Thursday, February 2, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's war on Iraqiya continues, and the US Congress flaunts ignorance in every way possible in a Subcommittee hearing.
You join the National Guard or Reserves. The government calls you to active duty and deploys you outside the United States. This requires you to go on leave from your job for nine months. You make it through your deployment, return home and attempt to return to your job but despite the law protecting your job your employer's rigged it so that you no longer have a job. For some members of the Guard and Reserves, this has been a too common experience. For it to happen to even one member of the Guard or Reserves is unacceptable and against the law. In DC today, the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. US House Rep Marlin Stutzman is the Subcommittee Chair. US House Rep Bruce Braley is the Ranking Member.
Chair Stutzman: [. . .] [M]embers of the Guard and Reserves have born a significant share of the combat since 9-11. Clearly there are no longer weekend warriors -- if there once was. It also means that employers, especially small business owners, have seen labor challenges not seen since WWII and by and large have supported their employees. Unfortunately active duty call ups combined with a bad economy have created historically high unemployment rates among the guards and the reserves. Even more unfortunate, you will hear some employers have used what I believe are less than ethical tactics to terminate members of the Guard and Reserves. As the owner of a small business, I understand the pressures on employers that the loss of a critical employee creates. But in the end, the question I always ask is who is making the greater sacrifice? The employer or the service member who is literally going in harms way and that member's family who must cope with all the stresses of a deployment?
Wow. What a hearing that must have been, right?
The hearing was divided up into three panels. The first panel was the President and CEO of VetJobs Theodore Daywalt and The Manufacturing Institute's President Emily DeRocco. The second panel was composed of: MG Terry M. Haston, Adjutant General Tennessee National Guard; MG Timothy E. Orr, Adjutant General Iowa National Guard; BG Margaret Washburn, Assistant Adjutant General, Indiana National Guard; BG Marianne Watson, Director; Manpower and Personnel, National Guard Bureau; Richard Rue, State Chair, Iowa Employer Support of Guard and Reserve; Ronald Young, Family and Employer Program and Policy, Dept of Defense. The third panel was the Dept of Labor's Junior Ortiz.
You see veterans in that mix?
No, you don't. But we heard Daywalt and excuses and pleas and business needs this tax break and they need this and they need that and . . . Is VetJobs focused on employers or veterans? Yeah, if the federal government will subsidize private employer health benefits for members of the Guard and Reserves, they probably will get hired more often (and more often than civilians -- was he trying to create a two-tiered group of citizens?) but that's not addressing the issue. It's tossing money at it and if we want to do that, fine, but let's be honest about it and honest about what Daywalt's proposing will do.
It will mean that most employers would lay off not Guards and Reserves in order to save dramatically on medical expenses.
That will reduce veteran unemployment and it will aslo put a ton of people out of work.
How can you be the a subcommittee for the House Veterans Affairs and hold a hearing in which no one from the VA [Veterans Administration] and no veteran testifies?
This was a tactical error in terms of the press. There's really nothing for most people to write up or show on TV from the hearing. The stories that needed to be shared were the veterans stories and when they're not invited to the table, their stories aren't told.
This was an embarrassment. And that falls on the Subcommittee Chair Stutzman.
In addition, a witness and two members on the Subcomittee seemed unaware that it was against the law for companies to give away the jobs of the National Guard and Reserves. Since the US government allegedly isn't rolling in the dough (there's more than enough money for weapons and war), might the answer not be to prosecute existing laws instead of creating yet more write-offs for businesses?
They can start with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act which basically holds the job of the active-duty while he or she is serving. The Labour Dept is supposed to enforce this law. And Junior Ortiz could have educated them but after the snooze-fest that was the second panel, a number of Subcommittee members left (the eight members on the Subcomittee were reduced to five). But maybe he wouldn't have. In his opening statement, the only time he controls what he declares, he reduced enforcement to two passing sentences. Those sentences were: "The last piece I want to discuss is DOL's efforts to educate about and enforce the provisions of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Vets enforcement programs investigate complaints filed by veterans and other protected individuals under USERRA, assess complaints alleging violation of status requiring veterans' preference in federal hiring, and implement and collect information regarding veterans employment by federal contractors." Though he claimed he wanted to talk about it, the fact is in writing, this appears in the opening of the final section but although four more paragraphs follow, they have nothing to do with enforcement, he provides no figures on convictions or settlements. He has no interest in the matter.
Nor did members of the Subcommittee. Ranking Member Braley made time to joke with the witness about his use of "Junior." There's a time when Congress wouldn't have found that at all funny. They would have tolerated it from a citizen, but a government employee that came in wanting to be called by a nickname? They would have cited the status of the Congressional record and called him "Ishmael" Ortiz throughout the hearing.
But Braley had time to laugh about it and how it must be because everyone trusts a guy named "Junior." Thanks for wasting our time, Braley.
For 25 minutes Ortiz appeared before the Subcomittee -- appeared as the sole witness on the third panel -- and not one of the five men who chose to stay for the third panel had a question about whether the law was being enforced, what the law said, statistics on it, etc. They never mentioned the law. It only popped up in those two sentences as Ortiz read his prepared remarks.
What does Congress do?
The legislative branch passes laws.
Why is Congress passing laws if they hold a hearing where they express alarm that Guard and Reserves are returning from active-duty to find they have lost their jobs and no one wants to discuss the law?
You pass a law, it better need to be enforced or you've wasted tax payers time and money.
Is Congress bored with their job? If so, remember that all members of the House are up for re-election this November (unless they're not seeking re-election).
If the hearing was about Guard and Reserves losing their jobs, it failed by not providing a face to the issue (allowing those who had lost their jobs -- or had to fight to keep them -- to share those stories) and it failed by refusing to address if the laws are being enforced. And how stupid do you have to be to be on the Subcommittee. I'm being really kind and not naming names but it was more than one member who, by their own remarks during the first panel, demonstrated they were unaware that it was against the law to fire a Guard or Reserve member who was on active-duty. How do I know that for sure? Because the second time it came up, I stepped out during the first panel to call a friend at the Justice Dept and ask if the law had changed? (No, it had not.) I thought surely that members of Congress, hearing about an issue they supposedly cared about would know the basics of the law. I was very much wrong.
Remember the alarmist rate that some were applying to veterans unemployment and how, when we checked with the Labor Dept statistics, the statistics didn't back up the claims?
Ortiz testifed in his opening statements, "According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2010, recent Veterans who served during the post-9-11 era had an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent, compared to a 9.4 percent rate among civilian non-veterans. Unemployment rates were particularly high among recent Veterans who have served or continue to serve our nation in the National Guard and Reserve forces. These Veterans had an unemployment rate of 14 percent in July 2010, almost five points above the civilian unemployment rate."
That's 2.1 percent more for the overall rate for the year 2010, 2.1% greater. Now iin an ideal world, the two figures would be equal. But 2.1% more than the general population figure? That's not a crisis, that's not as alarming as it was repeatedly made to be in order to pass legislation. We heard figures as high as 16%. (Sometimes with a subgroup of post 9-11 veterans attached to it, sometimes.) Those figures came from somewhere but they didn't come from the Labor Dept. As we've repeatedly noted throughout the Great Recession, neither Congress nor the White House has pushed to do a damn thing for African-Americans. The highest unemployment rate for the Great Recession -- any year -- has been young, male African-Americans. But no one was troubled by that, no one was concerned, no one thought to address it with any programs or any monies. Among elected officials, no one cared. This summer, the unemployment rate for African-American teens (male and female) hit over 40%. And no one rushed to create a program or do a damn thing on the federal level.
In addition to calling out the claims on the actual rate, we also noted that no one wanted to give a break down on the numbers for female veterans. Ortiz didn't provide that information today. But US House Rep Linda Sanchez did raise the issue of female veterans in the hearing. It's really the only exchange worth noting from that hearing.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: I'm going to start with Mr. Day. You offered many suggestions in your written testimony to improve the National Guard unemployment rate. And I want to sort of focus in in this large group of National Guardsmen who are a group in need of ways to help them over some hurdles to unemployment. I want to focus actually on a subset of women veterans because I think they may experience unique possibilities of overcoming additional obstacles other than the fact that they are serving in the National Guard. And I want to talk about specifically the fact that that age group tends to be a group that may be mothers of future mothers. And sometimes that, in and of itself, is a barrier to employment for women. Do you think it's reasonable that a female National Guard member may face even greater obstacles when attempting to find a job because of those two factors combined?
Theodore Daywalt: On a case by case basis, yes, They probably have more things that they have to face. [. . .] And there are job boards that are out there just for women, in the civilian sector, identifies a need pretty fast and they can move quick. And many of us identied the fact that people weren't getting the help that they need when they came out. Many have said that TAP is broken, I'll let others make that decision but that's why Vet Jobs is there. And to the women, especially if it's a single mother. Maybe it's because I"m an old fart, I cannot imagine being a single mother, being in the Guard, trying to get a job and raising a child or two or three children all at the same time. I mean, my hat goes off to them.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Well I have to tell you I am the mother of a 2-and-a-half-year old. And I travel bi-coastally with him to do this job which is more than, you know, 40-hour-a-week job. And I have a respect for single mothers that do that. I think that they are super women in evvery sense of the word.
Theodore Daywalt: Yes they are.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: But what I'm trying to focus in on and this is something that kind of gets lost in the shuffle, you talk about the higher unemployment rate for National Guard members than the general unemployment rate in many of these states and I'm wondering if there's been an effort to try and extrapolate what that rate might be based on gender because I suspect -- and this is just a suspicion on my part -- that for young female National Guard member that unemloyent rate is probably even higher than it is for the general population?
Theodore Daywalt: Ma'am, two weeks ago, I remember seeing a press article and I remember that it did say -- and I'm sure they got their information from BLS -- that female veterans have a higher unemployment rate than male veterans.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Right. And I suspect because they face these additional obstacles. And the reason I raise that is because in my home state of California there was an Assembly bill that passed in 2004 which would essentially create a voucher system by which child care vouchers would be available to veterans seeking employment and it would be a way to try to help ease the cost of childcare and, you know, provide that. We're budget-challenged in California so that the funding hasn't necessarily been there but I'm thinking of these practical solutions and it seems to me that type of concept of helping with some of those barriers to employment which would be reliable and affordable child care might be something that we could do to reduce that.
Theodore Daywalt: When I get on the phone and counsel with a single mother, I generally try to point them to more forward-thinking companies that are labeled as a "employer of choice" something that their [. . .] group could stop. One thing that's in there and it's a fact that so many companies do offer child care on the premise in order to bring in qualified employees. And that's a smart employer that does that and we try to steer them towards the employers that do stuff like that. Trouble is, it's not always apparent who offers that and who doesn't and that's where vet jobs and some of the other military sites become the intermediary because we know these companies. Someone comes to me and says, "You know, you would reallly do well at UPS. They need secretaries or they need this or they need a manager and by the way they have child care on the premises." A lot of the health care have gone to that. It's the only way they can draw nurses and the health care people they need and they start offering child care and that's an ideal spot but they don't always know that that's out there.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Right.
Theodore Daywalt: So that's where we come in and try to --
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: And my suspicion would be that employers who would offer that generally are of a certain size, many small companies are excluded from that --
Theodore Daywalt: Very difficult for companies --
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: -- expensive. If the Chairman will indulge me for just one last, quick question. Ms. DeRocco, you mentioned efforts to partner with community colleges to help get the skills that veterans need in order to go into the skilled manufacturing sector. The district that I represent is very working class, urban and one of the things is that they would like to get those skills but the cost is a barrier for them so I'm intrigued when you talked about the paid internships and I'm sort of envisioning something where employers who have the need for skilled employees who have the soft skills of reliability and folks who will do what they're told. Is it crazy to think that maybe there might be some way to structure something that's almost like an apprenticeship system where employers would sort of finance an acquiring of those skills and they'd be working in the meantime while they're trying to complete those programs?
Emily DeRocco: Very insightful. A couple of points, we actually are beginning with [Oakland's] Laney College, a college in the Bay Area of Calfironia with the integration of these education pathways that are competency-based pathways to jobs in manufacturing because of the high concentration of small machine companies in that area which will offer extraordinary jobs. We spend about $18 billion a year in this country on workforce investment, workforce development, another $800 billion in public education. What we are doing is actually just directing a very small percentage of those funds to building the educational patheways in high schools and community college, the result is credentials which have value in the workplace labor market. So to date there's never been a question about money available to have the educational pathways in place. All federal aid programs cover any cost associated with the individual credentials and in every instance, employers are driving the educational reform by being full partners as facutly, curriculum development advisors, paid internships, mentors and even the equipment and requirements for the educational pathway to be successful. So, yes, we are encouraging much stronger business edcucation partnerships. Actually, it's the only we're going to change education in this country .
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Great. Thank you and I thank the Chariman.
Daywalt worded an early statement in such a way that it might have appeared to some he was saying that "most" employers offer child care. That's not true (nor is it what he was saying). For statistics you can refer to [PDF format warning] this Sloan Work and Family Research Network list.
After the hearing, a friend on the House Veterans Committee -- but not on the Subcommittee -- asked me what I thought of the hearings and reminded me that I called out Jeff Miller here this time last year over the light and slow to plan hearing schedule. I did do that, I'd forgotten. In that judgment, I also attempted to note that Miller was new to the post. Control of the House flipped in the 2010 mid-term elections. Prior to that, from January 2007 to January 2011, US House Rep Bob Filner was the Chair. Few can match Filner as a Chair. He's dedicated and that dedication included showing up for a scheduled hearing when nearly all of Congress -- House and Senate -- was attempting to get out of DC. So that's a high mark set by the now Ranking Member of the Committee. Too high for Miller to have matched in this short period of time; however, Miller adapted and grew in his role throughout 2011 and seems on top of the issues and the scheduling in 2012. Stutzman would do well to study the way Miller runs his hearings.
Ali al-Tuwaijri (AFP) reports that Nouri's forces arrested Ghabdan al-Khazraji, the Deputy Governor of Investments Diyala Province, and attempted to arrest the Deputy Governor of Administrative Affairs Talal al-Juburi.but he's now in the Kurdsitan Regional Government. The two are Sunni and they are also members of Iraqiya. The arrest follows Wednesday's arrest. Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) explained, "Baghdad Provincial Council Vice President Riyadh al-Adhadh was arrested on terrorism charges and stands accused of financing a terrorist group in Abu Ghraib. Adhadh is a Sunni doctor who founded a free clinic in Adhamiya and is the focus of an English-language documentary on Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party condemned the action and called it an "unprecedented escalation" in the political arena."
This is part of the targeting of Iraqiya by Nouri al-Maliki. Riyadh al-Adhadh is in the news. Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) who explains the medical doctor Riyadh al-Adhadh is the latest victim in Nouri's power grab and how she met the doctor over eight years ago through US Col Joe Rice:
Could Rice imagine the doctor helping terrorists? I asked him this week, by phone. "No, I cannot," came back the firm reply. "He was in there dissuading them, telling them there was another way. He was part of the solution, not part of the problem."
So why has the Maliki government arrested a doctor who risked his life to work within the system? This question brings us to the heart of the matter - Iraq as a budding police state.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq upended decades of rule by the Sunni minority. Yet for the democratic process to work in Iraq, the Shiite majority must accept a political role for Sunnis, so long as they play by constitutional rules.
Yet, as U.S. troops were leaving Iraq, the Shiite-led Maliki government, fearful of a Sunni resurgence, began arresting Sunni parliamentarians; they also rounded up many Sunnis who had abandoned militancy and fought with American forces. Moreover, the government still refuses to honor a pledge to share power with the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya party, which won a narrow majority of seats in the last elections.
Trudy Rubin rightly notes that the White House should be calling for the doctor's release and that is has leverage with all the weapons its selling to Iraq. We're arming the thug (that's me, not Rubin). Human Rights Watch issues an alert last week about Iraq moving towards a police state and that doesn't slow down the deals or stop the White House from backing Nouri. Every time this administration talks about human rights, they are lying because they did nothing while Nouri's thugs targeted Iraq's LGBT community (even with some members of Congress demanding actions, the White House did nothing); they are lying because while they were calling for an Arab Spring in some countries, Nouri was unleashing his forces on peaceful demonstrators and journalists, having them kidnapped and tortured. And still the White House backed him. During the Bush era, Nouris' secret prisons were well established. Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) continued to expose those prisons after Obama became president. Nouri running secret prison meant nothing to the White House. They have backed him over and over.
Nouri has refused to follow the Constitution and that didn't matter to the White House either.
Dar Addustour's reported Monday on Iraq's Supreme Court. Prime Minister and Thug of the Occupation Nouri al-Maliki took a simmering political crisis and brought it to a boil in mid-December by targeting Iraqiya politicians. He demanded that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his title. He demanded that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested for terrorism. I the time since, there have been multiple airings of 'confessions' on Nouri's favorite TV station. But this week the Supreme Court issued a statement making clear that they were not responsible for the airing of the confessions. Nouri then insisted publicly that this wasn't his decision, he'd spoken with the judiciary and they approved. Their statement makes very clear that they did not grant approval, their statements makes very clear that "innocent until proven guilty" is a judicial principle the court must follow and that they pin the blame on "the executive branch" -- Nouri.
If the Iraqi officials do not hold him accountable, they can go ahead and scrap the Constitution because it will be meaningless. All Iraqis are bound by the Constitution. It makes no oath to serve Nouri but Nouri had to make an oath to uphold it.
Jane Arraf: This is being seen as the biggest political crisis since Saddam Hussein was toppled. And the reason that the Kurds are involved is that we ended up here with a coalition government -- engineered by the United States in part -- because no one could really agree on who should form the government. Now the coalition includes the Kurds, it includes the Sunnis and it includes Prime Minister Maliki's mostly Shi'ite parties. And the Kurds have been the king makers. They're being looked at here again as the people who could possibly solve this but there are so many missing pieces in this puzzle that no one's entirely sure it actually can be solved.
Marco Werman: Well just a few examples of the political crisis in Baghdad and then I want to ask you how the Kurds might solve it. I mean we've heard about the Vice President's arrest, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki trying to fire his deputy for calling him a dictator, no Interior or Defense Minister for almost two years. So what exactly can the Kurds do?
Jane Arraf: Well the politicians who are supposed to be leading this country cannot sit down in the same room and have a conversation. I spoke with Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who's in exile here in northern Iraq and he said the last time he really spoke to the prime minister was a year ago. They've been communicating through text messages and things like that. And also, of course, through arrest warrants. So what the Kurds want to do is convene a conference that would bring together the Kurdish president, the prime minister, the head of the Sunni-backed party, possibly Moqtada al-Sadr and actually have them hammer out beforehand how they're going to solve this.
Jane Arraf states in the interview that al-Hashemi is a guest of KRG President Massoud Barzani. Tony Barrett (Time magazine) writes about the crisis and notes that Time investigated charges of al-Hashemi running a death squad some time ago:
Regularly accused by the Shia of running Sunni death squads, we had to do our due diligence and investigate whether or not he was really doing that or not. Turns out nothing in our battle space, which included large parts of the Sunni Triangle, indicated he was -- and that's where it would've come from. Also turns out he may be smarter than anyone guessed. Hashimi has been in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, ever since Maliki issued an arrest warrant for him in December. While we might expect "Dog the Bounty Hunter" to go get him, the reality is that Hashimi has played his cards brilliantly. There's no way Maliki can send either Iraqi Army or Police to get him -- the Kurds have experienced relatively little of the last decade of war in Iraq and there's not a chance in Babylon that Maliki will risk starting a Kurdish secession over Hashimi -- and the Sunni know it.
So Rubin explains the doctor's innocent and Barrett explains Time magazine long ago investigated claims against al-Hashemi and found no truth to them. And still the White House backs Nouri. Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com) explains the realities of Iraq today:
Well, then, what about the good will of the Iraqi people,who must surely be grateful for their "liberation" at our hands? Well, no -- instead, anti-Americanism is a force that all Iraqi politicians play to, and one can't help thinking the sentiment is fully justified. After all, if some foreign army had killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and left our country in ruins, what other sort of response would anyone have a right to expect?
The costs of the war range in the $1 - 3 trillion range. We are left with tens of thousands of horribly wounded veterans, many fatherless and motherless children, and what do we have to show for it?
Iraq today is a crippled nation, which doesn't even have the capacity to supply electricity to its citizens: it is a nation on the brink of yet another civil war, so divided by tribe, clan, religion, and politics that it threatens to come apart at the seams every few months or so. In short, we have a country that really no longer exists in any meaningful sense. To which the architects of this war can add: "Mission accomplished!"
Meanwhile, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Iraqi President Jalal Talabani discussed with Iraqiya bloc leader Iyad Alawi the current political situation in the country, calling to solve pending questions through the constitution and national partnership, according to a Presidential statement." Al Mada offers a look at various blocs and it's a political class in disarray. (As Jane notes in her interview.) It's a hundred different demands and counter-demands -- and the article's largely
Reuters notes an al-Zab sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 North Oil Company worker, a Tuz Khurmato sticky bombing which left a police officer injured and, dropping back to last night, Iraqi forces shot dead three suspects in Baghdad.
Finally in the US, the first ever Burn Pit Symposium takes place next month.
1st Annual Scientific Symposium on
Lung Health after Deplyoment to Iraq & Afghanistan
Studies Branch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research
and Engineering Laboratory, Manchester, NH)
3:15 - 3:45 Toxicologically Relevant Characteristics of Desert Dust and Other
Atmospheric Particulate Matter, Geoffrey S. Plumlee, Ph.D. (Research
Geochemist, U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO)
3:44 - 4:15 In-situ Mineralogy of the Lung and Lymph Nodes, Gregory Meeker, M.S.
(Research Geochemist, U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO)
Continuing Medical Education Credits
The school of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook, is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
The School of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brooke designates this live activity for a maximum of 6 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)TM. Physicians should only claim the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.