Thursday, July 29, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, the Congress explores the education and employment processes for veterans, Spain puts out warrants for three US service members, and more.
"I am glad to see we are joined by representatives from the Department of Defense which is responsible for training our men and women in uniform to meet the demands of their respective military career," declared US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin this afternoon bringing to order the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. "I am also glad to see the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor who both oversee these unique benefits and programs that may help our nation's veterans gain meaningful employment after their military service." She explained that the Subcomittee was continuing their work on the issue of the unemployment rate for veterans (21.6% in 2009). Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is the Chair of the Subcommittee, US House Rep Gus Bilirakis is the Ranking Member. In his opening remarks, Bilrakis noted, "Too often our men and women are required to repeat education already gained in military service. To me, that means that states need to be more flexible in recognizing military training and skills. I'm disappointed that the National Governor's Associated declined once again to join us here today. To me, the states hold the key to solving this dilemma."
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: From all of Military.com's transition career tools, which ones have been in the greatest demand by service members and veterans? Is it the mentor network?
Vince Patton: Yes, ma'am. The mentor network definitely is one of the best demand because what we have found is by not just having the technology itself, but our veterans would like to have somebody to connect with one another. And this is probably one of the successes of the internet as a whole, that people are connecting with one another. By using our veteran career network where the veterans are connecting and talking to each other, helping them with writing resumes, it's been very, very helpful.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: For Mr. Hilleman and Mr. Shapre, you had both stated in your testimony -- I think one of the recommendations, Mr. Hilleman, was to fund a study of all MOSs [Military Occupational Specialty]. And Mr. Shapre you had stated that it would be helpful to have a system that could be devised to translate the full nature of a service members' skills and abilities. Do you think that having a study that would look at all MOSs and having a system designed in that way is -- would provide something that Military.com either currently isn't providing or is not capable of providing at this point?
Eric Hilleman: Um, Madame Chairwoman, currently ACE [American Council on Education] does study specific school houses and specific MOSs with the exception of the air force because the air force has their own junior college or community college within the air force. That gives transferrable credit for education. But the contract between DoD and ACE is at the request of DoD so it does not study every single MOSs or every single course, it's just what DoD is contracted with ACE to study. That and ACE currently only has partners with our credit reciprocity or credit acceptance of 30 -- excuse me, 2300 universities nation wide. So quite a few universities. But that -- The list is not fully encompassing so I think we'd like to see if we could improve that through the academic sphere.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Yes, so your focused on the study so that it would look at the transfer of credits into colleges and universities versus the career transition into direct employment.
Eric Hilleman: I think there needs to be a wall between two studies. The focus on what's going on with ACE and currently with DoD and then take a look at also -- and I think unfortunately this-this has to go on an industry-industry basis and state by state. The Army Nursing Program that we mentioned in our testimony. Nowhere on the sight does it say that Air Force, Navy or Coast Guard nurses are excepted from the same tests that the Army Nurses are expected to sit for. So there's high degrees of variances from state to state. And I think that is the largest challenge to developing some agreement where credits transfer the military into the private sector.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Mr. Shapre?
John Shapre: I agree with everything that Mr. Hilleman has stated but we also -- The other thing we're really focusing on is we would like to see a lot of this done prior to the person's transition out of the military.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Mm-hmm.
John Shapre: They should know exactly what their MOS training will allow them to do once they leave.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well that raises another very important question on TAP. I know Secretary Jefferson's commited to reforming TAP. But I think Dr. Patton, you had some testimony as it relates to your perspective on how TAP doesn't always provide service members with what they need. I have had a mixed bag of responses from my constituents. Most recentlly two different members of 20-years plus of different branches of the armed forces who separated from military service. One thought TAP was fabulous, and the other thought it was completely useless. And they didn't take the program in the same place. Otherwise I would think we would have had more consistent response. What are your thoughts as it relates to TAP, any of you, how do we restructure this if necessary?
Vince Patton: Madame Chairwoman, I'll use my own personal experience when I went through TAP two years before I retired. I'm going through my TAP class and my needs are a little bit different than some of the other people that were sitting in that TAP class. Sitting next to me was a young man with three-years in the Coast Guard, a paygrade E4. He's got a total different focus on what's going to happen to him at the end of his time as what's going to happen to mine? I'm getting a retirement, my resume is a little bit more padded than his is. He's focused on trying to get into using education. So what happens in the TAP class is -- I have no problem with the content and I don't think anyone does. The problem is that it's not a one size fits all. But the system has kind of set that to be by virtue of getting everybody with different military walks of life into one setting and trying to come out with something of a commonality. What probably needs to happen, in my opinion, is more of looking at how we can reinforce that information before TAP, during TAP, as well as after TAP. So-so the whole TAP process is something that's evolving that should continue on well past the individual leaving the service.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Any other comments on TAP? I'm over time but I'm going to recognize the Ranking Member and come back for time. Any other comments on TAP?
John Sharpe: Well we know that the Dept of Labor is in the midst of redoing their entire TAP program. They're modernizing the program, something that we strongly agree with. A lot of the recommendations that are going into this new program is coming from the businesses that set on their veteran advisory board. A couple of years ago, we all went to a number of TAP programs across the country and looked to see how it could be improved. And a lot of the recommendations that came from various business owners -- we just -- we do think they're on the right road. We're still concerned with the fact that many service members are still not getting access to the TAP program.
The second panel was composed of the Dept of Labor's Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment and Training Service's Raymond M. Jefferson, DoD's John Campbell accompanied by DoD's Ron Horne and the VA's Margarita Cocker. We'll note this exchange.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Now according to your written testimony and I think you touched on it just now as well, the VA provides certification preparation tests. Can you specify for which specialities and how you determine if the veterans eligible for participation in the preparation tests.
Margarita Cocker: Yes, ma'am. Preparation tests can be provided to any service member or veteran that requires it in order to be able to pass the exam. The process will involve the VRC -- the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor -- sitting down with the veteran and preparing the rehabilitation plan including any preparation test that might be needed. Depending on the industry standard for those types of exams and whether a preparation exam is typically expected to help the individual pass, that could be a given in the rehabilitation plan that the preparation test would be written in. However, if during the progress of the plan -- If it had not been written into the plan, it can be added later if the veteran feels that they're not confident enough to pass the test without a preparation course.
Chair Stephanie Herseth: And then on average, how long would it take for a service member or veteran to complete a transferable skills assessment from the point where they go through the vocational exploration phase, then receive an individualized and comprehensive plan until they're employed in their chosen field? Do you have a rough average?
Margarita Cocker: I do not have an average. I can take that question for the record. However, what I can say is that that is very individualized and dependent upon the level of education that that veteran will need to complete to get to the point of licensing and certification if it's required for that occupation. The evaluation process, the comprehensive assessment which includes the transferable skills assessment is conducted during the initial phase and I can certainly provide average numbers for the evaluation and planning phase. I can take that question for the record.
Chair Stephanie Herseth: Okay, I appreciate that. And can you give any examples from different career fields where it's been particularly challenging to secure licensing or certification?
Margarita Cocker: I don't have any specific occupations where I can say it's been challenging to achieve that?
Chair Stephanie Herseth: Any states?
Margarita Cocker: I can take that for the record though and research it further.
Rick Maze (Air Force Times) covered yesterday's House Veterans Committee hearing and is probably at the largest news outlet that did cover the hearing. It's rather surprising -- especially in the current poor economy, that billions of unaccountable dollars is not a story to other outlets. If you're late to the party, see yesterday's "Iraq snapshot" and Kat's "The House Veterans Affairs Committee was pissed." And very quickly noting a few highlights of yesterday's hearing.
The GAO repeatedly outlines the problems and the VA refuses to address them. US House Rep Cliff Stearns established this with his line of questioning and established that the VA has repeatedly been asked to get with the program but never can seem to do that. The same conclusions over and over by the GAO and each year billions go missing from the VA. As Ranking Member Steve Buyer observed, "I mean, right now, you could look back and the last three or four [VA] Secretaries -- I mean, they have, since 2000, increased these directives without execution."
Maybe the press ignored the story because there was consensus on both sides of the aisle?
* US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick: "And Mr. Chairman, I share the sentiment of the other members of this Committee, that this is a very serious problem that we really need to stay on top of."
* Chair Bob Filner: "I would not underestimate the anger that my colleagues feel on this on both sides of the aisle."
If it was a lack of conflict that had them see it as a non-story, they missed it when the VA showed up for the second panel: The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance Edward Murray, the Chief Financial Officer W. Paul Kearns III and Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer Frederick Downs, Jr.
How much money is missing/unaccounted for? According to testimony from the VA to the Committee yesterday (specifically from Kearns):
2010 is an estimate from Kearns ("We're on track this year to be right at about the same level."). So add that up and the VA can't account for $41.9 billion.
$41.9 billion is missing/unaccounted for and that's not a story? This week a much, much smaller amount of unaccounted for US tax payer money has dominated the news cycle (money that was supposed to go to Iraqi reconstruction efforts and may or may not have -- no one knows where the $9.1 billion went). $41.9 billion isn't a story?
We have a Republican press release that will be noted tomorrow. It's on veterans issues -- and I'm not opposed to noting press releases from Republican Congress members; however, there's just not space for it in today's snapshot. The hearing today was interesting and there were a large number of visitors that e-mailed about the hearing earlier this week noting what would be helpful to them in the coverage. (These are veterans and veterans spouses.) So that's what I based the excerpts on. And since that's based on input, I really can't cut any of those excerpts. We'll note the press release, in full, tomorrow.
One thing we have to note, on the issue of service members is stop-loss. That's the back door draft, where you've served your time but your 'stopped' from leaving because the US military is suffering too many losses (from discharges, recruitment, demand, etc). There's a new development for thos who have been stop-lossed.
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffIf you are a service member or veteran who was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between Sept. 11, 2001, and September 30, 2009, you are eligible for Stop Loss Special Pay. Be sure to send in your claim form before the Oct. 21 deadline; the average benefit is $3,700. See www.defense.gov/stoploss for more informa...tion. If you know someone who may be eligible, tell a friend!
JUAN GONZALEZ: Patrick, I'd like to ask you about this whole other issue of the report on -- by Chris Busby and some other epidemiologists about the situation in Fallujah and the enormous increases in leukemias and cancers in Fallujah after the US soldiers' attack on that city. Could you talk about that?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Sure. I think what's significant, very significant, about this study is that it confirms lots of anecdotal evidence that there had been a serious increase in cancer, in babies being born deformed, I mean, sometimes with -- grotesquely so, babies -- you know, a baby girl born with two heads, you know, people born without limbs, then a whole range of cancers increased enormously. That this was --when I was in Fallujah, doctors would talk about this, but, you know one couldn't -- one could write about this, but one couldn't really prove it from anecdotal evidence. Now this is a study, a scientific study, based on interviews with 4,800 people, which gives -- proves that this was in fact happening and is happening. And, of course, it took -- you know, it has taken place so much later than the siege of Fallujah, when it was heavily bombarded in 2004 by the US military, because previously, you know, Fallujah is such a dangerous place to this day, difficult to carry out a survey, but it's been finally done, and the results are pretty extraordinary.
AMY GOODMAN: What were the various weapons that were used in the bombing of Fallujah in 2004?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, primarily, it was sort of, you know, artillery and bombing. Initially it was denied that white phosphorus had been used, but later this was confirmed.
That second story, broadcast November 8, 2005, is what needs to be noted. It was on that broadcast -- not in the pages of NYT -- that the US military finally confirmed the use of white phosophorus in Iraq. Excerpt:
AMY GOODMAN: So are you confirming that you used white phosphorus in Fallujah, but saying that it's simply not illegal?
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: White phosphorus has been used. I do not recall it was used as an offensive weapon. White phosphorus is used for marking targets for both air and ground forces. White phosphorus is used to destroy equipment and other types of things. It is used to destroy weapons caches. And it is used to produce a white smoke which can obscure the enemy's vision of what we are doing.
AMY GOODMAN: And you're using it in Iraq?
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: We have used it in the past. It is a perfectly legal weapon to use.
AMY GOODMAN: Maurizio Torrealta, news editor for the Italian state broadcaster, RAI 24. Your response?
MAURIZIO TORREALTA: Well, the United States, as the UK and Italy, signed the convention about prohibition of chemical weapons. And the convention define precisely that what make forbidden an agent, a chemical agent, is not the chemical agent itself. Because as Lieutenant said, the white phosphorus can be used to light the scene of a battle. And in that case, it's acceptable. But what make a chemical agent forbidden is the use that is done with it. If you use white phosphorus to kill the people, to burn and to block them, people and animals, even animals say the convention that we all sign, Italy, United States and UK, this is a forbidden chemical agent. And we are full of picture that show bodies of young people, of children, of women which have strange -- particular, they are dead with a big corruption of the skin and show even the bone. And the clothes are intact, untouched. And that shows there has been an aggressive agent like white phosphorus that has done that. And we have all the number of those bodies and the place where they have been buried. So any international organization that wanted to inquire about that has all the tools and information to do it. And even the witness -- the U.S. military that we interview confirmed that the use of white phosphorus was against the population. And we have even picture of the fact that has been told by the helicopter down to the city, not by the ground up in the air to light the scene. Also the images, they spoke by themselves.
Cockburn states today, "Initially it was denied that white phosphorus had been used, but later this was confirmed." It requires noting that "later this was confirmed" took place on Democracy Now! Back to today's report:
PATRICK COCKBURN: I think one shouldn't lose sight of the fact, in this case, that before one thinks about was depleted uranium used and other things, that just simply the use of high -- large quantities of high explosives in a city filled with civilians and people packed into houses -- often you find, you know, whole families living in one room -- was, in itself, going to create, lead to very, very high civilian casualties. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about the increase in cancers and so forth, and the suspicion that maybe depleted uranium, maybe some other weapon, which we don't know about -- this is not my speculation, but of one of the professors who carried out the study -- might have been employed in Fallujah, and that would be an explanation for results which parallel, in fact exceed, the illnesses subsequently suffered by survivors of Hiroshima.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it's interesting, under President Bush, Afghanistan was the forgotten war; under President Obama, Iraq is the forgotten war. Patrick?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, it's interesting, and it's very depressing, I think, you know, that -- I suppose the great success of the surge wasn't really militarily, but to get Iraq off the front pages and leading television news in the United States. And, you know, people speak of Iraq being better. I suppose it is better. You know, we only have about 300 people murdered every month rather than the 3,000 a month we had a few years ago. But it's still extremely bad. But, you know, it's sort of -- it is very strange that, you know, last weekend we had forty pilgrims killed in a southern Iraqi city by a bomb, and really you would have to hunt through the media to find any mention of this at all. And this is, you know, continually happening. But it was as if Iraq had returned to some sort of peace. Well, actually, it remains one of the most violent countries in the world. Maybe Somalia is worse, but not many other places.
Let's stay with the violence.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Falluja roadside bombing which wounded four police officers, a second Falluja roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left five more wounded and, dropping back to Wednesday for the rest, a Falluja roadside bombing which claimed 3 lives (including Imam Ehsan Abdul Lateef Al Duri) and a Zimmar roadside bombing wounded one woman.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 Iraqi soldiers were "tied-up" and then shot dead in Baghdad " Iraqi police, army and firemen were heading to the site as another four roadside bombs exploded in different routes in a quick secession about 15 minutes for all roadside bombs, targeting the first responders. 16 were killed including 7 civilians and 14 were injured including seven civilians," and, dropping back to Wednesday for the rest, a Mosul home invasion in which 1 woman and her son were killed and 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Mosul.
The violence continues, so does the political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and five days and, in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 4 months and 22 days. Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari greeted Shoji Ogawa today in Baghdad (Japan's Ambassador to Iraq). Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that Zebari called the stalemate "embarrassing" and quotes him stating, "It's embarrassing to be honest with you, for me, and I have avoided a number of foreign visits."
Blix put Iraq in a no-win situation. Before setting off to inspect it in 2002/early 2003, he told a reporter that 'not seeing something, not seeing an indication of something, does not lead automatically to the conclusion that there is nothing'. So if he found weapons there would be war, and if he didn't find weapons, well, there might still be war. The pro-war lobby saw what it wanted to see in Blix's suspicions-filled final report to the UN in January 2003, with one accountrightly arguing that it 'greatly strengthened the American and British case for war'. Far from trying to prevent war, the weapons inspectors -- with their demented scaremongering between 1998 and 2003 -- provided Washington and London with the perfect justification for their military venture. Only a fool would idolise Blix. The spat between him and the US and the UK is no principled stand-off between anti-war and pro-war camps. Rather it is a struggle amongst clashing invading forces, with Blix defending the right of his people to occupy and blackmail the 'moral lepers' of Iraq for the rest of time, while Bush and Blair preferred to launch all-out war against those 'moral lepers'.
Former UN weapons inspector Blix testified Tuesday to the Iraq Inquiry -- here for a critique of it -- and offered a bunch of self-grandizing statements, a bunch of inconsistent remarks and a lot of justifications for the illegal war. O'Neill is correct, "Only a fool would idolise Blix." Blix has made a semi-name for himself by basically coming over to Margie's house and trashing everyone and then going over to Sally's house and when people object to his remarks at Margie's, Blix immediately disowns them -- even going so far as to claim he was misquoted. He has offered conflicting tales over and over for the last seven years. His testimony was in keeping with his desire to reinvent 'reality' and aided no one. Meanwhile Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) takes issue with recent coverage from the Independent of London which he feels misreads the testimonies and the documents, "Again, this is to confuse what the Inquiry has done in its public hearings with what it has found out behind the scenes. Given that the Independent has done so much to highlight the unpublished documents, this is surprising. If the Inquiry is not able to publish any further information and thus confront witnesses with the contradictions, it may as well draw its public hearings to a close. But Chilcot's options are not constrained by the lack of decisive new evidence, just limits on what he is able and willing to make public."
In a two-hour Radio 5 hustings, David Miliband claimed that his brother Ed was in the same position over the Iraq war as all the other candidates save Diane Abbott, since she alone had vocally opposed the conflict at the time.
[. . .]
The pointed exchanges started when Ed Miliband sought to distinguish himself from his brother, saying: "One of the differences between David and myself is I think I am more critical of some of the things we did in government, and more willing to move on from some of the mistakes that we made, not just on foreign policy, like Iraq, but on the economy and the fact that we have left lots of people on low wages."
David Miliband countered: "I do not believe we lost the 2010 election because of Iraq and we fool ourselves if we think [we lost] places like Stevenage -- that we won in 2005 -- because of Iraq."
As noted before, I know and like both David and Ed Miliband and I hope the above excerpt was balanced to give each a word. In legal news, Emma Ross-Thomas (Bloomberg News) reports that Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz has issued arrest warrants for US service members Sgt Thomas Gibson, Capt Philip Wolford and Lt Col Philip de Camp over the April 8, 2003 death of journalist Jose Couso who was killed in an US assault on the Palestine Hotel. We'll close with this -- on the US -- from David Swanson's "Peace Movement Adopts New Comprehensive Strategy" (War Is Not A Crime):
Last week 700 leading peace activists from around the United States met and strategized in Albany, N.Y. ( http://nationalpeaceconference.org ). They discussed, debated, and voted for a comprehensive new plan for the coming months. The plan includes a new focus and some promising proposals for building a coalition that includes the labor movement, civil rights groups, students, and other sectors of the activist world that have an interest in ending wars and/or shifting our financial resources from wars to where they're actually needed. The full plan, including a preface, is available online.
The plan includes endorsements and commitments to participate in events planned for Detroit on August 28th, and Washington, D.C., on August 28th and October 2nd, as well as a national day of actions led by students on October 7th, and a week of anti-war actions around the country marking the start of Year 10 in Afghanistan on October 7-16. Dates to put on your calendar now for 2011 include mid-March nationally coordinated teach-ins to mark the eighth year of the Iraq War and to prepare for bi-coastal spring demonstrations the following month, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles mobilizations on April 9, 2011, and blocking of ports on May Day.
Here is the full list of actions agreed upon:
1.The Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the United Auto Workers (UAW) have invited peace organizations to endorse and participate in a campaign for Jobs, Justice, and Peace. We endorse this campaign and plan to be a part of it. On August 28, 2010, in Detroit, we will march on the anniversary of that day in 1963 when Walter Reuther, president of UAW, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders joined with hundreds of thousands of Americans for the March on Washington. In Detroit, prior to the March on Washington, 125,000 marchers participated in the Freedom Walk led by Dr. King. At the march, King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech for the first time before sharing it with the world in Washington. This year, a massive march has been called for October 2 in Washington. We will begin to build momentum again in Detroit on August 28th. We also endorse the August 28, 2010 Reclaim the Dream Rally and March called by Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network to begin at 11 a.m.. at Dunbar High School, 1301 New Jersey Avenue Northwest.
2.Endorse, promote and mobilize for the Saturday, October 2nd "One Nation" march on Washington, DC initiated by 1199SEIU and the NAACP, now being promoted by a growing coalition, which includes the AFL-CIO and U.S. Labor Against the War, and civil rights, peace and other social justice forces in support of the demand for jobs, redirection of national resources from militarism and war to meeting human needs, fully funding vital social programs, and addressing the fiscal crisis of state and local governments. Organize and build an antiwar contingent to participate in the march. Launch a full-scale campaign to get endorsements for the October 2 march on Washington commencing with the final plenary session of this conference.
3.Endorse the call issued by a range of student groups for Thursday, October 7, as a national day of action to defend education from the horrendous budget cuts that are laying off teachers, closing schools, raising tuition and limiting access to education, especially for working and low income people. Demand "Money for Education, not U.S. Occupations" and otherwise link the cuts in spending for education to the astronomical costs of U.S. wars and occupations.
4.Devote October 7-16 to organizing local and regional protests to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan through demonstrations, marches, rallies, vigils, teach-ins, cultural events and other actions to demand an immediate end to the wars and occupations in both Iraq and Afghanistan and complete withdrawal of all military forces and private security contractors and other mercenaries. The nature and scheduling of these events will reflect the needs of local sponsors and should be designed to attract broad co-sponsorship and diverse participation of antiwar forces with other social justice organizations and progressive constituencies.
5.Support and build Remember Fallujah Week November 15-19.