Saturday, June 11, 2011

Crisis 2012!






And it's Friday so protests took place in Iraq. This was Decision and Departure Friday and the first protest Friday since the end of the 100 Days -- a device Nouri al-Maliki utilized in an attempt to defuse and defocus the protest movement. 100 Days, Nouri promised, and the issues raised by the protesters (whom he also called "terrorists" repeatedly) would be addressed. The 100 Days ended Tuesday. The issues were not addressed. RTT explains that Nouri declared the 100 Days as protesters demanded better basic services with him promising to "implement improvements in public services. [. . .] Maliki pledged that his cabinet would meet the demands in 100 days. [. . .] The 100-day dealine passed on Tuesday, and Maliki asked for more patience to solve problems." Jason Ditz ( observes, "Maliki's strategy appears to be to insist that he achieved all of his goals, and his comments including claims of massive amounts of 'progress' made in the last 100 days. The calls for renewed protests, however, show the opposition isn't buying it."
AFP reports that at least 400 gathered in Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad. AFP is derailed by another Chalabi sponsored pro-government 'rally' meant to distract from the rally demanding the government provide for the people. What is it with the press? They cover all of the official protests. This one was demanding suspects be executed (we've ignored the 'guilty' and will continue to do so). AFP also misses the biggest news about the difference between the two: Chalabi's protest was not hassled, Tahrir Square? They were harassed and pushed out. AFP does note: "Security forces were out in large numbers at the square, which was closed to vehicle traffic." And that protests also took place in Hilla and Basra (real protests). The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Government Security Forces assault a group of the Great Iraqi Revoution's Youth, beating them and cursing them with filthy language, as well as confiscating their stickers and posters at the Salihiya Checkpoint. Another checkpoint did the same thing at an entrance leading Tahrir, to another of our groups." Alsumaria TV reports, "Hundreds of Baghdad residents rallied in Al Tahrir Square on Friday calling for the dismissal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's government and urging constitutional amendments." While Chalabi's protesters weren't hasseled by security forces (naturally), they did manage to harass others (ibid). CNN reports, "Two human rights activists who were among the demonstrations told CNN that at least seven anti-government protesters were beaten with sticks by some pro-Maliki protesters." Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf adds:
janearraf jane arraf
janearraf jane arraf
Al Mada notes a banner carried in Tahrir Square which read, "Our hearts are stronger than your government" and note that thirty minutes into the Tahrir Square demonstration, a dozen of the pro-government thugs, carrying sticks, invaded the protest and began beating up four activists." Abbas al-Lami is quoted stating the thugs beat up women and the youth activists. Aswat al-Iraq adds, "The eye witness told Aswat al-Iraq that the sheikhs hit the demonstrators with sticks they were carrying, in addition to punching and kicking them." The Los Angeles Times' Ned Parker Tweets:
nedparkerlat Ned Parker
Tim Craig (Washington Post) quotes women's rights activist Wafa Sheba stating of the thugs, "They dragged me from the fence and beat me. We went to the security forces and tried to complain, but security forces said they were not going to interfere." Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times via Sacramento Bee) report the thugs carried posters with Ayad Allaiw's face on them, Allawi's face covered "with a giant red X slashed across his face" and that there are rumors they were "bused in by al-Maliki's Dawa Party" (they may have been but I'll stick with the Chalabi connection based on an overseas call this morning when I was doing the morning entries -- two members of a foreign embassy in Iraq -- not the US -- was aware that violence would take place before it did and
they made the Chalabi connection -- they were right about the violence, I'll stay with their Chalabi tie-in unless/until it is disproven). Parker and Salman report:
The violence, which echoed street attacks in the years leading to the creation of Saddam Hussein's authoritarian state, bodes ill for Iraq's emergent democracy, which President Barack Obama recently described as a success story. Attacks on peaceful protesters also raise questions on how much freedom of expression will be tolerated by the al-Maliki government after remaining U.S. forces leave Iraq by year's end.

The Post's Tim Craig quotes American journalist Daniel Smith who says, "There were lots of people with sticks. They were saying: 'We're with Maliki. You're Baathists'."
AFP's Prashant Rao notes the protest across Iraq.
prashantrao Prashant Rao
On Nasiriyah, Al Mada reports that over 1,000 activists marched through the streets demanding better basic services, and end to corruption, jobs and a reformed political system. The Youth Movement's Secretary General Muhammad Abdul Ridha states, "The protest is in solidarity with the youth of Iraq and demands the government provides basic services and respects citizens' rights and freedoms." He is among those calling for early elections. Revolution of Iraq notes, "Firing live bullets to disperse demonstrations in Mosul Friday decision and leave the lens of Staff correspondent Obeidi." A photo essay of the Mosul protest can be found here. Video of Mosul's protest can be found here. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports, "Around 500 people gathered in front of the Hilla provincial council carrying banners that read 'The government cannot keep its promises' and 'People want reform'." Aswat al-Iraq reports that Iraqi forces prevented a dmonstration from taking place in Wassit.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Protests and violence"
"The fallen"
"I Hate The War"
"Eggplants and roma tomatoes in the Kitchen"
"Brown and Collins ask Panetta"
"Tracy Morgan is disgusting"
"Lunch panhandlers"
"4 men, 2 women"
"3 women, 2 men"
"the disgusting tracy morgan"
"Claire McCaskill"
"Trashy John Edwards"
"He is not stepping down"
"Time off?"
"Senate Armed Service Committee Boneheads"
"Morgan, Fey and Baldwin treat homophobia as a joke"
"Way more than just Spock"
"Enemy of the State"
"He's going to have to own his actions"
"When Front Runners Attack"
"The sick Chicago Tribune"
"Idiot of the week: Ron Nyswaner"
"The telling case"
"And how 'bout those fingers?"

Friday, June 10, 2011

And how 'bout those fingers?





Meanwhile this morning the Senate Armed Services Committee heard from the head of the CIA, Leoan Panetta, who has now been nominated to become the Secretary of Defense. Before the hearing started, several members of CodePink were present asking, "Mr. Panetta, will you pledge to bring our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq" and carrying signs which read "DIPLOMACY NOT WAR!!" and "NO MORE WAR!" The Committee has posted [PDF format warning] "Advance Policy Questions for the Honorable Leon Panetta Nominee to be Secretary of Defense" which is a series of written questions Panetta has responded to -- 79 pages of a Q & A. As disclosed before, I know Leon Panetta. I like him but, for example, pages 13 through 14 is bulls**t. He is asked about dwell time. He is asked specifically about what he will do to see that they are all meeting the prescribed dwell time. He notes that the Army and the Reserve Component are not meeting it and states, "If confirmed, I will continue to work toward the goal of a 1:5 dwell time ratio for the Reserve Component" and, for Army, "If confirmed, I will continue to monitor this issue closely." That's what you would do?
No, that is your JOB DUTY. So he's answered (in question 18) nothing more than, "I will do the duties my job demands."
What do you believe are the major lessons learned from the Iraq invasion and the ongoing effort to stabilize the country?
[Panetta:] One of the most important lessons is the U.S. government must train and plan for post-combat operations. Conflict can occur along a spectrum. Our military must be prepared for combat, but also may have a role in shaping the political, cultural and economic factors that can fuel conflict. The U.S. military must plan and train with civilian counterparts, be prepared to operate effectively in all phases of conflict, and develop better awareness of political, cultural, and economic factors to ensure that our actions will meet our objectives.
What is your understanding and assessment, if any, of the Department's adaptations or changes in policy, programs, force structure, or operational concepts based upon these lessons learned?
[Panetta:] I understand that lessons learned from Iraq and other recent engagements have led to deep and wide-ranging changes in doctrine, organization, training, and policy. For example, the counterinsurgency doctrine has been completely revised, culminating in the publication of Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. The development of Advise and Assist Brigades and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance units are examples of force structures.
So, for any who didn't know already, he's a counter-insurgency supporter. Counter-insurgeny is war on a native people -- in this country, it was used against the Native Americans, it was most infamously used in Vietnam to the outrage of millions and millions of people around the world. Such are the times that today few bother to object the unethical and illegal nature of counter-insurgency and one-time journalists rush to disgrace their profession and their own names to become cheerleaders for a policy they damn well should know is criminal.
While maintaining that he supports a drawdown of all US troops by the end of the year, he writes, "Iraqi leaders and U.S. officials have acknowledged that there will be gaps in Iraqi Security Forces' capabilities after 2011, especially in external defense. I believe the United States should consider a request from the Government of Iraq to remain in Iraq for a limited period of time to provide limited assistance to fill these gaps." He gets credit for grasping the Kirkuk issue. That may seem an obvious issue but it wasn't that long ago that Chris Hill (the thankfully former US Ambassador to Iraq) and didn't have a clue -- even after extensive tutoring -- about the issue of Kirkuk. ("A land dispute" was as deep as he could go.) On Iraq today, he writes, "Iraq still faces dangerous and determined enemies, but these enemies do not have the support of the Iraqi people. Although occasional high-profile attacks still occur, the underlying security situation in Iraq remains stable and these attacks have not sparked a return to widespread insurgency or civil war." Those are the key sections on Iraq in the 79 pages. (Anyone wondering about contractors should know he takes a pass on the issue of whether they are being over-utilized insisting he is not currently in the position to be able to make that call.)
In testimony, he showed a subserviance that was disgusting. Asked by John McCain whether or not the Congress had the right to cut off funds (as they did during Vietnam), Panetta gave an indirect response praising the president and "his" powers. Congress has control of the purse and Panetta, a former member of Congress, knows that. It was embarrassing to see that and alarming because maybe he meant it. (It wasn't said in order to cinch the post -- he's a former member of Congress, he knows that's an automatic in before you even factor in that he sailed through the nomination process in 2009.) In the final half-hour of the nearly four hour hearing (I'm counting Panetta's break that he took which was longer than five minutes), Senator Jim Webb would raise the issue and note that Panetta served in Congress. Panetta would dance around the question and use language that portrayed Congressional power as weak and presidential power as higher and more powerful -- has Leon forgotten about the three branches of the federal goverment and the concept of separation of powers?
Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain is the Ranking Member. We'll note this from Chair Levin's opening remarks:
The next Secretary of Defense will face a complex, extraordinary set of demands on our Armed Forces. Foremost among them, the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Between these two conflicts, we continue to have approximately 150,000 troops deployed, the US military is also providing support to NATO operations in Libya. In addition, even after the extraordinary raid that killed Osama bin Laden, terrorist threats against our homeland continue to eminate from Pakistan, Yemen, Somolia and elsewhere. The risk of a terrorist organization getting their hands on detonating an improvised nuclear device or other weapon of mass destruction remains one of the gravest possible threats to the United States. To counter this threat, the Defense Dept is working with the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security and other US government agencies to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, fiscile materials and dangerous technologies. A number of key national security decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks and months. Even as the drawdown of US forces in Iraq is on track recent signs of instability may lead Iraq's political leadership to ask for some kind of continuing US military presence beyond the December 31st withdrawal deadline agreed to by President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki in the 2008 security agreement between our countries.
We'll also note this exchange on Iraq.
Ranking Member John McCain: On the subject of Iraq, if the Afghan [he meant Iraqi] government and all its elements agree that there should be a residual US military presence in Iraq, particularly in three areas, air,defense, intelligence capabilities and security in the areas around Kirkuk and that part of Iraq where there has been significant tensions, would you agree that that would be a wise thing for us to do?
CIA Director Leon Panetta: I-I believe that if, uh, Prime Minister Maliki, the Iraqi government uh requests that we uh that we maintain a presence there that that ought to be seriously considered by the president
Ranking Member John McCain: Do you think it would be in our interests to do that given the situation --
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Senator, I have to tell you, there are a thousand al Qaeda that are still in Iraq. We saw the attack that was made just the other day. It too continues to be a fragile situation. And I believe that uh we-we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we've made there.
An interesting exchange but do reporters give a damn about US troops staying beyond 2011? Let's look at Reuters reporter Missy Ryan's real time reaction on her Twitter feed to the hearing -- and apparently that's the only exchange that stood out to her:
Missy Ryan
Missy Ryan
Missy Ryan
Missy Ryan
Missy Ryan appears to have gotten lost in that 1,000 figure. I have no idea why. It's not as though the US government has an al Qaeda membership list and daily uses it to conduct a roll call. It's a guess. It may be accurate, it may not be. More than likely, it's not. Why is Missy Ryan -- and the rest of the press -- obsessed with that number. In the exchange above, was 1,000 really the key moment? I don't think so but it's the sort of minor trivia that the press can run with and obsess over. It's trivia which is so much easier for small minds to cover as opposed to ideas. And if people don't like that -- Missy Ryan's hardly the only reporter running with "1,000!" as news from the hearing -- maybe they might try rising to a higher level? 6 is a number that Missy and Reuters didn't obsess over but 6 is the number of US soldiers who have died in Iraq this week. And whether or not the troops leave Iraq at the end of the year will determine whether or not that number increases after 2011. And considering the very poor job Reuters did reporting on the Status Of Forces Agreement in real time, I think it could be argued that they need to do remedial reporting on this issue. (They are far from alone on that.) But by all means, obsess over 1,000 -- a guess and an inflated one at that. If 6 US soldiers die in Iraq in the first six months of 2012, I'm sure that we'll all be so thrilled that the obsession from today's hearing was over 1,000 -- I'm sure we'll all feel that was time well spent by the circus freaks passing themselves off as the press.
Back to the hearing for a brief excerpt.
Senator Lindsey Graham: When it comes to Iraq, if the Iraqis ask us to provide some troops in 2012, Secretary Gates says he thinks that would be smart. Do you think that would be smart to say yes.
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Yes.
This is an issue, maybe not to Missy Ryan, but to Iraqis and Americans, this is an issue. Aswat al-Iraq reports that MP Maha al-Douri is on a campaign to collect a million signatures to a petition calling on the US to leave Iraq. Three days ago, Fatih Abdulsalam (Azzaman) wrote about how "Arabs are divided over the spate of popular revolutions rocking their regimes. But it is clear that many of them will prefer to be crushed under the armored vehicles of their regimes than being 'liberated' by the U.S. [. . .] U.S. 'liberation' of Iraq has brought horrendous results and led to ruinous consequences. Its outcome has been corrupt local administrations (governments) immersed in filthy sectarianism." You could argue that, around the world, the issue of whether or not the US military stays in Iraq beyond 2011 matters to a large number of people -- even if those people aren't in the US press corps. Of course, not all US reporters missed the point. This is from the strong report by Lolita C. Baldor and Donna Cassata (AP):
"I think it's clear to me that Iraq is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of presence to remain there," Panetta said, adding that it was contingent on what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki requests. "I have every confidence that a request like that is something that I think will be forthcoming at some point."
We'll note the exchange the above quote came in.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: I know earlier you were asked about Iraq and whether we would continue to stay in Iraq if asked. And, like others, I have been concerned about increasing violence in Iraq, about the recent casualties. We just lost someone from New Hampshire in the attack over the weekend. And so I wonder if you can talk to what we need to do in order to keep our focus on the efforts in Iraq and, um, assuming that we are not asked to stay, how we will deal with drawing down the remaining troops that are there.
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Well we are at the present time on track to withdrawing our forces at the end of 2011 but I think that, uh, it's clear to me that Iraq is -- is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of presence to remain there. And-and-and it really is dependent on uh the prime minister and on the government of Iraq to present to us, uh, what, uh, you know what is it that they need and over what period of time in order to make sure that the gains we've made in Iraq are sustained. I-I have every confidence that, uh, that, uh, you know, that a request like that, you know, is something that I think will be forthcoming at some point.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: My time has expired. I would like to explore that more later.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

It's not all lip gloss






"Today," declared Senator Patty Murray this morning as she brought the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to order, "we have a very ambitious agenda which really reflects the hard work of members on both sides of the aisle. We have numerous challenges to meet for our nation's veterans and I am pleased that this Committee has worked -- and will continue to work -- to develop legislation that substantially improves the lives -- their lives and the lives of their families, especially during this time of war."
This was a hearing on proposed legislation. Ranking Member Richard Burr will be covered, as usual, by Kat at her site tonight. The Committee was joined by Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who do not serve on the Committee but had bills they wanted to discuss. Snowe, for example, has a bill regarding the military funerals, specifically the protests by one church group that makes homophobic remarks and other remarks on signs and in shouting and chanting. Senator Snowe stated her bill did not attempt to curtail speech, did not impose any rules on what can be stated, but that it would increase the area of protection for the mourners -- instead of protesters needing to remain at least 100 feet away, her bill would change that to 300 feet. (I am not endorsing or opposing this bill. I'm just noting it. Many would argue -- and they have a point -- that if speech is outside an area where it can be heard, it's really not free speech.) The Committee also heard from two panels. The first was government officials: VA's John McWilliam and VA's Robert Jesse. The second was VFW's Raymond Kelley, the American Legion's Jeff Steele, the AFL-CIO's J. David Cox and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante.
Before we go further Rob Hotakainen has an article that is or will be appearing in all the McClatchy Newspapers (link goes to Kansas City Star) where he looks at Iraq War veteran Eric Smith, 26-years-old, repeatedly searching for work -- full time, but willing to take part-time in an attempt to make ends meet (and, no, part-time's never going to make it work). How bad has the employment scene been for him? He even took part in a medical drug trial study to earn $1,200. Hotakainen notes, "In late March, he and 27 other veterans participated in IAVA's 'Storm the Hill' lobbying campaign. They went to 117 offices on Capitol Hill and met with 57 members of Congress, asking them to commission a study on military vocational skills and certifications. Smith and other veterans complain that the skills they learn in the military aren't enough to get them civilian certifications in their fields when they return home." Eric Smith supports the bill Chair Muarry is proposing (and he took part in the press conference for the bill last month).
Committee Chair Patty Murray: There is much on the agenda that is important but I want to speak briefly about one item -- the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011. Ensuring that our veterans can find employment when they come home is an area where we must do more. For too long, we have been investing billions of dollars training our young men and women to protect our nation, only to ignore them when they come home. For too long, we have patted them on the back and pushed them into the civilian job market with no support. This is simply unacceptable and does not meet the promise we made to our men and women in uniform. Our hands-off approach has left us with an unemployment rate in February of over 27 percent among young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is over one in four of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family. Over one in four of our service men and women lack the stability that is so critical to their transition home. That's why last month I introduced the bipartisan Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 which now has 19 co-sponsors. This legislation will help us rething the way we support our service members as they return home and search for living-wage jobs. I introduced this critical legislation because I've heard first-hand from the veterans for whom we've failed to provide better job support. I've had veterans tell me that they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume because they fear the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war. I've heard from medics who return home from treating battlefield wounds who can't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance. These stories are as heartbreaking as they are frustratng. But more than anything, they're a reminder that we have to act now. The Hiring Heroes Act would allow our men and women in uniform to capitalize on their services while also ensuring that the American people capitalize on the investment we have made in them. For the first time, it would require every service member transitioning from active duty to partipate in the Transition Assistance Program [TAP]. This program supports our veterans by providing them with broad job skills training before they separate from service. This bill would also allow service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation. It would also require the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable to the civilian sector. This is a much needed step toward making it simpler for veterans to obtain much needed licenses and certifications. And, finally, my legislation would allow for innovative partnerships between VA, DoD and organizations that provide mentorship and training programs designed to lead to job placements for veterans. All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work and they come at a pivotal time for our economic recovery and our service members.
At Third Estate Sunday Review, we endorsed Committee Chair Patty Murray's Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 including the mandatory aspect but: "There are a lot of programs the military offers. There's a real problem getting the word out. In some instances, such as PTSD, it's hard to draw any conclusion either than the military wants to keep the numbers down. Making the program mandatory means it falls back on superiors if veterans aren't getting access to these programs." We stand by that but there's a development since then. Earlier this month, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. We'll again note this exchange.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: I do have a couple of questions for both of you. You mentioned the figure of 45% of service members attend TAP. Is that for all branches? Am I wrong in that the Marines do require, it is mandatory for their service members to attend TAP before they are discharged? And do we know if their percentages are any higher than the other branches?
Christina Roof: When I spoke with Marine Corps officials last week, I was told it is mandatory that their Marines complete the TAP program. I was also told there were some exceptions, of course, you know, like critical injuries involved and so on. But I was told last week that it is mandatory that all their Marines complete TAP before their service discharge.
Subcommittee Chair: Marlin Stutzman: So that's with no exceptions? Every Marine coming out does -- has completed TAP or . . .
Christina Roof: Again, I can only go on what they told me which was, it is mandatory which I think is a great idea that should be across the board. I can't speak, again, to each individual case but it seems like they are enforcing it.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: So would the 45% number have Marines in that percentage? Or do we not know more of -- the demographics or --
Christina Roof: I'll let my colleague, I think that was his number.
Marco Reininger: Sir, if I may, I'm not 100% sure whether or not this number includes the Marine Corps but I believe that making it mandatory DoD wide would be the right solution here. That same survey indicated that many veterans didn't attend the TAP program where TAP courses were offered because it had a reputation of being redundant, not really useful for making a successful transition. And, in some cases even, commanding officers wouldn't let them go. This is what they say, again, this is what the survey indicated. So mandating it DoD wide for all service branches would be the right answer here, sir. And, of course, along with that comes having to overhaul the program so that it actually works and makes sense for people to actually attend.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Bruce Braley: Let me ask you this basic question. Isn't it true that the Department of Defense could make these programs mandatory, across the board right now without any further action by Congress if they wanted to? [They nod their heads.] That was a "yes" from both of you.
Marco Reininger: Yes, sir, absolutely, the executive branch could order this to be mandatory and that would most likely be the end of it as far as I understand the process.
So Committee Chair Murray's bill would not impose something new with regards to TAP, it would bring the other branches up to the same standard that the Marines already are compelled to meet. That's all the more reason to support it because to address problems that are spread out across the various branches, there needs to be standardization among the branches in terms of requirements.
In terms of certifications and licenses, what Chair Murray is speaking of hearing from veterans is something most members of Congress have heard. In a hearing of the full House Veterans Affairs Committee this month, US House Rep Bob Filner also addressed this issue.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you all for your testimony and your efforts. This is obviously a Congressional hearing and we have oversight of the VA. I haven't heard any suggestions on what we ought to be doing or what the VA ought to be doing. Looks like the only guy who's doing anything in government is Mr. Jefferson over here -- I mean, from the testimony -- I know you're false modest. But what are we all doing here? I mean this ought to be a top priority for everybody. And I can imagine -- you guys are the experts -- but if I just thought about it for a few seconds I could think of what the VA could be doing. I mean, why isn't every regional office, for example, putting out a list of veterans and their specialties and what they're seeking jobs as? You guys all said we have trouble linking up with who the veterans are. Well the VA knows every veteran. Let's just put out a list of everybody who's looking for a job. I mean, it just doesn't seem difficult. We hear about the transition of skills in the military being hard to translate. We could deem anybody who's in electronics or a medic or a truck driver -- I mean, we can give them a certificate that says "For the purposes of hiring, this serves as" you know "what ever entry level." And people can be trained further. But they have incredible skills. We've been working on this civilian certification for, I don't know, decades. Nobody can seem to solve it. We've got guys truck driving all over Iraq or Afghanistan, they come home and they find out they have to take a six month course to get a commercial driving license. They say, "Hey, what do I need that for?" And they get discouraged. They're truck drivers. They know how to do it and they do it under the most difficult conditions you can imagine. Let them have a certificate that starts with a job. Or electronics people or medics. I mean, I've watched these medics. They have incredible -- they do things that no civilian would ever think of doing and yet they've got to go through some other certification, masters and go to this college and that college. Come on. They have the training. And we could just do it. I'd like you to give us some suggestions in either law, regulation, just executive order that we can help you do the kind of things you're doing every day. You are out there. We ought to be helping you in every way we can and the VA's job is to do that.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Activists gear up for Friday's protest in Iraq"
"Deaths, arrests, public statements"
"Play it by ear"
"5 men, 3 women"
"The economy"
"look who they're going after now"
"Free Speech Radio News ignores Iraq"
"A movie that makes me cry"
"Only 18% of Terry Gross' 2010 guests were women"
"He didn't know a damn thing"
"A slump in his pants"

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A slump in his pants





Nathan Hodge (Wall St. Journal) reports, "The State Department is preparing to spend close to $3 billion to hire a security force to protect diplomats in Iraq after the U.S. pulls its last troops out of the country by year's end." Hodge is referring to what it emerged in the Commission for Wartime Contracting hearing yesterday. The hearing was entitled "State Department contracting, response to CWC recommendations, and transition effort in Iraq and Afghanistan." If video of the hearing goes up, it will be there. (Currently there's no video and the page merely has a link to prepared remarks.) The Commission is comprised of co-chairs Christopher Shays and Michael Thibault and Commissioners Clark Kent Ervin, Grant Green, Robert Henke, Katherine Schinasi, Charles Tiefer and Dov S. Zakheim. The Commission heard from one witnesse, the State Dept's Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy. From Kennedy's opening remarks:
All US personnel and contractors in Iraq will be under Chief of Mission authority and secruity arrangements have been worked out between State and DoD. [In written statement but not read outloud: "However, security will be a shared responsibility, with the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) responsible for all State Department sites and DoD responsible for the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) personnel. As such, DoD will be staffing and funding its security operations. At those locations where OSC-I is collocated with State, DS and DoD security will closely coordinate movement security, but DS will have sole responsibility for facilities security."] On September 29, 2010, State announced the award of a base contract for Worldwide Protective Services to eight companies. Task order are being competed among base contract awardees and awarded on a best value basis thanks to the assistance of this Commission. Awarding to multiple companies allows for increased competition for each task order, thereby controlling costs and providing for increased capacity to perform crucial security services in contingency environments. It also gives the US Government timely options in the event of a company failing to perform.
Kennedy went on to note that DoD would be "loaning" Biometirc Input Equipment (BATS) to State by DoD and this would be used to "vet prospective employees." And to verify current ones but is this all that it will be used for? The US Army's Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems has a page on DoD's Biometrics which does note: "Biometric Identification System for Access (BISA) is a Force Protection initiative that collects multi-modal (fingerprint, facial and iris) biometric and biographical information to produce a smartcard or PIN badge to control local and third-country nationals, coalition forces, and a limited number of US Persons accessing US controlled facilities in Iraq." And, in his written statement (not out loud), he noted they would use the BISA database. But he said BATS and BATS is in the written testimony. This is what the US Army's PEOE notes of BATS:

BAT: Biometrics Automated Toolset (BAT) is a tactical, multi-modal biometric system that collects and fuses biometric (fingerprints, iris images, and facial photographs) and biographical information on persons of DOD interest.

BAT is used globally to support a wide range of tactical, operational, and strategic military operations, such as interrogations, combatant/detainee enrollment and management, local hire screening, population management, checkpoint maintenance, and base access control. This capability provides U.S. forces with an unprecedented capability to positively identify, track, and further exploit terrorists, recidivist combatants, detainees, criminals, locally employed persons, and other persons of interest.

If there is no extension of the SOFA or a new SOFA-type agreement, the White House's plan is to shift the US military under the State Dept umbrella (and having it legally allowed, therefore, under the terms of the Strategic Framework Agreement). The US military that remains will be doing the same tasks they are doing currently. And if BATS is being used, it needs to be noted that the US military has compiled a ton of biometric data on Iraqis. All Iraqis who have been imprisoned by the US military and all the residents of Falluja, for example, have biometrics that the US military has kept on file. Will the State Dept be using or accessing that already compiled information and, if so, for what purpose?
That question wasn't answered and Kennedy was a hostile witness who probably wouldn't have answered it straight forward if he'd been asked. How hostile? "Can I finish my answer to your question, sir," he snapped at Commissioner Charles Tiefer as he (Kennedy) droned on about Indonesia (even though Tiefer hadn't asked about it and pointed out, "I didn't ask about Indonesia"). Kennedy repeatedly attempted to eat up time and play beat the clock with the commissioners in their eight-minute rounds. Co-Chair Thibault had to repeatedly stop him in the first series of questioning alone and even had to declare, "You're chewing up my time.") During Co-Chair Shays second line of questioning, Kennedy let out a loud, exasperated sigh while Shays was speaking (and disagreeing with Kennedy).
Nathan Hodge has a strong report so I'm really not going to focus on what he's covered, read it for what he's covering. But what stood out to me at the hearing yesterday isn't in his report. It may be due to the fact that he's familiar with LOGCAP, for example. In 2006, when we started attending and reporting on these hearings, I had to learn what all those acronyms were and what they actually did. LOGCAP is the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program. And it popped up in many hearings. Usually, as with Rick Lamberth's November 6, 2009 testimony before the Democratic Policy Committee, it wasn't good. Lamberth was a LOGCAP Operations Manager and he noted, "When I tried to report violations, I was told by the head of KBR's Health Safety and Environment division to shut up and keep it to myself. At one point, KBR management threatened to sue me for slander if I spoke out about these violations." March 29, 2010, the Commission on Wartime Contracting held a hearing and the Commissioners were noting, especially Henke and Schinasi, that $193 million was wasted because of a LOGCAP program manager failing to follow up on auditing suggestions and what was the company? KBR. Schinasi was very clear that all the government had done was to write KBR, they didn't penalize KBR, they didn't enforce the contract or anything. As she noted, "You're not being pro-active enough, you're not taking the initiative" and that they weren't being penalized. In fact, let's note that aspect of the exchange from a year ago.
Commissioner Robert Henke: I-I-I appreciate that entirely but you're telling me that AMC has a comprehensive plan to drawdown contracts and contractos and the single biggest contractor in theater is KBR with 15,000 direct hires and 30,000 other peopl. I would think if an auditor would tell you, "There's a chance to save $193 million" that someone in the system would feel compelled to respond. I'm disappointed that the Army has not. We had the LOGCAP program manager up here before the Commission in December, asked him his response -- the report was just out -- so this is not new material. In fact, the point of the audit is that the savings are going, going gone. If the army had acted the savings could have been achieved but since the Army or the DoD hasn't responded, the savings are effectively gone. So my question to you, sir, is who is responsible for cost efficiency, for cost awarenss of expensive contracts in theater.
Lt Gen James Pillsbury: The Army Material Command leadership is as you well know. The contract oversight, we depend on our partners at DCMA and DCAA.
[. . . . ]
Commissioner Katherine Schinasi: And have you withheld award fee for that purpose? Because they have not done that?
James Loehr: Uhm. Yes. I think if you go back and look at the award fee evaluation, you'll find that K -- KBR, I don't think, has ever -- very rarely -- gets 100% in that category.
Commissioner Katherine Schinasi: Close to 100%?
James Loehr: Uhm. I think -- I'd have to get back to you for that specifically but they are generally in that-that high-very good, though, excellent range that category.
There are many, many other examples we could provide. But, as a result, when today, someone in the State Dept is praising LOGCAP and KBR, it sticks out for me. Now let's note this exchange from today's hearing.
Co-Chair Michael Thibault: My point that I'm trying to make here is-is, are you aware that DCAA, the last year -- You know, all of the costs that are going to flow through you now and do flow through you are audited by DCAA and it's critical on two things. Do they get an adequate submission and do they do the audits timely? And are you aware that in the case of DynCorp -- and I picked three because . . . I picked three, the last year that DCAA completed in an audit was 2004. Are you aware that at KBR, LOGCAP, the last year that they completed an audit was 2003? Are you aware that Triple Canopy, that they have yet -- to use their words -- complete a year of incurred costs? Now, yes or no?
Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy: We -- I am certainly aware that DCAA has-has not uh executed --
Co-Chair Michael Thibault: Okay, okay.
Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy: -- every request on a timely basis.
Co-Chair Michael Thibault: Okay. I know you're working with them, you said that. But then I would say, are you aware that picking those same three contractors, I picked DynCorps first, that DynCorps has submitted -- so they've done their part according to DCAA -- adequate submissions that have been accepted by DCAA for those years that are open? You know we're talking '05, '06, '07, '08' '09, 10. A lot of open years with billions and billions of dollars that historically there have been audit results. But I would say then, are you aware that KBR recently -- They had their certifcations on hand, and they were on paper or on DCAA's view, adequate submissions but they've withdrawn 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 because in their words they want to relook at billed expenses and cost accounting practices. But in their quote, the company's quote to DCAA, they need to amend previous expense, allowability and allocability assumptions. Now those are a lot of words but to an auditor they mean that they have unallocable and unallowable within their claims, they've pulled them back because the certification is by a senior executive in the company and they don't want to be responsible for it. Now we can explore that some more, but my concern is that -- and in the case with Triple Canopy, a similar case exists where they didn't submit adequate submissions and they're feverishly working on it. The entire point on that is that it's of the highest risk possible and in my second round I'll be exploring some more of that.
At a time when the White House continually lectures about the need to cut money here and there and accountability, why in the world would companies who are known to have problems filing basic documents related to monies be used again? And are these cost-plus contracts? (I'm sure they are but I didn't hear that mentioned.) After the DPC established all the problems that the US government had with KBR's cost-plus contracts, it's appalling that it's still being used. And maybe Congress needs to hold a hearing on this and, if so, call former US Senator Byron Dorgan to offer testimony because he was Chair of the DPC and is very familiar with these issues.
Commissioner Schinasi questioned the model the State Dept was using -- noting there was nothing like Iraq in terms of the State Dept's current consulates. She noted that the State Dept was saying they would need $3 billion for diplomatic and consular programs in Iraq next year, that there would be 4,500 to 5,000 security contractors added and that the State Dept's Iraq mission is "going from 8 to 17,000 civilians in a couple of years." The estimates of how much the State Dept needs is not clear under the best of circumstances but the reality is they are guess-timating with very little basis in reality and, honestly, the plan is to ask for X, hopefully get X and when the costs go over X, come back to Congress and whine about unforseeables with the realization (or guess, if you prefer) that Congress won't pull the plug and will instead toss out more money. This is insanity at the best of financial times. In the current economy, the United States cannot afford it. Whether or not Congress will stand up to them, I have no idea.
Henke noted that Kennedy had approximately 250 supervisory positions but that Kennedy only had two of those postions in acquisitions. The idea that oversight is in place or exists within the State Dept on this issue is laughable. This was probably the most important hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting because they Commission wasn't coming in after X took place to explore how it happened. Instead, they were looking at prospective issues before anything started. The questions raised by the Commission need to be paid attention to.
Hodge reports Co-Chair Chris Shays questioned assertions, by Kennedy on behalf of the State Dept, that a State Dept employee in Iraq being injured and under fire needing to be given medical treatment and taken to the embassy, that these tasks would not be "an inherently governmental function"? And Kennedy insisted that it wasn't and that "we rely on contingency contracting, but we believe we have instituted a sound foundation to carry us forward." Again, Hodge's report stands on its own but a question needs to be asked in terms of contracting. Maybe Congress will ask it. Are contractors being used to meet quotas -- meaning is the State Dept limited to X number of US service members and, as a result of that limitation, are they taking on contractors for that reason and not because it's cost-effective as Kennedy and others have repeatedly insisted? If that's the reason for the contracting, my guess is that Senator Lindsey Graham's objections to the State Dept taking over the Iraqi mission are going to get a whole lot louder. (Especially since, as Shays pointed out, it would be breaking the law -- "not a criminal law".)
Moving over to Congress, tomorrow a US senator will receive an award:
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will receive the 2011 "Outstanding Legislator Award" from the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). The AUSA is honoring Senator Murray with this award for her work on veterans' employment issues and her continuing support for service members and their families.

WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)

WHAT: Association of the United States Army Outstanding Legislator Award reception

WHEN: Tomorrow -- Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Presentation at 12:00 PM ET

WHERE: Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room G11


Evan Miller

Specialty Media Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray


The award ceremony will be part of a busy day for Senator Patt Murray. In addition, there's a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing:
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing on pending legislation. During the hearing, Chairman Murray will discuss the next steps for her Hiring Heroes Act, and will hear from the Administration and veterans service organizations regarding their views on this critical veterans employment legislation.

WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Michael Cardarelli, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs

Robert L. Jesse, MD, PhD, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs

Jeff Steele, Assistant Legislative Director, The American Legion

Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans

Raymond Kelley, Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars

Jerry Ensminger, MSgt USMC (Ret.)

J. David Cox, RN, National Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Government Employees

WHAT: Steps forward for the Hiring Heroes Act and other pending legislation.

WHEN: TOMORROW - Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

9:30 AM ET

WHERE: Russell Senate Office Building
Room 418

Washington, D.C.


Evan Miller

Specialty Media Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Why he didn't send one






The morning began with AP reporting that 5 US soldiers were killed today in Iraq. Five US soldiers. That's 41 US soldiers killed since August 31st when Barack announced the 'end' of 'combat operations' January 22, 2009 -- 2 days after Barack was sworn in -- the US military death toll in Iraq stood at 4229. Sunday it was 4457. (Note, that is the Defense Dept count. The link goes to the official DoD tally which has not yet been updated to note the 5 deaths today.) Add the 5 today for 4462. It's 29 months since Barack was sworn in as President of the United States and US troops remain in Iraq and the US government pushes for an extension of the SOFA to stay beyond 2011 and plans to slide troops under the State Dept umbrella -- and Strategic Framework Agreement -- if the SOFA isn't extended or a new agreement made.
July 23, 2007, the Democratic Party had their candidates vying for the party's presidential nomination debate in South Carolina (CNN/YouTube debate). From that debate . . .
Senator Barack Obama: We just heard a White House spokesman, Tony Snow, excuse the fact that the Iraqi legislature went on vacation for three weeks because it's hot in Baghdad. Well, let me tell you: It is hot for American troops who are over there with 100 pounds worth of gear. And that kind of irresponsibility is not helpful. So we have to begin a phased withdrawal; have our combat troops out by March 31st of next year; and initiate the kind of diplomatic surge that is necessary in these surrounding regions to make sure that everybody is carrying their weight. And that is what I will do on day one, as president of the United States, if we have not done it in the intervening months.
Of course, my favorite Barack lie on the Iraq War was the one he featured in the campaign commericals of states about to have their primaries. "We want to end the war!" Barack would shout to yelling and applause. "And we want to end it now!"
I have no idea where "day one" or "now!" went but someone forgot to pack the sense of immediacy since it never made it into the White House as evidenced by the fact that US troops remain in Iraq. And US troops continue to die in Iraq. 233 US troops have died in Iraq since Barack Obama was sworn in as president. 233 US troops have died in Iraq since the man swearing he'd end the Iraq War took his presidential oath. 233 and this passes for 'peace'? 233 -- a figure Elizabeth Flock (Washington Post) should have on her list of numbers. Dropping back to Friday's snapshot:
In related news, John R. Parkinson (ABC News) reports that Speaker of the House John Boehner has said Barack Obama needs to "step up and help the American understand why these missions are vital to the nationaal security interest of our country. [. . .] I really do believe that the president needs to speak out, in terms of our mission in Afghanistan, our mission in Iraq, our mission in Libya, and the doubts that our members have frankly reflected they're reflecting what they're heaing from their constituents."
And Boehner appears to have had a point judging by the White House today. "In other words, I was right!" Jay Carney laughed at the White House press briefing as he attempted to handle such important issues as whether Angela Merkel's visit was a "state visit" or a "government visit." It was disgusting for a number of reasons including that the long-in-the-tooth Jay is more than a bit too old to be grabbing this position.
Setting aside Tony Snow who, as a personal favor, took the job in the Bully Boy Bush administration, I believe you have to drop back to Jerald terHorst to find someone older than Jay. Jerald terHorst was 52-years-old and only served for 30 days. He resigned when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, "As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that decision in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes -- and imprisoned -- stemming from the same Watergate situation." There's something really sick about seeing a 46-year-old man in a position that's really the equivalent of stock boy at the local grocer.
But mainly it was disgusting that it was 21 minutes into the briefing before Jay acknowledge the 5 deaths and then only because he had been asked about US forces remaining in Iraq past 2011. And note how he gets uh-uh-uh so nervous when forced to speak of death.
Jay Carney: I have nothing new for you on that. First of all, I would like to say that we are obviously aware of the fact that we lost US servicemen today and uh and uh and we express condolences to their uh families once notifications have been made and-and uh and uh it's a stark reminder that those who serve uh in Iraq do so uh-uh in a way that continues to place them at risk despite the enormous progress that has been made there uh and uh on your question, I have nothing new to announce. The process, as you know, is simply that we are abiding by the Status Of Forces Agreement that will have us withdrawing the remainder of our troops by the end of this year. I and others have said that we'll entertain requests by the Iraqi government if uh entertain in terms of discuss possible requests for uh-uh some sort of new Status Of Forces Agreement that would be obviously uh-uh quite different from the one we have now. But as of now we fully intend to fulfill our obligation under that SOFA and withdraw all our remaining forces.
The whole day was a big lark until, 21 minutes into the briefing, someone had to bring up Iraq. Uh-uh Carney at having to even address the subject. Many people have no choice but to address it because it's their child or their son or their daughter or their wife or their husband deployed to Iraq. I'd guess the loved ones taking part in the Saturday send-off in St. George, Utah for the 474 members of the state's National Guard who are depolying to Iraq, AP covers it here, don't have the luxury Jay Carney does of acting like Spunky -- the newest Mouskateer. How very fortunate he is to assume the position after Helen Thomas was savaged and expelled, thereby allowing him to ignore the realities of war nearly every work day.
Meredith Vieira: Details are still coming in about what happened in Iraq. We're going to go right to NBC's Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon. Mik, what can you tell us?
Jim Miklaszewski: Good morning, Meredith. This is the single worst if not one of the single worst attacks on US military forces in Iraq since the official end of formal 'combat operations' there in Iraq last August. According to US military and Iraqi officials 5 US service members were killed in a rocket attack on US military base -- one of many in or around Baghdad -- this morning. Now the timing of this attack cannot be dismissed because this comes at a time as the US military is in fact preparing to withdraw all combat forces, all US military forces, from Iraq by the end of the year Meredith.
Meredith Vieira: So does that now call that into question? Whether or not those troops will be removed by the end of the year?
Jim Miklaszewski: Well that's why the timing of this is so important. The Iraqi government itself is struggling with how to ask the US military to stay. There are currently 50,000 US troops there. Again, they're supposed to be out by the end of the year. But it's clear that the Iraqis cannot provide all the kind of defenses that they need and they're preparing to ask the US. So, again, this attack appears aimed at convincing the American people that all American troops should leave Iraq by the end of this year.
Rebecca Santanna (AP) reports, "Five American troops serving as advisers to Iraqi security police in eastern Baghdad were killed Monday when rockets slammed into the compound where they lived. The deaths were the largest single-day loss of life for American forces in two years." Al Jazeera pins the date down, "Monday's attack killed the highest number of US service personnel in a single day since May 11, 2009, when a US soldier opened fire on five of his colleagues on a base just outside Baghdad. That soldier was later arrested and charged with the killings." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports on today's 5 deaths and notes that "two Iraqi security officials told CNN Monday that the servicemembers were killed during an early morning mortar attack at a U.S. military base in southeastern Baghdad. Five servicemembers also were wounded in the attack, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information." Muhanad Mohammed (Reuters) quotes an unnamed "senior Iraqi security official" stating, "This morning, the American base at Loyalty Camp came under rocket attack. There was a lot of smoke inside and the Americans died in that attack in the Baladiyat area."
Prashant Rao (AFP) floats, "The latest violence raises key questions over the capabilities of Iraqi security forces ahead of a year-end deadline for Washington to pull out, with US officials pressing their counterparts in Baghdad to decide soon whether or not they want an extended American military presence." Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) explains, "Both Shiite and Sunni extremist groups are eager to target the Americans and claim they defeated the U.S. troops ahead of their departure. Eastern Baghdad is rife with Shiite militia groups -- radical cleric Muqtada Sadr's elite fighting unit, the Promisde Day Brigade, as well as a splinter group called Asab al Haq or the League of Righteous." Last week, Patricia Haslach, US Ambassador Iraq Transition Coordinator, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia (link has text and video) that, "The Sadrist trend is taking steps to revive the Jaysh al-Mahdi, which poses a serious threat to Iraq's democratic institutions and future." Jack Healy and Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) observe, "As Iraqi politicans tiptoe into that highly charged discussion [asking that US troops stay in Iraq beyond 2011], American military officials say that militants are stepping up attacks against bases and convoys, especially in Iraq's south, hitting them with mortars, rockets and improvised roadside bombs. In Baghdad, the number of mortar and rocket attacks against American and Iraqi targets jumped [. . .] to 37 in May from 17 in April."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Tikrit bombed again, at least 11 dead"
"5 US soldiers dead in Iraq -- what will the whores..."
Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Plan For Day 101"
"And the war drags on . . ."
"Does the end of 100 Days mean trouble for Nouri?"
"Adam Kokesh's successful Dance Party"

"Pretty, little princess"