BULLY BOY PRESS & CEDRIC'S BIG MIX -- THE KOOL-AID TABLE
DESPERATE FOR ATTENTION STARLET BARRY O! TODAY DECIDED TO HIT THE ROAD IN NORTH CAROLINA ("I'M THE BIGGEST THING RALEIGH'S EVERN SEEN!" HE DECLARED) AND THEN TO GO TO A HIGH PROFILE DATE NIGHT EVENT.
BEING THE CELEBRITY IN CHIEF, HE CAN'T HAVE JUST ONE MANDATE, SO HE HAD TWO.
BARRY O WAS NOT PLEASED THAT JOE BIDEN "HORNED IN ON THE ACTION! HE SAYS IF I HAVE MORE THAN TWO SIPS OF BEER I GET ALL GIDDY AND DIZZY! ME! CAN YOU IMAGINE!"
HE ADMITTED HE'S RUNNING AS FAST AS HE CAN TO GET AWAY FROM NASTY RUMORS THAT THE GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT NEWS OUT TOMORROW WILL SHOW MORE BAD NEWS.
"I DON'T KNOW," HE TOLD THESE REPORTERS. "I'M THINKING ABOUT SHAVING MY HEAD OR MAYBE GETTING PREGNANT. ANYTHING TO CREATE A STIR."
FROM THE TCI WIRE:
"What happens when the US abandons some good friends?" Katie Couric asked that at the start of yesterday's CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The footage of the assault was shown. Footage. What other network newscast made time for this story? And while you're checking that, step on over to PBS and find out if The NewsHour made time for the story. (Answer: No.) Footage of the assault. Footage and violence supposedly drive TV news so what's the excuse for the silence from others on Camp Ashraf? From the segment on Camp Ashraf (link has text and video):
Katie Couric: When the US began turning over security to the Iraqis, it stopped protecting some valuable allies, thousands of Iranian exiles. And their camp outside Baghdad is now under attack. For two days, Iraqi police have been beating the residents. No food or doctors have been allowed in. All with the approval of Iran's government. Here's chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.
Lara Logan: It started peacefully but quickly turned violent. Iraqi police using wooden sticks against these unarmed civilians. These people are Iranians living inside Iraq, members of an Iranian opposition group known as the MEK. It was the MEK that provided the US with intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.
Ali Safavi (Nationcal Council of Resistance of Iran): Were it not for the MEK, the world would not be in a position to find out about Iran's nuclear weapons program and the mullahs may have had the bomb.
Lara Logan: The MEK have lived in this camp, known as Camp Ashraf, for decades. The Iranian government wants them expelled and accuses them of being involved in the recent unrest in Iran. Since the US invasion, the camp's roughly 3,000 residents have been living under US protection. That ended in January when the Iraqis took control under the security agreement. Now the US appears to have washed their hands of the people of Ashraf. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (speaking at the State Dept): It is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve. Lara Logan: Images captured by the inside Ashraf showed the dead and wounded. Residents told CBS News at least 11 people were killed, hundreds wounded and thirty arrested. The number's impossible to verify because the Iraqi government has sealed off the camp. The attack was seen as the latest sign American influence in Iraq is waning as Iranian influence rises. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government increasingly pro-Iranian. Kenneth Katzman: The Iranians would have to cross the border to get at them directly because Camp Ashraf is clearly over the border. But they have an obviously willing ally in Prime Minister Malik, willing to do their bidding.
Lara Logan: The Iranian government praised the Iraqi governement action against MEK saying they're cleaning the country of terrorists.
This morning, AFP reported that while Iraq says everything is under 'control' and a police station is set up, Iraq's refused to allow reporters to enter the camp. Not noted in the report, they're also rebuffing requests from human rights organizations and charities. But today in a US State Dept briefing, spokesperson Ian Kelly asserted the US military now had access.
Ian Kelly: Embassy officials met yesterday with representatives of the government of Iraq. We wanted to stress the importance to the government of Iraq, the importance of Iraq fulfilling its commitment to the US government to treat the camp residents humanely. And we also proposed permitting an assessment of injuries and possible deaths, an assessment by US forces. The government of Iraq did agree to allow US forces to provide medical assistance to those who were injured in Camp Ashraf. And there is, right now, a US medical team there performing this assistance. We're providing medical care and treatment, medical supplies and assessing any kind of follow-on treatment or support that these residents might require. And regarding other issues regarding Camp Ashraf, we'd refer you, of course, to the government of Iraq.
UPI notes, "Statements by members of the PMOI blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the assault on the Ashraf residents. The PMOI claims several hundred residents were severely wounded, with at least 12 people dead." An Iraqi security official (unnamed) tells AFP that 11 MEK have died -- seven on Tuesday and two on each day since. Sebastien Malo (The Daily Star) reports that tensions remain high and that the assault continues -- the most recent "clashes occurred on Thursday morning according to [MEK spokesperson Shariar] Kia." Kia refuted rumors that the MEK has weapons noting that Camp Ashraf has been inspected repeatedly and he noted that residents had begun a hunger strike. The weapons charge is ridiculous and it needs to be noted that the Iraqi government is trying to circulate false rumors that MEK have shot one another to garner sympathy from the world. Yes, Nouri is just that stupid and sick. This is the thug the US installed. Oliver August (Times of London) observes the Iraqi government's "brazen actions show that the balance of power in Baghdad has shifted in ways unthinkable when President Bush was in office, or even a few weeks ago." Robin Corbett (Guardian) points out:
The violent attack on the residents of Ashraf City was a clear indication of the Iranian regime's growing influence in Iraq and the coalition's failure to uphold international law.
In scenes reminiscent of those seen on the streets of Iran: unarmed civilians were attacked with batons, chains, hot-water cannons, rocks, armoured personnel carriers and machine guns. In video footage released by the residents, civilians inside the camp are brutally beaten, while bodies of the dead victims show gunshot wounds as the cause of numerous deaths.
The underlying message of the attack, which is still continuing, is the incredible influence that the Iranian regime now holds. However far it has infiltrated Iraq and caused violence there since the 2003 invasion, it seems that the regime now has a willing partner in Nouri al-Maliki to do its bidding in eliminating the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which is based in Ashraf.
PMOI members there are "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but the attitude of the US administration and UK government has been far from forceful. To look on as civilians are killed and wounded is nothing but shameful.
Sonic grenades are said to be used by the Iraqis, ones made by Defense Techonology in Casper, Wyoming. I believe this is exactly what now Vice President Joe Bidenwarned about in an April 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing back when he was a senator and chair of that committee. We'll come back to that. The National Council of Resistance of Iran released the following statement today:NCRI - The Iranian Resistance's Leader, Mr. Massoud Rajavi, released a statement broadcast yesterday by the Simaye Azadi (Iran National Television), with regards to the brutal assault of Iraqi forces against Camp Ashraf residents in Iraq. Mr. Rajavi said: Through his agents in Iraq, the regime's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took revenge for the Iranian people's uprising from Ashraf, which is the strategic nucleus of the struggle for freedom. He wishfully thinks that by targeting Ashraf the uprising would cease; But, the water that has already gone over the dam can't be forced back into the regime's channel and save the disintegrating religious regime. Mr. Rajavi urged all Iranians across the world to rush to support the hunger strike and demands of Ashraf residents, which are: 1. The leaving of Iraqi forces from Ashraf; 2. Protection of Ashraf to be assumed by US forces, who have disarmed and signed agreements with every single one of Ashraf residents about protecting them until the determination of their final status; 3. Presence of lawyers and international human rights organizations in Ashraf, which has been banned for the past 7 months; 4. Presence of a representative of the UN Security Council or Secretary General in Ashraf for talks about the determination of the final status of Ashraf residents; 5. Compliance of the Iraqi government with the April 24, 2009 resolution of the European Parliament on the humanitarian situation of Ashraf residents; 6. Prosecution and punishment of parties who ordered or perpetrated the brutal attacks and massacre in Camp Ashraf by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.
[. . .]
Yesterday's snapshot offered some coverage of the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. Kat offered more last night at her site, focusing on US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick's questioning of the second panel. The snapshot was long (too long) and had to be edited which meant losing some details of that hearing and all details of another hearing which we'll cover today, the US Senate's Committe on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled the Review of Veterans Disability Compensation: Forging a Path Forward. I had copies of Senator Daniel Akaka's opening statement and Richard Burr's -- Akaka's the Chair, Burr's the Ranking Member but I was only present for the second panel where Michael P. Allen (Steston University College of Law), Daniel Bertoni (GAO) and John WIlson (Disabled American Veterans) testified (via a friend, Congressional staffer, we'll briefly note one section from the first panel).
In his prepared opening statement, Chair Akaka noted, "My goal is to ensure that claims are adjudicated accurately and in a timely fashion. Everyone involved realizes that there is no quick fix to solving all the problems with disability claims, but the Committee, teaming with the Administration and those who work with veterans, intends to do all it can to improve this situation. To bring optimal change to a process as complicated and important as this, we must be deliverative, focused, and open to input from all who are involved in this process. It is in that spirit that we have held previous hearings, and it is the backdrop for this hearing as well." Ranking Member Burr's prepared remarks included, "It takes more than five months on average for VA to make an initial decision on a claim for veterans' benefits and, if the veteran decides to appeal, the delays can go on for years. In fact, Professor Allen noted in a recent article that the average time from when a veteran files a claim with VA until getting a decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is between five and seven years! I think a process that takes that long is indefensible. Our veterans and their families deserve better."
On the first panel, Senator Jon Tester asked the VA's Patrick Dunn for some hard numbers. Tester noted, the VA had 406,000 pending claims and wondered how that compared to one year age and Dunn responded that it was about 25,000 to 30,000. Tester wanted to know at what point a claim gets a red flag and the VA works on addressing it? At 365 days, Dunne said, the claim is referred to a team known as the VA Tiger Team. This is not when appeals make the claim reach 365 days. This is before any appeal is made. Point being, there are claims being filed by veterans that the VA is not getting and veterans are waiting over a year. How many, Tester wanted to know? About 11,000 was the number Dunne provided.
And as outrageous as that number is, grasp that all the numbers are climbing each month, the number of claims pending. Tester asked about more employees being added but Dunne didn't want to go for that and claimed more employees would mean more administrative duties -- Dunne, in effect, said the VA doesn't need more employees. In one year, these numbers will be higher. "We haven't hit break even yet, we're still going the wrong direction," Tester stated. In one year's time, no one better play surprised when the number have risen yet again.
Senator Patty Murray introduced the second panel and took over the chair duties. Michael Allen, in his prepared statement, provided an overview of the process, "A veteran wishing to receive a benefit to which she believes she is entitled begins the process by submitting an application with one of the VA's regional offices (RO). If the veteran is satisfied with the benefits awarded, the process is at an end. However, there are a number of reasons why the veteran may be dissatisfied with the RO's decision. When the veteran is dissatisfied with the RO's decision, she has the option to pursue an appeal within the Department by filing a 'Notice of Disagreement' (NOD) with the RO. The NOD triggers the RO's obliagation to prepare a 'Statement of the Case' (SOC) setting for the bases of the decision being challenged. If the veteran wishes to pursue her appeal after receiving the SOC, she must file VA-Form 9 with the RO indicating her desire that the appeal be considered by the Board of Veterans' Appeals ('Board')." That provides a strong overview of the process (which continues into the courts). Having submitted his prepared remarks, Allen wisely used his opening remarks to speak to the committee, not read from his written remarks. His verbal remarks can be boiled down to his advocacy for "a working group to study the system. What changes can be made in the process from beginning to end including judicial review?"
Tester reviewed the number on the first panel for claims filed, not appeals (Dunne told Tester he didn't have numbers on the appeals but would get back to him with them). The GAO's Daniel Bertoni stated on the second panel that the VA is taking 96 days more to resolve appeals than it did in 2003 and he stated this had to do with workload. (Remember, Dunne rejected the idea that the VA needs more employees to handle caseloads.) Bertoni presented those figures while reading aloud from his prepared remarks. He ran out of time and never got to this section, "We have reported that an infusion of a large number of staff has the potential to improve VA's capacity. However, quickly absorbing these staff will likely pose human capital challenges for VA, such as how to train and deploy them. The additional staff has helped VA process more claims and appeals overall, but as VA has acknowledged, it has also reduced individual staff productivity. . . . According to VA, this decline in productivity is attributable primarily to new staff who have not yet become fully proficient at processing claims and to the loss of experienced staff due to retirements. VA expects its productivity to decline further before it improves, in part because of the challenges of training and integrating new staff."
We'll note this exchange where one witness (and only one) advocated for cuttng the federal court out of the review process.
Senator Patty Murray: Mr. Bertoni, let me begin with you. You testified that the VA has not collected date to evaluate the impact of using the resource centers to redistribute work load. We've heard that mentioned by several of our colleagues this morning concerning that. Can you tell us what measurement you would recommend the VA use to evaluate the effectiveness of these center?
Daniel Bertoni: I think critical to any process -- any of these processes-- timeliness, accuracy and consistency. I-I think it behoves any manager as opposed to going out talking to the troops trying to discuss issues on sight -- that's all important and good but I-I think there's no substitute to the data -- to help management make good date driven decisions. So if you have a resource center and there is indications -- and you do the analysis -- and indications of problems in certain areas, you can take, make remedial interventions. To date, I don't believe that is occuring. I think even most very recently, I don't believe there were any quality assurance reviews being conducted. That would be first and foremost very critical. What type of quality assurance reviews are being done? What is the MI data showing? And what do you do with that data going forward to make the interventions that need to be done?
Senator Patty Murray: Okay, thank you very much for that. Mr. Allen, you talked about the current structure for judicial review of veterans benefits and it has two appellate levels of the veterans court and federal circuit that you indicate increased delays and can be duplicative. You raised the option of removing the federal circuit from the structure of the veterans benefits determination process one way of perahps delaying or reducing some of the delays in this system. Didn't sound like you were 100% committed to that. Can you tell us why you sort of lean towards the federal circuit?
Michael Allen: Sure, Senator, let me start out by saying that it seemed to me that when Congress created the Veterans Corps, one of the things it was trying to do was to create an independent body to review these issues outside of the VA and that that body would be the expert in that area of the law. But since this was a new process, it provided for this second layer of review at the federal circuit. Now I should say that the level of review at the federal circuit is not plenary, is not total. The federal it doesn't have jurisdiction to review any matter of fact or quite oddly any application of law to fact. It, in theory, should only review pure questions of law. Now it made perfect sense to structure the system, at least in my view, at the time like that. Today I think that on balance it's not worth having the federal circuit involved anymore. I don't say that lightly because that is a major change And what it goes to is that what are the competing values that one wants? Because if the value that was absolutely top on the list was making sure that the maximum number of judges' eyes looked at a case, figuring that would reduce over all inaccuracy in decision, well then it might make sense to have this two level court. To use a silly analogy if you're absolute 100% number one value in a day in making sure that your pants don't fall down wearing belt and suspenders makes perfect sense. It is not irrational because that is your value. But I think that for the federal circuit employment here it is not having the maximum number of eyes looking at a case because over time having that second layer review has increased delay and I am not sure -- I'm sure myself, that it has not increased the quality of veterans law sufficiently to justify its continued place in the system.
Senator Patty Murray: Okay Colonel Wilson have you given any thought to a proposal to remove the federal circuit from the veterans benefits determination process and what that would mean?
John Wilson: No ma'am, I have not but would be glad to respond later.
Senator Patty Murray: If you could respond to the committee, I'd appreciate it. Mr. Bertoni, do you have any input on that?
Daniel Bertoni: I would say we have not looked into that or given any considerations there but I would say the would be a range of stakeholders that you would have to bring in to get --
Senator Patty Murray: That's why you suggested the commission, right?
Daniel Bertoni: Yes.
Michael Allen: Yes, that's right senator.
Senator Patty Murray: Alirght. Senator Burr?
Senator Richard Burr: Mr. Allen, you're right. It is a major shift. But I think we're all challegned to look at it in a different context and I was serious months ago when I suggested to the service organizations, let's start with the blank sheet of paper and come in and tell you how you would design it in the 21st century. To the credit of DAV they took on the task and I'm appreciative of that. You're right when you mention the word commission. What little bit of hair I have on the back of my neck did stand up. So let me ask, what additional information do you believe a commission would find that we don't have readily available to us today?
Michael Allen: I thought of two ways to respond to that. The first and most direct is I don't know what additional information the commission would have that you don't and I don't mean to refer back to [former] Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld but there are things that we know we don't know out there. But more importantly, Senator, I think --
Senator Richard Burr: And that was sort of the basis of why you had the creation of the VA appellate process and the federal court. We didn't know what we were going to run into.
Michael Allen: Absolutely and second, though Senator, I think that the key, because I think that this has been the key over time as various veterans benefits issues have been discussed, is it reaches a tipping point when enough of the relevant constitutincies come together on an idea. And I don't know whether something can truly be successful if it's in fact deemed to be imposed.
Senator Richard Burr: How long do you think a commission would need to do -- need to take to accomplish the work that you perceive a commission should -- should attempt to
Michael Allen: Part of it would be how broadly the commission should be structured. In-in-in my perfect world, I would say that it should actually be a commission that looks at the claims processing from cradle to grave because the situation we have now, some have described it as a spider web, and that's not quite right, I think, because it is an older spider web -- the administrative process -- on which a new spider web has been grafted and anything you do to one part is going to effect another. And I think now that we have a system that we have seen if it starts at the beginning and looks at the end because things that are done at claims processing on the administrative level are going to make a difference in the judicial review arena as well and vice versa so if the process were from beginning to end, I think, this could probably be done -- with commitment -- in-in six months.
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