Saturday, April 20, 2013







Monday there was a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.  We attended the hearing that morning.  That afternoon, the attack in Boston took place and, like everyone else, we were trying to find out what was going on there.  Yesterday's snapshot covered the hearing and noted that we'd pick up on it today with regards to Senator Jay Rockefeller.  In addition, Ava offered "Sanders makes impression early in tenure as Committee Chair" on the hearing last night and Kat offered "I can always count on Senator Richard Burr."  The topic of the hearing was the VA's budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014.  Appearing before the Committee was VA Secretary Eric Shinseki -- with Allison Hickey, Dr. Robert Petzel, Steve Muro, Stephen Warren and W. Todd Grams tagging along.

Senator Jay Rockefeller apparently is too old to grasp the term "multi-task."  He wasted everyone's time with nonsense such as this, "It's homelessness on the one side, suicides on the other, how do you pick the tragedy?"

Does he think he's Barbara Walters and this was an interview?  Those are the problems.  The VA Secretary, whomever it is, will have to address them and a lot more.

Also, Eric Shinseki's title is "Secretary."  It is not "General."  We applauded Michael Hayden for using the title "Director" when he was made "Director" of the CIA.  Eric Shinseki is the Secretary of the VA.  That is his current title.  If it's beneath him and he needs by some other title, then he needs to resign.  Watching Jay lick his lips and call him "General" repeatedly was sickening.  And we need to review that title because it's not "Doctor."

So this crap from Jay Rockefeller was also a waste of time and had nothing to do with the VA budget -- which was the topic of the hearing,  "How do you take someone who's on a suicide watch list, how do you try to break through?"  If he really gave a damn about that question, he should have directed it to the only doctor present, Dr. Robert Petzel. 

Of course, Shinseki couldn't answer that question but he used it to eat up time, run down the clock and be a glory hog.  "You know four years ago," he declared, "we weren't receiving suicide information, veteran suicide information from the states.  So we wrote, and the states have been very responsive."  And he went on and on and on.  And Rockefeller let him.

Wow, Eric Shinseki, you're quite the man aren't you.  You're just accomplishing so much and that's why you can't backlog, right?  Reality, Eric Shinseki did nothing on that.

That was the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that repeatedly raised that issue and that was then-Chair of the Committee Patty Murray that did the heavy lifting.  August 2011, Adam Ashton reported on it for McClatchy's News Tribune and that article doesn't say a word about Eric's efforts -- because there were none.  It does however open with, "Washington Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday encouraged state government to start tallying veteran suicides, as [the state of] Washington already does.  Her goal is to quantify an under-reported number that could help health agencies improve their outreach to service members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Senator Jay Rockefeller:   I remember a couple of years ago the excitement when DoD and the Veterans Administration were planning to work together, I went to a number of common facilities, joint-facilities and everything was full of optimism and now all of the sudden, evidently, unless I'm wrong there's been a pull-back from electronic records, all things that flow from this cooperation, there's been a pull-back from DoD.  I'm curious about that.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  We are both still committed to a seamless transition of service members into VA.  That has not changed.  We are also both committed to an electronic health record that we share in common and in the lnaguage that we have come to use in the past four years of growing the concept, it is a single, joint-common, integrated electronic health record -- open in architecture, non-proprietary in design.  And all of those terms are code to keep us focused on what we want in an electronic health record -- one that we share together and one that will be as good five years from now as it is on the day we first invest and purchase it as opposed to being faced -- over and over again -- with an aging electronic health record that we somehow have to refinance years down the road. So this is the concept that we have commit ourselves to and, uh, and I would say that, uh, my sense is that we have not backed away from that although Secretary Hagel who has just arrived is in the midst of, uh, getting into this issue and, uh, uh, I've agreed that, uh, he ought to have time to do that and -- 

Senator Jay Rockefeller: But you don't know of any back away? 

I noted in yesterday's snapshot that Jay's been saying he'd be leaving the Senate for years and that he never does.  A few e-mailed to note that he has declared he won't seek re-election in 2014.  I am aware of that.  I was also in DC all week so I'm also aware of certain individuals high in the Democratic Party structure entertaining at dinners -- including two I attended -- with tales of Jay's recent 'concern' that he might be really hard to replace and, if the numbers just aren't there, let him know, there's still time for him to run.  The laughter that greets those tales should have been greeting Jay's nonsense at the Senate hearing.

Shinseki should have been pressed hard on what he declared above.  He was not.  Last week, Shinseki appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  We covered it here with last Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and "Seamless transition? Shinseki wasted the last four years," while Ava reported on it with "Shinseki tries to present 134% increase as a gift for women," Wally with  "How the VA and DoD waste your tax dollars (Wally)" and Kat with "DAV calls for Congress to reject 'chained CPI'."  In addition, Dona moderated a discussion of the hearing at Third "Congress and Veterans."

The shocker of that hearing was learning that nothing had been done on the electronic record.  Not one damn thing.  Let's be clear -- and let's be quick -- since 2005, Congress has been funding this and holding hearings on this.  Shineski became VA Secretary at the start of 2009.  He and the VA (under him) have reported progress to Congress repeatedly over the last four years.  The first step of progress is deciding who's operating system will be used -- because DoD and VA computers systems are not currently compatible.  In last week's hearing, Shinseki revealed that this hadn't been decided but he favored VA's system.  This is the first step.  You can't design a record until you know what system is going to be using it.  So for four years nothing has happened.  That was shocking news.

Now let's deal with his nonsense before the Senate.  Let's go slowly over what he told Rockefeller (already quoted above) about the electronic record.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  We are both still committed to a seamless transition of service members into VA.  That has not changed.  We are also both committed to an electronic health record that we share in common and in the language that we have come to use in the past four years of growing the concept, it is a single, joint-common, integrated electronic health record -- open in architecture, non-proprietary in design. 

Repeating, to design that record, you need to know what system will be using it.  That's the first step.  If that's not been decided, nothing has. 

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  And all of those terms are code to keep us focused on what we want in an electronic health record -- one that we share together and one that will be as good five years from now as it is on the day we first invest and purchase it as opposed to being faced -- over and over again -- with an aging electronic health record that we somehow have to refinance years down the road. 

 Is he an idiot?  Or is he a liar?  I don't know but he's not qualified for his job.  I called and visited various records offices in DC and surrounding areas this week to ask about this.  Specifically, how often do you update?  How often do you switch?  One of my favorite and most helpful sources explained that she was about to retire after decades of service.  They have records on microfilm (rolls of film).  That predated her joining the office.  She could remember when they filmed records on micofiche.  They still had those.  Then she could remember the big push at the end of the seventies and start of the 80s for computers.  And they got this great computer system that they were never going to have to worry about again.  Everything would be entered and kept forever.  And then, in 1999, they got a new computer system which would communicate with the previous one saving the records.  That didn't in fact happen.  But then, in 2005, they got another new one and this one would pull from the 80s computer programs and the ones implemented in 1999.  Only it didn't.  See the old clunky terminal, she asked pointing to one lone terminal next to up to date computers?  They have to keep that in the office for those records from the 80s computer (records that span that decade through 1998).  The microfilm and microfiche are supposed to be digitized and converted over and maybe in five years that will be complete, the woman offered.

She and everyone else who works with records laughed at the notion that you can create something today and it will need no modifications to be used in the future.  If someone's having trouble grasping technology, then just think about music and how we've moved from vinyl, to cassette tape, to CDs and now MP3s.

Shinseki should be focused on providing an electronic record that works today.  He's not a pyschic, he's not a time traveler.  Focus on what's needed today and accept that the future will hold twists and turns that will surprise us all.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  So this is the concept that we have commit ourselves to and, uh, and I would say that, uh, my sense is that we have not backed away from that although Secretary Hagel who has just arrived is in the midst of, uh, getting into this issue and, uh, uh, I've agreed that, uh, he ought to have time to do that and --

Forgetting that he told the House last week that he had already had discussions with Hagel (two, and possibly three, he thought -- see the snapshot from last week, it's in there, he's quoted in full on that), we're still left with the idea that Hagel needs time.  That's idiotic.  In fact, it's so idiotic we should say, "That's so Jay Rockefeller."

In 2012, I'm using the Washington Post here, Barack Obama received 62,611,250 votes for president, securing a second term.   Mitt Romney, the GOP challenger, received 59,134,475 votes.  "Others" was 1,968,682.  About 3.5 million votes decided that election.  The percentages?  Barack got 50.6% of the vote, Romney got 47.8%.  That's less than 3% difference.

As I noted before, Eric Shinseki is neither a psychic not a time traveler.  It was a close election in 2012 (except by the electoral map), it could have gone the other way.

What's my point here?

He has had four years as Secretary of the VA.  He was supposed to implement this.  He had no idea whether Barack would win re-election or not and no idea whether he (Shinseki) would be alive in 2013 or in the position of VA Secretary.  So let's pretend Mitt Romney won for just a minute and that he appointed someone else to be VA Secretary.

What would Shinseki excuse be then?  He had a full term, a full four years to work on this.  He failed to.  He didn't know he'd get a second term as VA.  He is inept and he lacks focus.

A ton of money has been spent on this, a ton of time by Congress.  He's supposed to have kick started this long ago.  Now he wants to use Hagel as his excuse.  Chuck Hagel is Secretary of the Defense.  In Barack's first term, Robert Gates served as Secretary of Defense and was then replaced with Leon Panetta.  Chuck Hagel may end up replaced, Shinseki may end up replaced.

This program was supposed to have been started four years ago.  It is exactly where it was when Shineski was sworn in.  That is unacceptable.  As I stated last week, Barack Obama needs to sit down with Hagel and Shinseki and say, "This (VA/DoD) is the system we will use.  That discussion is now over, you need to begin working on implementing this immediately."

Only Senator Richard Blumenthal appeared to grasp the significance of what Shinseki was telling the Senate this week.   "So you have no assurance right now from the Department of Defense as to when or whether it will go forward?"

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Friday, April 19, 2013







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

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

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

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

He is the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary Eric Shinseki: That's correct.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lie?  Yes, Allison was present.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allison Hickey:  Uh, well, uh --

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

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

We'll close with this from The Headstrong Project:

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

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Thursday, April 18, 2013








We'll start in DC.

US House Rep Ed Royce:  And needless to say, given Washington's chronic budget deficit, wasteful spending is intolerable.  But even good programs must be subject to prioritization.  We can't do everything.  Along those lines, it is inexcusable that the State Department has been operating for four-plus-years without a presidentially-nominated, Senate-confirmed Inspector General.  This Committee is committed to its responsibility for overseeing the spending and other operations of the State Department -- and that is a bipartisan commitment I am pleased to join Mr. Engel in carrying out.

Ed Royce is the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and he was speaking at this morning's hearing  on the State Department's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014.  Appearing before him was Secretary of State John Kerry.   Engel is US House Rep Eliot Engel who is the Ranking Member.  Other than his remarks beating the drums on Iran -- and praising US President Barack Obama for the same ("Over the past four years, President Obama has unified the international community against this threat and signed into law the strongest-ever sanctions against the regime in Tehran."") -- his opening remarks really don't require noting here nor do even of his remarks during questioning.  If you believe a House members greatest duty is to serve Israel, then I've short changed you.  If you believe a US House member needs to be covering US issues, Eliot Engel has short changed you. 

The issue Royce raised is not a minor one.  We first noted it December 7, 2011 when US House Rep Jason Chaffetz raised it in a hearing.  We've noted this lack of oversight many times since including last month with "Media again misses story (lack of oversight)."  Maybe if the press had covered it, the position wouldn't have remained vacant for this record length.

Chair Ed Royce:  I'd also like to call your attention to the State Department's Inspector General's Office.  This is the key independent office looking at waste and fraud.  Mr. Secretary, as of today, there has been no permanent State Department Inspector General for over five years.  This includes President Obama's entire first term.   The Committee raised this issue in a bi-partisan letter sent to you in February and we would like to see an immediate appointment to this position.

Secretary John Kerry:  On the IG, you're absolutely correct.  We're -- we're trying to fill a number of positions right now, the IG among them.  The greatest difficulty that I'm finding now that I'm on the other side of the fence is frankly the vetting process.  And I've got some folks that I selected way back in February when I first came in and it's now April and I'm still waiting for the vetting to move.  I've talked to the White House.  They're totally on board.  They're trying to get it moved.  So I hope that within a very short span of time, you're going to see these slots filled.  They need to be.  And that's just the bottom line.  It's important and I commit to you, we will.

Chair Ed Royce:  I think this is the longest gap that we've had in the history of this position.  So if you could talk to the President about this in short order, we would very much appreciate it. 

Secretary John Kerry:  I don't need to talk to the President, we're going to get this done.  We know it and we're trying to get the right people.  Matching person to task and also clearing all the other hurdles, as I am finding, is not as easy as one always thinks.  But we'll get it done.  

For those obsessed with whether Hillary Clinton will run for president or not, right there's one hurdle for her.  She will either have to divorce herself -- a real break -- from Barack Obama or she'll have to tell the American people that there was no independent oversight -- oversight required by law -- of her entire four year term because she didn't want any.  If she choose the latter, it's going to be real hard for her to then assure people that she will have an open presidency.  If she fails to divorce herself from Barack, this feeds into the media's existing notions of her as secretive and controlling.  They will bring the health care fiasco, they will bring up everything.  The only answer for her is to put the blame where it goes: On Barack Obama.  And she'll need to do that before she announces her run.  The longer she would wait to do that, the more it would fall into the media narrative of "She'll say anything to be elected!"  In Monday's snapshot, I called the Green Party out for the sexist attack on Hillary.  And I will continue to call those things out.  I also noted that she's not above criticism and that, should she choose to run and should we be up and running still here, I'll be one of her harshest critics.  Not because I want to but because, unlike the press, I paid attention.  I know the issues from her time at State that could  cripple a run for the presidency.

With respect to John Kerry's remarks to the Committee?

The administration has a vetting problem?  Who could have ever guessed that?  Maybe Isaiah who, February 15, 2009, offered "The Rose Ceremony" featuring Judd Gregg, Nancy Killefer, Bill Richardson and Tom Daschle.  Yeah, it was obvious back then there was a vetting problem.  That's only become more obvious with recent examples including Brett McGurk (Barack's third nominee to be US Ambassador to Iraq who never made it out of the nomination process).

Forgetting that there was no independent oversight of State in Barack's entire first term, this position doesn't require a massive search.  If there's someone wanted for the post, then vet him or her.  However, for the last years, Harold W. Geisel (Deputy Inspector General) has done the job without the title and without the pay.  Also without the independence that having the title would grant him.  If there's no one in mind for this position, why isn't Geisel handed it?

Or is the White House saying that for four years, they've had someone doing that job that wasn't capable of doing it?

This is an important issue.  Another issue raised in the hearing was the Ashraf residents.  Background, approximately 3,400 people were at Camp Ashraf when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  They were Iranian dissidents who were given asylum by Saddam Hussein decades ago.  The US government authorized the US military to negotiate with the residents.  The US military was able to get the residents to agree to disarm and they became protected persons under Geneva and under international law.

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

Under court order, the US State Dept evaluated their decision to place the MEK on the terrorist list and, September 28th, they issued the following.

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
September 28, 2012
The Secretary of State has decided, consistent with the law, to revoke the designation of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its aliases as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under the Immigration and Nationality Act and to delist the MEK as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. These actions are effective today. Property and interests in property in the United States or within the possession or control of U.S. persons will no longer be blocked, and U.S. entities may engage in transactions with the MEK without obtaining a license. These actions will be published in the Federal Register.
With today's actions, the Department does not overlook or forget the MEK's past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992. The Department also has serious concerns about the MEK as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members.
The Secretary's decision today took into account the MEK's public renunciation of violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade, and their cooperation in the peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf, their historic paramilitary base.
The United States has consistently maintained a humanitarian interest in seeking the safe, secure, and humane resolution of the situation at Camp Ashraf, as well as in supporting the United Nations-led efforts to relocate eligible former Ashraf residents outside of Iraq.

February 9th of this year, the Ashraf residents were attacked at the new 'home' of Camp Liberty.

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: And lastly, Mr. Secretary, I have two questions for written reply to allow the Camp Liberty residents in Iraq to go back to Camp Ashraf.  The double-layered T-walls that were protecting the camp were removed and now the residents are vulnerable to armed attacks as they were on February 9th when 8 residents were killed.  Will the US ask the Iraqi government to adequately protect the residents in Camp Liberty?

Ros-Lehtinen had a series of questions.  We'll pick up Kerry's response in the middle, when he gets to Camp Ashraf.

Secretary John Kerry:  Was the Camp Ashraf for written [reply]?

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  It was for written but if you'd like.

Secretary John Kerry:  Well I'll just tell you very quickly, I met with Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki a few days ago.  This concern there about what's happening at Camp Liberty was very much on our minds in terms of security.  We are working with them now in terms of trying to do interviews.  We've actually run into some problems with that.  There was an Albanian offer to take some people.  That was turned down.  So we're working through a complicated situation.  I'll give you a full written answer on that.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher also noted the Camp Ashraf residents and the attack that killed eight people, how "the structures that were protecting them have been taken down.  Are we -- The question is, are we going to hold the Maliki government responsible for their safety and, if there is another attack, and more of them are murdered, are we going to -- will the administration withdraw its request for aid to a regime that's murdering innocent refugees in a camp that we helped put there?"

Secretary John Kerry: I raised this issue -- I raised this issue directly with the prime minister when I was there a couple of weeks ago.  We are deeply engaged in this.  I am very concerned about the potential of another attack.  We are trying very hard to find a place to resettle everybody.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher: Okay.

Secretary John Kerry: I'll tell you [cross-talk] the answer is we are looking for accountability and we are working very hard to provide safety.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Accountability for the Iraqi government is important on this issue

Secretary John Kerry:  It's the Iranian government that I believe was behind the attacks.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Well I would have --

Secretary John Kerry:  But we need the Iraqi government to provide security.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Maliki's coziness to the mullahs in Iran is disturbing and this may reflect that.

Ruth will be covering an aspect of the hearing at her site tonight.  Ava will fill in for Trina tonight and cover another part of today's hearing.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013






In related news, the US government is attempting to punish whistle blower Bradley Manning and to argue that because Osama bin Laden reportedly had access to information -- that the whole world had -- this demonstrates that Bradley was "aiding the enemy."  As the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times observed earlier this month, "In arguing that Manning aided the enemy, the government's case apparently will rest on the assertion that some WikiLeaks material made its way to a digital device found in the possession of Osama bin Laden. This is an ominously broad interpretation. By the government's logic, the New York Times could be accused of aiding the enemy if Bin Laden possessed a copy of the newspaper that included the WikiLeaks material it published."

Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks are forever entwined.  Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."  February 28th, Bradley admitted he leaked to WikiLeaks.  And why.

Bradley Manning:   In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.

Counter-insurgency is war on a native population.  There's been confusion in the '00s because the US government wanted to sell it. Vietnam left counter-insurgency 'off the table' officially because it was publicly reputed.  When Reagan used it in the covert, dirty wars in Latin America in the eighties, it would be 'off the books.'  David Petraeus and others sought to rehabiliate it in the '00s.  That required a lot of money and a lot of greedy academia desperate for that money.  Harvard's Carr Center is only one of the many institutions with blood on their hands -- Sarah Sewall (aka Sarah Sewer) remains at the Carr Center while Samantha Power 'graduated' to the Barack Obama administration.   Sewall herself bragged at the end of 2007 that they could get a candidate to say whatever they wanted which Charlie Rose found very amusing as long as he and she didn't name the candidate (Barack).  Along with the liars of acadmeia there have been the supposed journalists of 'independent' media like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! who won't let counter-insurgency be mentioned unless its by CIA contractor Juan ColeAs Ava and I noted last month, in (mis)covering the documentary James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq  -- produced by BBC Arabic and the Guardian newspaper,  she insisted that the guest not use the term "counterinsurgency" and, at the end, when the guest did bring it up, Goodman immediately changed the subject.  She was fine with presenting violence in Iraq as caused by the US -- provided it could be presented as random.  But to actually note that it was a pattern and a plan was too much for Amy Goodman.  That's only surprising if you missed how she supported the Libyan War and has largely become a mouthpiece for the US government -- at least the CIA faction.  (If this is news to you, you haven't been paying attention and can start getting up to speed by reviewing Bruce Dixon's 2011 piece for Black Agenda Report: "Are Democracy Now!'s Libyan Correspondents Feeding Us the State Department and Pentagon Line on Libya?")

Counter-insurgency has been the least covered topic in the last ten years despite the US government utilization of it.  It's not been covered because there's no money in telling the truth.  Goody might lose some of her campus bookings where she hawks her latest bad clip job.  The Nation has published only one article on the issue that matters and they had to be shamed into publishing that.  The article is "Harvard's Humanitarian Hawks" and it's by Tom Hayden.  He published it as his own site first and only after Katrina and others were deluged with phone calls about why The Nation wasn't carrying that article did they suddenly show interest.

Instead, they prefer to offer piffle like the crap William R. Polk penned as an open letter to Barack where, in passing, he notes that the Pentagon Papers exposed counter-insurgency as a failure.  But he never condemns Barack's use of it in his open letter.  When I noted how little coverage there's been of counter-insurgency, from time to time, a friend will bring up Ann Jones.  To which I reply, "I was trying to be nice.'  Yes, Ann Jones did write about counter-insurgency in 2010: "Taking a page from Vietnam, they claim their hands are tied, while the enemy plays by its own rules.  Rightly or wrongly, this opinion is spreading fast among grieving soldiers as casualties mount.  It's also clear that even the lethal part of counterinsurgency isn't working."

A piece on counter-insurgency that uses terms like "rightly or wrongly," is cowardly.  She never calls it out.  The most she can muster is that it's not working. We've defended Ann many times here but I'm not going to defend her ethical cowardice.  Shame on you, Ann, you damn well know better.

 Some friends point to Peter Rothberg's piece which does liken it to torture.  It also spells it correctly: "counter-insurgency."  That's how it's been spelled for decades before the government decided to rebrand it KFC style.  And that's part of the reason we don't note Peter's piece.  He notes it's torture.  He's right.  But he wrote in 2004 and it was known to be used in Iraq or anywhere else at that time.  That's also why he spelled it correctly: he was writing of it historically. 

Or they'll note a John Nichols piece that fails to illuminate what counter-insurgency is while also failing to condemn it.  Those aren't pieces that matter, those aren't pieces that show bravery.  Bradley Manning spoke out because what was going on in Iraq.  But various so-called 'independent' 'media' outlets don't want to have that conversation.

While we're on the subject of The Nation magazine, we need to note Greg Mitchell.  The never-ending joke failed to cover WikiLeaks in real time -- we did, we covered it here.  We covered the Iraq revelations and waited and waited for others to follow.  But it was 2010 and outside the video, no one gave a damn in independent media.  That's among the reasons that we laughed at Idiot Greg when he suddenly declared himself to be doing 'live blogging' on WikiLeaks.  You live blog an event -- a trial, a sports match.  Just blogging about WikiLeaks every day does not constitute live blogging -- other than you're blogging and you are, yes, alive.  What an idiot.

But, fine, when did Greg call out counter-insurgency?

The answer comes back: He didn't.

Strange because, even now, if you go to WikiLeak's home page you find this -- on the front page:

US (2009) US Special Forces counterinsurgency manual analysis

WikiLeaks released theForeign Internal Defense Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Special Forces (1994, 2004) document, the official US Special Forces doctrine for Foreign Internal Defense or FID. FID operations are designed to prop up "friendly" governments facing popular revolution or guerilla insurgency. FID interventions are often covert or quasi-covert due to the unpopular nature of the governments being supported.
The manual directly advocates training paramilitaries, pervasive surveillance, censorship, press control and restrictions on labor unions & political parties. It directly advocates warrantless searches, detainment without charge and (under varying circumstances) the suspension of habeas corpus. It directly advocates employing terrorists or prosecuting individuals for terrorism who are not terrorists, running false flag operations and concealing human rights abuses from journalists. And it repeatedly advocates the use of subterfuge and "psychological operations" (propaganda) to make these and other "population & resource control" measures more palatable

And if you use the link they provide, you'll be taken to a report by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange which opens:

"[T]he psychological effectiveness of the CSDF concept starts by reversing the insurgent strategy of making the government the repressor.  It forces the insurgents to cross a critical threshold-that of attacking and killing the very class of people they are supposed to be liberating. -- US Special Forces doctrine obtained by Wikileaks"
So states the US Special Forces counterinsurgency manual obtained by Wikileaks, Foreign Internal Defense Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Special Forces (1994, 2004). The manual may be critically described as "what the US learned about running death squads and propping up corrupt government in Latin America and how to apply it to other places". Its contents are both history defining for Latin America and, given the continued role of US Special Forces in the suppression of insurgencies, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, history making.
The leaked manual, which has been verified with military sources, is the official US Special Forces doctrine for Foreign Internal Defense or FID.
FID operations are designed to prop up "friendly" governments facing popular revolution or guerilla insurgency. FID interventions are often covert or quasi-covert due to the unpopular nature of the governments being supported ("In formulating a realistic policy for the use of advisors, the commander must carefully gauge the psychological climate of the HN [Host Nation] and the United States.")
The manual directly advocates training paramilitaries, pervasive surveillance, censorship, press control and restrictions on labor unions & political parties. It directly advocates warrantless searches, detainment without charge and (under varying circumstances) the suspension of habeas corpus. It directly advocates employing terrorists or prosecuting individuals for terrorism who are not terrorists, running false flag operations and concealing human rights abuses from journalists. And it repeatedly advocates the use of subterfuge and "psychological operations" (propaganda) to make these and other "population & resource control" measures more palatable.

I'm sorry, Greg Mitchell, how can you set yourself as the go-to on all things WikiLeaks and refuse to explore counter-insurgency?  Answer: You can't.

William Boardman  covered the documentary last week -- here for Consortium News, here for Global Research.  Excerpt.

The hour-long film explores the arc of American counterinsurgency brutality from Vietnam to Iraq, with stops along the way in El Salvador and Nicaragua. James Steele is now a retired U.S. colonel who first served in Vietnam as a company commander in 1968-69.  He later made his reputation as a military adviser in El Salvador, where he guided ruthless Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s.
When his country called again in 2003, he came out of retirement to train Iraqi police commandos in the bloodiest techniques of counterinsurgency that evolved into that country’s Shia-Sunni civil war that at its peak killed 3,000 people a month. Steele now lives in a gated golf community in Brian, Texas, and did not respond to requests for an interview for the documentary bearing his name.

 In June, Bradley faces military 'justice' and if you want to build support for Bradley, you start explaining what took place, what made him speak out.  Not random death squads, but a plan -- while the US government claimed to be in Iraq for 'democracy' -- to kill and suppress the Iraqi people.  This is what prompts outrage.  This is what drives Bradley to blow the whistle.  And this same counter-insurgency was being used in Afghanistan.

Do you stay silent or do you blow the whistle?

For Bradley, it was obvious, you blow the whistle about this program being utilized in two different countries and you do it because you are trying to protect millions of people in the process.

Do you stay silent or do you blow the whistle?

That's the question that so-called 'independent' media needs to ask itself.  They can start telling the truth about counter-insurgency or they can continue the lie. 

Will you stand up like Bradley Manning and call out counter-insurgency or will you cower like Anatol Lieven did in 2010, writing for The Nation, "How the Afghan Counterinsurgency Threatens Pakistan."  Bradley didn't decry a good or neutral policy that had a few bad impacts, he decried a criminal policy.

What Bradley did was very brave and very important.

We devalue the importance when we refuse to address counter-insurgency and we betray his bravery.

Not everyone's been a coward.   The national radio program Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), was able to explore the topic of counter-insurgency with journalist Patrick Farrelly who was part of the  BBC Arabic and the Guardian newspaper investigative team behind the documentary  James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq.  In their program that began airing March 18th, they explored the issues at length and why they mattered.  (For those who can't stream or who will not be helped by non-closed captioning streams, there are excerpts of the discussion in the March 18th snapshot, the March 20th snapshot and the March 22nd snapshot.)

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