Starting in the US with The War on the First Amendment. Last week, The War on the First Amendment's big revelations were that the Justice Dept had secretly seized the phone records of a 167-year-old news institution, the Associated Press. This week's revelation is that the Justice Dept targeted Fox News reporter James Rosen. Clark S. Judge (US News and World Reports) observed yesterday, "It has been a bad few weeks for the First Amendment. The sinister commonality to the Internal Revenue Service and AP scandals and the James Rosen affair is that each appears to have been (strike "appears ": each was) an attempt to suppress a core American right." Michael Isikoff (NBC News) reported:
Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.
James Rosen's State Dept press badge was also used to retrace every moment he made in the State Dept when visiting. Fox News reporter Whitney Ksiazek and Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee raised this issue yesterday at the State Dept spokesperson Patrick Ventrell's press briefing.
Whitney Ksiazek: And then on a separate topic, was former Secretary Clinton consulted with the tracking of my colleague James Rosen’s building – State Department building swipe? And were any other employees interviewed in connection with the North Korea reporting that James Rosen did?
Patrick Ventrell: My understanding, this is a law enforcement matter. I really refer you to the Department of Justice for all details on that. In terms of our cooperation with the Department of Justice or the FBI on matters, that would be handled through Diplomatic Security channels and law enforcement channels. That’s how that’s done.
Matthew Lee: So you – in principle, DS doesn’t have a problem turning over badge records to --
Patrick Ventrell: Again, I’m not aware of the specific cooperation on this case, but --
Matthew Lee: Well, they got the records of his entry and egress, so you guys obviously handed – I mean, they didn’t make them up, I hope.
Patrick Ventrell: Well, I can’t --
Matthew Lee: So you guys obviously gave them to them.
Patrick Ventrell: I can’t comment on any details of this particular case, but when we have --
Matthew Lee: Well, I’m not talking about this particular case. Just in general, I mean, are you, like, running around, giving out the details of our comings and goings from this building?
Patrick Ventrell: Issues of cooperation on law enforcement matters between Diplomatic Security and the FBI are handled in law enforcement channels. I don’t have anything further on it.
Matthew Lee: Wait. Well, so you mean you’re not – do you just give the information out if people ask for it? Or do they need a court order or something?
Patrick Ventrell: Matt, I’m not sure of the legal circumstances on that kind of information sharing.
Matthew Lee: Well, can you check?
Patrick Ventrell: Sure.
Matthew Lee: It would be --
Patrick Ventrell: I’m happy to check on --
Matthew Lee: If DOJ comes to you and says we want the entry and exit records from people, persons X, Y, and Z, do you just give them to them? Or do they have to --
Patrick Ventrell: My understanding is there’s a legal process that’s followed, but I’d have to check with the lawyers.
Matthew Lee: Well, can you find out what the – what it is --
Patrick Ventrell: I’d be happy to check.
Matthew Lee: -- from your end, whether they need a subpoena or whether they need something like that.
This afternoon, Luke Johnson (Huffington Post) explained, "The Justice Department argued that Fox News reporter James Rosen's emails should be monitored for an indefinite period of time, even in the absence of being able to bring charges against him, according to court filings unearthed by The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza. The revelation demonstrates the vast power that the Justice Department used against the journalist, who drew attention for publishing an article on North Korea's nuclear plans." Phil Mattingly (Bloomberg News) adds, "The Justice Department, in a statement today, said Holder was involved in the discussions as prosecutors deliberated over whether to seek the search warrant in the investigation into the leak of information about North Korea’s nuclear program in 2009."
On the president's remarks yesterday, Andrea Mitchell (Andrea Mitchell Reports -- link is video) had questions for Antony Blinken today:
Andrea Mitchell: I also wanted to ask you about the leak investigations. He said in his speech yesterday that he's trying to get answers from the Justice Dept. Why does he need answers from the Justice Dept about something that has been going on for so long? Isn't he aware more broadly of the way these leaks are pursued and the way journalists have been swept up in it?
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken: Well Andrea, I obviously can't comment on a specific investigation but I can say this and it goes towards what the president said yesterday --
Yeah, we heard what heard what Barack said yesterday. So you've got no new comments. Gotcha. He also pimped Barack's 'support' for a media shield law. It was left to a news veteran today to remind the public that Barack's embrace of a proposed media shield law is a new development. Today on CBS This Morning (link is video), hosts Gayle King and Charlie Rose discussed the issue with veteran CBS journalist Bob Schieffer (who hosts CBS' Face The Nation).
Gayle King: The President also said yesterday, Bob, that he wants to protect journalists from the government's overreach and now comes news this morning that Attorney General Eric HOlder signed off on allowing an investigation into some reporters' e-mails. Is that an awkward position?
Bob Schieffer: Well I think what's interesting here is the President has said he wants Attorney General Holder to be the one who does this review about protecting reporters' rights and all of that when it is the Justice Dept, of course, that has caused all this controversy. I mean, the president's saying he wants to review this and he wants to protect reporters' sources. I think a lot of journalistic organizations and the people who run them are going to view this with skepticism. They'll go back to the old Ronald Reagan "trust, but verify" because the last time they introduced the shield law, uh, it was the President and this administration that watered it down and it, uh -- and it just laid there. Nothing ever happened. They're going to now reintroduce the same legislation. But I think a lot of people are just waiting to see how serious the President is about this, because there's no question in the minds of many journalistic organizations -- and there's no question in my mind -- this was an outrageous overreach when they subpoenaed all these records at the Associated Press and some of these other instances as well.
Gene Policinski (San Jose Mercury News) reminds, "Freedom to report the news requires the freedom to gather it." Law and Disorder Radio, an hour long program. usually airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week. It did have a new weekly program this week but WBAI listeners didn't hear it. WBAI is in pledge mode and instead had Heidi Boghosian, and Michael S. Smith for two hours live asking for donations to WBAI (if you'd like to donate, click here) and presenting a different program than this week's taped program. From the live pledge drive:
Michael S. Smith: And that raid on Associated Press where they got the home, cell phone and business phone records of 100 AP reporters --
Heidi Boghosian: Right.
Without a warrant. In clear violation of the Fourth Amendment --
Heidi Boghosian: Right.
Michael Smith: and the First Amendment. And just cleaned up the AP records. Unprecedented.
Heidi Boghosian: It's unprecedented, Michael.
Michael Smith: It's one thing after another.
Heidi Boghosian: It's illegal too. They're supposed to give notice when they do that but what's clearly happening is the press in this country is under attack. We no longer have really a so-called free press. If you look at the case of Bradley Manning, Jeremy Hammond -- who's facing 42 years in prison for uploading documents to WikiLeaks and of course Julian Assange. Now the AP spying, the warrantless spying that has effected countless legal organizations such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, The People's Law Center in Chicago --
Michael Smith: You know, you know why it's effected so many.
Heidi Boghosian: Why?
Michael Smith: Because the people effected by the raid on AP files are not just the AP reporters but they're their sources.
Heidi Boghosian: Exactly.
Michael Smith: Who's gonna --
Heidi Boghosian: Who's gonna turn over information?
Michael Smith: Who's gonna tell something to an AP reporter knowing that their phone conversation is going to go to the FBI?
Heidi Boghosian: Exactly. Exactly. So we have what we have called "the chilling effect on Free Speech in this country" -- which again is why you need to support WBAI because we're not afraid to bring you the truth in reporting.
At the Libertarian CATO Institute, Julian Sanchez argues the administration needs to take certain steps:
Transparency can begin with letting the public know exactly what the guidelines for investigating the press are—and how the Justice Department interprets them. As the FBI’s operational guidelines make clear, the rules requiring the press to be notified when their phone records are obtained only apply to subpoenas—not other secretive tools, such as National Security Letters, which can be issued without court approval. But the rules governing NSL demands for media records remain secret.
The Justice Department should also release any internal memos interpreting the rules governing press investigations. We know, for example, that there exists an informal 2009 opinion in which Justice Department lawyers analyzed how the rules would apply to sweeping demands—such as so-called “community of interest” requests—that can vacuum up a reporter’s records (among many others) even if the reporter is not specifically named as a target. Only brief excerpts of that opinion have been disclosed, thanks to a 2010 Inspector General report, and there is no way of knowing how many others remain secret.
Finally, we need an independent review—conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, not Attorney General Holder—to determine just how much surveillance of reporters has already occurred. It seems clear that the Justice Department does not think the current rules always require the press to be informed when they’ve been spied on: DOJ lawyers convinced a judge that the government never had to notify Rosen they’d read his e-mails. And because demands for electronic records can be quite broad, it would be all too easy for the government to end up with sensitive information about journalistic investigations even when no reporter was explicitly targeted.
When Congress and the public know what the rules really are, and how they have been applied in practice, we can begin a serious conversation about what reforms are needed to protect press freedom. Asking Eric Holder to investigate Eric Holder, on the other hand, is unlikely to protect much of anything—except, perhaps, Eric Holder.
Back to yesterday's State Dept press briefing. Later in the briefing, Asia Today and India Globe's Raghubir Goyal had a question.
Raghubir Goyal: New subject?
Patrick Ventrell: Yeah.
Raghubir Goyal: Question, Patrick, on the freedom of the press, globally.
Patrick Ventrell: You ask very broad questions, Goyal. (Laughter.)
Raghubir Goyal: Just simple question on the freedom of the press.
Patrick Ventrell: We support the freedom of the press. (Laughter.)
Raghubir Goyal: And the question is --
Matthew Lee: Do you?
Patrick Ventrell: We do.
Matthew Lee: Do you really?
Patrick Ventrell: We do, Matt.
Matthew Lee: Are you speaking for the entire Administration, or just this building?
Patrick Ventrell: We support the freedom of the press. We support it globally. We support it here at home.
Matthew Lee: That’s the position of this building. Is it the position of the entire Administration?
Patrick Ventrell: It is.
Raghubir Goyal: Just to mark the international freedom of the press, and recently Freedom House, they placed another 84 names of the journalists who were killed in 25 countries, but – these are only official from the Freedom House – but hundreds of journalists are beaten, jailed, or killed in many countries – more than 25 countries. My question is here: When Secretary meets with world leaders here or abroad, does he talk ever other than human rights but on the freedom of the press in these countries?
Patrick Ventrell: Indeed, he constantly and consistently raises these issues with foreign leaders around the world and here when he meets with them. And I think you heard over the two weeks during our freedom of the press activities, many of the cases that we called out, the high priority that we place on this, and our deep concern for the well-being of journalists who face violence and repression for the work that they do around the world. So that’s something we’re deeply committed to.
Raghubir Goyal: -- especially in China or Saudi Arabia and --
Patrick Ventrell: It includes all those countries.
Raghubir Goyal: Thank you, sir.
Matthew Lee: Is it just violence and repression? Or is it also government intimidation or – that you’re opposed to?
Patrick Ventrell: That as well. All of that.
Matthew Lee: So in other words, the State Department opposes the Administration – the rest of the Justice Department’s investigations into --
Patrick Ventrell: Well, again, I think you’re trying to conflate two issues here.
Matthew Lee: No, no. I’m asking about freedom of the press. That was what the question was.
Patrick Ventrell: And we do – and we support freedom of the press. I think you’ve heard the President – I think you’ve heard the White House talk about this extensively.
Matthew Lee: Right. So you – and you think that violence and repression against journalism – journalists is wrong, as you do harassment or intimidation by government agencies.
Patrick Ventrell: All of the above.
Matthew Lee: So you do not regard what the Justice Department has been doing as harassment or intimidation.
Patrick Ventrell: Again, I can’t comment on a specific law enforcement investigation.
Matthew Lee: I’m not asking about a specific case. In general, would the State Department oppose or support harassment, intimidation, or prosecution of journalists for publishing information?
Patrick Ventrell: We oppose that, in terms of them – is this around the world --
Matthew Lee: Okay. So the State Department then opposes the Justice Department’s prosecution.
Patrick Ventrell: Again, you’re trying to get me to conflate two issues.
No, not really but way to send a mixed signal to the world Patrick Ventrell. Let's hope Secretary of State John Kerry does raise the issues of press freedom with Nouri al-Maliki's government in Iraq. As Helena Williams (Independent) noted earlier this month, "According to the CPJ, Iraq continues to have the world's worst record on impunity, with more than 90 unsolved murders over the past decade and no sign that the authorities are working to solve any of them."
Article 36 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees "Freedom of expression, through all mean," "Freedom of press, printing, advertisement, media and publication" and "Freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration. This shall be regulated by law." Every week, Nouri al-Maliki, chief thug and prime minister in Iraq, demonstrates that he has trouble comprehending if he bothers to read. Fridays in Iraq. Since December 21st, that's meant ongoing protests.
While the protesters to see the day as an opportunity to exercise their civil liberties, Nouri sees the day as a chance to trash the Constitution and demonize the protesters. The Iraq Times notes today that Nouri's government doesn't represent Iraqis, it represents State of Law (Nouri's political coalition) and State of Law's agendas. At times, the paper notes, Nouri claims to represent the Shi'ites of Iraq (Shi'ites are the majority population, Sunnis and Kurds are the other two major populations which also includes Turkmen, Assyrians, Chechens, Palestinians, Shabacks, Armenians and more). But while claiming to represent only one segment, Shi'ites, Nouri can't meet that claim because Shi'ites, like every other group in Iraq, suffer from the lack of dependable public services -- that means drinking water, that means dependable electricity, that means sewer systems that work (and the al Sadr section of Baghdad -- a Shi'ite section before the start of the war in 2003 and a Shi'ite section today -- is always one of the worst flooded areas in Baghdad when the heavy rains come down due to refusal of Nouri's government to spend money on needed sewage and drainage).
Nouri continued his war on the press and on protesters today. With regards to the press, it's very easy for Nouri to target them since western outlets refuse to cover the protests, refuse to do anything that might upset Nouri. So it's left for Iraqi journalists to fight all alone for the Constitutionally guaranteed free press. Not only do they fight alone but when they are attacked, when they are arrested, the western world can't be bothered. Earlier this year, a French reporter, Nadir Dendoune, was imprisoned by Nouri wrongly. We covered it here. It was news and the reporter deserved coverage. But so do the Iraqi reporters who suffer and they don't get the coverage. They don't get the worldwide coverage.
Mustafa al-Rubaie was attacked by an Iraqi military lientenant and the soldiers under him joined in on the attack, beating al-Rubaie with their fists. Oh, goodness, that must have been under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein! No. This was last week in Baghdad. All the Baghdad TV reporter was doing was covering a story. For that he was publicly beaten by the military. A week ago. And you've never heard Nouri al-Maliki condemn it. You may not have even heard that it happened. But it is why, around the world, people are noting (such as here) that there's no difference between Nouri al-Maliki and Saddam Hussein.
Alsumaria reports Anbar police arrested seven journalists for attempting to cover the Ramadi sit-in. Among the arrested was Alsumaria's photojournalist and cameraman Anmar al-Ani. In order to be released, Alsumaria reports, Anmar al-Ani was forced to sign a pledge that he would not cover the protests. It was made clear to him that he would not be released without signing the pledge. He says that he was interrogated by the Police Directorate in Anbar. In a report this evening, they note two other journalists have now been released -- presumably also after signing the pledge. Does the White House -- as it gives Nouri's regime billions this year alone and US service members for 'counter-terrorism' -- ever raise this issue of cracking down on the press? Maybe. Maybe they say things like, "Call Anmar al-Ani a 'co-conspirator' and be sure and seize phone records."
Or maybe the explain how to hack? Al Mada reports the protesters website was hacked late last night. Hacking websites is not uncommon in Iraq. This is: No one has claimed responsibility. The Iraqi hackers that are real hackers, hackers who do it for the joy of hacking and the rush it provides, they repeatedly claim responsibility. We've noted repeatedly that the hacked site has a name taking responsibility and usually an e-mail address. For example, May 4th the Independent High Electoral Commission's website was hacked. What did it say?
Attacked By T34M HACKERS OF IRAQ
" .. IraQ in Our hearts .. "
(We're going to have drop FOTKI for image sharing. It's not working -- repeatedly. You can click here and see the image that should display on the May 4th page.)
This has happened repeatedly. For the record, they all leave their e-mail address. They all claim credit. Now there's a hack and no one's taking credit. Doesn't sound to me like that was a hack by the Iraqi hacking community. Sounds to me like that was a hack carried out by the Iraqi government.
In addition to Ramadi, Iraqi Spring MC reports that reporters covering the Falluja demonstration were threatened by security forces. National Iraqi News Agency reports that "tens of thousands" turned out in Ramadi and Falluja. Anbar organizer Shiekh Mohammed Fayyad states that "the primary goal is to inform the government that our demonstrations are peaceful and backed by the citizens deep convictions." In Falluja, Iraqi Spring MC reports, there were calls for an investigation into the second massacre of Falluja (November 2004) by the occupation forces and the Iraqi government. Protests also took place in Baiji, Baghdad. and Baquba, and the Iraqi Spring MC offers this video of the Baquba demonstrators. On the topic of Baquba, NINA reports, "Preachers of Diyala Fri-prayers blamed and denounced in their sermons security forces and hold them [responsible for] the repeated violations targeting mosques and worshipers, especially the recent bombings that targeted worshipers in Sariya mosque in Baquba." They add that Shiekh Thamer al-Falahi insisted that the demands of the protesters be met. Alsumaria reports (and check out their photo of the huge crowd) protests also took place in Samarr and Tikrit and that, in Sammar, surveys were passed out by organizers to the demonstrators to get their feedback.
Al Mada reports that Martin Kobler, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, joined former Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, MP ahmed al-Alwani, and Marwan Ali for a press conference at the home of Sahwa leader Ahmed Abu Risha to emphasize how important peaceful protest is and that this is a right the Constitution guarantees. Kobler stated the UN confirms the right to demonstrate peacefully. The attacks on journalists were called out and Kobler noted that freedom of the press is guaranteed in the country's Constitution. Rafie al-Issawi declared that, after five months, the government (Nouri al-Maliki) has still not implemented the demands of the six provinces that have been protesting. He also called for military forces, Nouri's federal forces and SWAT to leave Anbar and the end of arrest warrants for sit-in leaders. Alwani's statements included calling out "genocides" in Diyala and Hawija and for the "war criminals" to be tried in international courts.
Tuesday, April 23rd Nouri's federal forces stormed a sit-in in Hawija causing a massacre. Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk) announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.UNICEF counts 8 children dead in the massacre and twelve more children were left injured.
Whether US Secretary of State John Kerry talks about that with Nouri or about the press, no one knows. But US Vice President Joe Biden is talking to Iraq and that's not necessarily a good thing. Wait for it. First, the White House issued the following today:
The White HouseOffice of the Vice President
For Immediate Release
May 24, 2013
Readout of Vice President Biden’s Call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-MalikiVice President Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki today. Discussion focused on Syria, and both leaders agreed on the importance of a negotiated end to the conflict. The Vice President expressed concern about the security situation in Iraq and pledged continued U.S. support for Iraq in its fight against terrorism. The Vice President also spoke about the importance of outreach to leaders across the political spectrum. Both leaders expressed their ongoing commitment to deepening the U.S.-Iraq strategic partnership, as outlined in the Strategic Framework Agreement.
We're not done. They also issued the following:
For Immediate Release
May 24, 2013
Readout of Vice President Biden’s Calls with Iraqi Kurdistan President Masud Barzani and Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama NujayfiVice President Biden spoke with Iraqi Kurdistan President Masud Barzani and Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama Nujayfi yesterday, Thursday, May 23rd. With President Barzani, the Vice President commended the return of Kurdish ministers and parliamentarians to Baghdad, and stressed the importance of engagement by all sides to seek solutions to contentious issues under the Iraqi Constitution. With Speaker Nujayfi, the Vice President expressed concern about the security situation in Iraq, stressing the need for all of Iraq’s political leadership to unequivocally renounce violence and seek to marginalize extremists. All three leaders reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Iraq strategic partnership.
So Joe didn't bring up the press and Joe didn't bring up the protesters so why the heck did the White House have him make those calls?
I like Joe Biden. But talk about tone deaf on the part of the White House, talk about the need for Arabic speakers in the White House. There is nothing worse they could have done then have Joe Biden speak to Iraqi leaders today -- this month.
In the US, Joe Biden represents many things to different sets of people. In Iraq? He's got two images and let's focus on the most damaging: He proposed, as US Senator, that peace in Iraq would be possible only by splitting the country into a Shi'ite South, a Sunni central and the KRG in the north. As Senator. And we noted, while running for the presidential nomination, right before Iowa, Joe had noted if the US Congress didn't support then the idea was dead. We covered that here.
Most ignored it because Biden's campaign was losing steam (he'd quickly drop out of the race).
It never registered in Iraq.
They continue to see Biden as the man who wants to split up their country. And the Arabic press for the last three weeks has been full of reports that it's about to happen, Iraq's about to split. Nouri's been in contact with Biden, the Kurds came to Baghdad just to ensure that the split takes place, blah blah blah. Whispers with no foundation -- they may be true, they may be false -- have been all over Arabic media -- not just social media, all of the Iraqi outlets have reported it -- and reported it as a done deal.
So with the tension and fear rising in Iraq currently, why is Biden the go-to? This was absolutely the wrong thing at the wrong time and these calls with the various leaders, whatever their intent (I'm told military issues were discussed with Nouri -- specifically more troops under the Strategic Framework Agreement and last December's Memorandum of Understanding with the Defense Dept), are only going to fuel more rumors in Iraq.
Even more troubling is All Iraq News' report that Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq head Ammar al-Hakim met with "US Embassy Charge D'Affaires" Doug Silliman today. Are they -- the US administration -- just trying to send Iraqis reeling with paranoia? Silliman's a name that's barely known in the US. But his position in Turkey and the WikiLeaks exposure made him very well known in Arab media. And Turkey borders Iraq so you can be sure that with talk of the US secretly supporting the PKK and supposedly looking the other way while Turkey allegedly supported al Qaeda in Iraq (Hurriyet News Daily) and that's before you get to the Cables WikiLeaks released and the powder keg that is the topic of Israel (it's a power keg issue in Iraq). There is absolutely zero awareness and zero sensitivity when it comes to choosing US officials to dialogue with Iraqi officials. This is just embarrassing, not to mention counter-productive.
I have no idea why the White House has no one monitoring Arabic media, why there's no one to say, "Uh, before the Vice President starts making those calls, you might want to look at these 57 reports from Iraq media in the last three weeks about how Biden's in secret talks with Nouri and the Kurds to split up the country."
These conversations will probably cause more harm than good and Biden's not given the chance to let this rumor in Iraq die (if it's just a rumor) before using his office to try to have some impact or influence on the current situation in Iraq.
Aleem Maqbool (BBC News) reports: on the rising tensions and starts by quoting a statement from Nouri's stooge Sami al-Askari:
"Some Sunnis will not feel happy whatever they get because now they are sharing power. Perhaps this generation cannot be cured but we hope that the next generation of Sunnis feel they are Iraqi and don't feel they are different."
It is a statement that will infuriate many Iraqi Sunnis, including Nada Jabouri, an opposition MP.
"I feel sorry to hear that from any official in my country because after all we are already all Iraqis - all of us are Sunni, all of us are Shia."
Ms Jabouri says Sunni grievances are real, and points not only to the detentions, but the recent killings by government forces of Sunnis protesting against human rights abuses.
"No government has the right to use force against those demonstrators who are peaceful," she says.
Ms Jabouri acknowledged the many attacks were carried out by Sunni militant groups like al-Qaeda against Shia civilians, but said the government responses were only creating more tensions.
"We should not make civilian people pay the price for terrorist groups and what they do, but that is what is happening in Iraq now," she says.
Nada al-Jabouri is a MP with the Iraqiya bloc which won the 2010 elections and should have had first crack at the post of prime minister as a result of their win. Instead, second place State of Law got to keep Nouri because Nouri pouted like a baby refusing to leave the post while Barack worked around the Constitution getting US officials to come up with The Erbil Agreement which is the legal basis -- such as it is -- for Nouri's second term.
And how sweet for Sami that he can tell such sweet fairy tales that absolve the government of wrong doing and pin the blame on Sunnis. No doubt, at night in bed with Nouri, Sami al-Askari's a regular Scheherazade weaving one tale after another.
Too bad all the fairy tales in the world won't chase away the ongoing violence. All Iraq News notes 1 person was shot dead in Mosul yesterday. Alsumaria adds that a Mosul attack today left one police officer injured and an armed attack on a Baghdad police station has left seven police officers injured. National Iraqi News Agency reports an assassination attempt in Awja on Col Akrahm Saddam Midlif which he survived but which left two of his bodyguards wounded, a Falluja attack left two people injured (drive-by shooting), a Baquba bombing left a Sahwa injured, and late last night there was an attempted assassination on Diyala Province Governor Omar Himyari in Hamrin which left one of his bodyguards injured. Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 653 violent deaths so far this month.
Back to the US, Tuesday's snapshot covered a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing. This was an exchange between the Subcommittee Chair and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of Ameirca's Alex Nicholson:
My apologies, I left out Alex Nicholson's name. The snapshots are dictated but that was my mistake. If it's a morning hearing -- that ends before lunch (two recently haven't) -- at lunch, I either get on the laptop or the iPad and type up whatever exchanges will be included in the snapshot. I do that myself. Tuesday was a morning hearing and it was over in the morning. That's my error and my mistake. My apologies. On the issue of the backlog, Aaron Glantz (Center for Investigative Reporting) reports:
The Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically missed nearly all of its internal benchmarks for reducing a hulking backlog of benefits claims and has quietly backed away from repeated promises to give all veterans and family members speedier decisions by 2015.
Internal VA documents, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, show the agency processed 260,000 fewer claims than it thought it would during the past year and a half – falling 130,000 short in the 2012 fiscal year and another 130,000 short of its goal between October and March.
The result: At a time when the number of veterans facing long waits was supposed to be going down, it instead went up.
On April 29, the VA began to qualify its promise, made repeatedly since 2009, that “all claims” would be processed within four months by 2015.
Monday is Memorial Day. CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft will be hosting a one hour special airing on CBS News Radio over the weekend (and streaming here) about Post-Traumatic Stress entitled "Combat Stress: Finding the Way Home." It's a strong documentary addressing a number of issues including the need to feel in control of your treatment and the need to choose the treatment that works for you.
Still on veterans issues, yesterday's the House Veterans Affairs Committee released the following:
Miller, McCarthy Introduce VA Backlog Task Force Bill
May 23, 2013
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Chairman Jeff Miller (FL-01) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) introduced legislation that would establish an independent task force or commission to analyze VA’s disability benefits claims processing system. The task force would be charged with examining the root causes of VA’s backlog and providing solutions for ending it by 2015.
After decades of mismanagement, VA is buried under a mountain of backlogged disability benefits compensation claims. Nearly 900,000 veterans are waiting for a claims decision — a process that takes nine months on average, but in some cases takes years. VA leaders have repeatedly pledged to end the backlog by 2015, but many in the veterans community are skeptical the department is on track to meet that goal.
Under the bill, the task force would provide recommendations for improving VA’s claims processing operations within 60 days of its first meeting and continually help the department refine its claims processing efforts until VA’s backlog is eliminated.
Task force members would be appointed by members of Congress and the Obama administration and would include a delegate from VA. The bill would also require task force members to solicit input from representatives from the veterans service organization community and private-sector leaders in fields such as claims processing, logistics, electronic records and product tracking.
“Government bureaucrats under both Republican and Democrat administrations created the backlog, so it’s only natural to solicit outside help from the private sector and the VSO community in working toward a solution. By creating a task force of private industry leaders, VA and VSO officials, we hope to establish a revised evidenced-based process that will help VA break its claims backlog once and for all in 2015, just as department leaders have promised.” Miller said.
“The entire country is counting on VA to end the backlog by 2015, and Congress is committed to holding the department accountable until they achieve that goal. Our veterans deserve the care they earned while protecting and defending our country, and continued failure by the VA cannot and will not be tolerated.” McCarthy said.
"As Memorial Day approaches, it's clear that there is no roadmap from the White House to bring the VA backlog to zero. Veterans need a comprehensive, inter-agency approach to solve the disgraceful backlog. IAVA strongly supports Chairman Miller's bill to proactively establish just such a coordinated effort to get the VA the help it needs on the backlog and to bring outside players to the table to assist in that effort. The enormous success of the roundtable with private industry experts convened by the Chairman last week is an example how the VA can greatly benefit from an expansion of this approach," said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
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