Wednesday, May 11, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Patty Murray and other senators announce the Hiring Heroes Act, Nouri announces US forces may stay (he'll have a discussion), Nouri and Ayad Allawi remain estranged, Camp Ashraf defenders call for action, and more.
26-year-old Iraq War veteran Eric Smith explained this morning, "During my tours, I gained valuable experience in the medical field under extreme conditions. Despite my knowledge and service, I'm struggling to find a job today. And I'm not alone. Our current struggles are not unique to my circumstances. More than 200,000 Iraq-Afghanistan veterans are unemployed or undermployed in today's economy." Smith served as a Navy medic, working as a doctor's assistant in the ICU. He was speaking in DC this morning and flanked by US Senators Mark Begich, Chris Coons, Jon Tester and Patty Murray. Senator Murray is also the Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and Murray and the other senators are sponsoring the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 bill.
Patty Murray: Today with the help of everyone here, we are taking a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military. For too long in this country we have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women with new skills to protect our nation only to ignore that investment and them when they leave the military. For too long, at the end of their career, we pat our veterans on the back for their service and then we push them out into the job market alone. Where has that left us today? We have an unemployment rate of over 27% among young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is 1 in 5 of our nation's heroes who cannot find a job to support their families, they don't have income to provide stability and they don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home. All too often, we read about the results of veterans who come home, often with the invisible wounds of war, who can't find the dignity and security that work provides. We read about it in the sky rocketing suicide statistics, problems at home, substance abuse and even in the rising homelessness among our returning veterans. But I've also heard a lot about it first hand from the veterans that we have failed to provide better job support to. I've had veterans tell me that they no longer write on their resume that they are a veteran 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 for days on end, in incredible conditions, who cannot get certification to be an EMT or even a ambuldance driver. I've talked to veteran after veteran who's said they didn't have to go through the military's jobs skills training program or that they were never taught how to use the venacular of the business world to describe the job and experience they did when they come home. These stories are heart breaking and they are frustrating. But more than anything, they are a reminder that we have to act now. The bill that we are introducing today allows our men and women in uniform to capitalize on their service while making sure that the American people capitalize on the investment that we've made in them. For the first time, it will require broad job skills training for every service members as they leave the military as part of the military's transition assistance program. Today almost a 1/3 of those leaving the army don't get that training. This bill will allow our sevice members to begin the federal employment proccess prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs in the VA or Homeland Security or many of the other federal agencies that have jobs available. The bill will also require the Dept of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector and will work to make it simpler to get the licenses and certifcation that they need. All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work. And all of them come at a pivotal time when our economic recovery is starting to turn around. You know, I grew up during the Vietnam war and I have dedicated much of my Senate career to helping care for the veterans that we left behind at that time. The mistakes that we made then have cost our nation and our veterans dearly and have weighed on the conscious of this nation. Today we stand on the brink of repeating those mistakes. We cannot let that happen. Our nation's veterans are disciplined, they're team players, they proved that they can deliver. It's time for us to make sure that they have a job and the security that provides them when they come home.
On the bill and the press conference, Senator Murray's office issued the following:
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee introduced major legislation to help veterans struggling to find work and to address rising unemployment among our nation's heroes. Senator Murray's bill, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, is the first of its kind to require broad job skills training for all service members returning home and comes at a time when more than one in four veterans aged 20-24 are unemployed. In addition to requiring that each separating service member attend a transition assistance program, the bill will also create new direct federal hiring authority so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military, and will improve veteran mentorship programs in the working world. Read more about the bill here.
The bill was introduced today by Chairman Murray (D-WA) and co-sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Max Baucus (D-MT), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Robert Casey (D-PA), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
The bill is also supported by Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Military Officers Association of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
"For too long we have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women in uniform with new skills to protect our nation, only to pat them on the back after their service and push them out into the job market alone," said Chairman Murray. "This has cost our nation and our veterans dearly. For the first time, this bill will require that our service members get the training they need to translate the skills they learned in the military into the working world. It will also provide faster pathways to private sector and federal employment so our veterans aren't left in limbo after they leave the military."
"It is tragic our men and women in uniform come back from combat and find that some
federal and private sector employers do not appreciate, or question, how veterans' skill-sets and commitment translate to the workplace. I am proud to add my name to a bill that gives veterans the skills they need to compete for jobs, an opportunity for a non-competitive appointment to the federal civil service, and enhanced vocational vocational rehabilitation if they need it. Actions speak louder than words, and I hope this bill empowers our men and women of action with the skills and the support to hear the words "You're hired,'" said Senator Murkowski, the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bill.
"For too many veterans, especially among those who have served in the Guard and Reserves, the fight does not end when they return from the battlefield and take off the uniform. For some, another ordeal is only beginning. This new struggle is for a decent-paying job that puts food on the table and a roof over the heads of these veterans and their families," said Senator Leahy. "Vermonters understand how much we owe it to those who defend us to make sure they are fully employed when they return, so I am very proud to join Senator Murray in offering this bill. I hope it passes quickly."
"We have a responsibility to support our military men and women not only by providing the resources they need to serve, but also by making sure they have the tools they need to get good-paying jobs when that service is over," said Finance Committee Chairman and author of the VETs Jobs bill, Max Baucus. "If a soldier serves our country proudly as a medic, they are more than qualified to earn a living as an EMT when that service is over. If a service member can drive sophisticated equipment protecting our country overseas, they shouldn't have to jump through hoops to get a job as a truck driver here at home. And all of our troops should have access to the job training they need, when they need it. This bill is a straightforward solution that puts common sense into practice to help our military service members get the good-paying jobs they deserve when their service is over."
"When troops return from often multiple tours of duty abroad, the least we can do is help them find a decent job and land on their feet so that they can support themselves and their families," said Senator Jay Rockefeller, who is the longest serving member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. "It's a sad truth that too many of our young vets are unable to find jobs when they come home. This is something that we can change, and this bill does that with smart
investments in training and hiring assistance. Veterans in West Virginia and across the
country chose to put this country above all else, and they deserve our unwavering support both on and off the front lines."
"Our nation's veterans are well trained, highly skilled, experienced, and capable," said Senator Daniel K. Akaka. "The Hiring Heroes Act will provide opportunities for those completing military service to get jobs in the federal government, helping them to successfully transition to civilian life while keeping their talent for the benefit of the American public.
This is a win-win for our veterans and the country."
"This country is grateful for the courage and dedication of our veterans, which continues long after they take off the uniform. This bill provides these heroic men and women not just the job assistance they deserve but a path for success in the future," said Senator Boxer.
"The nation has a commitment to our service members and their families to help make sure their transition from military service to the civilian workforce is both timely and successful," said Senator Bernie Sanders. "Meaningful employment is the key to prevent many social and economic challenges we see some veterans facing today."
"Our veterans' service to our country does not stop when they leave the military. From leadership experience to technical and scientific skills, veterans are key to our nation's economic competitiveness. We must honor our commitment to them and empower them to lead our nation in civilian life as they did while in uniform," said Senator Sherrod Brown.
"We have a responsibility to empower America's veterans with the tools they need to find
good-paying jobs after they put their lives on the line for our freedoms," Senator Jon Tester, Montana's member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. "This legislation eases the transition between military service and the civilian workforce, setting Montana's veterans up for
success. They deserve no less."
"When our veterans are returning from war zones, far too many are having a difficult time finding a job, and that is unacceptable," said Senator Begich. "This legislation is designed to help our service members find employment, get training, and be able to transition home without the headache of a job search. They have some of the best skills any employer could ask for and we need to do more to promote their success."
"We have an obligation to take care of our men and women in uniform not only when they are fighting to keep our country safe, but also when they return home," said Senator Brown, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "This bipartisan legislation reflects our commitment to ensuring veterans have ample opportunities to find a job when they decide to leave the military, and I am proud to be introducing it along with my colleagues."
"As we bring more and more of our troops home from conflicts abroad to a country still recovering from this difficult recession, it is more important than ever to equip our veterans
with the resources necessary to successfully reenter civilian life," Senator Coons said. "As
they conclude their brave service to their country, we must make it a priority to connect returning soldiers with job training and job opportunities. It's not enough for us to bring
them home -- it's our duty and responsibility to give them the tools and training to be as successful in civilian life as they were while they were deployed."
"This legislation will go a long way toward meeting the transitional needs of America's heroes," said Peter Gaytan, Executive Director of the American Legion in Washington. "Many of our returning veterans have been struggling to find adequate employment at home, and passing a bill that provides them with job-training to help them back into the work force is commendable."
"A veteran's successful reintegration into society begins with employment," said Veterans of Foreign Wars U.S. Legislative Director Ray Kelley. "The VFW salutes Chairman Murray for
this legislation. It not only improves existing programs, it will allow service members to
quickly transition into civilian careers and ensures that veterans who continue to struggle to find employment are given greater access to the system that is in place to support them."
"With high unemployment rate facing veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Chairwomen Patty Murray's legislation, 'Hiring Heroes Act of 2011,'
will greatly improve employment opportunities for these veterans, especially disabled veterans," said Dave Gorman, Executive Director of The Disabled American Veterans. "With enhancements to vocational rehabilitations programs, mandatory Transitional Assistance Programs, and enhancement of credentialing
and licensing programs, among others, this bill will great improve the transition from the military into the civilian workforce. The Disabled American Veterans supports this legislation."
"MOAA strongly supports this important legislation. In these challenging economic times,
there is no greater good than helping our Nation's warriors, who have given so much over the past decade, transition from military life to a civilian career. MOAA thanks Chairman
Murray and all the co-sponsors of the "Hiring Heroes Act of 2011' for their continuing
support of those men and women who serve and have served our Nation," said Vice Adm.
Norb Ryan, Jr., USN-Ret, President of Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).
Specialty Media Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
From veterans stateside to Iraq . . .
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
I knew when we woke up
You would be leaving
You knew when you left me
It might be too long
That kiss on your shoulder
It's me looking over
Close to your heart
So you're never alone
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
The big news today? Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports Nouri al-Maliki declared that "he might ask thousands of U.S. troops to remain in the country next year provided that a solid majority of the main political parties back the request at a meeting this month." AGI News quotes Nouri stating, "The decision concerning the USA's withdrawal is an important national issue. For this reason, I am inviting all political leaders to establish a dialogue to clarify whether we want American soldiers to stay or not." AFP continues the quote: "Aftter that, the government will decide on keeping them, or making them leave." Xiong Tong (Xinhua) notes, "Iraqi political blocs are sharply divided over whether part of the U.S. troops will have to stay amid continuing violence in the country and the region as well, or to leave to assert independence eagerly wanted by Iraqis." Rebecca Santana and Lara Jakes (AP) add, "Equally important might be the nervousness many Iraqis feel at how the U.S. departure will affect sectarian relations. [. . .] Many Sunnis and even Shiites worry that Iraq is falling too much into Iran's orbit, something that will only increase when the U.S. military leaves."
There's talk of Nouri's position being a reversal at some outlets. In terms of staying beyond 2011? No. Nouri's been all over the map -- publicly -- in the last two years on this issue including in July of 2009. One example, Margaret Talev (McClatchy Newspapers) reported July 23, 2009, "A day after President Barack Obama said that the U.S. was on track to pull its troops out of Iraq by 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said Thursday that the timeline could change 'if the Iraqi forced required further training and support'." Anne Gearan (AP) and Al Jazeera also covered Nouri's statements in real time. So that's not a change. Did he change in allowing Parliament a say? He's expressed conflicting opinions on that as well. Earlier today Dar Addustour reported on the conflict between Ayad Allawi and Nouri and mainly emphasized Allawi's calling Nouri out for asserting that the decision to extend the presence of US forces on Iraqi soil past 2011 is his (Nouri's) decision and only his. Allawi's comments being made public may or may not have had influence. But today's comments are similar to the ones he made last week and you can refer to Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt's New York Times article for that. Their article also gets the reactions of Iraqi people to a possible extension and you can also refer to Arango and Schmidt's blog post at At War.
Amanda Terkel (Huffington Post) quotes Pentagon spokesperson Elizabeth Robbins stating, "[W]e are willing to entertain a request for continued assistance, consistent with our commitment to a long-term parternship with Iraq -- but the ball is in the Iraqis' court to ask." Ask? If this 'request' is anything like the selling of the SOFA in November 2008, look for various US officials to show up with promises and more to close the deal.
Some outlets express concern about Moqtada al-Sadr's feelings because Moqtada is opposed to an extension. As he was exposed to extending the UN mandate in 2006 (it was extended) and 2007 (it was extanded) and to the SOFA in 2008 (it went through). He made threats before. He did not follow up on them. As noted for weeks now, the US (and England and other governments) are convinced Moqtada is currently at his weakest. Which may be why Iran's Fars News can report today, "US special forces attacked headquarters of the Sadr Movement in Iraq's Northern Diyala province and arrested the staff. According to FNA dispatches, US forces have confiscated all the computers in the building. Eye Witnesses said that a number of staff were arrested by the US forces." UPI notes the story here.
UPI also notes the current conflict between Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi and wonders if political spats in Iraq are temporary? (Answer: Only if a politician's life proves to be "temporary.") March 2010, Iraq held elections. It should have been easy enough. But the UN refused to appoint a caretaker government and Nouri al-Maliki used his position as prime minister to delay and thwart. Nouri's political slate was State Of Law. It came in second. (Some rush to say, it was close! Elections are supposed to have winners and "I almost won it!" is meaningless after an election.) Iraqiya came in first. Even after Nouri demanded recounts. Ayad Allawi heads Iraqiya. Nouri, as prime minister, used his control of the Supreme Court to get the verdicts he needed and, with backing from the US, managed to hold on as prime minister. And since hanging on, he's done nothing for the Iraqi people and he still can't form a complete Cabinet all this time later. The security ministries are leaderless. Alsumaria TV reports:
Iraqiya Party leader Iyad Allawi argued on Monday that Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's government is working secretly as it passed the nominations of security ministers to Parliament.
Allawi affirmed that his list will not withdraw from the political process if Al Maliki insists on his candidates. "Al Maliki should be keen on national partnership since the political process is not owned by Al Maliki. It belongs to the Iraqi people", Allawi said.
"It has been agreed that Al Iraqiya List will nominate the Defense Minister that should be approved by all political parties while the national alliance would nominate the Interior Minister and state minister for national security affairs", Allawi explained.
But, as usual, Nouri makes pledges and promises to get what he wants and then, when he gets what he wants, betrays the agreement. New Sabah publishes a letter Allawi wrote to Nouri. In it, he replies to Nouri's May 6th letter. He also reminds that Iraqiy won the largest number of votes in the elections ("despite the hostile disinformation campaign," Allawi notes without stating Nouri was responsible for that campaign). He refers to the Erbil Agreement which ended the political stalemate after over 9 months of gridlock and reminds that the Erbil Agreement was supposed to be implemented (the Kurds and Americans brokered the agreement). That agreement, apparently had a passage regarding the MEK (Iranian dissidents in Iraq prior to the start of the Iraq War, currently living at Camp Ashraf) and, by Allawi's statements, there was an agreement that the residents would be protected. Allawi notes that he would be the first to call out any political interference by the MEK but that this hasn't taken place. (Nouri and his supporters have been attempting to force them Camp Ashraf residents out of Iraq -- more on Camp Ashraf in a second.) Al Sabaah reports that Allawi and KRG President Massoud Barzani are working together on ensuring the Erbil Agreement is honored.
In possibly related news, Dar Addustour reports that Russia's Secretary of State Sergei Lavrov is meeting with Iraqi officials (including Minster of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Nouri) and has stated that Russia is ready to help Iraq in all areas, including military support.
In other news Al Rafidayn reports at least one "diplomat" at Iraq's Embassy in Yemen has been arrested by Yemen authorities and charged with selling passports to known terrorists. Staying with violence, Aswat al-Iraq notes 3 police officers and 1 bystander were injured in a Mosul bombing, a Baghdad bombing (north-east Baghdad) injured five people, a Baghdad bombing (Sadr City) left five people injured, a second Mosul bombing left one police officer wounded, and a Salahal-Din bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers with a third critically injured.
Turning to Camp Ashraf, an enclosed area that houses Iranian dissidents who have been present in Iraq since before the start of the Iraq War and, following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- these Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28, 2009 the world saw what Nouri's word was actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. April 4th, Iran's Fars News Agency reported that the Iraqi military denied allegations that it entered the camp and assaulted residents. Specifically, Camp Ashraf residents state, "The forces of Iraq's Fifth Division invaded Camp Ashraf with columns of armored vehicles, occupying areas inside the camp, since midnight on Saturday." Friday April 8th saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied. Thursday April 14th, the United Nations confirmed that 34 people were killed in the April 8th assault on Camp Ashraf. Barbara Grady (San Jose Mercury News) reported that the dead included journalist Asieh Rakhshani who has family in California. The assault hasn't really registered in the US the way it has in Europe. AFP reports, "Urgent international action is needed to avert 'a Srbrenica-style massacre' at the Iraqi Ashraf camp housing thousands of exiled Iranian opponents, a European parliament delegation said Tuesday after returning from Iraq." CBS and AP note US Senator John Kerry has termed the April 8th assault a "massacre." They also note that he's called on the Iraqi government to "hold accountable the responsible parties" -- John Kerry knows Nouri's forces acted on Nouri's orders. Scottish MP Struan Stevenson becomes the latest European government official to write a piece decrying the attacks on Camp Ashraf. His column at the Independent includes the following section:
I remain deeply concerned that another bloody attack could take place at any time, leading to a Srebrenica-style annihilation of the unarmed refugees in the camp. It was clear from our discussions in Baghdad that an urgent solution had to be found to the Ashraf crisis. The UN Secretary General's representative in Iraq asked me to make contact with the leadership of the Ashraf refugees at their headquarters in Paris, to explore possible avenues for a long-term resolution. On my return to the EU from Iraq I travelled immediately to Paris and spent 5 hours in intense discussion with the leadership of the Iranian opposition. Together, we thrashed out a plan that provides the only viable alternative to violence and further bloodshed.
The plan requires the active involvement of the UN, the US and the EU. It recognises the Iraqi government's right of sovereignty over their own territory. But it also recognises the rights of the 3400 unarmed residents of Ashraf to protection under the 4th Geneva Convention. The plan lays the groundwork for negotiations involving the Iraqi Government and sets out a proposal to re-settle all of the refugees to the US, Canada, Australia, Norway, Switzerland and the 27 EU Member States, depending on where they have previous associations, connections or family contacts.
But I have made it clear in all discussions with the Iraqi Government that we are not willing to enter into any negotiations with them unless four key pre-conditions are met. Firstly, the military forces must be withdrawn from Camp Ashraf. Secondly, the siege of the camp which has gone on uninterrupted for more than two years, involving hundreds of loudspeakers blaring high decibel threats and propaganda 24 hours a day, plus interruptions to vital medical, energy and water supplies, must immediately stop. Thirdly, there must be an independent inquiry into the massacre of 8th April with the perpetrators identified and brought to justice. And fourthly, those critically injured during the 8th April attack must be given immediate access to proper hospital care. In other words, the Iraqi government must restore an environment as near to normality as possible in Ashraf, before negotiations can begin on the long-term resolution to this crisis.
Moving to the US where one of the country's leading intellectuals will be speaking tonight. Monday, we gladly noted Noam Chomsky's brief piece entitled "My Reaction to Osama bin Laden's Death" (ICH). And how good is it? Immediately savaged at the Wall St. Journal website. Sean Kirst (Post-Standard) reports:
Once bin Laden died, Chomsky wrote what he calls a "form letter" to sum up his reaction. The short essay quickly made its way to the Internet. It set off a furious reaction that Chomsky referred to as "mostly hysteria" in Western nations, although he said he received thanks from other parts of the world.
In the essay, Chomsky described the action against bin Laden as "a planned assassination." He accused President Obama of "simply lying" when he said investigators established years ago that al-Qaida carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. He said the destruction of the war in Iraq, brought about by former President Bush, consisted of criminal acts that "vastly exceed" those of bin Laden. He asked how Americans would react if commandos from Iraq flew into Texas, shot Bush and dumped his body in the ocean.
Tonight, Chomsky brings those views to Nottingham High School in Syracuse.