Committee Chair Jeff Miller: I want to talk to you a little bit this afternoon about my bill HR 2327, The Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration Act of 2013. I think everyone in this room is well aware of the number of claims that the Veterans Benefits Administration is facing right now. And, according to the June 24th, Monday morning report -- we get a report every Monday morning, there are 801,931 compensation and pension claims in the inventory. Now this is not a new problem. Using the data from the VA website, the total C and P inventory was 221,729 as of June of 2000. And I want to show you how it has increased since then. 327,275 in June of '04. In June of '08, it was 404,161. And 913,690 in June of 2012. Now we all know that we've had wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Nehmer's decision that the Court required to open tens of thousands of Vietnam era claims. And they've all increased the workload at the Department. And to meet that increased workload, VBA has devoted the lion's share, 14,415 of its 20,815 employees to work on these C and P -- or Compensation and Pension claims. So if you review the testimony of the VSOs [Veterans Services Organizations], you will also see that they too focused mostly on the compensation program. Now I'm not saying that the focus is wrong, just that that's the fact. One of this Committee's ways of ensuring that the disability backlog and related issues did not consume an inordinate amount of focus to the neglect of other important programs was to undergo a reorganization. Specifically, the Committee of Economic Opportunity was created to specialize oversight attention on VA programs that enhance economic opportunity and the result of that reorganization is very clear: Sustained oversight on economic opportunity programs and issues, the passage of major legislation such as The Vow To Hire Heroes Act, and provisions to assist VA in meeting acquisition goals for small business owned by service-disabled veterans. Now I believe that VA too would benefit from this type of specialization and that is what HR 2327 would bring about.
Miller was speaking at the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing this afternoon. The Subcommittee Chair is Bill Flores and the Ranking Member is Ann Kirkpatrick. The hearing was about proposed bills. We're noting it because (a) we covered Miller's bill from an earlier hearing but it had been filed then, it has been now, (b) because the issue of the VA's disability benefits backlog is never forgotten in any of the Veterans Affairs Committee hearings -- House or Senate and (c) because there are backlogs all over the VA. Look at the numbers on compensation and pension benefits Miller provided.
The disability backlog has not gone away. "THE WAIT WE CARRY" proclaims a pop-up headline on Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's website, "OVER 550,000 VETERANS ARE WAITING TOO LONG FOR THE DISABILITY BENEFITS THEY'VE EARNED."
Clicking on the pop-up takes you to a powerful video presentation whose key moment may be asking the question: "How long should you have to wait before the country you served provides the help it promised?"
It's an important question and you can register your response via the petition IAVA has demanding US President Barack Obama end the VA backlog.
More than any petition, there needs to be oversight and there's been none on so many areas. For example, let's drop back to this morning when the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: You know this hearing is really troubling to me because this case really shows how things can go wrong. I want to support our small business owners as much as possible. I want these set-asides to be successful. But I am absolutely appalled by the advantages that have been taken [. . .]
What is she talking about?
It's another VA scandal, it's another IRS scandal. The two have merged.
Yesterday House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa released a report entitled [pdf format warning] "Questionable Acquistions: Problematic IT Contracting At The IRS." The report found that Braulio Castillo bough Signet/Strong Castle and, in six months, took it from annual revenues of $250,000 to "over %500 million of potential awards -- overwhelmingly these awards came from the IRS." This is great for a veteran, especially a disabled veteran, if it's been above board.
Yet nothing appears to have been above board. Slightly over half-way into the hearing, Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth questioned Castillo.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: So your foot hurt? Your left foot?
Braulio Castillo: Yes, ma'am.
US House Tammy Duckworth: My feet hurt, too. In fact the balls of my feet burn continuously and I feel like there is a nail being hammered into my right heel right now. So I can understand pain and suffering and how service connection can actually cause long term, unremitting, unyielding, unstoppable pain. So I'm sorry that twisting your ankle in high school has now come back to-to hurt you in such a painful way, if also opportune for you to gain this status for your business as you were trying to compete for contracts. I also understand why something can take years to manifest themselves from when you hurt them. In fact, I had a dear, dear friend who sprayed Agent Orange out of his Huey in Vietnam who it took forty years -- forty years -- for the leukemia to actually manifest itself and he died six months later. So I can see how military service -- while at the time you seemed very healthy -- could result in, forty years later, devastating injury. Can you tell me if you hurt your foot again in your football career subsequent to twisting it in high school?
Braulio Castillo: Ma'am, I don't understand the high school comment?
Chair Darrell Issa: The gentle lady, prep school, post-high school.
Braulio Castillo: I'm not --
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: Okay, prep school. Before college. Prep school. Did you injure your left foot again after prep school?
Braulio Castillo: Uh. I'm not sure I understand the question, ma'am.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: You played football in college, correct?
Braulio Castillo: Yes, ma'am.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: As a quarterback?
Braulio Castillo: Yes, ma'am, I did.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: Did you hurt, did you injure that same foot again subsequently in the years since you twisted it in prep school?
Braulio Castillo: Not to my recollection, ma'am.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: Not to your recollection. Okay. Uh, why didn't you, Mr. Castillo, tell the VA that your doctor's note to them was inaccurate when you knew that it was?
Braulio Castillo: I don't feel that it's inaccurate, ma'am.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: Okay.
Braulio Castillo: Would you like me to address that?
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: Yeah, go ahead.
Braulio Castillo: Ma'am, so one of my doctors that submitted letters so, uh, as part of the injury you have to establish that it's chronic and recurring so when I returned home to San Diego had also returned -- had said that he'd treated me for the foot injury that I suffered on active duty. When I moved to Las Vegas a couple of years later, that doctor submitted that he continued to treat me for that left foot -- broken foot -- injury. Finally, when I moved to Virginia, I -- uh -- I went to a doctor and it continued to hurt and he established it so Dr. Sam Wilson who --
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: Okay, I have to cut you off because I'm running out of time, I'm sorry.
Braulio Castillo: So just let me finish, in talking to Dr. Wilson who is himself a disabled veteran and very familiar with [US Military Academy Preparatory School at Fort] Monmouth and that his son had went there as well and played football he actually was the one who talked to me about, 'Hey, this may be something that's connected.' And I believe I told him --
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: I have to cut you off. I have to cut you off. Now this is not an argument. I'm talking. I'm up here. Let me ask you this, do you feel that the 30% rating that you have for the scars and the pain on your foot is accurate to the sacrifices that you've made for this nation?
Braulio Castillo: Uh - uh - uh --
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: That the VA decision is accurate in your case?
Braulio Castillo: Yes, ma'am. I do.
US House Rep Tammy Duckworth: You know, my right arm was essentially blown off and reattached. Uhm, I spent a year in limb salvage with over a dozen surgeries over that time period, and, uhm, in fact, we thought that we would lose my arm, and I'm still in danger of possibly losing my arm. I can't feel it, I can't feel my three fingers. My disability rating for that arm is 20 percent. In your letter to a government official, I think it's to SVA, Gina Moon. You said, my family and I have made considerable sacrifices for our country. My service disability status should serve as a testimony to that end. I can't play with my kids because I can't walk without pain, I take twice daily medications so I can work a normal day's work. These are crosses" -- these are crosses -- "that I bear due to my service to our great country and I would do it again to protect this great country. I'm so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again to protect this great country. Shame on you, Mr. Castillo, shame on you. You may not have broken any laws -- we're not sure yet you certainly did misrepresent to the SBA -- but you certainly broke the trust of this great nation. You broke the trust of veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans right now are waiting an average of 237 days for an initial disability rating. And it is because people like you who are gaming the system are adding to that backlog so that young men and women who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, who are missing limbs cannot get the compensation and the help that they need. And I'm sure you played through the pain of that foot all through college. Well let me tell you something, I recovered with a young man, a Navy Corpsman, who, while he was running into an ambush where his Marines were hurt, had his leg knocked off with an RPG. He put a tourniquet on himself and crawled forward. He is who played through the pain, Mr. Castillo. You did not.
That was a great Congress moment. Thing is they can blow up. I hope the facts are accurate. I have no reason to believe Duckworth was wrong in her facts. She conducted herself very well. Chair Issa gave him the opportunity to clear it up after the exchange. And to clear up additional questions and conflicts in his medical accounts. He wasn't able to. After that, US House Rep Scott Desjarlais spoke very slowly to him and talked him through the process and he still seemed unable to clear up the issues. It should be noted that Desjarlais is also a medical doctor.
So I would assume this Great Congressional moment won't blow up in anyone's face over facts. (I could be and often am wrong.) And let's hope it doesn't blow up another way. Should the witness, for example, attempt to or take his own life, the Great Congressional moment loses some value.
A strong member of Congress uses their own history and experiences. That's what makes them unique and allows them to add value (as opposed to having 435 clones in the House of Representative). Duckworth was smart to use her own experience.
What appears to have happened is that Castillo misused his. Not just with the injury -- Issa noted the VA will look into it. But also with how he received contracts.
Castillo's testimony here was really important because the only other one who could testify was IRS official Gregory Roseman. His title is Deputy Director of of Enterprise Networks and Tier Systmes Support. Roseman wasn't ignored by the Committee, he just elected to invoke the Fifth Amendment -- to avoid self-incrimination.
Did the relationship between the two (which included homophobic texts to one another) result in the windfall of contracts -- what, as US House Rep Eleanor Holmes Norton pointed out, Castillo termed "paydirt" in a text to his wife?
Well that was a tough nut to crack. Finally, an hour and fifteen minutes into the hearing, even Castillo seemed to grow weary of splitting hairs. In the midst of an exchange with Chair Issa, after terming Roseman "a customer" and Issa responding, "So customer, not friend, is your testimony today?," Castillo finally broke down. Yes, they are friends. Roseman's his customer and also, he feels, his friend, as he understands it. A lot of weasel words because this is now a legal issue.
Also appearing before the Oversight Committee were IRS Deputy Commissioner Beth Tucker, Office of Entrepreneurial Development with the US Small Business Administration's Michael Chodos, VBA's Brad Flohr and the General Services Administration's William A. Sisk.
US House Rep Scott Desjarlais Ms. Tucker, at the beginning of the hearing this morning, Gregory Roseman invoked his Fifth Amendment right against incrimination and did not testify. As the Deputy Commissioner of the IRS, is it your expectation that an IRS employee will appear before the Committee to testify about official action taken within the scopes of his duties at the IRS?
Beth Tucker: Sir, we expect all IRS employees to cooperate with members of Congress.
US House Rep Scott Desjarlais: But he didn't.
Beth Tucker: He did not.
US House Rep Scott Desjarlais: Ms. Lerner didn't.
Beth Tucker: Each of these individuals -- as Mr. [US House Rep Elijah] Cummings said -- invoked their Constitutional rights.
Lerner took the Fifth before the House Oversight Committee on May 22nd. That hearing was covered in that day's "Iraq snapshot," Ava's"Sir, I gave you the wrong information (Ava)," Wally's "Time for a special prosecutor (Wally)," Kat's "It was like Steel Magnolias at one point during the hearing" and the discussion Dona moderated at Third "Report on Congress." It was also spoofed in Cedric's "Future employment opportunities for Lois Lerner" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! A WHOLE NEW WORLD FOR LOIS LERNER!" Issa has announced that they will be voting on Lerner's Fifth Amendment this Friday. When you plead the Fifth, you plead the Fifth.
Your answer is that you are not going to speak to avoid self-incrimination. What Lerner did was deliver a lengthy statement maintaining her innocence and then invoke the Fifth. On its most basic and pure level, that's not the Fifth Amendment. The Committee is scheduled to vote Friday to determine what happens there. In the meantime, they have a second IRS official who is refusing to testify about their job duties and how they carried out their job.
We're going to do one more excerpt from the hearing, I think an overall impression was created in the hearing and I think most people missed it.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Ms. Tucker, you've been at the IRS 29 years?
Beth Tucker: Yes, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: And you're Deputy Commissioner, is that correct?
Beth Tucker: Deputy Commissioner.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: How many Deputy Commissioners are there?
Beth Tucker: Two.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Is there anyone between the Deputy Commissioner and the Commissioner?
Beth Tucker: No.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: So you're right near the top?
Beth Tucker: Yes, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: One month ago, Inspector General Russell George gave the Committee information that he informed the IRS on May 30, 2012 that targeting of conservative political groups was taking place. In fact, if we can put that up on the screen, this is from the TIGTA timeline he gave this Committee. And he says in that meeting, these terms were used: "tea party," "patriots," "9-12," And he says that there were three people in that Committee -- in that meeting. Mr. [Doug] Shulman who's no longer with the IRS, Steve Miller who has been fired and you. Now Mr. Shulman testified a month ago in this Committee that that was the first time he knew targeting was taking place. Was that the first time you knew about the targeting at the IRS?
Beth Tucker: That was the first time I was aware of the situation, yes.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Now Mr. Miller has also, uh, -- We've also been informed through the Committee talking with Nan Marks, an employee of the IRS, that there was an internal investigation launched by Mr. Miller in March of 2012. Did you know about that internal investigation?
Beth Tucker: No, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: And the results of that were Mr. Miller knew about what was going on May 3, 2012. Did you know the results on May 3rd?
Beth Tucker: No, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: So the earliest you knew about it was the same time Mr. Shulman testified and what you're testifying to today was May 30th of last year?
Beth Tucker: Yes, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: And you're familiar with the fact that Mr. Schulman testified in front of the [House] Ways and Means Committee in March of last year where he said this. First, Mr. [US House Rep Charles] Boustany asked him, "Can you give us assurances that the IRS is not targeting political groups?" Mr. Shulman said, "Yes, I can give you assurances, we pride ourselves on being a non-political, non-partisan organization." So just two months prior to learning that targeting was going on, he gave assurances. Now there's usually, when you give assurances, some basis for assurances. Were you part of the basis for assurances that Mr. Shulman gave the Ways and Means Committee in March of 2012?
Beth Tucker: No, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: You did not have any conversations with Mr. Shulman before he went and testified before the Ways and Means Committee?
Beth Tucker: No, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: In the meeting that took place on May 30th, the meeting that's highlighted there on the TIGTA timeline, when you learned that the targeting was taking place, what was the reaction in that meeting? Was it, "Oh, sh-sugar, we got to do something here."? Was it, "We got to correct the record"? What was the reaction when the three top people at the IRS learned that this was going on?
Beth Tucker: So, if I might, uh, TIGTA, the Treasury Inspector General comes in once a month to meet with --
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Cut to the chase, what was the reaction? You find out that there's targeting of political groups, six months before an election, what was the reaction of the top three people at the IRS?
Beth Tucker: TIGTA reported the information that they were looking into the audit and then at that point and time IRS waits for TIGTA to complete their investigation.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: That's not what they told you. They told you "tea party," "patriot" "9-12" were identifying terms used to put groups on a list who were never given the tax-exempt status they sought and, in some cases, they'd been trying to get it for three years. You learned that May 30, 2012. And your reaction was, 'Oh, okay, we'll just let it keep going on and see what TIGTA comes up with'?
Beth Tucker: No, sir.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: I mean, earlier in your testimony to the Chairman, you said, 'You know it would be helpful if this Committee would share information with us at the IRS about the issue that's in front of the Committee today." Well it would have been helpful if, once you got that information, you'd have shared it with this Committee. We would have liked to have -- In fact, we're the Committee that asked for the audit in the first place. We would have liked to have known, six months before an election, May 30th of last year, that targeting was going on. Did you instruct Russell George to share this information with the House Ways and Means Committee and with the House Oversight Committee?
Beth Tucker: Sir, my --
US House Rep Jim Jordan: No, that's a question. Did you tell Mr. George, 'You know this is pretty important information. We just learned today,' according to your testimony 'this is going on.' Did you tell Mr. George, 'You know, you might want to share that with the Oversight Committee, specifically since Mr. Issa's the one who requested the audit?"
Beth Tucker: No, sir. That was not my responsibility. I have responsibility at IRS --
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Let me ask you this --
Beth Tucker: -- for our operations.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: But the point is, you were in the meeting. The other two guys are gone. Mr. Shulman's gone, Mr. Miller's been fired. You're the highest ranking official at IRS in that meeting. You knew about it a year ago. Didn't you think it was incumbent upon you to set the record straight? Your boss, Mr. Shulman, had just testified two months earlier and told Congress nothing was going on and he finds out two months later it is going on. You're the highest ranking official still at the IRS. You didn't think it was incumbent to come tell Congress what was -- what was taking place?
Beth Tucker: The TG organization does not report to me.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Why didn't you correct the record? Why didn't you just -- Why didn't you just come to Mr. Issa and say, 'You know what? What Mr. Shulman ' -- Did you tell Mr. Shulman he should correct the record?
Beth Tucker: No, sir. I did not.
US House Jim Jordan: Well let me ask you this. Have you been disciplined by Mr. [Danny] Werfel for not correcting the record?
Beth Tucker: No, sir. It's not in my purview.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Well you're Deputy Commissioner. You're in the meeting. You learned about it that day. Right?
Beth Tucker: Mr. George told us in his routine monthly meeting that they were doing an investigation of TEGE.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: We understand that. All I'm asking is there's got to be some reason you didn't feel any obligation, any reason that you should come forward and set the record straight? The Inspector General told the IRS what was going on. You didn't feel like you should tell us or you didn't feel that it was incumbent upon you to tell the Committee?
Beth Tucker: Sir, at the Internal Revenue Service, we have two Deputy Commissioners that have very clearly delineated responsibilities.
Darrell Issa: The gentleman's time has expired. The gentle lady may finish.
Beth Tucker: At the Internal Revenue Service, we have two Deputy Commissioners with very clearly delineated responsibilities. I do not have responsibility for the service and enforcement program as --
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Well, Ms. Tucker, Ms. Tucker, why were you in the meeting? If it has nothing to do with you, why did -- why did Mr. Russell George think it was important to tell us that you were in the meeting?
Beth Tucker: Mr. George and his deputies come into Internal Revenue Service every month and brief on all of their investigations --
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Mr. Chairman, if I could --
Beth Tucker: Some of which are service enforcement.
A discussion then ensues about giving Jordan thirty more seconds. He's granted it.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: So what you're saying is Mr. Miller -- that was his area of jurisdiction.
Beth Tucker: That is correct.
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Did you tell Mr. Miller he should come forward and tell Congress what was going on?
Beth Tucker: No, sir. At this meeting --
US House Rep Jim Jordan: Was that discussed?
Beth Tucker: If I could please. The meeting. TIGDA comes in once a month to the Internal Revenue Service to brief the Commissioner and the two Deputies about their audits, their open audits. On any given meeting that they come into, they could be talking -- I mean there are lots of oversight investigations that happen at Internal Revenue Service. Those meetings are typically TIGDA coming in and saying, "We've opened an investigation on X program. We've opened an investigation on another program." If it is an investigation that is under my jurisdiction -- like procurement, like the IRS budget, like our real estate portfolio, then I am the responsible party. What I am trying to convey to you is that I do not have oversight responsibility for the TEGE programs.
Unless and until someone proves otherwise, I'm going to assume Beth Tucker is telling the truth. IF you disagree, that's fine. But that's not even the issue right now, her being truthful at this point and time.
Tucker is obligated -- as is anyone employed by the federal government -- to report certain things. What she was told in the meeting with George is something she had an ethical responsibility to report. Shulman and Miller are responsible for what they did. Tucker is responsible for what she did and for what she didn't do.
Why did no one inform? Why did no one sound off?
More to the point, why did no one blow a whistle?
I'd argue that the problems at the IRS -- which are very serious -- and the VA (ditto) go to the climate that's been created where whistle-blowers are punished and, as with Ed Snowden, hunted. Good government can't exist without oversight. It requires the supervision of the American people. If everything is hush-hush and classified, don't pretend an 'informed voter' exists. We need sunlight but the current administration has demonized those who have stepped forward.
Last month's attack on the AP was about an old story that involved a leak by someone in the administration. It had nothing to do with a crime. But didn't the White House and those under it respond as if it was the biggest crime in the world?
You may not like Ed Snowden, you may not like what he did. But when he blew this whistle on Barack's spying on the American people, he informed the American people.
I don't know that the IRS scandals would exist right now if the White House hadn't -- in violation of every core belief of democracy -- signaled that this was a period of secrecy despite all the lip service to openess. A culture of secrecy does not encourage democracy or fairness. That's why the US was founded on the belief that an informed citizenry was among the most important elements to the country.
It's not just the US government that's so screwed up. Ahmad Hussein and Ahmad Wadi (Alsumaris) reported this week, "At a time when the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al Maliki, announces that an Iraqi’s share of the national income has increased from 4 million Dinars in 2009 to 6 million Dinars last year; the Ministry of Planning confirmed that nearly one fifth of the Iraqis live below poverty line."
Strong reporting from Iraqis. Weak from Americans. Lolita C. Baldor (AP) needs to increase her skills. This statement appears in an important report she filed today, "There have been no U.S. military trainers in Iraq since troops left at the end of 2011, as the war there ended." If she's quoting someone, she needs to be clearer. But whoever is saying that -- another person or herself -- is wrong.
I don't have time for your stupidity, Lolita. And if you're going to try to be a serious reporter with a stripper's name, get your damn facts right.
I'm not even talking about the fact that the war hasn't ended. You can't smoke as much military brass pole as Lolita does in print and tell the truth about that. But I'm talking about the 'military trainers' nonsense. June 14th we covered the budget proposals of State and DoD and doing that required reading the damn things. (State's is much easier to read. DoD has a hundred and one supplementals and their own language. I was on the phone with DoD friends for an hour asking questions about what I'd read.) I'm not a reporter. I'm not paid for this site. I'm not asking to be. But Lolita's paid to do a job, so how about you do the damn job you're paid for?
Lolita, if they're aren't trainers there -- US military trainers there -- why do they need money for the Office of Security Cooperation - Iraq? You can refer to the "Addendum A Overseas Contingency Operations" and see the amount is $200,000,000.
The budget's a little harder to fudge, isn't it? Let's drop back to the April 30th snapshot:
December 6, 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department Defense of the United States of America was signed. We covered it in the December 10th and December 11th snapshots -- lots of luck finding coverage elsewhere including in media outlets -- apparently there was some unstated agreement that everyone would look the other way. It was similar to the silence that greeted Tim Arango's September 25th New York Times report which noted, "Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to [US] General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence."
The MoU? That's what Lolita's writing about but apparently got dizzy on the stripper pole and lost her train of thought. What she's oh-so-badly 'reporting' is that US commanders are calling for troops to go back into Iraq (US troops) and into Lebanon. The excuse is Syria. Whatever. (Adam Schreck has a better article for AP here -- better written. Lolita had the article she just lacked the ability or the desire to write it.)
We've noted Lolita Baldor's reporting here many times. Never felt the need to call her out. But I'm not in the mood to play. I'm not in the mood to read Lolita's report that deliberately lies to the American people. What's basically going on in her report is all the stuff that's happened is being rewritten and assembled as though this idea (and events) just happened. No. I'm not going to be silent while she promotes lies and revisionary history.
This was the plan. That's why US Vice President Joe Biden was saying not to worry when some were whining about the SOFA. That's why Leon Panetta (as Secretary of Defense) was explaining that the talks weren't over and would continue into 2012. He told that Congress. AP was present but failed to report it. (We did. We spent days in the snapshots on that one hearing -- Senate Armed Services Committee -- because it was that important.) The MoU is what they were expecting -- Biden and Panetta. And they got and they're planning to use it.
And instead of informing Americans about what's going on, Lolita just wants to bump and grind. I'm not in the damn mood. Let's move quickly to a truth teller and get the stench of way-too-many lap dances out of our nostrils. Journalist and activist Donna Mulhearn has made five trips to Iraq. In a column for the Illawarra Mercury, she describes the day before the invasion and the friend she last saw that day, a friend whose store has been boarded up and whose location was unknown on every trip back to Iraq she's made. From her column:
As the world marks the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this year, the mainstream media hosts many ‘‘experts’’, ‘‘analysts’’, former generals and politicians, most of whom have never been to Iraq or, if they have, resided in the Green Zone, Saddam’s former palace, a virtual foreign city-state surrounded by concrete and razor wire.
This retelling of history from the view of official sources excludes the experience and opinions of my friend in the photo store, whose life was obviously affected in ways we still don’t know.
Throughout this year some media commentators will also smugly pose the question they have always posed by way of justification. In my opinion a lazy, dishonest question: ‘‘But isn’t Iraq better now that Saddam Hussein is not in power?’’
Iraqis respond with a look of bewilderment when they hear this question. That’s because it’s a question that assumes that although Saddam has gone, nothing else has changed. But everything has changed.
And for the worse. No reliable electricity or drinking water, non-stop violence, ration-card system that's pretty much been gutted, and so much more.
The Iraq War continues as the violence makes clear to all but the 'reporter' in pasties and a g-string. National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baquba roadside bombing has left two police officers injured, and, last night, a Baghdad roadside bombing left six people injured. All Iraq News adds that a bombing to the south of Tikrit left two police officers injured while a bombing to the north of Tikrit claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left three more injured. Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk bombing killed a husband and wife (they were farmers on a tractor when the bomb exploded), a Mosul home invasion has left one police officer injured, and a police patrol in a village south of Mosul was targeted with a bombing leaving 2 police officers dead. AFP adds that 1 tribal chief was killed in a shooting in Tuz Khurmatu while a Kirkuk shooting left 1 Iraqi soldier dead and another injured.
Yesterday the results of Anbar Province's vote last week were announced. Nineveh Provinces results were announced today. All Iraq News reports:
Member of the Commissioners Board, Suroor al-Hitawi said "Brotherhood and Coexistence Slate won the first place with 11 seats followed by Muhahidoun (United) Slate which won 8 seats while Nineveh Sincerity Slate got 4 seats," noting that "Wafa Nineveh Slate won four seats, Nineveh Alliance won three seats, Iraqiya United Patriotic Allaince won two seats."
The Daily Star notes, "A Kurdish coalition won the largest single bloc of seats in provincial elections in the restive northern province of Ninevah, though it fell short of a majority, Iraqi electoral officials said Wednesday. The Independent High Electoral commission announced that the Kurdish-backed Al-Taakhi list won 11 of 39 provincial council seats up for grabs." AFP adds of the Al-Taakhi victory:
It beat out the Mutahidoon list of Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, brother of federal parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. It won eight seats in the province, which is majority Sunni Arab, though with a substantial Kurdish minority.
But Mutahidoon won the most seats in the western province of Anbar, taking eight of a possible 30 seats.
The elections saw a degree of civility between the parties running that was not seen in the April 20th elections (when 12 provinces voted). Since the vote has been announced, Saleh al-Mutlaq's gotten very vocal in slams and attacks. National Iraqi News Agency reports:
The Iraqiya MP, Walid al-Mohammadi called on Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq to stay away from accusations and vulgar descriptions to the winners of the provincial elections, stressing that he is trying to hide his failure behind these accusations.
Mohammadi said in a press statement today 26, June: "The descriptions launched by al-Mutlaq towards Motahedoon coalition is because his losing in the elections," urging him to be more balanced in his comments after losing in the elections.
Saleh al-Mutlaq is no longer a member of Iraqiya. He joined with Nouri to yet again save his own ass and he's been called out by various members of Iraqiya. (Including Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi who referred to al-Mutlaq in last week's BBC interview but didn't say al-Mutlaq's name.)
Back to the US, today was a victory for equality as the Supreme Court released a decision. The Feminist Majority Foundation notes:
For Immediate Release: June 26, 2013
STATEMENT FROM ELEANOR SMEAL, PRESIDENT OF FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION, SUPPORTING SUPREME COURT'S MARRIAGE EQUALITY RULINGS
Feminists nationwide are celebrating two Supreme Court decisions to uphold marriage equality for same-sex couples. In a narrow 5-4 decision the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) with Justice Kennedy writing the decision with Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and also Kagan for the majority. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts dissented.
And in a slim 5-4 decision, the Court ruled opponents to equal marriage did not have standing in the case to uphold Proposition 8 with Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Scalia in the majority.
“At last Prop 8 and DOMA are finished,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Marriage equality lives in California, the biggest state in the nation. And the federal government must recognize marriage equality in 13 states and the District of Columbia, covering 30% of the nation’s population. There is still work to do, but victory is in sight. On the 10th anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas, the Court takes another major step towards equality.”
lolita c. baldor
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