Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Iraq snapshot

May 21, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri wants everyone to accept the voting results, more calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, Barack gives an insulting speech on the VA scandal, in the VA speech he defended Eric Shinseki by name but couldn't note any of the veterans who've suffered such as Barry Coates, equally bad Barack gave a speech praising a sports team today and the prepared remarks were just forty words less than his speech on veterans making perfectly clear how little the White House cares about veterans, all that and much more.

The last time I saw Barack?

You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies, pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies, just pretty lies
-- "The Last Time I Saw Richard," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Blue album.

Pretty lies no longer work as well for US President Barack Obama.  And today he spoke about the latest Veterans Affairs scandal.

“The question is this: if the administration has known about these issues for at least four years, why is it just now taking action?"

That is the question to ask, we'll get to it in a moment.

In the United States, the VA stands accused of cooking the books.  Numerous VA medical centers maintained two sets of appointment lists.  The first one, the official one kept in the computer system, demonstrated veterans received medical attention within 14 days of needing it.  That list is the fairy tale.  The reality was the off books list which demonstrated veterans were actually waiting weeks and months.

The fairy tale list was used to give the impression that VA was doing their job and serving veterans in a timely manner.  It was also used to reward officials for strong performances -- resulting in raises for them and bonuses.  Again, this list was a lie.

Most recently, Patricia DiCarlo and Scott Bronstein (CNN) reported, "An audit team sent to the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, discovered a list of patients needing follow-up appointments that was kept on paper instead of in the VA's electronic computer system."  It is just the most recent addition to a growing list.  Scott Bronstein and Tom Cohen's (CNN) report, "Meanwhile, the number of Veterans Affairs facilities under investigation has expanded to 26, the agency's Office of Inspector General confirmed Tuesday. Last week, the inspector general told a Senate committee that 10 facilities were being investigated."

As the scandal has grown, people have awaited word from Barack.  Monday, the White House said Barack had just learned of the scandal and then it was revealed Barack learned of the scandal right before he was sworn in as president in January 2009.

Stephanie Gaskill (Defense One) reminds,  "In 2008, Sen. Barack Obama vowed to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs if elected president. But over the past 5 years, problem after problem has emerged: a massive case backlog, delayed GI Bill payments, a stalled electronic records system, and now allegations that federal employees have been lying about wait times at VA hospitals."  David Zucchino, Cindy Carcamo and Alan Zarembo (Los Angeles Times) offer the following examples:

 • In Washington state, Navy veteran Walter “Burgie” Burkhartsmeier, 73, had to wait two months to get an MRI exam at a VA facility in Seattle for shooting pains down his left arm. Eighteen months passed before someone read the MRI results — which showed bony projections on his spinal cord that put him at risk of paralysis if he were struck in the back.
• In Texas, Carolyn Richardson, 70, said a VA doctor last year ordered “immediate” chemotherapy for her husband, Army veteran Anson “Dale” Richardson, 66, but a two-month delay robbed him of the chance to fight the throat cancer that killed him Nov. 4.
• In Phoenix, Thomas Breen, 71, a Navy veteran with a history of bladder cancer, waited two months last fall for a follow-up appointment at the VA facility there after discovering blood in his urine. His family finally took him to a private hospital that diagnosed him with terminal bladder cancer. He died Nov. 30.
• In Nevada, Sandi Niccum, 78, a blind Navy veteran, was forced to wait five hours for emergency room treatment at a VA facility in North Las Vegas last year. Niccum, who was weeping and pounding the floor with her cane because of intense pain in her abdomen, died less than a month later after a large mass was found. A VA investigation did not link the care delay to her death, but it faulted the facility for the long wait and for failing to monitor Niccum.

• And in Durham, N.C., two employees were put on administrative leave last week after an internal review uncovered irregularities in appointments, a local VA spokeswoman said.

Today, Barack finally spoke himself about the scandal.

What did he say?

Among other things, "He has put his heart and soul into this thing. At this stage, Rick is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it."


Yes, Barack finally spoke about the scandal and his primary concern was "Rick" -- Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

"Rick," Barack wants the world to know, "has put his heart and soul into this thing."

So forget you, Barry Coates, the VA's failures kept you from getting timely medical treatment meaning your cancer wasn't caught in time and progressed to stage-four.  Your problems are nothing, apparently, when compared to "Rick" Shinseki's "heart and soul."  (Barry Coates shared his story with the House Veterans Affairs Committee on April 9th -- nothing in Barack's speech indicated he was aware of how the VA failed Coates or other veterans in the same situation.)

You can read his remarks in full here -- all 1370 words.

All 1370 words.

I emphasize that for a reason.

Barack made a joke of veterans today.

He thought 1370 words were adequate for this issue?

On the same day he gave a speech "Honoring the Super Bowl Chapmion Seattle Seahawks"?

Really?  Because I think he came off looking like a fool -- and an uncaring and thoughtless fool at that.

1370 words in his VA scandal speech.

We're supposed to take that seriously when he gives a speech on a football team the same day and that speech is 1330 words -- only 40 less than his speech on a VA scandal that threatens the health and well being of veterans?

He should be ashamed of himself.

Veterans health and lives in jeopardy was only worth 40 more prepared remarks than Barack's gushing (and whoring) over a sports team.  He and his speech writers should be ashamed of themselves.

Not surprisingly, Barack's speech did not go over well.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following statement:

President's Lack of Action Disappoints New Veterans

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or
President's Lack of Action Disappoints New Veterans
IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff says public trust with Veterans Affairs is broken, urges Congress to pass VA Accountability Act

Washington DC (May 21, 2014) – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) today released the following statement from Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff in response to President Obama's remarks on the growing VA controversy:
"The President's remarks today were a tremendous disappointment to America's newest generation of veterans. He did nothing to quell the growing nationwide VA controversy. His long-overdue remarks gave outraged IAVA members no reason to believe anything will change at the VA anytime soon. The public trust with the VA and Secretary Shinseki is broken. As a Washington Post survey recently revealed, nearly six in ten post-9/11 veterans say the VA is not doing a good job meeting the needs of veterans. 
"This controversy is much bigger than Phoenix. And our veterans shouldn't have to wait a month for an investigation into one city as disturbing allegations have emerged in at least nine others. The controversy has now spanned to Fort Collins, Austin, San Antonio, Cheyenne, St Louis, Chicago, Gainesville, Durham, and Albuquerque.
"These issues are not new. Problems surrounding unacceptable wait times, delays and cooked books have been emerging for years. IAVA has been sounding the alarm for over a decade. After numerous GAO reports and dozens of public hearings, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. 
"These issues were also predictable and preventable. But as we all learn in the military, failing to plan is planning to fail. 
"Speeches and excuses will not solve this problem. Only decisive leadership, bold change and strong accountability will repair decades of failure. 
"While the President continues to dither, Congress has an opportunity to take bipartisan action today by passing the VA Accountability Act. IAVA calls on all members of both parties to swiftly pass this legislation that is essential to empowering the leadership of the VA." 
Last week, IAVA and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) announced they are joining together to protect VA staff who come forward with information about agency wrongdoing.
As part of the effort, the organizations have launched a secure website,, where VA employees can get in touch with POGO and IAVA.  The effort combines IAVA’s deep knowledge of the VA system with POGO’s experience working with whistleblowers to expose federal wrongdoing.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.
# # #

Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) speaks with a number of people including IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff:

"I think everybody had high hopes for Secretary Shinseki," says Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American and today one of Shinseki's most vocal critics. "He's gotten more of a benefit of the doubt than any political figure I've ever seen in my life."
Rieckhoff says the reputation that preceded Shinseki into office has ultimately been a liability to the veterans he serves because it has, for many years, taken the edge off holding the secretary to a high standard.
"It's bad for accountability," he says. "And it's bad for the VA because it looks like there's a culture of failure."

Also expressing disappointment?  The Washington Free Beacon quotes Senator Mike Rogers stating, "As a veteran myself, I am horribly disappointed in what I saw today on behalf of the president. He’s very good at the glitz and glamour and the very sternly worded memos, but this is about governance." Senator John McCain's office issued the following:

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) released the following statement on President Obama’s remarks on the VA scandal today:
“While I am glad that after many weeks of refusing to acknowledge this widening scandal, President Obama finally saw fit to speak about it today, but his remarks are wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems plaguing our veterans’ health care system. According to the latest reports, 26 VA facilities nationwide are now being investigated, and this Administration’s ineffectual response has created a crisis of confidence in our veterans’ community. We need answers, leadership and accountability, none of which we’ve seen from the Obama Administration to date. Further, Congress must act to address the systemic problems at the VA by giving its leaders greater ability to hire and fire those charged with providing care, and by giving veterans far greater flexibility in how they get quality care in a timely manner.”


US House Rep John Barrow's office issued the following today:

 May 21, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressman John Barrow (GA-12) called on the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Eric Shinseki, to resign his post in the wake of problems at VA clinics across the country. Today, news was reported that 26 clinics across the country, including clinics in Georgia, are under investigation for failing to provide adequate care for veterans. In 2013, issues were raised at the Charlie Norwood VA in Augusta regarding delays in care that led to at least three veteran deaths.
Congressman Barrow said:
“Secretary Shinseki is a decorated veteran who has served this country honorably, and I’ve personally met him on numerous occasions and found him to be devoted to caring for this nation’s heroes.  Unfortunately, this Administration has fallen short in providing the kind of care that our veterans have earned.  While I don’t think a change in leadership will immediately solve the serious problems that plague the VA, I do think it’s time to give someone else an opportunity to lead the agency and begin the rebuilding process to ensure these issues never happen again. Our nation’s veterans deserve the best we can give them, and too much time has passed since this issue was brought to light without anyone being held accountable.  Secretary Shinseki deserves the utmost respect for his service, but it's time for someone new to get to the bottom of what's happened on his watch.”
Congressman Barrow and House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) conducted an oversight visit of the Augusta VA following the claims. 

Gordon Lubold (Foreign Policy) notes Barrow's call and that of US House Rep David Scott is also calling for Shinseki to resign.  McCain is a Republican, Barrow and Scott are Democrats.

May 5th, The American Legion called for the resignation of Shinseki.  Today, they issued the following:

Responding to President Obama’s press conference earlier today, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger released the following statement:
“The American Legion applauds President Obama for committing himself to hold leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs more accountable for their actions. If this system-wide failure is to be corrected, it is paramount for our commander-in-chief to be personally involved. The president needs to ensure that every veteran who relies on the VA can do so secure in the knowledge that he or she will receive the best and most timely care humanly possible.
“The question is this: if the administration has known about these issues for at least four years, why is it just now taking action?
“Moreover, the president’s decision to keep Secretary Shinseki at his post is an unfortunate one. The VA has been aware for some time that inappropriate scheduling procedures are widespread among its medical facilities. Yet Secretary Shinseki has taken no initiative in correcting the problem. Veterans continue to die waiting for their health care, senior VA executives continue to get their bonuses, and only after all of this is the secretary now pledging to fix what’s wrong.
“So now America’s veterans are told, in effect, wait a while longer and things will get better. Meanwhile, care is delayed or denied and veterans and their families suffer. Words are nice, and even somewhat comforting, but when will the VA’s house be cleansed of those who are soiling it and dishonoring the system?”

Prior to Barack's speech today, many were weighing in.  Florida's News4Jax's Bruce Hamilton (The Morning Show -- link is video and text) spoke with the state's Governor Rick Scott who states, "Now we know there are secret wait lists at our Gainesville facility. Our VA facilities need transparency and accountability. It starts at the top."  Therefore, he says, "Eric Shinseki should resign."    The editorial board for the Delaware News Journal weighed in on the scandal and noted:

For example, a scandal has been bubbling up for days involving VA hospitals around the country, possible deaths of veterans waiting for service, and the claim that government officials falsified records to protect their rear ends. Yet the White House announced President Obama is really, truly angry about it because he saw a report on CNN.
Then the White House claims it has taken decisive action because it fired the person in charge of the VA health program. It turns out the government had announced the official's planned retirement weeks ago.
President Obama promised during his 2008 campaign that he would fix problems with the Veterans Administration. So much for promises. 

Still on veterans, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following today:

FOR PLANNING PURPOSES                                 CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, May 21st, 2014                                                           (202) 224-2834
VETERANS: TOMORROW: Murray to Continue Call for Immediate VA Action
Murray: “What we need from VA now is decisive action and I think this Committee should be clear to the VA what we expect. The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability are inexcusable and cannot be allowed to continue.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — TOMORROW, Thursday, May 22, 2014, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will attend the Senate Appropriations Committee’s first Full Committee Markup of the year. During consideration of the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs bill, Murray plans to continue her push for immediate action at the VA, and express support for provisions in the Appropriations bill that would address wait times and increase accountability.
WHO:             U.S. Senator Patty Murray
WHAT:          Remarks on the VA at the Senate Appropriations Committee Markup.
WHEN:          TOMORROW, May 22, 2014 at
                        10:30 AM EST/7:30AM PST
WHERE:       SD-106, Dirksen Senate Office Building
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

Let's stay with the Senate.

Senator Robert Menendez:  Finally, I would like to hear the views of each of our witnesses on the prospect of repealing the Iraq AUMG, which I believe must be repealed.  It's my understanding that, from a legal and operational perspective, there are no barriers to repeal and no deficiencies of needed authorities to assist the government of Iraq in counter-terrorism activities.

Senator Menendez was speaking at this morning's   Senate Foreign Relations Committee  hearing this morning entitled "Authorization For Use Of Military Force After Iraq and Afghanistan."  Senator Robert Menendez is the Committee Chair, Senator Bob Corker is the Ranking Member.  The Committee heard today from two panels.  The first was made up of DoD's Stephen Preston and the State Dept's Mary McLeod.  The second panel was made up of Yale Law School Professor Harold Koh and former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Chair Robert Menendez:  The US ended its combat operations in Iraq in 2010 and, in fact, withdrew all of its military forces that same year.  Since then, Congress has, on a number of occasions, examined the possibility of repealing the 2002 AMUF authorizing our Iraq operations but the administration has repeatedly opposed those efforts. Starting with you, Ms. Mcleod, can you explain to the Committee, one, whether the administration continues to oppose repeal of the Iraq AMUF and, if so, why?  And I'd like to hear your answer to this, Mr. Preston, as well.

Mary McLeod:  Certainly, Chairman Menendez, and once again, thank you for inviting me to testify here today.  As you said, the United States has ended combat operations in Iraq and we've withdrawn our military forces and I can confirm that we're not relying on the 2002 Iraq AMUF for any military operations -- nor do we intend to do so.  And I am here to tell you today that the administration now supports repeal of the 2002 Iraq AMUF.

Stephen Preston: Mr. Chairman, I agree.  That is certainly my understanding as well. 

Chair Robert Menendez:  Alright, that brings to full circle my view that we shouldn't have been in Iraq in the first place, that's why I voted against it and would be happy to repeal it now.

Ranking Member Bob Corker asked about the 9-11 AMUF and whether it was needed and noted his displeasure that McLeod needed to flip through pages, find a passage and read it out loud and that when he asked her about this a second time, before she would attempt to respond to his question, she was consulting Preston.

Turning to Iraq where Nouri's War Crimes continue.  As he continues to bomb the residential areas of Falluja, National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 adult civilian was killed and 1 child was killed with five more people left injured. Targeting civilians is a War Crime.  Nouri's practicing collective punishment which is a legally defined War Crime.   Jo Wilding (Exaro) notes:

A friend whose family lived in the city told me: "Fallujah is being bombed every day.  Even during the 72-hour ceasefire in February, Fallujah was bombed by the Iraqi forces."
He denies the claims of Iraq's government that a jihadist group is in control of Falluja, which is 42 miles from Baghdad in Anbar province.  The group grew out of al-Qaeda's affiliate in the country.
Another friend in the city -- in the so-called Sunni Triangle -- said that there was no "humanitarian corridor". So there is no way out for civilians.  He asked that aid organisations be told how bad conditions are for them.

In attacking the Iraqi civilians, Nouri is using weapons the US government supplies him with.  And Nouri is again insisting that he needs lethal drones.  World Tribune reports, "Iraq is pressing the United States for a combat unmanned aerial vehicle which it considers more urgent than its request for AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. Officials said the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has expressed the need for a U.S.-origin combat UAV."

Last fall, Nouri began insisting he needed drones.  Lethal drones.  He came to DC at the end of October making that case.  He asked Barack for drones when Barack received him at the White House November 1st.  The White House said "no."  They even told Congress there would be no drones.  Congress was balking at supplying Nouri with weapons since he was already attacking the Iraqi people.  But the White House insisted drones (predator drones) would not come into the picture.  It will be interesting to see whether that promise now sticks.

Thug Nouri continued his pattern of intimidation.  Little Saddam gave his weekly speech today.  Alsumaria notes Nouri declared any TV channel report that questioned the actions of the Iraqi military was committing treason.

I'm sorry, the White House condemned those remarks when?  Oh, that's right, they didn't.  Nor did the State Dept.

Thug Nouri wasn't done.  Duraid Salman and Ammar al-Tariq (Alsumaria) reports Nouri declared that the announced results of the election must not be questioned.  A) These are preliminary results that have been announced.  B) When the official results of the 2010 voting was announced, Nouri didn't accept them, he stamped his feet and demanded -- and got -- a recount.  C) Even after the recount, Nouri refused to accept the results, refused to step down and brought the government to a halt for over eight months (the political stalemate) until the US brokered The Erbil Agreement -- a legal contract that gave Nouri a second term.

Nouri al-Maliki is a little man, a small man, a tiny man.  But he is a big hypocrite.

Anniston Star publisher Brandt Ayers (at Montgomery Advertiser) offers a look at Thug Nouri:

He threatened to "turn the world upside down" if he is summoned by parliament to account for his actions, unleashing his secretive files on members. Maliki has even resurrected a Saddam-era law against criticizing the head of state.
A consequence of thin-skinned imperial power is a loss of caution. When a Sunni parliamentarian inflamed protestors in Anbar province, security forces surrounded his compound.
Gunfire broke out and troops killed six Sunnis, taking away the Sunni official, even though he had immunity. Soon afterward, troops cleared a Sunni compound in Ramadi and the whole province erupted in turmoil.
Maliki responded by ringing Fallujah and Ramadi with artillery and began shelling. Maybe sensing he had gone too far, he ordered the army away. Into the resulting void streamed trucks flying the black flags of Islamic extremists.

Liz Sly (Washington Post) Tweets:

  • In Iraq, a 4-year term actually is more like 3 years, because they spend about a year arguing about who gets what job (pt)

  • Preliminary results of the April 30th parliamentary elections were announced Monday.  Kitabat notes a sense since then that the elections will not bring about any change and will not solve the problems facing Iraq.  All Iraq News reports the Iraqi National Coalition issued a statement today which included this sentence, "The INC sides called the Independent High Electoral Commission to deal seriously with the complaints against election results."

    Let's note the violence in Iraq today, National Iraqi News Agency reports a Ramadi home invasion left the son of Judge Sabri al-Dulaimi dead,  2 Kirkuk bombings left eleven people injured, 1 civilian was shot dead near Sharif cemetery, a battle "on the road links between Baquba and Muqdadiyah" left one police captain injured, one mayor was shot at near Muqdadiyah and he was left injured, Joint Operations Command announced they killed 10 suspects in Anbar, 1 police officer was shot dead in Falluja, a Jurf al-Sakhar bombing left two Iraqi soldiers injured, an Albu Ajil battle left 2 police members and 5 rebels dead, a Tarmiyah roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left three more injured,  and 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead in Riyadh.  Alsumaria adds a Qadisiyah roadside bombing left 1 woman dead and two more people injured.  All Iraq News reports a bus carrying soldiers in Tuz Khurmatu was attacked leaving 8 Iraqi soldiers dead and four more injured, secuirty forces say they shot dead 1 sniper in Ramadi, 2 women were shot dead in Baghdad, and Baghdad Operations Command says they killed 8 suspects.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 610 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

    the washington post
    liz sly