want to say there's not a problem because I believe there is." But that "I" is herself and not the official position of the Army. Her presence is encouraging, however. It attests to the reality that the Pentagon can no longer outright dismiss the very real damage of burn pits. If the government study (a bunch of subsidized scientists refusing to disclose their government funding as they posed as independent) from last fall had been a success, the Pentagon would not have felt the need to send someone to the conference. But the pushback on that non-scientific nonsense and the increased public awareness of the damage from burn pits was so great that the paper is pretty much dead and rebuked.
Evans notes a study Dr. Anthony Szema did "published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, area soldiers who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan were found to be about seven times more likely to display signs of damaged lungs than enlistees who never served there." Last week, Kelley B. Vlahos ( explained:

We've been following the issue of toxic environmental exposure of U.S. servicemen and women here at since 2009. Mounting evidence strongly suggests that the unregulated open-air burn pits used to incinerate everything from medical waste to batteries and rubber tires, has contributed to the fine particulate matter found carried in the dust, including metals and bacteria, and has something to do with the dramatically changed health of returning veterans.

"What makes healthy individuals who have never had asthma end up in wheelchairs on oxygen, or a 34-year-old non-smoker who has near-normal [physical fitness tests] but is short of breath and has lungs that are totally destroyed? These are the problems we are trying to solve," exclaimed Dr. Anthony Szema, Stony Brook University Medical Center Assist Professor of Surgery, in a recent interview for the Army Times.

Szema recently wrote about a soldier serving both in Iraq and Kuwait who has lung tissue riddled with fine particles of titanium, iron and copper. He published his findings recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It is part of his ongoing study of soldiers suffering from unexplained illnesses.

This particular soldier, according to the report, is suffering from nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis, a rare and dangerous type of pneumonia that afflicts people for no known reason, cannot be treated and is 60 percent fatal within the first six months of diagnosis, according to Wikipedia. What we know about the soldier is where he was stationed, and that he came into contact with "the laundry facility, improvised explosive device blasts, sandstorms, burn pits and the occasional cigar."

In Iraq violence continues, AP notes a Baghdad bombing has claimed 1 life and left six other people injured. In addition, Reuters notes 1 Asaish was shot dead in Kirkuk and, dropping back to Monday, the corpse of 1 woman was discovered in Baquba (strangled), 2 corpses were discovered elsewhere in Baquba (the two are thought to have been killed in 2006). Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports military General Aziz Hamzah was shot dead in Baghdad, a second Baghdad bombing left two peple injured and a Mosul bombing claimed 3 lives and left nineteen people injured.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012







They grow 'em dumb at MIT. John Tirman thinks he has something to say at the Huffington Post but he's just huffing and puffing. He wants you to know that the Conflict Zone photo exhibit at New York City Fire Museum, ignores Iraqi suffering. Does it? I don't know. I haven't toured the exhibit. So I won't offer an opinion on it. John Tirman hasn't toured it either but he saw a few photos online and that made an 'expert.' MIT grows 'em dumb because it encourages stupidity, fearless stupidity. In Friday's snapshot we noted four of five participants in the New York Times' Thursday "Room for Debate" feature. Tirman notes it as well . . . in order to defend Barack Obama.
Like most worthless whores of the last few years, he trashes the Clinton administration because he thinks that makes him look like less of a whore and independent. ("Look, I trashed a Demorat!") No, it doesn't. It's the second oldest trick in the whore's book. (I believe the first oldest is stealing money out of john's wallet while the john sleeps.) The most blessed thing about a second Barack administration would be the absence of Hillary Clinton and the inability of all these little pricks to continue to blame her for everything he does. That's not me wishing for a second term for Barack, that's me saying, if it happens, there's one positive aspect of it right there.
Tirman's just another cheap whore for Barack, unable and unwilling to address reality. Pretending to give a damn about the dead in Iraq . . . as long as he can pretend the dying stopped after Bully Boy Bush left the White House.
Tirman writes as if things are wonderful in Iraq. Kenan Engin (Eurasia Review) offers this summary of events:
Since the US-withdrawal from Iraq approximately 500 Iraqis have been killed across the country. This is the highest death and casualty toll in the past five years. The recent attacks have mostly occurred in Shiite neighborhoods and intensified a sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shiites. This tension flamed up with the recent conflict between Sunni Arab Vice President Al-Hashimi and Shiite PM Al-Maliki and has turned into a political crisis. Al-Maliki has accused Al-Hashimi of assisting a terrorist car bombing supposedly aimed to assassinate Al-Maliki. For that reason an arrest warrant has been issued against Al-Hashimi after which he fled to Kurdistan. This has agitated Al-Hashimi and Sunni Arab members of parliament who blame Al-Maliki's political tendency to dominate power centers, rule extra-constitutionally, and deny the rights of Sunni federated regions as in the case of Kurdistan.
Tirman ignores all that. That someone at MIT could be as dishonest as Tirman is very telling about the decay in US academia. Like a good little whore for Barack, he wants to distract because if he can't go to "the war is illegal!" and bash Bush for starting it, he might have to note that continuing an illegal war is just as wrong -- something Barack did. So he ignores the arguments that were put forward in the forum. He can't handle the arguments, his mind isn't equipped for it. And in the process, the idiot allows the right wing to win. That's not how we engaged on the left, by throwing up a lot a smoke and trying to distract from the points being made. Tirman is not just dishonest, he's embarrassing.
Nouri al-Maliki? He huffs, "They are not only upset about the hasty retreat, but the residual support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom they find distasteful." It takes extreme stupidity or whoredom to be responsible for that sentence. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many others are calling out Nouri al-Maliki. But because some right-wingers and some centrists also do, Tirman must reflexively take the opposing side? That's academically and intellectually dishonest.
The dishonesty abounds. We'll take one paragraph as an example and break it up into bits.
"Putting aside for a moment the fact that the timetable for withdrawal was set by President Bush,"
He's referring to the SOFA (Status Of Forces Agreement) which extended the US military occupation of Iraq from 2008 to 2011.
"the impossibility of extending that timeline foiled by the Haditha massacre (the result of which is Iraq's refusal to sustain U.S. criminal immunity),"
First, "the impossibility of extending that timeline foiled by . . ." What the hell is he trying to say? Extending the timeline of the SOFA was an impossibility that Haditha foiled? If it foiled the impossibility -- pay attention, MIT -- that would mean the extension wasn't an impossibility.
Regardless of what he's trying to say, the Barack administration did attempt to extend the SOFA, did attempt to enter into a new agreement and, according to Michele Flournoy, is now back in negotiations with Iraq for a US military presence. From the January 30th snapshot:
Robert Burns (AP) reports this morning Michele Flournoy, outgoing Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, explained to reporters that talks will be kicking off shortly between the US and Iraq -- part of the reason the White House strong-armed Ayad Allawi on Friday and over the weekend -- and "to start thinking about how they [Iraqis] want to work with" US troops. Which is completely expected despite the failure of press outlets to pay attention in November. See the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," November 16th "Iraq snapshot," November 17th "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)," Kat's "Who wanted what?" and Third's "Enduring bases, staging platforms, continued war" and "Gen Dempsey talks "10 enduring" US bases in Iraq."
Like many dabblers, he goes to Haditha for outrage when Haditha was only one of the outrage and not even the most outrageous to Iraq. There's an Iraqi on trial in the US. For a crime that is less than what was done to 14-year-old Abeer and her family (in the US, the accused is accused of rape only -- not gang-rape and multiple murders). That case is followed in the Iraqi media. The anger over no one being put to death for the murder of a family of a four, for the gang-rape of a 14-year-old girl, has not gone away. There's Abu Ghraib, there's so much. But dabblers go with Haditha. It's a reference they can sprinkle into their pre-written sermons.
"that Maliki's power was consolidated under Bush,"
In March 2010, Iraq held elections. This was followed by an eight-month political stalemate because Nouri refused to surrender the post of prime minister. He never would have been able to bring Iraq to a standstill for eight months without the backing of the White House and that's President Barack Obama's White House. Yes, Bully Boy Bush and company installed a thug they thought would be an easy puppet and push through the oil & gas law they wanted. No question of that. But Nouri al-Maliki was not the choice of the Iraqi people in 2010. And Nouri could have been ousted if the process -- outlined in the Constitution -- had been followed. Instead, he was able to hang onto a post because he had the White House backing. The Erbil Agreement reached by the political blocs? The US government drafted whole portions of that.
"and that a major promise of Obama's 2008 election was withdrawal from Iraq."
Was it a major promise in March of 2008 when Samantha Power revealed that it wasn't a promise? Let's drop back to the March 7, 2008 snapshot:
Stephen Sackur: You said that he'll revisit it [the decision to pull troops] when he goes to the White House. So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out within sixteen months, isn't a commitment is it?
Samantha Power: You can't make a commitment in whatever month we're in now, in March of 2008 about what circumstances are going to be like in January 2009. We can'te ven tell what Bush is up to in terms of troops pauses and so forth. He will of course not rely upon some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or as a US Senator.
Noted here when it happened, ignored by the Cult of St Barack until July 4, 2008 when it was briefly noted in our 'brave' 'alternative' media (see "Editorial: The Whores of Indymedia" first and then "Letters to An Old Sell Out: Iraq" if you're late to the party).
The US still hasn't withdrawn from Iraq. Special Ops, the CIA, the FBI, 700 US service members as trainers (according to Tirman's beloved Nouri al-Maliki), drones and the 17,000 brigade known as the 'diplomatic corps' of the State Dept is not withdrawal. Barack did lie on the campaign trail in 2008, he swore one brigade a month and it would start when he was sworn in, the first thing he would do. And yet, that would have meant everyone out of Iraq in 2010. Barack didn't meet that promise.
"What is more troubling about the right-wing moaning is that they fail to mention that eight-year war that just ravaged the country. "
What is most troubling about whores for Barack is that they want to pretend that Iraq can now be ignored because they've got an election to whore for. Violence is up in Iraq. There's a political crisis in Iraq. You think they're outraged by Haditha? Did you miss their outrage over the US drones being flown in their country? (The State Dept says they're controlling the drones but many believe it's the CIA.)
Whores don't care about people, they just care about a person and they'll lie for him or her and that's all they'll do, that's all they ever do. They offer nothing to an honest debate because they hocked honesty at a pawn shop years ago. If you doubt it, note how many times Tirman tells you what the photo exhibit means -- the one he's never been to. The one he's seen just a few photos of online. You try attending a class as a student and giving a critical evaluation on, for example, Hesse's Steppenwolf after you admit you haven't read the book and see how that goes over.
Thought the Iraq war was over? The Obama administration certainly wants you to think so, the better for its re-election campaign. Inconvenient fact, though: The Pentagon is asking for nearly $3 billion for a war it isn't actually fighting.
To be specific, the Pentagon's brand-new budget request asks for $2.9 billion for what it calls "Post-Operation NEW DAWN (OND)/Iraq Activities." That's almost as much money as the Pentagon spends on Darpa, its mad-science arm. And there are practically no U.S. troops in Iraq.
RT adds, "After 'ending' the war last year, the US government handed Iraqi operations over to the State Department. Three billion dollars -- the amount that the DoD wants for a war they aren't waging -- makes up around one-ninth of the State Department's entire annual budget. In 2012, the Pentagon had asked for $11 billion to fight the War in Iraq -- which was, at the time, an actual war." The Defense Dept isn't the only one sticking their greedy hands out for US taxpayer dollars. Nicole Gauette (Bloomberg News) reports, "President Barack Obama's budget seeks $8.2 billion in 'extraordinary and temporary' funding for State Department responsibilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The request comes on top of the $43.4 billion proposed for the 'core' budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which manages foreign aid. As the military has pulled out of Iraq and drawn down in Afghanistan, the administration has turned to the State Department to oversee spending on political, security and economic projects, such as the $1.8 billion for Iraq police training and military assistance."
Aren't you glad Barack 'ended' the Iraq War and all those billions of US taxpayer dollars stopped being spent on it? Oh, that's right, neither of those things actually happened.