Wednesday, September 29, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Robert Gates gets a tough question from a conscientious objector and the Secretary of Defense replies with what is an attack on Christianity, Senator Daniel Akaka receives an honor for his work on veterans issues, a House Veterans Affairs Subccomittee wonders why -- a year later -- no progress has been made on employment issues for veterans, the British pullout from Basra is examined, new rumors surface that Nouri will remain prime minister in Iraq, and more.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is currently taking questions at Duke University as I dictate this. He's grandstanded on the back of veterans and the military as he always does in that mincing manner he has. (Still crying over the death of PG, Bobby Gates?) We'll note his awful speech later in the snapshot but Gates got a little bit of a surprise when a 2006 Conscientious Objector stood up to ask a question.
The C.O. spoke of the demonization he received when he was going through the process and Gates grew visibly nervous and began shifting from foot-to-foot while his eyes darted wildly around the lecture hall at Duke's Bryant Center. "As a Christian," the CO expalined, "I'm concerned that I'm not able to respond to the denominational body I belong to when they deem certain wars unjust" as they did the Iraq War. He noted that, in contrast to the religious training and beliefs, soldiers are encouraged to "forfeit their moral agency to the officers" above them. And he wondered, "What your office might do to correct this tarnishment on our national integrity?"
By this point, Gates looked as if he was sucking on a lemon. War Hawks don't like being confronted. He began a snippy performance that seemed to prove true the rumors that he does a nasty camp Bette Davis impersonation. "I would say, first of all, this goes to the heart of my remarks tonight. In an all volunteer army, one does undertake a contractual obligation when enlisting. But there is certainly no obligation to re-enlist. And one should know -- anyone who has joined the military since 2002 has known -- that they are going into war with all of the moral challenges that can face people with -- So I think, ultimately, it has to be the choice of the invidivual."
Robert Gates is not a lawyer. He is a spinner. He's a damn good spinner if your goal is to advance illegal war or lies. If it's not, he's just a tired spinner who needs to create a job by retiring.
Volunteer army or not, the conscientious objector status is always recongized as a possibility or is Gates unaware that it remains on the books, has remained on the books since the draft ended, has remained on the books and has remained practiced for over thirty years? Is Gates so stupid that he doesn't know that?
(No, he's just a liar.)
As for 2002, the CO was specifically referring to the Iraq War. The Iraq War had not broken in 2002. All the lies Gates tells, it gets so hard for him to keep facts straight. The Iraq War started in March 2003. That's a fact. Equally true is that the administration lied repeatedly and the press went along with it. Finding out the truth about the Iraq War required real work. Lt Ehren Watada is one example of someone who had to do the work for themselves. In 2005, he was informed he would be deploying to Iraq in the summer of 2006. He began researching the war. He wanted to be able to answer any questions those serving under him might have. In researching the Iraq War, he discovered the realities including that it was an illegal war.
Lt Watada knew what Gates appears to have never learned: His pledge was to uphold the Constitution and he was required to refuse any illegal order. Is Gates unfamiliar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice? Gates does a vicious camp routine but he appears woefully short on the facts.
He also appears hostile to Christianity. Many Christian faiths are based on baptisms and on the Christian receiving the word of the God, a religious awakening. Gates appears completely ignorant of that fact. Anyone who joined before 2002 (or after) could very well have a religious awakening or a deepening of their religious beliefs -- those are core components and beliefs of Christian faith. Gates' bitchy little answer didn't recognize that reality.and showed extreme hostility to -- and prejudice against -- the Christian faith.
In a functioning government, Gates would be called to the carpet and told to issue an apology. That won't happen which will further lead to the suspicion among some Americans that defending religious freedoms only matters to the White House when the religion is Muslim. I'm not saying it's right, I'm not saying it's fair. I'm saying you're an idiot if you're ignoring the public perception of the White House -- demonstrated in multiple polls -- at this late date . And to allow your Secretary of Defense to launch what many Christians will see as an attack on the Christian faith and to not call it out will deepen the perception that some religions enjoy a "most favored nation" status at the White House.
"Some of the witnesses testifying before the Subcommittee may recall that we previously held a Federal Contract Compliance hearing on May 14, 2009," Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin declared this afternoon at the House VA's Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing. "In that hearing we received testimony from stakeholders highlihgting several concerns. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs lack the resources to enforce federal laws, the Vets 100 List was not available for public viewing and job listings -- as required by VEVRAA [Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act] -- were not available or easily accessible to veterans seeking employment. Unfortunately, the written testimonies we received for today's hearing express the same sentiments -- such as limited outreach by contracters and a failure to post announcements in the appropriate job listing services."
Herseth Sandlin was chairing a hearing on Federal Contractor Compliance and the two departments most responsible for contracting with regards to veterans are the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs but DoD was 'too busy' to appear before the Subcomittee today. Ranking Member John Boozman noted in his opening remarks "what appears less clear is the government's committment to enforcing the law."
DoD elected to skip the meeting today at a time when veterans unemployment is a serious issue. The full House Veterans Affairs Committee met this morning for a legislative hearing and US House Rep Cliff Stearns explained of his HR 3685, "Unemployment is at a record high today and unemployment in our veteran community is higher than at any time I can remember." This week Laura Clarizio (Examiner) noted of the weekly unemployment data that last week saw "[n]ewly discharged veterans claiming benefits totaled42,633, an increase of 537 from the prior week." Yesterday on PRI's The Takeaway, John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee were joined by Stand Down's Dr. Casi Crockett and financial contributor Beth Kobliner to discuss the issue of veterans employment. Excerpt:
Beth Kobliner: If you look last year for unemployment for post-9/11 vets, then the general population or the non-vets. The rate was 10.2% for post-9/11 vets versus 9% for non-veterans. But the real story is when you look at young veterans, 18 to 24-year-olds. They have seen last year unemployment at 21% compared to 16% for non-veteran peers. So really, it's clear that the the job prospects for veterans are certainly no better than non-vets and, for young [veterans], they're much worse.
This is a pressing issue. And DoD chose to ignore the hearing. And yet, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the head of the Defense Dept, had the nerve to call out Americans for what he saw as "apathy." Gates spoke this afternoon at Duke Unveristy's West Campus. (Pentagon Channel streamed the speech live.) Completing his speech, Gates reached for a water bottle and proceeded to chug it. You'd probably be parched if you too had trashed Americans. Americans are apathetic, only 1% of them are serving Gates stated, and serving in the military is something the American people see as a task for "other people to do." Really? Well first of all, Gates clearly sees testifying to Congress as something "other people to do" since his lazy and inept ass couldn't send a single representative to the economic hearing today. And his grandstanding on the backs of veterans is rather weak since he and the DoD have done little to nothing to improve the employment rate for veterans. As for whether or not Americans are meeting challenges, the Iraq War is an illegal war. Bush administration hold over Gates has blood on both hands -- once for the last administration, once for the current. He needs to stop grandstanding, he actually needs to leave because he's doing such a poor job. If there's any apathy he's experiencing, it's the apathy that allowed him to remain Secretary of Defense when Bush was replaced with Barack.
21% is the unemployment rate for veterans aged 18 to 24 and Gates wants to offer quotes from letters John Quincy Adams wrote to his son -- yeah, like that'll put bread on the table. Gates needs to answer as to why DoD refused to send a representative to today's hearing.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: I'd like to just start out the questioning with a general one and it may touch on the end of Mr. Wynn's testimony, but I know that some of you have commented either in your testimony today or your written statements about perhaps the need for a compilation, some sort of a national listing, an official listing. For anyone that wishes to respond, who -- who's in the best position to compile and maintain that in your opinion?
Rochelle Webb: Madame Chairwoman, NASWA believes that a accurate list is needed and that it needs to be through a collaboration of all the federal agencies that are involved in contractor compliance. So we would look for not only OFCCP [Dept of Labor] to be involved but agencies such as ODEP [Labor's Office of Disability Employment] dealing with disability employment as well as representatives from the state work force agencies through our association, through the veterans program for DVETs [Directors for Veterans' Employment and Training] -- we also believe needs to be involved. One part of the puzzle will remain one part of a puzzle. We need all pieces working together to have a comprehensive solution that will work for both state and federal level agencies. Thank you.
Joe Wynn: Madame Chair, I'd just like to say that between the Veterans Employment Training Service Dept and Labor OFCCP -- between the two, they should be maintaining a list of federal contractors who are required to submit information about employment opportunities for veterans. And it's very important, too, that we get information included in that listing -- or if it needs to be in an additional listing -- on subcontractors. There are a lot of employment opportunities available through subcontracts. There are thousands of subcontracts tied in to each prime federal contractor. But that list needs to be compiled, made readily available and made available throughout the year -- not just at one time when the submission of the Best 100 [yearly Vets 100 Report due out each September] is done. Thank you.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well thank you, Mr. Wynn. Any -- Ms. Roof?
Christina Roof: Just a really quick comment. AMVETS is looking forward to seeing the outcome of the presidential executive order bringing these agencies together: DoL, OFCCP, SBA [Small Business Administration] so that they can get a good understanding and stop doing things like duplication of efforts, taking this knowledge -- this wealth of knowledge and building a data base. So we're looking forward to seeing what comes out of that as well. Thank you.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: That's a good point. We know how important the interagency collaboration is in so many other areas. But I think, in addition to the collaboration, if we're going to make this happen, one -- somebody needs to ultimately have the -- bear the responsibility of maintaining it, right? And being the point of communication. And that leads me to my follow up question in terms of the Vets 100 Report. A number of you made different suggestions. Mr. Wynn just made mention of subcontractors. I think,, Dr. Webb, you may have in your written testimony as well. What kind of oversight and verification is needed over the Vets 100 Report to make it a meaningful exercise?
Rochelle Webb: Madame Chairwoman, NASWA believes that the oversight needed is first of all to review, and perhaps a study would be useful here, to see what type of information reported on the Vets 100 could actually help increase the effectiveness of contractor compliance. The way the Vets 100 Report is now, it's an annual report, it's a static snapshot in time. It's immediately outdated once it's submitted and, as Mr. Wynn has indicated earlier, it's very difficult for state agencies to know within your state who are the entities that receive subcontracts because the major contract could have been in another state. But there are employment opportunities that are lost unless they are uncovered by our DVOPs [Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program] and our LVER [Local Veterans' Employment] staff within the states on their outreach. But in Arizona where we have over 140,000 employeer, it's very difficult for a staff of just over 60 veteran staff to outreach that many employers to try to uncover which of those jobs are out of compliance or should be listed and are not.
Brief excerpt of panel two -- again composed of the Dept of Labor's Les Jin and the Dept of Veterans Affairs Jan Frye.
US House Rep Gus Bilirakis: Mr. Jin, what are your concerns with regards to NASWA's job central system?
Les Jin: Congressman, I think that the key thing is that we want to make sure that there's a system in place so that the priority referral provision for veterans is-is-is handled in a way that works for everybody, works for the veterans, works for the state and local organizations that put this together. So I don't have a specific concern but I think that we got a system in place that was developed and, you know, we would be happy to have conversations with the organization about any issues they want to raise. As far as I know, we have not done that and they have not reached out to us in that regard. One thing that I want to mention is that we have regulations, proposed regulations, as I mentioned, and during that process, we took a lot of comments from a lot of different stakeholders. My Director [Patricia] Shiu met with a lot of organizations, she had a webinar where she talked with over a thousand organizations and individuals concerned about veterans issues. She did townhalls in New Orleans and Chicago and San Francisco. She's got a lot of input and we just want to make sure that whatever changes we make are fully reviewed and-and-and everything is integrated into that decision.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin pointed out to Jin that NASWA recommended last year that "an official list of federal contractors" be generated by his department and she wondered if that had taken place? Jin danced around the topic in his immediate reply leaing to a redirect by the Chair ("Well, it was a recommendation made a year ago.), Jin stated "I was not hear until the last few months." But, in those months, he had no conversations on that topic.
From the US government to efforts in Iraq to form a goverment, Syria's Day Press reports, "President [Bashar] al-Assad's received on Wednesday a delegation from the Iraqi List led by Iyad Allawi. Talks dealt with the latest developments in Iraq and the ongoing efforts and negotiations among different Iraqi blocs to form an Iraqi government." DPA adds, "Allawi's meeting in Syria comes as a coalition of Iraqi Shiites, known as the National Alliance, are due to hold a third day of talks Wednesday evening after they failed to meet their own deadline to nominate a candidate for the position of prime minister." While that meeting was going on, Alsumaria TV notes, "Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem discussed with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon the situation in Iraq. [. . .] The Syrian Foreign Minister affirmed that Iraq's security is bound to the country's national unity stressing the necessity for all Iraqi components to take part in shaping up Iraq's future."
And if you're late to the ongoing stalemate, March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-two days with no government formed.
Suadad al-Sahly and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) note that "despite increasing acrimony," the talk is Nouri will be nominated by the Iraqi National Alliance (State Of Law already has him as their nominee) and he will be Iraq's 'next' prime minister. Hurriyet Daily News reports, "A group of prominent Iraqi nongovernmental groups have gone to court to try to break the political deadlock that has left the war-torn country adrift without a government and, according to many, vulnerable to insurgent attacks and worsening social conditions, a report said." Brian Murphy (AP) reports that US Brig Gen Rob Baker states that the continued stalemate is not only encouraging violence among 'insurgents' but could lead other Iraqis not to report suspect behavior to the Iraqi forces or the US forces. Youchi J. Dreazen (CongressDaily) reports similar concerns expressed today by the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen: "I'm extremely concerned about their inability to stand up this government. The politics there are from my perspective too slow . . . and the longer that lasts, the more I and others worry about what does the future hold."
It takes a lot of stupid for the US government to deny their own involvement in all of this. I'm not just referring to their continued backing of the unpopular Nouri al-Maliki. I'm also referring to their allowing him to push back the elections to begin with. This first happened under Bush and was okayed by Barack when the elections were pushed back to fall/winter of 2009. Once Barack was sworn in, other push backs took place. Nouri intentionally dragged his feet. That was obvious to all international observers. Which is how Iraq repeatedly missed one deadline after another -- all the while the US government insisting that elections would take place before the end of 2009 -- and that is how elections which should have taken place in mid-2009 did not take place until March of 2010. The six months and counting spectacle is shameful. But never forget that the US encouraged it and allowed it by repeatedly allowing Nouri to push back the date and to interfere with the passage of needed legislation by Parliament that would have allowed the elections to take place in 2009.
It takes a lot of stupid to hail 'progress' in Iraq when they have no government, when elections took place over six months ago and the results were not honored. When Nouri's term long ago expired but he remains in office, not as a 'caretaker,' but as a tyrant. And if you're missing the point, Alsumaria TV reports, "The Iraqi cabinet Tuesday approved a $733 million deal for Leighton Offshore Private Ltd. Singaporean Oil Company to build a new oil export terminal in the southern city of Basra, a spokesman for the Iraqi government said." That's not the actions of a caretaker government. A caretaker government ensures that electricity is supplied, that trash is picked up -- all the things Nouri's government has FAILED to do. A caretaker government does not negotiate a multi-million dollar contract.
The violence continues.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded two people, two Baghdad bombings (one after the other) left five people injured, a mortar attack on the Green Zone and, in Beshdar, a man crossed over the border from Iran to Iraq and was reported to Kurdish intelligence who attempted to detain him but he set off a bomb taking his own life and injuring two Kurdish intelligence agents. Reuters notes a Saqlawiya home bombing which injured "three woman and a man" and, dropping back to last night for the following, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured six people and a Kirkuk roadside bombing which injured a police officer.
The British withdrawal from Basra in 2007 was "a huge mistake" and a "defeat" for the British Army, according to senior American commanders. In the BBC's Secret Iraq documentary, one US General said the move by British troops from Basra Palace in the city centre to Basra International Airport left local people to be "terrorised" by militias. General Jack Keane (ret'd) told the BBC's Secret Iraq programme: "I think it was a huge mistake to pull out of Basra and to go out to the airfield and to leave the people of Basra to be subjected to the Iranian surrogates who brutalised them, intimidated them, terrorised them."
In real time, we noted the regional withdrawal and then the Basra one and how embarrassing it was for the British military. Since, we've noted how the Iraq Inquiry has bent over backwards to avoid exploring those realities. (Known realities. Shortly before the Basra pullout, there was the abandoned base in the area, abandoned due to attacks, which the British military fled and which was torn apart by attackers in less than 24 hours.) Few outlets noted the reality on the British military mission in Iraq -- and even fewer of US outlets noted it. The Telegraph of London always covered it and today their Thomas Harding reports:
Some of the evidence in BBC Two's Secret Iraq was not given to the Chilcott Inquiry into Iraq. The comments will revive debate about whether the British pull-out from Basra in September 2007 was a prudent tactical move or a humiliating retreat. The retired US general Jack Keane says: ''I think it was a huge mistake to pull out . . . and to leave the people of Basra subject to the Iranian surrogates who brutalised them, intimidated them, terrorised them." A US colonel, Peter Mansoor, who was executive officer to the US commander Gen David Petraeus, says Basra was in "dire straits". "I don't know that you could see the British withdrawal from Basra in 2007 in any other light other than a defeat," he said.
BBC News adds that 45 women were killed immediately after the British left Basra and quotes one Basra resident stating, "They started killing unveiled women. I had to buy an Ak-47 for personal protection. They started killing people who sell alcoholic drinks and barbers who shave beards."
There's plenty of news that should be in this snapshot but there's just not room and I note that because we're closing with two press releases. The first one is from Senator Daniel Akaka's office. He is the Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and he has won an honor. I've called him out in past snapshots so it's certainly only fair that we note he has received an honor:
THE MILITARY COALTION HONORS AKAKA FOR HIS ADVOCACY FOR VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Washington, D.C. -- Today The Military Coalition (TMC) presented U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) with one of its highest awards in recognition of his leadership on behalf of veterans and their families, especially his role in passing the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. Akaka received the 2010 Award of Merit at the Reserve Officers Association Building on Capitol Hill.
"I thank The Military Coalition for this honor, and for their service to veterans. I look forward to continuing our shared work on behalf of America's troops and veterans, as well as the families who support them," said Akaka, Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
"Senator Akaka has taken the lead on almost every aspect of veterans' benefit improvements this year. We're especially grateful for his leadership in winning compensation and health coverage for caregivers, many of whom have had to sacrifice their jobs and homes to provide full-time care for a wounded loved one," said Joseph Barnes, TMC Co-Chair and National Executive Driector of the Fleet Reserve Association.
The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Service Act was signed into law by President Obama on May 5, 2010. The law includes provisions to establish an unprecedented permanent program to support the caregivers of wounded warriors, improve health care for veterans in rural areas, help VA adapt to the needs of women veterans, and expand support services for homeless veterans.
The Military Coalition represents the interests of more than six million members around the world, including active duty, National Guard Reserve, and retired members and veterans, as well as their families. For more about TMC, click here [.]
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki today announced the publication of a final regulation in the Federal Register that makes it easier for Veterans to obtain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and disability compensation for certain diseases associated with service in Southwest Asia (including Iraq) or Afghanistan.
"This is part of historic changes in how VA considers Gulf War Veterans' illnesses," said Secretary Shinseki. "By setting up scientifically based presumptions of service connection, we give these deserving Veterans a simple way to obtain the medical and compensation benefits they earned in service to our country."
The final regulation establishes new presumptions of service connection for nine specific infectious diseases associated with military service in Southwest Asia beginning on or after the start of the first Gulf War on Aug. 2, 1990, through the conflict in Iraq and on or after Sept. 19, 2001, in Afghanistan.
The final regulation reflects a determination of a positive association between service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and nine diseases and includes information about the long-term health effects potentially associated with these diseases: Brucellosis, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella Burnetii (Q fever), Malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral leishmaniasis and West Nile virus.
With the final rule, a Veteran will only have to show service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and that he or she had one of the nine diseases within a certain time after service and has a current disability as a result of that disease, subject to certain time limits for seven of the diseases. Most of these diseases would be diagnosed within one year of return from service, through some conditions may manifest at a later time.
For non-presumptive conditions, a Veteran is required to provide medical evidence to establish an actual connection between military service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and a specific disease.
The decision to add these presumptives was made after reviewing the 2006 report of the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (NASIOM), titled, "Gulf War and Health Volume 5: Infectious Diseases."
The 2006 report differed from the four prior reports by looking at the long-term health effects of certain diseases determined to be pertinent to Gulf War Veterans. Secretary Shinseki decided to include Afghanistan Veterans in these presumptions because NAS found that the nine diseases are also prevalent in that country.
The 1998 Persian Gulf War Veterans Act requires the Secretary to review NAS reports that study scientific information and possible associations between illnesses and exposure to toxic agents by Veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War.
While the decision to add the nine new presumptives predates VA's Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Task Force (GWVI-TF), the overarching responsibility of the GWVI-TF is to regain Gulf War Veterans' confidence in VA's health care, benefits, and services and reconfirm VA is 100 percent committed to Veterans of all eras. The GWVI-TF began in fall 2009 and is not a static, one-time initiative but will continue to build on its work with annual reports issued every August. The group's focus centers on unanswered Gulf War Veterans' health issues, improving access to benefits, ensuring cutting edge research into treatments, and to make sure Veterans' concerns are heard and addressed. This includes continuing to solicit Veterans, experts, advocates and stakeholders to share their views to better inform the important work of the GWVI-TF. The GWVI-TF Report can be found at www.VA.gov.
Disability compensation is a non-taxable monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are disabled as a result of an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.
Last year, VA received more than one million claims for disability compensation and pension. VA provides compensation and pension benefits to over 3.8 million Veterans and beneficiaries.
Currently, the basic monthly rate of compensation ranges from $123 to $2,673 for Veterans without any dependents.
For information about health problems associated with military service in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan, and related VA programs, go to www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/ and http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp.