Thursday, May 29, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, May 29, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the VA scandal continues, a VA official knew about the Phoenix wait list and did nothing to help the veterans, Congress holds hearings, Brett McGurk makes clear what the US government focuses on in Iraq (it's three letters but it's not s-e-x), and much more.

Starting in the US where James Warren (New York Daily News) notes, "By two counts (Military Times and ABC News), we’re up to more than 80 members of Congress calling for the scalp of Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki, including several Democratic senators who face very tough re-election fights as their party and President Obama strain to hold their Senate majority."  On CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, US House Rep Steve Israel joined the call today.

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following yesterday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, May 28, 2014                                                                          
(202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Murray Statement on VA OIG Interim Report

WASHINGTON, D.C --- Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released the following statement after the VA Office of the Inspector General released their interim report after their review of patient wait times, scheduling practices, and alleged patient deaths at the Phoenix Health Care System.

“Today’s interim report confirms what many of us have been saying for years: the VA has deep-seated structural and cultural challenges, and our veterans can’t afford to wait any longer for these problems to be solved. The VA needs to stop rewarding bad behavior and create a real system of accountability and transparency. It needs to put an end to what appears to be a pervasive culture of lying, cheating, and mismanagement. And it needs to act right away—without waiting for more reports to come out detailing even more system-wide failures. As I have told Secretary Shinseki, we are at the point where good intentions are no longer good enough—we need to see real actions to make sure our veterans are getting the support and care they expect and deserve, and we need to see that right away.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

Again, that was issued yesterday.  Last night, there was no accountability from the VA for their actions. There was even an attempt by the VA to insist that the Phoenix secret list was not, in fact, secret from the VA.

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Congressman, I don't think these lists were secret --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  How did you not find them, Dr. Lynch?  You were there.

Dr. Thomas Lynch: I did find them, Congressman!

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  How many were on the list?

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Pardon?

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  You told me you didn't even look at this list.

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  I told you we didn't document the numbers.  I told you we were aware --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  You saw the list?

Dr. Thomas Lynch: We were aware of the problem.

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Why didn't you report to the press and to Mr. Shinseki and to the President of the United States that there were 1100 veterans waiting for care on that list?  Did you tell anybody about this?  You waited 35 days.  35 days.  You said that you care about veterans, you care about them, they waited on a list, languishing!

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Congressman, I was focused on trying to improve the process --

US House Rep tim Huelskamp:  What about the 1100 veterans?  So you knew about these veterans that were waiting for care --

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, I wish I had identified the number of veterans and we could have moved forward more quickly.

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Did you try to do anything to get care for these veterans, 1100 veterans, waiting?  Some of them might have been on the list that died.

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, we identified the processes and we put people on the ground --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Yes or no?  Did you do anything for those 1100 veterans?

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, I put in place an understanding of the process which allowed us --

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  They are still waiting for treatment. Sir, I think that is your answer.  I yield back to the Chairman.

Again, that's from Wednesday night's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the VA's inability to provide the Committee with information in a timely and accurate manner.  US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Committee Chair, US House Rep Mike Michaud is the Ranking Member.

The Committee held from one panel which was comprised of VA's Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations Dr. Thomas Lynch; the VA's Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney; and the VA's Congressional Relations Officer Michael Huff.

Inability to provide information?

Since March 14, 2013, US House Rep Tim Huelskamp has been asking for a list of "those who had been punished."  He still hasn't gotten the list.

"Meanwhile, the bonuses continue,"  Huelskamp noted.  "You realize, the information that we have, this is from a website source, we can't get it from your agency, but at Phoenix an $843,000 worth of bonuses. So it wasn't just the director.  It was over a two year period.  My question, what we haven't received yet is the listing of those who lost their bonuses for failures in the system?  Who are we going to hold accountable?"

Inability to provide information?

As Ruth reported on the hearing the VA has also been denying Congress access to VA employees.  Ranking Member Mike Michaud explained to Joan Mooney that when the Committee requested testimony from subject matter experts, these experts aren't allowed to testify.

Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  Okay, we have an e-mail and we'll be glad to share it with you, Ms. Mooney, from a subject matter expert saying that that is the policy of the VA.  Now we can address that, I brought it to Sloan Gibson's attention, I've talked to the Secretary [of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki] a number of times about the fact that the relationship between the Department [of Veterans Affairs] and this Committee is getting extremely strained because we are not able to get the information that we need to.  We tried to, at the beginning of my term as Ranking Member, we tried to smooth out some of the requests as far as going directly to the subject matter expert.  That has not worked.  And so hopefully, we'll be able to get that working the way it should be working, rebuild our trust and open line of communication.

At this point, there is no trust or open line of communication.  This morning, I noted US House Rep Beto O'Rourke

US House Rep Beto O'Rourke:  I hope you will do that.  Another thing that struck me, you were talking about a failure within the VA that resulted from elevating a performance measure into a goal which could possibly have led to the scandal in Phoenix and other -- perhaps other-other parts of the VA.  If the current performance measures are not working what are some recommendations that you have for how we measure performance at our VHA system?

Dr. Thomas Lynch: I-I -- Don't get me wrong, I think that we need to have performance measures.  I think that they need to be tools that help us understand our system.  And I think we need to focus on our primary goal which is: are we seeing veterans, is our system growing, are we providing quality care?  When those become the goals of the system, then you cannot game performance measures.  Performance measures become a tool.  If you ignore them, then you're actually hurting yourself because you're not growing your system like you're supposed to and as a director or an administrator you will fail.

So, according to Lynch's testimony, the goals of the VA were not "seeing veterans" or the growing system or "providing quality care."  If those had "become the goals of the system, then you cannot game performance measures." Performance measures were gamed via secret lists. That happened.

Lynch also told O'Roarke about one of VA's potential "plans."

Dr. Thomas Lynch: Congressman, one of the options we have been discussing internally is whether or not we could partner with the Veterans Service  Organizations and use their membership and use their members as, uh, an opportunity to identify the kind of service we're providing and where they're experiencing delays.  I think there is an opportunity there that clearly needs to be explored further.

The VA gets billions of dollars.  It's proven currently to be inept and criminal.  The answer VA floats is to utilize the labor of the VSOs and the veterans?  With all that money, VA can't provide its own oversight?  It's going to need to tax the VSOs?

And am I the only one who remembers that it was just months ago when the VA was slamming the figures of the American Legion?  But now it wants to use these VSOs to do the job that the VA should be doing on its own?

US House Rep David Jolly noted the "frustration" on the part of the Committee "because we do have an Article I authority to ask the questions but our frustration is rooted in the fact that while we conduct the necessary oversight as part of our Article I responsibility, we continue to hear of a wait list and know that there are wait lists.  And we are held accountable for that, from our constituents.  It's kind of a remarkable process that our constituents hold us responsible for a wait list created by the administration.  And that's probably fair because we have to execute our responsibility."

And if you're not grasping why the Committee is frustrated, let's note this very basic request made in last night's hearing and the VA response to it.

US House Rep Julia Brownley: My constituents and my veterans in my community are also saying there not so concerned about how we got there right now at this moment, but they want to resolve this issue in terms of getting a timely response and making sure that their health care needs -- both physical and mental -- are taken care of.  We've got to figure out the longterm problems, without question.  I think the one question that I wanted to conclude on is that I'm happy that we're going to do sort of a national audit.  I want to understand what that includes.  Does it include the Oxnard CBOC [Community Based Outpatient Clinic] in my district?  Does it go down to that level?  And I want to know 

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  It is my understanding that the audit has now been extended to all VA health care facilities. 

US House Rep Julia Brownley:  Very good.  Very good.  And then, if the VA could provide us with a timeline of every single facility and when this audit is going to take place  and when it will be completed and what are the results of that so that we have a timeline that we can report back to our districts on but so that we can also monitor and watch to make sure that we're covering every single facility across the country. Phoenix has brought a lot to our attention but I'm concerned about so many other facilites across the country.  And if I could get your commitment today that you will provide us with that information, I would be very appreciative.

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  I will do my best to get you that information.  I think it is available --

We're going to stop him right there.  "My best"?

The hearing took place because the Committee is having to subpoena the VA for basic information that the VA is required to supply Congress with.  Brownley's request is a basic one and it's nothing more than compiling a list and schedule.  If the VA hasn't already generated that internally, they should get on that.  But there should be "my best" to provide that basic information to Congress.  It should be, "Yes, we will provide that information."

On the audit . . .

US House Rep Mark Takano:  You state, Ms. Mooney, that the -- that you think the audit might be complete within a week -- a week or two?

Joan Mooney:  Yes.

US House Rep Mark Takano:  My question to you may seem a little perverse but how can you get the audit done so quickly given the scale of the department?  And is that a realistic, uhm, turnaround time for you?

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  Congressman, maybe I'll try to answer that based upon what I know about the audits.  Uh, VA has mobilized resources from across our system.  We have asked each of the networks and facilities to provide volunteers to do these audits, to go out and evaluate hospitals so that we can get this audit completed in a timely fashion.

US House Rep Mark Takano:  Now, again, I go back to this issue of-of how good this information is that you're getting from people.  I mean, public officials have called for criminal investigations or turn this over to the Justice Dept.  Are people going to lawyer up, clam up?  I mean is that going to slow down the ability to get information out of people?

Dr. Thomas Lynch:  I am sure that there are people who are concerned.  I think that the IG is also our partner in this.  They have also been evaluating facilities -- particularly those with concerns.  They have authorities that we don't have to obtain the information that we need.  

Stop.  The Inspector General's office is not VA's "partner."  The IG exists to investigate VA.  The VA IG is already tasked with investigating over 40 VA medical centers currently.  They released an interim report on Phoenix this week.  They will not be able to release a report on the other medical centers for awhile.  So to claim that the two are working together is false in so many ways.

The IG is independent.  It can't coordinate with VA leadership in an investigation and be independent.  If Lynch understands what's going on an expressed it accurately to the Committee, the Committee needs to immediately take testimony from the IG's office because Lynch's remarks, if accurate, would indicate several walls in place to protect the independence of the IG office have now collapsed.

For the most part, the Committee did a good job.  Most part?

If I tell you a certain idiot not smart enough to grasp that when your wig has bangs, the bangs go directly in the front, will you know who I'm talking about?

If I say she referred to "Sinseki" and to hiring "hundreds of new peoples" and that someone "tol us" and "in fac" and "acquasations" and  all these words that, quite frankly, are not words and are beneath the US Congress.  If I told you that, you'd know who I was talking about, right?  If I told you she was among those called out this week by Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report, you'd know who I was talking about, right?

Corrine Brown, the biggest embarrassment in the House.   "Accusations," not "acquastations."  She really doesn't need to speak in public.  If her district is so desperate that she's the best they have to send to Congress, so be it, but she really needs to stop speaking in public unless she wants to be a monument to stupidity.  As Alex Leary (Tampa Bay Times) points out:

A stampede of Florida politicians, Republicans and Democrats, have joined the national outcry about problems at the VA. But Rep. Corrine Brown remains convinced about one thing:
“We’re doing fine in Florida,” she said this evening at a VA hearing, listing projects in the state.

Leary notes that Friday Senator Bill Nelson declared "heads should roll" over Florida VA conditions and that the Tampay Bay Times has "reported the story of a Largo veteran, Horace Lalley, a patient at the Young VA Medical Center, who died in 2012 of bladder cancer that his family says was misdiagnosed for years as a urinary tract infection."  Again, she needs to stop speaking in public.

This morning, there was another veterans hearing.

US House Rep Tim Huelskamp:  Mr. Minney, my final question is about this electronic medical record that has been plaguing the VA and the DoD in attempting to communicate.  My understanding is that this often happens in the private world, they do communicate, it's actually a fairly regular process.  But the VA and the DoD cannot do that. That's my understanding.  Can you describe the situation that occured with Travis, given the current status, would that likely occur again? A veteran walks in and says "here's my medical records" -- where they show it's just paper.  Is that still the situation in many cases?

Glenn Minney: Yes, it is.  Travis is one of the unique individuals because he actually did have a copy of his health records.  But I've spent 21 years in the Navy as a corpsman in the medical field.  And then once I retired, I actually went to work for the VA.  So I can tell you right now DoD health records, they're not being transferred into the VA health system

This was a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing.  US House Rep Mike Coffman is the Subcommittee Chair and US House Rep Ann Kirkipatrick is the Ranking Member.  Blinded Veterans Association's Glenn Minney, veteran Terry Kebbel and veteran Travis Fugate were the first panel.  The second panel was VA's Dr. Maureen McCarthy,  Lorraine Landfried, Dr. Mary Lawrence and Pat Sheehan.

I'll cover this hearing in tomorrow's gina &  krista round-robin.  We'll also note it in tomorrow's snapshot.

If the exchange above didn't make clear, there are serious problems with the 'seamless transition' of electronic records from the DoD to VA.
US House Rep Mark Takano:  One of my first Committee hearings was about this issue of the medical records not being able to be transferred from DoD into vista and I can barely contain the anger I feel about this situation and the millions and millions of dollars that have been spent trying to solve this situation and to hear that in the interum months between my first hearing and now that there seems to be no way to bridge this gulf between these two Departments.  It's bad enough to see a casualty of war but it's even worse to see that casualty of war made even more tragic by this systemic failure between these two Departments.  I don't know what to do about this.  It is frustrating to be a member of Congress and not be able to say "Fix this thing" and have it fixed. 

Phil Roe is a member of Congress and a doctor.  He noted something shocking.

US House Rep Phil Roe: Last year we had the VA and DoD come in and they just burned a billion dollars. A billion.  We're worried about three million?  We burned a billion dollars trying to make the DoD and the VA health care records speak to each other and they can't. They just quit.

We have noted this failure in snapshot after snapshot.  We've noted where the fault lies (Eric Shinseki) and who's failed on this (Eric Shinseki) and the press has ignored the failure in this area.

Maybe Roe's remarks will finally result in some coverage?

Meanwhile, Nouri's War Crimes continue in Iraq.  NINA notes his bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods have left 5 civilians dead today and eleven more injured ("including two members of the civil defense").  He just keeps on killing civilians and injuring them while pretending he's a leader.  And one worthy of a third term.

In other violence, National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baquba mortar attack left 2 people dead and five more injured, a Tuz Khurmatu roadside bombing left 4 family members dead, an al-Muqdadiyah bombing left two police members injured, an al-Aali Village battle left 2 Sahwa dead and a third wounded, 1 sniper was shot dead in Falluja, security forces say they killed 13 suspects in Falluja, Tigris Operations Command states they killed 14 suspects in Diyala Province, a Qayyarah bombing left 3 police members dead, a home invasion outside of Mosul left 1 police lieutenant-colonel dead, 5 farmers were shot dead in Shamsiat Village,  All Iraq News notes 3 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in Shurqat, 1 Sahwa was kidnapped in Shurqat, and the Basra Health Dept states the morgue has received 7 corpses (gun shots) in "the last three days."  Still on violence, Prashant Rao (AFP) notes that yesterday's death toll climbed to 74.

All Iraq News notes Ayad Allawi has sent a letter to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani "demanding him to intervene in the political and security affairs."  Adil E. Shamoo and Foreign Policy in Focus are becoming the Corinne Brown on Iraq.  Shamoo insists that it appears Iraq held free and fair elections.

Well if you don't count the documented -- with photographs -- ballot boxes tossed on the side of the road (with ballots in them).  From the May 5th snapshot:

Interesting picture documenting the credibility of the Iraqi elections.

El Sábado 3 de Mayo de 2014 15:37, Iraq Films <> escribió:
Ballot Boxes filled with Votes found on Suqoor Street just in front of the Agriculture college in Mosul University

Judge Qassim Al Aboudi the formal spokesman of the So called independen​t electoral commission in Iraq posing proud in a picture with the Mulla Style Military Commander of the Asaaib Militia in Baghdad Now what is an election official doing with a militia commander in the first place ???

There's the fact that Falluja and Ramadi weren't allowed to vote -- two of the most populated Sunni cities in the country, that even an NGO has questioned the vote in Australia (they feel the official tally is incorrect -- the NGO has made its concerns known to the United Nations, if they go public, we'll note their concern), that 2 million electronic voting cards were issued . . . to dead Iraqis who somehow managed to vote (talk about persistence).

Shamoo's either confused or lying here:

After the elections of 2010, Dawa Party head Nouri al-Maliki‘s Shia-backed coalition brokered a deal with other groups to win a second term for al-Maliki as prime minister. The central government under al-Maliki continued to enjoy the support of the oil-rich eastern and southern regions, which are Shia bastions. But al-Maliki accuses the Sunni Gulf states and Saudi Arabia of funding terrorist organizations in Iraq.

Nouri did not broker an agreement.  They're talking about The Erbil Agreement.  The US brokered it.  Nouri didn't have the standing with the political blocs to broker it.  The US government was behind that.

Shamoo wasn't paying attention in real time.  Foreign Policy In Focus really needs to learn how to be factual.  The US brokered The Erbil Agreement.  When it almost immediately fell apart, Barack was on the phone to Ayad Allawi.  These are what is known as "facts."  They were noted in real time here.  You can visit the following from November 2010 for starters:

On the elections, All Iraq News notes that Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission has extended the contesting of results period to Sunday (it was supposed to end today).

Moving over to the topic of oil, Baghdad is miffed at the KRG.  Despite generating tremendous oil revenues and despite it being the fifth month of 2014, the KRG has received no federal funds from Baghdad for the year -- has still received no funds.  Nouri's attempted to use these funds to blackmail the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. Possibly, as a result of this, last week, the KRG supplied Turkey with oil.  There is no oil and gas law in Iraq.

That didn't stop the State Dept's Brett McGurk from Tweeting 18 points last week:

2/18 This is an unfortunate development given the reasonable deal that has been on the table w/benefits for citizens in all parts of Iraq.

3/18 Our position: the US does not support export of oil from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the federal government.

4/18 This position is based on careful assessments of pathways to stability, economic models to max growth, existing laws, political risks.
5/18 We have informed all interested parties that any such transactions exposes them to potential legal risks.

6/18 This does not mean we take sides in internal disputes within Iraq.
7/18 Our aim is to encourage measures that have the broadest-possible consensus and help pull the country together.
8/18 Thus, we have worked intensely with all sides to forge a long-term solution on matters of energy exports and revenue sharing.
9/18 Over the past year, we helped develop a proposal with all sides that offers a win/win/win outcome.
10/18 The proposal resolves legal uncertainty over KRG exports and guarantees auto transfers for all revenues derived from KRG oil to Erbil.
11/18 It would immediately derive substantial and reliable revenues for the Iraqi people including tens of billions of dollars for the KRG.
12/18 We have encouraged the KRG to accept such a deal, thereby guaranteeing monthly revenue allocations based on Iraq’s total output.
13/18 We have also encouraged the GOI to guarantee full monthly revenue transfers to Erbil, regardless of budget deadlock. No excuses.
Moving over to news out of London.  RT reports:

An agreement to release details of communications between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-US President George W. Bush has been reached, promising to finally make public some extracts from sensitive conversations prior to the 2003 Iraq war.
The classified information is likely to be released as part of the Iraq inquiry – or Chilcot inquiry, after its chairman Sir John Chilcot – which was announced in June 2009 by Britain's then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The investigation aims to explore the UK's role in the Iraq war. The inquiry completed public hearings in 2011, and it was hoped the details would be delivered the same year.  

At the Iraq Inquiry's website, the following was posted today:

 On 28 May 2014 Sir John Chilcot wrote to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, to record his pleasure that agreement had been reached on the principles that will underpin disclosure of material from Cabinet-level discussions and communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States.  These documents have raised difficult issues of long-standing principle.
Agreement had already been reached on the details of what the Inquiry will publish in relation to more than 200 Cabinet and Cabinet Committee meetings. 
Detailed consideration of gists and quotes requested by the Inquiry from communications between the UK Prime Minister and the President of the United States has now begun.  It is not yet clear how long that will take but the Inquiry and the Government should work to complete the task as soon as possible.
Once agreement has been reached, the next phase of the Maxwellisation process can begin.  That process must be completed before the Inquiry's report can be finalised and sent to the Prime Minister

The Inquiry intends to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible.   

BBC News adds, "A deal between the Chilcot Inquiry and the government to publish only "quotes or gists" of discussions between President Bush and Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq war has been described as "disappointing" by the mother of soldier who died in the conflict."  Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) believes recent events suggest "that Chilcot himself gave quite a lot of ground some time back."  Rowena Mason (Guardian) reports:

However, on Thursday, a number of politicians raised concerns that the Chilcot inquiry had capitulated to the demands of the Cabinet Office by agreeing not to publish the full correspondence. John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said the failure to publish the entire dialogue "confirms suspicions of whitewash" and undermines the credibility of the whole report.
The level of disclosure was also criticised by Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, who said it was crucial the public was not simply given the partial truth about the decision to go to war in Iraq. "It's a shame it has been going on for so long and they are still unwilling to tell us the whole truth," he said.
Andrew MacKinlay, former Labour MP for Thurrock, who sat on the Commons foreign affairs committee, said he thought Chilcot had surrendered in a "bad, bad day for democracy and justice". "The establishment of this country, and the security and intelligence services have won again. Truth has lost out," he said.