Saturday, June 27, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, June 27, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Corrine Brown provides the laughs, VA may start rationing care this fall, Haider al-Abadi attempts to explain the fall of Ramadi, and much more.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.  Friday, he gave a speech that is attracting attention. Dan Merica (CNN) reports:

Throughout the speech, his first detailed comments on global issues since announcing his candidacy last month, O'Malley criticized the way that foreign policy has been dealt with for years, an implicit critique of Clinton given her role as secretary of state during the first Obama administration. He particularly highlighted the war in Iraq and the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, two events inextricably tied to Clinton.
"The invasion of Iraq -- along with the subsequent disbanding of the Iraqi military -- will be remembered as one of the most tragic, deceitful and costly blunders in U.S. history," O'Malley said at TruCon 2015, a foreign policy conference in Washington. "And we are still paying the price of a war pursued under false pretenses."

O'Malley has been on a streak of late and gave a speech this week to the Truman National Security Project -- a speech that offered a rallying cry, "No nation ever off-shored its way to greatness."

In the speech, O'Malley also addressed the issue of global warming:

Nowhere is this more collaborative approach more important than in confronting the growing and immediate challenge of severe climate change.
For years, the Pentagon has recognized global warming as an urgent national security threat.
Your organization’s leader—former Army Captain Mike Breen—put it best at a recent Congressional hearing, when he said:
“Over 97 percent of climate scientists say that man-made climate change is a reality.”
“As a combat leader, if 97 percent of my intelligence indicated that I was about to face a lethal danger that would risk the lives of my paratroopers—I would be committing unconscionable malpractice if I did not listen and act.”
Mike is right.
The energy technologies needed to combat climate change exist today—it’s only the political will that is lacking.
America can, and must, lead the way—by pursuing an ambitious plan to ensure our country is powered 100 percent by clean energy, by 2050.
Climate change is not only a very real existential threat to human life, it is also the greatest business opportunity to come to our country in a hundred years.
We must seize this opportunity by creating an American Green Jobs Agenda that is a match for the climate challenge.
We need to invest in resilience—from the Jersey Shore to California’s Central Valley.
We need to spur innovation—to develop cutting-edge technologies that will create jobs at home, and unlock new markets abroad.
We need to embrace new ideas at the state level, as we have in Maryland— where, in just eight years, we increased renewable energy capacity by 57 percent, became a clean-tech jobs hub, and cut carbon emissions by 10 percent.
America’s leadership and example are essential.
Because climate change is a global challenge—with global consequences. It is the transformation that transforms everything.
And by confronting this challenge, we can realize global economic opportunities—and job opportunities—for the United States.
We must partner with emerging markets, in our own hemisphere and beyond, to distribute renewable energy solutions and green design.
We must aggressively push for global emissions agreements in venues like the upcoming UN climate summit in Paris.
And we must seed, scale, and deploy American-made renewable energy technologies throughout the world.
To reduce mankind’s carbon footprint.
To preserve the living systems of this earth—for ourselves and our posterity.

That's where we could be.

Let's drop back to where we are.

"We're short -- we're short in '16," declared VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson on Thursday regarding Hepatitis C care.  "I  -- You know, the budget's what, 650? six-hundred-and-fifty-million?  Somewhere in that neighborhood.  Six-hundred-and-fifty to seven-hundred-million dollars for '16 and-and that -- We won't -- That won't be adequate unless we ration that care."

Gibson was testifying before the US House Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday morning.

To avoid rationing care for Hepatitis C cases in 2016?

Gibson advised, "The other option is -- as we're doing right now -- is basically, when we run out of money to do it inside VA, we refer those to care under Choice and-and rely on that-that sort of safety valve."

The problems go beyond 2016.

Gibson insisted, "We're in a situation where we're going to have to start denying care to veterans because we don't have the resources to be able to pay for it.  And-and that's -- I don't think anybody wants to see that happen.  It will be a very -- a very unpleasant and unsatisfactory situation.

And that's not him talking about the 2016 budget or about Hep C.  That was in reply to US House Rep Julia Brownley's question about the current shortfall this year and what that means come August.

Over $350 million can be pulled from the Veterans Choice Program funds to cover costs that do not meet the criteria for Veterans Choice Programs, Gibson and the VA are insisting.

US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  In his opening remarks, he outlined many problems revolving around the newly announced 'shortfall' in the budget.  We're using his written statement and using it as written (with paragraph breaks) because a number of topics are covered in it and it will be easier to read and comprehend

Given the extensive pent-up demand for care that was exposed during last year’s hearings on wait time manipulation, VA had ample time to adjust its budgetary needs with the Office of Management and Budget to prevent what we are now seeing.  
In February through April of this year, Secretary McDonald appeared at four separate budget hearings.
Since those have concluded, the Secretary and I have met and spoken regularly on a number of important, emerging issues.
At no point in those hearings or in our subsequent discussions since, has the Secretary expressed to me that the Department had a budget shortfall of such a magnitude – one that threatens VA’s ability to meets its obligations to our nation’s veterans.
Nor did other VA leaders or officials communicate how much in the red VA was either - even though the Committee was informed late last week that the Department knew as early as March that there were giant disparities between the amount of money that VA was spending and the amount of money budgeted.
The only message that Congress received in March regarding the state of VA’s budget was the quarterly financial report VA submitted to the Appropriations Committee  for the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, which showed that VA was actually under plan in terms of its spend out rate.
Meanwhile, just two weeks ago VA proposed a plan – that Congress authorized at the Department’s urging - to transfer one hundred and fifty million dollars in fiscal year 2015 funding to support the continued construction of the replacement medical center project in Denver, Colorado.
VA also proposed an across the board recession of just under a one percent in fiscal year 2016 funds to devote to the Denver project – a proposal, by the way, that the Veterans Health Administration’s Chief Financial Officer told Committee staff last week that she did not even know about until after it had already been transmitted to Congress.
Those actions clearly show that VA leaders believe that moving forward with the Denver project – which is not scheduled to open to veteran patients until 2017 at the earliest - is a higher priority for the Department than ensuring that veterans who need care now are able to access that care.
I have come to expect a startling lack of transparency and accountability from VA over the last years; but failing to inform Congress of a multi-billion dollar funding deficit until this late in the fiscal year while continuing to advance what I believe are lower priority need that further deplete the Department’s coffers in support of a construction project that benefits no veteran for at least two more years is disturbing on an entirely different level.    
Earlier this week, VA issued a “fact sheet” that claims that VA “formally requested limited budget flexibility” in February and March and May of this year and, “plainly articulated” VA’s need for additional resources.
Buried on page one hundred and sixty seven of the second volume of VA’s budget submission is a single statement that reads: “[i]n the coming months, the Administration will submit legislation to reallocate a portion of Choice program funding to support essential investments in VA system priorities…”

Secretary McDonald repeated this statement in his budget testimony without providing any additional supporting details or justification and, to-date, no legislative proposal has been submitted by the Administration. 

Miller is the Chair and, thanks to Nancy Pelosi's shenanigans, the laughable Corrine Brown is the Ranking Member.

Thursday, I didn't have my Corrine-To-English translator ring on me so we'll just note a little bit of her opening remarks.

Ranking Member Corrine Brown:  The VA is facing a shortfall of 2.6 billion for veterans healthcare.  This shortfall must be address [sic] ammediately [sic].  We cannot put the health and lives of our veterans at ris [sic] by spending our time and attention pointing fingers and assigning blame.  VA will be facing an additional shortfall at the start of the next fistal [sic] year in October 

We have to stop there.

We have to.

Corrine goes on to say that the country is headed towards a government shutdown -- she uses shutdown twice.  Both times she probably would have been bleeped on TV.

She always invents her own words and here she took the "u" in "shutdown" and replaced it with an "i" both times she said it.

A government sh*tdown.

The fist time she said it, people were looking around.  Then she said, "Let me say that again, we are headed towards a government sh*tdown" and several on the Committee appeared to bite their lips to avoid laughing.

On her third time using the term, she did manage to say "shutdown."

Keep playing with the English language, Corrine, it works if you work it.

Corrine used her time to ask about fee based care and Choice.  Yes, Choice is fee based.  Many grasped that before Corinne's question but everyone grasped it after Sloane explained Choice.

Well . . .

Everyone but Corinne Brown.

After he finished describing it, she asked, "And Choice?"

A confused Sloan Gibson replied softly, "That is Choice."

Oh, Corrine Brown.

We're not done with the wig hatted Corrine but for now let's note an important exchange in the hearing.

US House Rep Ralph Abraham:  I was in a district last weekend and had three separate providers come up and say, "I haven't got my money.'  And this has been going on for two and three years.  So what are we doing about this, Secretary?  I know that you gave us some good figures before that the VISN 16 [South Central VA Health Care Network] -- of which I'm a part of 

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson:  Yes.

US House Rep Ralph Abraham: -- was doing better  --

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson:  Yes.

US House Rep Ralph Abraham (Con't):  -- but the word on the street, so to speak, is --

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson:  Yes. 

US House Rep Ralph Abraham (Con't):  -- there's still some issues out there.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson: Two things.  First, of all, it's one of the advantages of Choice -- the provider gets paid by the third party administrator and that's consistently happening within thirty days.  We watch that and monitor that. VA is historically known to pay low and slow and, uh, that is not how you want to deal with your provider network --

US House Rep Ralph Abraham:  So we got something in place that --

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson (Con't): -- and so what we've done over the last nine months or so is-is organizationally consolidate.  We-we were -- We were organizationally doing this payment processing through twenty-one separate VISN headquarters in seventy different physical locations -- processing invoices for care.  And I would tell you, based on what we've heard, we were probably doing it in 150 different ways. And so we've consolidated organizationally.  We've be-begun to tackle the staffing issues, the process issues and the technology issues -- none of which were being tackled unless they were being addressed in some kind of a workaround situation and in some location somewhere.  We had, for example, locations where instead of establishing a call center that's available to handle inbound questions from providers about their payment, we'd have a processor that's processing a payment and the phone would ring, they'd answer the phone and-and, you know, doing business in a way that you'd never see in the private sector.

US House Rep Ralph Abraham:  Right.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson: So we've now got that all organizational reporting.  We're seeing the times improve.  Part of what they're doing is they're sailing into a head wind.  They've got a 40% increase in invoices being presented for payment over last year.  Now the good news is-is they're processing a lot more invoices then they did a year ago.  But they're barely keeping up.

And now for what we'll call When Corrine Brown Attacks.

Ranking Member Corrine Brown: Uh-uh-uh -- May I respond to your comments because I don't think you was [sic] here when we spassed [sic] the prescription drug bill.  And when we passed it, WE DIRECTED THE SECRETARY NOT to negotiate the price of the drugs so that [popping and rolling eyes] was a part of the bill.

US House Rep Mark Takano:  Oh, Ms. Brown, I was -- 

Ranking Member Corrine Brown:  It would be illegal for the Secretary to uh-uh-uh address the issue.  [Entire Committee looks appalled at the crazy woman in the wig.  Corrinne notes it slowly.]  I'm just clearing up.  You waddn't even here when we did it.  But in addition to that, in the Affordable Care Act that is now standing, we are doing away with that doughnut hole that you talking 'bout so that seniors will not be out of pocket for that additional money.

US House Rep Mark Takano:  Ms. Brown, I was aware of that and I was merely trying to suggest 

Ranking Member Corrine Brown:  [Yelling to cut him off] The veterans --

US House Rep Mark Takano:  [Calmly] The VA is doing business in a better way 

Ranking Member Corrine Brown:  Well absolutely.  Thank you.

Like an old grizzly bear in a bad wig, Corrine went after another Committee member.

It should be noted that Takano is a Democrat, that Corrine was ripping into a Democrat.

And that Takano's concern was with the drugs the Hepatitis C patients were receiving.

But when a grizzly Corrine Brown gets angry, she snarls, growls and paws at her prey.

In New Zealand, there's concern over what the attack on Iraqi military leader means for New Zealand's Kiwi troops in Iraq.  Bevan Hurley (Stuff) reports:

A top Iraqi commander at Camp Taji was killed in an ambush at his home, according to reports, in a sign of deteriorating security at the base where Kiwi troops are stationed.
Iraqi media reported the officer, said to be a Lieutenant Colonel, was shot dead this week and a further 13 people have been killed by improvised explosive devices, rocket and gun fire in Taji since 143 Kiwi troops arrived May.

Meanwhile, Margaret Griffis ( counts 68 violent deaths across Iraq on Friday.  And today the US Defense Dept announced:

Attack, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted seven airstrikes in Iraq, approved by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense:
-- Near Baghdadi, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL excavator.
-- Near Huwayjah, two airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units, destroying two ISIL buildings, an ISIL cache, an ISIL heavy machine gun and an ISIL vehicle.
-- Near Beiji, an airstrike struck an ISIL vehicle.
-- Near Habbaniyah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL mortar tube.

  -- Near Tal Afar, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and an ISIL heavy machine gun firing position, destroying an ISIL building.

Barack can drop bombs, he just can't lead on a political solution.  It's now a year since he insisted the only answer was a political solution and yet he's done nothing to arrive at one.

Struan Stevenson (The Hill) observes:

When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi assumed office in September 2014, many held high hopes that he would alter the sectarian policies of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki, who alienated the Sunni population and facilitated the rise of ISIS. Nine months into his tenure, al-Abadi’s plan for national reconciliation lies in tatters, leaving many to believe that Iraq is now a failed state. Urgently needed judicial reforms have never been implemented, nor has Abadi supported the creation of a national guard to arm and train the Sunni tribes to fight against ISIS. These are major mistakes. Instead, al-Abadi has relied upon the brutal Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, which operate outwith any official framework and openly target and discriminate against Sunnis and other ethnic minorities. 

The laughable Haider al-Abadi is in the news again today.  AFP reports:

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Saturday that Iraqi forces made an “unauthorized” withdrawal from Ramadi last month, leading to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group’s takeover of the Anbar provincial capital.

“The withdrawal of the forces from Ramadi was unauthorized -- the orders were the opposite. The forces had to resist, and if they had resisted, we would not have lost Ramadi,” Abadi said in televised remarks.

I seem to recall a similar point made by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and how Haider and various underlings strongly objected to the remarks.

It's becoming obvious, by the way, that Haider is not in charge of the military.

Clearly, Nouri al-Maliki remains the defacto ruler and that's why Iraq is not progressing politically.

We've noted a POLITICO roundtable this week.  I recommend it and think it has a wide range of opinions.  At Foreign Policy, Peter D. Feaver is less impressed and offers a critique which includes:

The latest issue of Politico Magazine has a lengthy conversation between several experts on the subject of “Who Lost Iraq?” The piece, which puts the question to a dozen panelists, including veterans from both administrations, purports to be a comprehensive discussion, but I found it oddly incomplete and unsatisfying. In particular, I found it striking that the group did not address the long list of actions that the Obama administration took (and didn’t take) that plausibly contributed to the predicament in which we currently find ourselves. Bush’s actions and Iraqi actions are covered in some detail, and rightly so. But Obama’s? Not so much (except for a brief but trenchant summary from Kim Kagan).
For the record, let’s stipulate that the Bush administration will always bear some responsibility for the situation in Iraq, for good or for ill. Invading Iraq was a consequential step, one that President Bush likely would not have made if he had known then what we know now about Iraq. (Of course, that counterfactual is a logical impossibility, because the only reason we know what we know now is because the United States invaded — a fact that partisan critics consistently ignore.)

Let’s also stipulate that the Iraqis will always bear some responsibility for the situation. I would go further: They bear the lion’s share of the responsibility. U.S. leaders made many mistakes, but not nearly as many as Iraqi leaders did and continue to make.