Friday, February 10, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, implications of Iraq are noted in a series by the New York Times, Nouri faces rumors of involvement with the US CIA, veterans suicides get some attention, banks profit off veterans, and more.
"Asking what the United States should do in Iraq today is an awful question," observes Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack. He took part in the New York Times' "Room for Debate" feature yesterday. We'll note four of the participants, two men, two women. It's an interesting discussion and their views are highly similar because it's a range of center to right. There are no leftists involved in the "room for debate." We should probably underline that. In what the New York Times bill as their "room for debate," room for actual debate does not include anyone from the left.
One of the most prominent right-wing voices on Iraq in the last two months has been the Hoover Institution's Kori Schake. In her piece, she argues the White House made various mistakes and Iraq is now splintering, "This is not what Iraqis wanted, not what they voted for. The political culture of Iraq waas trending toward trust beyond sectarian lines, political leaders seeing electoral benefit in reaching across religious communities and emphasizing the achievements of governing." Also from the right is Cato Institute's Christopher Preble who offers, "A small group of 'true believers' who were instrumental in starting the war want to double down on that losing wager. They assert that a large U.S. presence might forestall a possible civil war, and counteract Iran's rising influence. In reality, they simply don't know if a U.S. presence would have this effect. But, as before, they are willing to risk the lives of U.S. troops, and the fortunes of U.S. taxpayers, to cover their high-stakes gamble." The centerist (some would argue right-leaning) Pollack feels that there are methods the US still can utilize, "We still have some capacity to name and shame, although that requires Iraqi leaders who are not shameless. We still have some things -- aid, weapons, diplomatic clout -- that the Iraqis want, although that will depend on our own willingness to place long-term interests ahead of political expediency and so provide them. And we still have some ability to shape the region in which Iraq lives, although that requires an American leadership willing to take on the challenges of the Middle East and not flee to East Asia or some other easier part of the globe."
The non-partisan Institute for the Study of War's Marisa Cochrane Sullivan argues, "United States policy today is focused on maintaining the status quo in Iraq, offering unqualified support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in the name of stability. But the status quo is inherently unstable. Maliki, emboldened by this support, feels few contraints on his actions and has little incentive to compromise." He has steadily consolidated control over Iraq's security and intelligence institutions, and has effectively isolated and fragmented his political rivals. Even in the current political crisis, Maliki has used questionable and even unconstitutional tactics to remove rivals without reducing American support. At the same time, the Maliki government has committed widespread human rights abuses in its crackdown on political dissent in Iraq. While the United States may feel Maliki offers the best chance for stability, his consolidation of power may make Iraq more unstable as Iraq's rival factions seek other means to check him -- either through politics or ultimately through force." And we'll note Schake's simillar observations, "First, we must stop turning a blind eye to Prime Minister Maliki's creeping authoritarianism. Maliki returned from his White House meeting declaring the end of the war and issued an arrest warrant for his vice president. The White House was silent, as it has been on Maliki's earlier unconstitutional arrogation of power and political machinations, such as arresting hundreds of Sunnis and striking candidates from electoral lists. While it is probably too much to expect the Obama administration to vigorously contest what is occuring in Iraq's internal politics, we ought at least to bear witness."
It's a serious discussion which would have benefitted from some left voices and from some antiwar voices (left, right or center). In fairness to the paper, there aren't a lot of honest discussions about the Iraq War on the left these days. Apparently spines were removed by many to assist with easier ass kissing. Cindy Sheehan (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox) notes the sad case of cat got your tongue plaguing a large number on the left:
I, and many others, were in favor of a large demo in DC that year , as we always did, but one of the lead antiwar(Bush) organizations actually told us, since Democrats were in the majority in the House and they were continuing to fund Bush's wars and not impeach him, that a demo in DC would, "embarrass the Democrats."
Now that we have had two years of a complete Democratic tyranny in DC and almost four years of a Democratic regime in the White House, the antiwar movement has continued its tailspin because it was mostly populated by "liberal" Democrats, or other Democratic functionaries like the Communist Party, USA.
A recent poll commissioned by the Washington Post shows, that by a vast majority "Liberal" Democrats favor keeping Guantanamo Prison (53%) camp and torture facility open and the drone bombing campaigns (77%) that their president has increased by at least 300 percent over the Bush years. Unbelievably, "liberal" Democrats also are in favor of the Presidential Assassination Program where Obama can have any American executed by his order, only. Trials? Like John Yoo's Constitution, these anachronisms will soon be considered "quaint."
In Iraq, the political crisis continues. Shihab Hamid (Dar Addustour) offers that national reconciliation is important to the political and social future of Iraq as well as to the security and stability of the country and that all Iraqis should be able to participate because, otherwise, the price paid with millions dead was for nothing. Al Mada notes that Iraqiya has confirmed to them that there are various plans being put forward for the national conference and that, at Monday's meeting, the National alliance offered a working paper, as did Iraqiya and the Kurdistan Alliance. The plan is for the three proposals to be discussed at the next meeting which is currently scheduled for Sunday. Yes, another meeting to make preparations. President Jalal Talabani and Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national conference since December. It's February. Is it going to take eight months of preparation? Or, more likely, in a month or two is Nouri just going to say that since they've managed this long without one, they really don't need it?
When Nouri returned to Iraq, his war against Iraqiya and Sunnis became more obvious and he began demanding that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his position and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested on 'terrorism' charges. Al Mada notes that Saleh al-Mutlaq is stating that the problems in Iraq remain serious and that he will not return to Cabinet meetings until there is a guarantee that the political proces will be fixed and that the groundwork for a real partnership is in place. He maintains this needs to take place before the Arab Summit which is scheduled to be held in Baghdad currently. Al Sabaah notes that the meeting is scheduled for March 29th and is part of a series of planned visits by foreigners to Iraq -- a list that's said to include UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visiting. Aswat al-Iraq notes al-Mutlaq is going on a visit, "An al-Iraqiya Bloc MP described the visit of deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlaq's visit to Turkey as personal, not governmental, pointing out that Mutlaq 'should solve his problems internally without any external intervention'." But while they acknowledge al-Mutlaq's visit, they say another is not taking place, "Al-Iraqiya Bloc's spokesman denied the news of vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi travelling to Turkey, stressing he is present in Sulaimaniya province, Kurdistan."
The much-feared Central Intelligence Agency is planning to maintain a large and secretive presence inside both Iraq and Afghanistan long after American troops leave those nations, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. In Iraq, where most US troops have already left, the massive CIA presence in Baghdad has been re-purposed. Once focused chiefly on tackling Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents, the American spies are now "monitoring developments in the increasingly antagonistic government." In many ways thing have come full circle for the CIA, which had a presence on the ground spying on the Saddam Hussein regime before the 2003 US invasion. Now, having spent the last eight years helping the military prop up the Nurul Maliki government, the agency again finds itself there spying.
It's amazing that foreign outlets can reference the important article but in the US we have so much silence over what Miller reported. Prensa Latina notes, "The CIA's stations in Kabul and Baghdad will probably remain the agency´s largest overseas outposts for years. According to The Washington Post, this will happen even if they shrink from record staffing levels set at the height of American efforts in those nations to neutralize insurgency attacks."
Still on the topic of the CIA, Nouri is facing rumors that he's cooperating with the CIA or assisting them. Al Mada notes State of Law MP Adnan al-Sarraj has issued a statement denying any involvement Nouri has with the CIA -- presumably current involvement is being denied since Nouri and the CIA had a pre-existing relationship prior to 2003 -- and stating that when Nouri met with US President Barack Obama in December, Nouri made clear that the CIA wasn't welcome in autonomous Iraq. Al Mada notes not only Miller's report for the Washington Post but also Iraqi intelligence sources who have that Iraq's leadership and the CIA have an extensive relationship.
On the issue of violence, Aswat al-Iraq notes, "More than 12 casualties were caused due to clashes yesterday between the Turkish PKK party and the Turkish army in different areas along the Iraqi-Turkish border lines, border security forces reported today." And they note a Falluja sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa (Sons Of Iraq, "Awakening").
"What my clients want to know is why -- when they're living at home or under supervised care -- their veteran suddenly has to have a VA fiduciary at all?" attorney Douglas J. Rosinski asked Congress yesterday. "My veterans have had decades of family members giving them care and handling their benefits without VA interruption. Suddenly, VA appoints a perfect stranger -- perfectly unknown to the veteran -- who has never contacted a veteran, who will not contact a veteran and is paid money from that veterans account to withhold the money from the veteran, to place it in bank accounts that they will not disclose to the veteran and they will not even disclose under FOIA [Freedom Of Information Act]. They will redact the veterans own information about his own money from the files they give out. My clients want to know why, that if there is a need, for a VA-appointed fiduciary, it has to be this stranger. They want to know why this veteran is told to take all of the veterans finances, all of his bank accounts and ask questions about his CDs [Certificate of Deposit] and whether he owns a boat and what his wife's salary is and where is that salary put and then go into the banks and take all of it and not tell them where it is. They want to know why VA not only will not correct that when I've had personal discussions with members sitting -- or people sitting -- in this hearing today and then they will not fix that problem? They want to know why VA defends those practices at every turn, in every court, in every discussion? This is not about numbers and procedures and policies. My clients don't care about policies and procedures. They want to know why they have $100,000 in the bank and they cannot afford the medicine that the VA doctors prescribed last month? They want to know why the power company's in the front yard when they have $50,000 in the bank? And it takes an emergency motion to the Veterans Court before these people will call the power company and tell them they'll pay $178."
Rosinkski was appearing before the House Veterans Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations yesterday as they held a hearing on the VA's fiduciary system -- where someone's appointed by the veteran or by the VA to manage/oversee/control the veterans benefits. Rosinski appeared on the second panel and noted, "That's what my clients would like to hear today. And I did not hear any of that from the prior panel."
The hearing had two panels (and many breaks due to votes on the House floor). The first panel was the VA's Dave McLenachen (with the VA's Diana Rubin), the second panel was composed of Katrina Eagle with the Veterans Law Office of Michael Wildhaber, Veteran Fiduciary Pam Estes, attorney Rosinski with the Law Office of Douglas J. Rosinski, and Vietnam Veterans of America's Rick Weidman. We covered the first panel in yesterday's snapshot. US House Rep Bill Johnson is the Chair of the Subcommittee. We'll note this exchange.
Chair Bill Johnson: Ms. Eagle, if VA is paying a fiduciary a percentage of a veterans' compensation, only to allow VA to have the final say , then why pay a fiduciary in the first place?
Katrina Eagle: I have many veterans and clients who ask that same question. I don't understand it myself. I find it ironic that I have several cases where the veteran is paid also [clears throat], excuse me, his Social Security benefits and he has no fiduciary managing his Social Security benefits but the VA finds that he must be appointed a fidcuiary for his VA benefits which also then get sucked into including his Social Security benefits. Moreover, as Mr. Weidman was saying, with respect to veterans who try to get out of the program, I've seen many instances of retribution, so to speak, in that when the veteran applies to get out of the fiduciary program, he is then found perfectly fine with his medical condition, the underlying medical condtion be it physical or often a psychiatric condition, and therefore he [his benefits] is reduced. And that is encouraging the veteran to say nothing, go along and not question or cause problems.
Chair Bill Johnson: I want to read this paragraph for everyone's attention out of that form we're discussing. It says, "Approval for use of VA funds" -- and this is the 21-4703 that we're discussing -- "VA must approve any use of a veterans VA funds. You" -- and I'm presuming that's the fiduciary -- "agree to use these funds only as specifically authorized by VA. You agree to request VA approval for all spending of these funds unless VA has previously authorized the expenditures. Any questions regarding authorized expenditures should be addressed to the fiduciary activity at the address and phone number on the front side of this form." Ms. Eagle, in your opinion, should VA remove this paragraph in question of form 21-4703?
Katrina Eagle: Yes.
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay, thank you. Ms. Estes, you mentioned that you submitted the anual report to VA but have heard nothing since. When is your last date to be informed of the status of this issue? You said today, correct?
Estes: They told me I had 30 days so I'm assuming -- I took 30 days from the postmark, that would be today.
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay. What results good or bad have you experienced in the fiduciary program. Now that's -- that's a big question but . . .
Pam Estes: When there is contact, it's fine. They come out and I talk to them and we go over the expenditures and stuff. I don't have a problem there. It's like a black hole. I don't get any return calls when I leave a message. I was afraid to send the accounting because they require originals of everything -- original bank statement and stuff like -- and you're not handing it, you're mailing it so I suspected something like that might happen so we sent it certified and everything. And I followed up with a phone call saying I did this. I know I'm supposed to have an audit but nobody came out so I'm submitting it. And so then we got the letter that said I hadn't submitted it at all.
Chair Bill Johnson: So basically, it's miscommunication, lack of communication?
Pam Estes: They were being -- No communication.
Chair Bill Johnson: No communication.
Pam Estes: It's no communication.
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay. Ms. Eagle, on the first panel, we discussed VA waivers for fiduciaries. And if I recall the testimony, they were not aware of waivers being granted for certification or fiduciary qualifications. Do you have any experience with VA fiduciary requirements being waived?
Katrina Eagle: I do. And what I find and what Mr. McLenachen was talking about is a fiduciary for the first time will be reviewed, background checks perhaps performed. What I see happen in all of the cases I have reviewed in assisting the veteran is that if that fiduciary has been at all ever in the VA system as a fiduciary previously, the background check is waived, criminal background checks are waived, etc., etc. So once he's in, it's good to go.
Chair Bill Johnson: Mr. Rosinski, is the issue of a person with a criminal background being allowed to serve as a VA fiduciary an isolated incident in your view?
Doug Rosinski: Mr. Chairman, there's no way to tell. As Ms. Eagle just said, they waive all the background checks I've ever seen. And my experience is all they ask is they're asking, 'Check a box, have you ever been convicted and served more than one year for a felony, yes or no?' So I'll leave it to you whether a convicted felon is going to answer that yes or no. That is, as far as I know, the background check. And that is what is waived on top of it.
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay. Mr. Rosinski, in your experience and clients you've represented, what is your background of some of the VA fidcuiaries? Have you -- have you seen incidents where fiduciaries have been removed?
Doug Rosinski: The only fiduciary that I know that was removed was the daughter who was taking care of her 81-year-old father and was a registered nurse and had been taking care of her father full time for two decades, had retired from being a nurse to do that. She took her father to an Alzheimers clinic because he has advancing Alzheimers and VA turned around and fired her as fiduciary and registered a complaint for misuse of those funds because they were not pre-authorized. I've also -- that's my example of firing. The issue of qualifications, I had the privilege of deposing two actual fiduciaries in the state of Texas. One was a cabinet salesman who in 2009 got his first fiduciary appointment. In 2011, November 2011, when I deposed him, [he] had 53. He had never heard of a fiduciary until someone suggested that this would be a good job to have since he had had a heart attack. The other fiduciary there is the full-time, single working mother who said her father had been a VA fiduciary and that's how she found out about the program.
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay. Ms. Eagle, given the 3 to 5% paid to a fiduciary for administering a veterans account, what purpose would a fiduciary have for hoarding a veteran's money?
Katrina Eagle: I think that the issue of hoarding has nothing to do with how much they're being authorized from the veteran's money on a monthly basis. The reason they would be hoarding -- and there's two kinds of fiduciaries that I've dealt with. The hoarding is encouraged by the VA program leadership because they are to save as much money as possible in case of certain emergencies. Keep in mind that these are monthly recurring benefits. So needing to save $100,000 when the veterans going to get paid $3,000 every month until and unless he passes, there's no need to save that much money. Second of all, lots of these fiduciaries are banks. It is in their best interest to keep as much money in their accounts as possible.
Staying with veterans issues, I've noted my opinion on the national parade issue earlier this week (see this snapshot) -- briefly, veterans of the current wars will get the nation's attention for only a short time and there would appear to be more serious issues to address while the nation is paying attention. (My comments are on a national parade and that's a Congressional issue and we covered in January how Congress de-funded the planned parade some time ago. I've noted that various people -- including a governor -- can stage a local, county or state wide parade.) We're going to note a few opinons on the issue. Jerry Maza (Salem-News.com) offers:
It isn't like starting a war in Iraq on lies, that Saddam Hussein had WMD when no one, not even the UN's inspector (referee) for nuclear weapons, Hans Blix, could find nary a missile, poison gas, Niger yellowcake uranium, or any secret locales for the stash. There were no goal posts in Iraq. No fighting from your 20-yard line to the 50 and marching down it to a touchdown, a kick for the goal, and your seven points up. The stated purpose of the shock and awe of the linemen was bringing democracy to Iraq. You might as well bring sea bass to a Thanksgiving dinner.
In fact, the last thing on anybody's mind was democracy, given the unilateral and illegal attack on Iraq. Now, who's going to march over that shameful premise? Sorry to say, our brave players were sent on a fool's mission once again. The field had no markers, no big rectangle broken into ten yards ten times. The war was one you had to find, break down doors, terrorize families, looking for the man with the ball, the I.E.D. or hidden weapon, and knock him to the ground. In frustration for often not finding those things, soldiers took it out on innocent viewers of the ongoing chaos. Also, soldiers had to watch their buddies go nuts, over the top, at the atrocities they often had to commit (albeit much like WWII), but mostly back then there were victories and a people were spared from total holocaust. What they learned from it seems questionable sometimes.
Larry Mendte (Philly Post) calls for a parade for Philadelphia's veterans (and for those in surrounding areas -- he's in fact calling for every big city to stage a parade):
I have put together an online petition asking Mayor Michael Nutter for a parade in Philadelphia to honor the more than 100,000 men and women from our area who served in Iraq. Please sign it and then pass it on through emails, Twitter and Facebook. Philadelphia should lead the country on this. The positive national media attention will be well worth the cost. More importantly, it is the right thing to do.
While all this arguing is going on, veterans are struggling. In this country, an average of 18 veterans commit suicide every day. The jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is as high as 15 percent. They are trying to find work despite having been labeled ticking time bombs, unable to assimilate back into society, plagued with post-traumatic stress.
Later this month, on an evening like any other in America, nearly 70,000 veterans will spend the night on the street while President Obama and the first lady host a special White House dinner to honor 200 or so hand-picked Iraq veterans from a war that produced more than 30,000 wounded in action. Across the country, on any given night, nearly 5,000 dinner tables have an empty place where a loved one who never came home from the war used to sit.
On the issue of suicides, Michael Moran (Global Post) points out, "Statistics on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, obtained in 2011 through a Freedom of Information Act request by a San Francisco newspaper, found that more than 2,200 soldiers died within two years of leaving the service, and about half had been undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress or other combat-induced mental disorders at the time."