Thursday, July 17, 2014










Let's go back to today's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.  Here, Ranking Member Richard Burr is speaking to Acting VA Secretary Sloan.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Mr. Sloan, I want to focus a few moments on data integrity and specifically at the VBA.  I want to give you a few examples of some testimony at the VA provided by the Office of the Inspector General and the General Accounting Office in a House hearing Monday night.  The Inspector General made this statement -- and I quote all of these, "We have concerns that VBA's goals are not realistic and [are] comprised by data integrity issues."  Quote: "We're receiving a number of complaints regarding mail mismanagement, manipulation of dates of claims and other data integrity issues in the Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Oakland and Houston VA regional offices.  And today we received an additional allegation regarding the Little Rock VA regional office.  We are concerned about how quickly the list of regional offices with allegations is growing."   Quote: "VBA removed all provisional rated claims from its pending inventory.  VBA's process misrepresented the actual work load of pending claims and its progress towards eliminating the overall claims backlog."  Quote: "An Office of Inspector General team sent to Philadelphia  regional office on June 19, 2014 determined that there were significant opportunities for regional offices to manipulate and input incorrect dates of claims in the electronic record, incorrect application of data claims compromises data integrity related to timeliness of claims processing."  Then there's this exchange that took place between Congressman [Gus] Bilirakis and the Assistant I[nspector] G[eneral] Linda Halliday.  Mr. Bilirakis said, "You remarked in your opening statement that VBA self-reported a decrease in the national backlog of more than 50% since March 2013.  Do you trust those numbers?" Ms. Halliday: "At this point, I would say 'no.'  I can't trust those numbers.  I think we have a lot of work ahead of us to address the allegations we've just received. They all seem to focus on data integrity and they need to be looked at very carefully so I don't want to say I trust them."  Near the end of the hearing, Congressman [Beto] O'Rourke asked Ms. Halliday, and I quote, "One of the things that you said in your opening comment that struck me was that some of the success may be compromised by data integrity issues.  Anything that Secretary [Allison] Hickey has said tonight that alleviates those concerns that you raised in your opening statement?"  Ms. Halliday simply responded, "No."

Monday night, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing.  We noted some of it in Tuesday's snapshot.  We're noting some of it today.  Grasp that what Ranking Member Burr noted of the hearing is important but that it's not even all of the important from that hearing.

Where is the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee?  Why aren't they doing a damn thing.  Not only was there the issues Burr pointed to, it was also true that the VA attempted to record agents of Congress as they questioned VA workers.  US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  Monday's hearing included a panel of whistle-blowers.  It also included a panel of VA officials including the infamous and notorious liar Allison Hickey.

House Committee Chair Jeff Miller: [. . .] I instructed the Committee staff to make a visit to the Philadelphia regional office on the second of July, 2014.  As of the 20th of June, specific concerns that we've heard some tonight had been raised on the management or more accurately mismanagement of that office.  And I did want our staff to spend a day on the ground to perform a technical review of some of the various files, view the office and meet with some of the individuals who work there.  This is a customary thing for our staff to do.  So let me run through what occurred on this unannounced visit. My staff alerted the office of Congressional Legislative Affairs of their imminent arrival at approximately nine o'clock in the morning and about 20 minutes later they arrive and are greeted by an employee of the regional office and they were accompanied to a conference room on the fourth floor.  Within moments of arrival, while waiting for the acting director of the regional office, one of my staff went to the restroom on the fourth floor and there was another individual who was in the restroom who had set a yellow notepad not far from the sink and when my staff member and when my staff member went by the sink, they noticed there was writing at the top of the page that was circled.  In fact, we've got a copy of it, I'd like to go ahead and post it if we can so everyone can see it.  Members you have a copy of this, it's the yellow legal pad.  And two names were circled at the top of the page.  Now these two employees were from the regional office and they both had acted as whistle-blowers to improper acts in the past.  Alright, my staff then looked at the remainder of the page and on it were written my staff members' names for information as their status for the Committee of Veterans Affairs.  And if you will notice about mid-way down, you'll see where the word "ignore" was followed by one of my staff member's names -- so you see the word "ignore" just, it looks like,  to the left of the pen.  But before I finish the timeline for the members' benefit, the person who exited the bathroom with the yellow notepad in hand was the acting director Lucy Filipov of the Philadelphia Regional Office and now the acting director had met with my staff later in the conference room and when requested who had provided notice of the visit, she stated she had not spoken with OCLA but instead had only spoken with Diana Rubins regarding the Congressional staff's arrival.  She then began the conference with two comments.  First, she said the Philadelphia regional office endeavors to do all  things with integrity and give proper benefits to veterans.  Second, she made a curious statement when taken in the context of Ms. Filipov's possession of the notepad with the name of two of our whistle-blowers at the top -- that were circled.  She said it's difficult to have employees or ex-employees who say we are not doing a good job.

Filipov then insisted that the Congressional staff would conduct any and all interviews in a third floor office.  Upon discovering the third floor office had microphones and recording devices, Miller's staff refused to use the office.

Chair Jeff Miller:  . . . You will not ignore this Committee anymore.  And  be on notice, you will not ignore our staff that is acting as this Committee's agents as well. The Committee has Constitutional oversight and I intend that it shall be carried out unhindered on behalf of the American public and on behalf of the nation's veterans.  If you look very carefully, if you put this note back up, there are some pretty derogatory comments that are on this.  [C.I. note: One Congressional staffer is called an "ass."]  Would anybody at the table like to comment about the comments that are written on this piece of paper?  Ms. Hickey, you're welcome to comment.

Allison Hickey:  Chairman, without question, without question, we respect the oversight of this Committee and your staff. What occurred on that day was not acceptable and not indicative of the normal ways in which Ms. Rubin might behave.  And I know that she has been on visits with your staff and even with members of this Committee before.  And I think if we reflect on those visits in the last year, you would say she did not repeat similar behaviors.  But I will not excuse it.  I have not excused it with her. And we -- And I will just tell you without question it is unacceptable and I offer on behalf of the Dept my sincere apologies to your staff who experienced it that day and my commitment that it will not happen again and that you will receive absolutely with open arms and full-leaning-in support anything that you need on any visit that you go on.

Allison Hickey is such a damn liar. 

There's no nice way to put it.  And if you've endured her previous lying you not only understand why the American Legion called for her resignation in May, but you know she never stops lying.  She lies to  Congress about numbers -- numbers they have before them and she lies about them.

She's said to be the 'brain' behind the con game (slap a  partial rating on a disability claim -- any rating at all, call the claim done even though it's going to be appealed because the appeals don't count towards  the backlog).  She certainly was in charge of selling it to Congress.

She's just a liar.

Chair Miller noted Diane Rubin came to the Committee and lied that she wasn't involved in any of it.  Miller asks Hickey what she thinks of that and Hickey -- with a trembling voice -- insists that Rubin was there to make an honest apology.  No, there's nothing honest about it was someone else's fault.  Or someone else called the staff member an "ass."  Hickey admits, in the exchange, that Rubin did do that, called the staff member and an "ass" and much more.  But Hickey refuses to call Rubin a liar when asked about Rubin trying to pass that off, to the Committee, as someone else having said it, not her.

Chair Jeff Miller:  Ms. Rubens came to our Committee offices and when she did, she did not apologize for that.  What she said was, she had told the acting director to ignore what other people might be saying about my staff.  And you're telling me this person is still employed?  Even though she gave a directive to not tell an agent of this Committee what was happening at the regional office?

Allison Hickey:  Chairman Miller, I will say again without question, without question, we respect the oversight of every single one of you on this Committee and in these hallowed halls

I'm not interested in her damn lies.  She lies over and over.

She should have been fired long ago but she's part of the corruption and the lies of the VA and that she thought she would get away with lying yet again?

Chair Jeff Miller responded, "So I'll take that as a 'no' that Ms. Rubens did not lie, even though she did.  Again, your commitment is appreciated but it is not believed."  Nothing Hickey says is to be believed.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Under Secretary Hickey was the one that testified for the VA and despite her testimony -- which was refuted by the Inspector General  and the GAO -- the VA put out a press release the very next day entitled "VA Takes Action to Ensure Data Integrity of Disability Claims" in which the VA touts that it's reduced the backlog claims by 55%, has reduced the number of days it takes to process claims and has improved its accuracy rate to over 90%.  Now listen, you've said that you've got to gain the trust of the Committee, of the veterans, of the country and I think we agree with you.  Let me ask you, how smart was that press release? Did you sign off on that press release?  And how can numbers that are refuted by the people that are actually doing the investigation of VA facilities -- how can they refute the numbers and the next day VA come out with the same [false] numbers and tout them?

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson: Senator, I think, as you've noted, trust is the foundation of everything we do and where there are questions about what -- about data integrity, I think we've got to bore into those very deeply.  There are a number of issues that have been raised there.  I could sit and go through and pick at an item or two but the fundamental issue remains that there is -- there are questions about whether or not we've got good  data integrity there.  And just as we are undertaking independent reviews in the VHA side, we'll undertake those in the VBA side.

Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Mr. Secretary, they've been under way.  Much of it initiated by members of this Committee with the Inspector General, with the General Accounting Office.  And you've acknowledged the shortcomings on the VHA side.  This is fresh, this is this week.  And still the press releases stresses that the VA will continue to post these performance data on their website.  How does publicizing suspect data increase the integrity and the trust -- 

Gibson interrupted and began sharing his personal backstory.  The name of this website is The Common Ills -- not The James Boswell.  So we'll leave it to someone else to tell the tale of Sloan Gibson.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014





Reminder on World Can't Wait action:

Day of / Day After Protests When the US Starts Bombing Iraq

IN THE EVENT of U.S. bombing of Iraq, choose the best protest location in your city/town, and call on people to go there at 5:00 pm the day of the attack, or, in the case of an evening attack, the next day at 5:00 pm.
Post your event on Facebook.
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The State Dept did not hold a press briefing today.  They always get silent when Iraq goes bad, don't they?  They're supposed to be leading the mission of helping put together a political solution.  US President Barack Obama has said that is the only answer to end the crises in Iraq. 

Isra' al-Rubei'i and Maggie Fick (Reuters) note, "The White House has pressed for an inclusive government but so far Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ignored calls from Sunnis and Kurds to step down in favour of a less polarising figure who would allow Sunnis a greater voice."  And the White House issued a readout of Barack's phone call yesterday to United Kingdom's Prime Minister David Cameron, "With regard to Iraq, the President and Prime Minister agreed to keep working with all parties to form an inclusive and representative government that can work to promote the interests of all Iraqis."

But the State Dept feels no need to update the American people on how the State Dept wastes taxpayer money in Iraq -- not with a press briefing, not with a Tweet.

For those who missed the weekend's events, let's move slowly.  The US Embassy in Baghdad issued a lengthy statement late Friday which included:

Any efforts to delay the government formation process, or to take advantage of this crisis through mechanisms outside the constitutional and legal framework, would only play into the hands of ISIL.  The Iraqi constitution provides a roadmap for holding the country together, including through peaceful resolution of territorial disputes, delegation of authority to regions and provinces, and a pathway for forming a new government that can unite the citizenry and draw on the nation’s vast resources to protect the population and expel ISIL from Iraqi lands.  All political and security measures must be pursued through these constitutional mechanisms.
The situation in Iraq today remains extremely serious.  Further delays or escalation by any side, no matter the pretext, cannot be justified and would disserve the Iraqi people, 14 million of whom recently risked their own lives to vote for a new government, and a better future.  Therefore, we call on all Iraqi leaders, from all political parties, and from all parts of the country, to act with seriousness and dispatch over these coming days to unite their efforts against ISIL and activate the process of forming a new government, with the first step being a new speaker of parliament, which triggers the timelines prescribed in the Iraqi constitution.

As they do, the United States will stand staunchly behind all the Iraqi people, through intensive diplomatic, political, and security measures to help defeat ISIL and advance the vision of a united, federal, and democratic Iraq, as defined in the Iraqi constitution.

There was near giddiness on Saturday in anticipation of the Sunday session of Parliament that would form a new government.  For example, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Brett McGurk Tweeted the following on Saturday:

Saturday, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani:

Office of the Vice President
Washington, D.C.
July 12, 2014

Readout of Vice President Biden's Conversation with President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani
This morning, Vice President Biden spoke with Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. The Vice President and President agreed on the importance of forming a new Iraqi government as quickly as possible, consistent with the timelines set forth in Iraq’s constitution. They confirmed that one of the new government’s key tasks will be to address long-standing disputes between the central and regional governments consistent with the Iraqi constitution. Towards this end, the two leaders agreed that any territorial dispute arising due to an exigency from the current crisis must be resolved peacefully, in a fair and transparent manner, and in full consultation with all communities. They also agreed that any such process should be undertaken only pursuant to the mechanisms set forth in the Iraqi constitution. The Vice President offered his sympathy for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters recently killed in battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as well as all Iraqi soldiers fighting the same enemy, and he encouraged all political forces to unite against this serious threat to every component of Iraq.

So much hope the day before.

Your toy balloon has sailed in the sky
But now it must fall to the ground
Now your sad eyes reveal
Just how badly you feel
'Cause there is no easy way down.
-- "No Easy Way Down," written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Carole's version first appears on Carole's album Writer (Dusty Springfield recorded it a year earlier on her classic Dusty in Memphis).

For Barack, there is no easy way down.  Sunday arrived and the session went bust.  As noted in Third's"Editorial: The Political Solution Nouri al-Maliki Can Offer:"

Today the Iraqi Parliament met and the hopes were that a new government would be formed following April 30th's parliamentary elections.  That was the hope.
That was also the hope July 1st, the first time the Parliament met.
As Americans learned in 2009 (and 2010, and 2011, and 2012, and 2013 and 2014) there is hope and then there is reality.
All Iraq News notes some members of the Kurdistan Alliance, those hoping to arrive in Baghdad this morning by flying in, did not attend due to a dust storm at Erbil International Airport.  National Iraqi News Agency reports that 233 MPs did manage to attend today's session.  (That's 233 out of 328 elected.)
But the session that quickly started also quickly ended.  NINA notes acting Speaker of Parliament Mehdi al-Hafez announced the end of the session and that the Parliament would meet next on Tuesday.
The monkey wrench tossed into the proceedings?

Nouri al-Maliki.
Even trying to sugar coat it here -- AP notes destructive Nouri.
The two-term prime minister and thug made his support for the candidacy of Salim al-Jubouri (nominated by the Sunnis to be Speaker of Parliament) conditional upon the Sunnis backing Nouri (whom they loathe for good reason) for a third term of Prime Minister.  Outgoing Deputy  Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (a Sunni) told AP, "This will not happen as we do not accept that."
When the offer was refused, the session fell apart.  All Iraq News noted that Sadr MP Baha al-Araji even took to nominating Nouri for the post of Speaker of Parliament -- presumably in an attempt to prevent a third term as prime minister for Nouri.

Knowing the Sunnis do not and will not support him for a third term as prime minister, Nouri derailed the session by attempting to make his bloc's vote for Speaker of Parliament dependent upon the Sunnis supporting him for a third term.  (Speaker of Parliament is the first position that has to be selected, then president and then prime minister -- they are known as the three presidencies.)

These are documented facts.  It would be nice if the press could start to recognize them.  (The Iraqi press is aware of them and reporting the facts.) 

Nouri al-Maliki's 'trick' or 'strategy' when he wants something? 

Draw the process out in the hopes that his opponents will tire and give in.


Sunday, July 13, 2014





Mohammed A. Salih (Christian Science Monitor) reports,  "Iraqi Kurdistan careened closer to independence today, with Kurdish forces advancing outside Kirkuk, which they seized last month, to seize two major Iraqi oil fields." Raheem Salman and Mustafa Mahmoud (Reuters) add "Kurdish politicians formally suspended their participation in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.
[. . .] The Kurdish forces took over production facilities at the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oilfields near the city of Kirkuk, the oil ministry in Baghdad said."  NINA notes the Bai Hassan oil field "produces about 195,000 barrels per day."

On the issue of the Kurds walking out of the Cabinet, Al Jazeera notes:

Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, said on Friday that Kurdish politicians would stop running their ministries, a day after they had announced a boycott of cabinet meetings.
The ministries affected include Zebari's foreign ministry, the trade ministry, the ministry of migration, the health ministry and the deputy premiership, the Reuters news agency reported.
Kurdish MPs would continue to attend the parliament, elected on April 30, Zebari said, adding the country risked falling apart if an inclusive government was not formed.

BBC News reminds the seizure and the walkout follows an earlier action, "They did so after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki accused the Kurds of harbouring extremists."
 Nabih Bulos (Los Angeles Times) also provides context, "The always-fraught relationship between the two sides escalated sharply when Maliki on Wednesday accused the Kurdish leadership of harboring Sunni Arab insurgents dominating large swaths of the country's northern and central provinces. The Sunni rebellion prompted Kurdish forces to occupy large tracts of Iraqi territory, including the oil-hub northern city of Kirkuk."

The Kurdistan Regional Government issued the following statement in response to Nouri's charges of terrorism:

Salahaddin, Kurdistan ( – The Spokesperson of the Kurdistan Region Presidency responded to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s accusation against the KRG.
“He [Nouri al-Maliki] has become hysterical and has lost his balance. He is doing everything he can to justify his failures and put the blame on others for these failures,” read the statement.
The Spokesperson added that Erbil, which Maliki has accused of harboring terrorists, has always been a refuge for the oppressed, including Nouri al-Maliki himself.
“Kurdistan is proud of the fact that Erbil has always served as refuge for oppressed people, including yourself when you fled the former dictatorship. Now Erbil is a refuge for people fleeing from your dictatorship. ISIS and other groups have no place in Erbil, they stay with you. It was you who gave Iraqi land and the assets of six army divisions to ISIS.”
The statement demanded that the Prime Minister apologize to the Iraqi people and step down. “You must apologize to the Iraqi people and step down. You have destroyed the country and someone who has destroyed the country cannot save the country from crises.”

As for the two oil fields?  The KRG issued the following statement on today's events:

Erbil, Kurdistan Region ( - This morning, members of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Kirkuk Oil Protection Forces moved to secure the oil fields of Bai Hassan and the Makhmour area, after learning of orders by officials in the federal Ministry of Oil in Baghdad to sabotage the recent mutually-agreed pipeline infrastructure linking the Avana dome with the Khurmala field.
The nearby Bai Hassan field and the other fields located in Makhmour district are now safely under KRG management. The KRG expects production at these fields to continue normally. Staff at the North Oil Company that previously operated these fields have been informed that from tomorrow they will be expected to cooperate with KRG management. Those who do not want to do so can leave.
The new pipeline linking Khurmala with Avana was designed and constructed with the express purpose of facilitating export from the Makhmour, Avana and Kirkuk area fields through the KRG pipeline network to help increase revenues for Iraqis, at a time of great need and at a time when most of the Iraq-Turkey pipeline is under ISIS control.
The new infrastructure was built and paid for by the KRG, working in full cooperation with officials and engineers at North Oil Company. However, the KRG learned on Thursday that some officials in the federal Ministry of Oil gave orders to a number of NOC staff to cease their cooperation with the KRG and to dismantle or render inoperable the valves on the new pipeline.
The Avana and Makhmour fields have been unable to export since March because the main Iraq-Turkey pipeline has been damaged by terrorist attacks. The main Iraq pipeline lies mostly within territory recently surrendered by the federal government to ISIS.
Despite the inability to export and the halt to refining at Beiji, the Avana and Makhmour fields were producing about 110,000 barrels of oil per day and utilising the associated gas to help with the operation of the LPG bottling plant in Kirkuk.
But instead of using the new KRG pipeline infrastructure to export the produced oil, officials at the NOC were ordered by Baghdad to re-inject the oil back into a small, disused field in Kirkuk. This politically motivated decision risked causing great damage to the field in question  with a permanent loss of most of the oil that has been re-injected. It has also deprived the people of Iraq of much-needed oil export revenue.
From now on, production at the new fields under KRG control will be used primarily to fill the shortage of refined products in the domestic market. This will ease the burden on ordinary citizens caused by the failure of the federal authorities to protect the country's vital oil infrastructure in the region.
The KRG will also claim its Constitutional share of oil revenues derived from these fields to make up for the huge financial deficit triggered by the illegal withholding of the KRG’s 17 percent share of the federal budget by Baghdad.
The KRG has been and always will be open to cooperation and coordination with Baghdad, according to the rights and responsibilities of the Regions as outlined under the Iraqi Constitution. The KRG still hopes that Baghdad climbs down from its policy of punitive political and economic sanctions against the citizens of Kurdistan.
This morning’s events have shown that the KRG is determined to protect and defend Iraq’s oil infrastructure whenever it is threatened by acts of terrorism or, as in this case, politically motivated sabotage.

EFE notes Iraq's Ministry of Oil released a statement declaring, ""(T)his irresponsible behavior ... violates the constitution and the national wealth, and disregards the federal authorities and threatens national unity."

One immediate effect?  Iraq no longer has a Foreign Minister.  Hamdi Alkhashali and Michael Martinez (CNN) report:

In a possible portent of growing factional conflict, a leading Kurdish minister was removed from Iraq's government, and the Kurdish semi-autonomous government took over two oilfields in the north, officials said Friday.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the face of Iraqi diplomacy for a more than a decade, was removed Friday by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, two senior Iraqi government officials said.

There are reports that Nouri's replaced Zebari.

No, he really hasn't and can't.  Were he to nominate someone -- questionable with Iraq's caretaker state currently -- that person couldn't be confirmed because that requires the Parliament.

Now he did something similar in a previous time when a government hadn't yet formed.  When he did that before, he took someone already confirmed by Parliament to the Cabinet and just taxed that person with additional duties and an additional office.

Deputy Prime Minister Hussain Shahristani has never been confirmed to head a Ministry so it's a stretch to call him "acting" or "interim" anything.  You can call him "illegal" or "unconstitutional."  But that's about it.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"