Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Mamas and the Papas

In Atlanta, the Dogwood Festival is taking place every year (it's already taken place this year).  John Eby (Niles Daily Star) reports on Dave Mason who performed there:

Collaborative collisions seem Mason’s knack. Last month, he and Stevie Wonder jammed in the Virgin Islands.
Mason recorded a disc of duets with Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas.
Mason hung out at Elliot’s house in Laurel Canyon in the summer of 1969. She said, “Why don’t we do something together?”
“I came to America at 22,” Mason said, “with a little bag and guitar. I only knew Gram Parsons. I slept on his couch for awhile.”
Parsons infused the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers with country.
Mason played with Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends and Derek and the Dominoes (“Layla”) and was briefly a roadie for the Spencer Davis Group, which included future Traffic member Steve Winwood, who dated Christine McVie — the small world thing.

The Dave Mason and Cass Elliot album (often out of print but considered a classic, 1970's Dave Mason & Cass Elliot) is mainly remembered today for the song "Something To Make You Happy" which the two co-wrote and which makes you wish they'd done more collaborations.

I'm a huge fan of the late Cass Elliot and of the Mamas and the Papas and I've reviewed Cass' "The Complete Cass Elliot Solo Collection" which came out in 2005 and at Third our Mamas and Papas coverage has included "The legacy of the Mamas and the Papas"  "Musical Roundtable on the Mamas and the Papas, Cas..." "Music roundtable"

the mamas and the papas

They are an important group and one that made a lasting impression.  Despite their continued huge popularity, there's not a great deal written about them.  Possibly since they broke up before the sixties ended (they came back for one more album after to avoid a lawsuit) and since Mama Michelle is the last surviving member (Cass died in the early seventies, John and Denny died in the 90s), there's less for people to find a fresh focus on.  However, I'd argue that it's the groups balance of two women and two men tends to freak people out.  For example, look at Fleetwood Mac which, for the world, is the Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham combo.  One of the biggest selling groups in the world.  The legacy continues because, minus Christine, they're still touring and recording.

But think about how little you read about them as opposed to endless fan doodles on assort male-only groups.  And let me be clear that these fan doodles do not reflect public interest.   The Mamas and the Papas are huge and remain so. They're part of the Grammy Museum's new LA exhibit. Stephanie Byrd (Daily Trojan) observes:

Major cultural seismic shocks that changed Los Angeles’ image are displayed throughout Kun’s vision of “L.A.’s quaking racial fault lines,” such as the 1965 riots and the 1970 Chicano anti-Vietnam demonstration that turned violent. Notably, though, Kun gives the most significance to the 1969 Charles Manson murders.
“Just look at the evolution of Laurel Canyon folk singers. In the late 1960s, the Mamas & the Papas were singing ‘Safe in my Garden,’ this bucolic, happy song; 1969 and Manson come along, and then the 1970s bring Jackson Browne’s ‘Before the Deluge,’” Kun said. “It’s the end of innocence — innocence and hope to fear and paranoia.”

 Now that music stores are mainly online, people may not grasp this, but the Mamas and the Papas were a top tier act.  In the seventies as Dion and the Magic Spoonful and Donovan and other huge acts from the 60s moved to the cheap discounts, that didn't happen with the supergroup of the Mamas and the Papas.  When a new collection of the same hits were released -- this is going into the 90s -- it's not in the cheap vinyl or the discount cassettes or the $5.99 CDs, it's at full price like any other new release by an active group.

And they forever sale.  They have a legacy.  And one of the reasons I like to focus on them from time to time is because it's important to keep the legacy alive.  Harvey Sid Fisher (Hollywood Today Net) interviewed Michelle Phillips (actress and former member of the Mamas & the Papas) at the end of last month:

The Mamas and Papas lasted about three years, 1965-1968 and sold 100 million albums.



the mamas and the papas

One of my favorite pieces on the Mamas and the Papas was written in the summer of 2006.  I missed it when it went up.  I read a little of it (not what I'm about to excerpt) but I was in Ireland dealing with the impending death of a family member.  While I was gone, everyone pitched in and filled in for me at my site.  July 19, 2006, C.I. filled in with "The Mamas and the Papas (C.I. guesting for Kat)."  Again, I glanced at it, I glanced at all the posts that went up, usually I'd grab them all at once, late on a Saturday night, and it would make me less homesick.  But when I got back, Maggie kept insisting that I had to make time read it in full.  When I finally did, I saw why she had.  So here's C.I. filling in for me back in 2006:

Now, one of Kat's favorite CD boxed sets is the Mamas & the Papas' Complete Anthology. So I thought I'd write about that. Kat loves music and it's rare to visit her and not find her listening to some (or to speak to her on the phone and not here it in the background). She actually has everyone of the Mamas & the Papas albums on vinyl. (I think I'm missing the last one on vinyl, People Like Us.) She's also kept her cassette collection.

This collection is an import from England and was actually offered by PBS when they were airing their documentary on the Mamas and the Papas. (I'd love to offer a date on that but all my dates blur.) Like myself, Kat grabbed it at Tower.

So it's four CDs and it covers their career as a group by including every song from the four studio albums they recorded as well as the (I believe now out of print on CD) live album from the historic Monterey pop festival. In addition to that, you get a few solo tracks by each of the four members (Michelle & John Phillips, Cass Elliot and Denny Douherty). You also get two tracks they performed on TV: the Beatles' "Nowhere Man" and Rodgers & Hart's "Here In My Arms." What else? "Glad to Be Unhappy" (another Rodgers & Hart song that never appeared on a studio album).

This is a pricey collection (over seventy dollars) so if you're new to the group, you can probably find a cheaper introduction. What Complete Anthology does offer is "complete." It's all here, as well as outtakes, single versions (when they were different from the album tracks). So if you love their music (I do), this is a way to have all of it in one collection.

Who are the Mamas and the Papas? (In case anyone's asking.) They were a group that hit the charts in 1965. A folk-rock group, a vocal group. "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin'" are among their huge hits.

"Dedicated to the One I Love" (which was a hit in 1967) found a new life when Michelle Phillips was guesting (guesting at that point) on Knots Landing in the eighties. (The song was used in the show when she attempts to seduce the married Mac.) They were four White people with a visual look ("hippie" is the shorthand for the look -- freedom, considering what came before, is another view) and with gender integration which was a big deal in those days of boys on one side, girls on the other. You had the "girl groups" and you had the "boy groups" (but the latter's never called that, they're just called "groups"). So you had two women, two men.

They're voices could blend amazingly on many songs. One of Kat's favorites is "Safe in My Garden" (disc two, from the album The Papas & The Mamas). For a similar reason, I enjoy the blend of Cass and Michelle's voices on "Got A Feeling" (first disc, from the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears). With Cass' amazing (and powerful) contralto, no one else is going to get as much attention (Cass was very talented) but Denny could also cut loose (such as on "Monday, Monday") and Michelle's soprano (on it's own or as part of the mix) was also a strong part of the group sound.

The group stuck together for four albums (If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, The Mamas and the Papas, Deliver, and The Papas and the Mamas) during the sixties and then came back together (due to the jerks of ABC/Dunhill suing) for People Like Us which no one seems to like. "Shooting Star" was recently featured on a disc that came with a monthly British music magazine and I know a number of members in England were surprised by that (they enjoyed it). For me, the songs that make it from that album (People Like Us) are "Snow Queen of Texas" (which has some of the hallmarks of their vocal blending), "I Wanna Be A Star" (which has some nice bursts that the album often lacks -- vocal bursts, too often, for my tastes, it all blurs and just sort of lingers, the vocals and the melody of the song itself are crisp on this song), and Denny cuts loose on "Step Out."

I could be remembering wrong, but I believe Deliver is Jess' favorite album. (Singles from it were "Dedicated to the One I Love" and "Creeque Alley.") ("Look Through My Window was a single before the album was released.) I also enjoy The Papas & The Mamas which isn't widely appreciated. It's more of a mood piece. (Singles were "Safe in My Garden" and "Dream A Little Dream Of Me.")

If you're a Cass fan, you get "Costume Ball" which is rare on collections. If you're a John Phillips fan, you'll probably enjoy one of the three tracks included. Denny's "To Claudia On Thursday" offers some fine vocal work by Denny and others. It's one of four tracks and all are strong. ("What You Gonna Do" isn't included on this collection.) You also get seven tracks where they're providing backup vocals for Barry McGuire.

All four of Michelle's tracks are wonderful (my opinion). They are also all on the recently released expanded version of Victim of Romance -- Michelle's only solo CD and just released in America on CD for the first time. Hip-O Select has that CD which you can also probably get from Amazon but if you order from Hip-O Select you also get a bookmark (photos taken for the album of Michelle). Hip-O Select has also released a two-disc Cass Elliot collection entitled The Complete Cass Elliot Solo Collection 1968-1971. (Kat reviewed it here.) If you're a Cass fan, this is the CD to get. You get thirty-eight tracks. Contrary to conventional wisdom (and an online encylopedia), Cass' solo "Dream a Little Dream of Me" is not the same track from the Mamas & the Papas album (The Papas and The Mamas) -- effects are added, there's a double tracked vocal, additional whistles, etc.. It also includes tracks recorded for albums that didn't make them (such as "Darling Be Home Soon" which is Sunny's favorite track on the compliation; and a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Sisotowbell Lane"). "Different" is from the soundtrack to the film Pufnstuf (which is now out on CD, the entire soundtrack, but this track appeared on CD for the first time via this collection). Cass' daughter Owen Elliot-Kugell writes movingly of her movie in the linear notes and Richard Barton Campbell does a wonderful job tracing both the career and the impact in his essay.

Before she left, I asked Kat which she preferred, the Mamas and the Papas four-disc set or Cass' two-disc set? She went with Cass. Why? She said she'd have to think about it. For me (I'd make the same pick) it's due to the fact that the tracks on Cass' two-disc set aren't readily available. As a result, unless you're a vinyl freak, you probably haven't heard them or haven't heard them in some time. They have a freshness and remind you of how talented Cass was. Her vocal power is often noted (and should be) but it's those moments where she caresses a note or line that demonstrate her gift. She could hit the notes, she had the breath to hold them, no question. But it was her ability to interpret songs, to give them life and meaning, that made her one of the greats. She earned her place in musical history (both as a solo act and as a member of the Mamas and the Papas).

Kat summed up Cass' gift far better than I could:

Listening to this collection, I have to wonder that as well. There really wasn't anyone like her. And no one's come along to replace her. You don't cringe at any vocals here. Cass always sang the song. She didn't oversing it. There were no Olympic leaps to show off. She could have strutted through every song if she'd wanted to. She can hold a note as long as your average diva. Listening to all thirty-eight tracks, you'll realize how many notes she could hit and how a decision was made not to show boat on a song.

The Cass collection is also available at Amazon.

I really do love that piece.  And I love it when we get any coverage of Cass and the Mamas and the Papas.  Reflecting on a book about Janis Joplin, Dave Masko (Huliq) offers:

She was the original Hippie girl, and her voice purred and rose in a wail that fans said “sent shivers through ya;” with Janis Joplin then swinging her hair and stopping her feet in her legendary Woodstock appearance when she moaned: “Oh, oh, o-oo-wowo-waha honey, tell me why, why does everything go wrong?” It’s hard to believe, writes Ann Angel in the new book “Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing,” but Joplin’s remarkable professional music career “hardly lasted more than three years,” before suddenly, at age 27, she was gone. According to Angel’s new book and Joplin’s official biography at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the legend “found her voice” during the summer of 1962; some 50 years ago when attending the University of Texas at Austin. In turn, the campus newspaper “The Daily Texan,” ran a profile about Joplin in its July 27, 1962 edition with the headline: “She Dares To Be Different.” The story explains how “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her ‘Autoharp’ with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”
[. . .]
Angel also writes how Joplin “was calling everyone to hear her sad story, to feel her agony, her longing and pain. With eyes closed, she wrung the blues out of ‘Down on Me.’ She cried into the mic, ‘Everybody in this whole damn world is down on me.’ When the song ended, all eyes were locked on her. In the front tow of the audience, Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas sat stunned, her lips forming just one word over and over and over again: ‘Wow!’ This summed it up – the crowd had never seen or heard anyone like Janis.”

I'm a big fan of Janis.  But she's not the original hippie girl.  Even Cass and Michelle don't qualify as music's original hippie girl.  It was Cher.  She was and is a fashion pioneer and, because of that, it's easy to forget when she first set the fashion standard back in 1964 with bell bottoms and long straight hair, fringes and beads and more.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, May 25, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the Russian bikers tortured by Nouri's forces are released, Nouri's brown shirts take to downtown Baghdad as they've done so many Fridays before to stage a faux protest, the US prepares to arm Nouri, Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and more.
Starting in Russia. Yesterday it was learned that four Russian bikers were grabbed in central Iraq by Nouri's security forces, imprisoned and beaten.  The four are: Oleg Kapkayev of Saint Petersburg, Alexander Vardanyants  and Maxim Ignatyev of Vladimir and Oleg Maximov of Tula.  Russian Legal Information Agency reports that the wife Oleg Maximo spoke to her husband and he told her they were being moved to another location. 
 Dmitry Rogozin is the Deputy Premier of Russian Government tasked with the defense and space industry.

Задержанные в Ираке байкеры уже находятся в Посольстве РФ. Мотоциклы пока не отдали. Спасибо всем, кто помогал

That Tweet reads: 'The Russian bikers detained in Iraq are at the Embassy of the Russian Federation [in Baghdad].  Motorcylces have not been returned yet.  Thanks to everyone  who helped.'  The Moscow Times notes, "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been forging good relations with the biker community in the past two years, riding motorcycles and attending biker events."   RIA Novosti adds, "The four men will leave for Russia on Saturday morning, the bikers' lawyer Alexander Orlov, also a member of the Moscow-based motorcycle club Rolling Anarchy MCC (RAMCC), told RIA Novosti."
As many are noticing, the US press has ignored the story completely.  That may be due to the fact that there's a detail that's inconsistent -- not on-message -- with Barack Obama's current campaign for a second term as US President.   Ekaterina Saviba (Gazeta) reports  it today:

They came to Iraq on May 17 and were detained by the Iraqi military on May 20. "Our attempt to go towards Baghdad failed because of Yanks in Hummers – they didn't let us in. Our guys decided to go round the American checkpoints and pass north of them," report motorcyclists' friends on the Russian motorcycling forum "They managed to ride several dozen kilometers a day, while having long heartfelt conversations with local authorities, all while the outside temperature was 42 Celsius."

Again, that was also in yesterday's reports.  The Russian bikers, en route to Baghdad, were unable to enter the city and had to go around due to Americans blocking them in Hummers, due to American checkpoints.  The 20th was Sunday and the US may have activated some branch still in Iraq (there are many) to put up checkpoints in advance of the meet-up in Baghdad.  They may have pulled the units stationed outside of Iraq -- in Kuwait for example -- back in to set up those checkpoints.
Along with the usual Russian contingent which staffs the country's Baghdad embassy, other Russian officials were in the country this week as Nouri's Iraq hosted talks with Iran about the nuclear program.  Ali Arouzi (NECN News -- link is text and video) reports, "International nuclear talks being held in Baghdad this week with Iran ended inconclusively with both sides at a stalemate."  A stalemate grows in Nouri's Baghdad?  What a complete lack of surprise?
The ongoing political stalemate in Iraq could see Nouri al-Maliki face a no-confidence vote that, if successful, would remove him as prime minister.  Alsumaria reports that the 'Badr brigade' says this would be the worst thing that could happen.  The Badr brigade only split or 'split' from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq when it had to (or risk ISCI being outlawed).  They still take their orders from Ammar al-Hakim and the US has been very successful in buying al-Hakim's support for Nouri.  al-Hakim has already made statements like those made similar statements out of his own mouth.  Now he uses the Badr brigade as a megaphone in the hopes that this will give the (false) appearance of a wave of support for Nouri surfacing. 
How did things get to this point? 
Iraq's currently in Political Stalemate II.  Political Stalemate I followed the March 7, 2010 elections in which Iraiqya -- headed by Ayad Allawi -- came in first and Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second.  Despite herculean efforts on Nouri's part -- some legal but most questionable or outright illegal -- to walk away with the election, he was runner up. But Nouri wanted to be Miss Iraq, he wanted the crown and felt he did very well in the swimsuit competition.  He had the backing of the White House and the Iranian government. for his desired second term as prime minister.  The Iraqi Constitution, the election results and the will of the Iraqi people were all against Nouri; however, Barack Obama doesn't care about rule of law or democracy.  He wants what he wants when he wants it.  And like Bully Boy Bush before him, Barack packed a chubby for Nouri. 
So for over eight months things were at a standstill.  Then in November 2010, the US brokered an agreement among the political blocs.  This is known as the Erbil Agreement (because it was signed off in Erbil).   In exchange for giving Nouri a second term, the US insisted, the blocs would receive concessions that they wanted.  This is the agreement that was agreed to.
The Erbil Agreement wasn't about all the political blocs saying, "We don't want anything.  Give Nouri a second term!"  To get the blocs on board it was  necessary for them to be offered arrangements that would benefit them.  And with everyone agreeing to the deal -- including Nouri -- and with the US government brokering it and insisting it was sound, the political blocs fel tthey deal was solid.
Nouri used it to become prime minister-designate and then, in December 2010, beging his second term as prime minister.  But that's all that happened.  He refused to implement the agreement.  He offered one excuse after another as is his way.  He distracts and stalls and hopes the other side gives up.  He's done that over and over.
By last summer, the Kurds had enough of the stalling.  They publicly demanded that the Erbil Agreement be implemented.  Their call was quickly joined by Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr.  And it wasn't implemented.  And it's still not implemented.  April 28th, there was another Erbil meet-up and among those participating were Moqtada, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Allawi and Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.  In their meeting they agreed that Nouri needed to implement the agreement or face a no-confidence vote.  They also agreed that Moqtada al-Sadr's 18-point plan needed to be implemented.  Moqtada delivered the message, implement the Erbil Agreement or face a vote of no-confidence.  As the end of the month gets closer, the number of MPs reportedly  willing to vote out Nouri grows.  This week alone, it's grown from over 163 to 200.
A list of potential replacements has been named.  All on the list come from the National Alliance (a Shi'ite group which ISCI, State of Law, Moqtada's bloc and others belong to).  Kitabat reminds that the National Alliance is supposed to be naming a single choice of who should be Nouri's replacement.  But through it all, Moqtada has repeatedly noted publicly that Nouri can stop this at any point prior to the vote.  All he has to do is implement the Erbil Agreement. 
Not only does he refuse to, the White House refuses to call that out.  They brokered the agreement, they gave the political blocs their word that the agreement was legal and would hold.  The White House brokered the agreement and swore it would be upheld.  They have betrayed the Iraqi people.  These are the betrayals that lead people to stop trusting the US.  These are the type of betrayals the people of Iran spent decades living with.  It's not smart to betray people, it's not smart to make a promise and not keep it.
And all those promises
That you made me from the start
Were filled with emptiness
From the desert of your heart
Every sweet caress
Was just your second best
Broken promises
-- "All Those Promises," written by Janis Ian, first appears on her Folk Is The New Black
And now the White House thinks they can act like they're not involved?  Now they want to pretend like they have to stand on the sidelines? 
And they're not on the sidelines, they're repeatedly pimping for Nouri.  For example, the US State Dept issued this readout of the meeting between William Rurns, Deupty Secretary of State, and "Iraqi Acting Minister of Defense" Saadoun al-Dulaymi:
Today, Deputy Secretary Burns met with Iraqi Acting Minister of Defense Saadoun al-Dulaymi, at the Department of State to discuss issues of mutual interest and our shared commitment towards a long-term partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.  Minister Dulaymi is in Washington as lead of the Iraqi delegation for inaugural meetings of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee between the United States and the Government of Iraq. Deputy Secretary Burns noted the importance of these meetings as an excellent mechanism to build our mutual commitment to an enduring security partnership under a civilian-led process.
The meeting also covered bilateral issues on the security and political fronts and the Deputy Secretary offered our continued support as Iraq strengthens its democratic institutions and enhances the capacity of its security forces to bring greater stability and prosperity to its people.  On Iraqi political issues, the two discussed the importance of resolving differences through dialogue and compromise and in a democratic fashion in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.
The Deputy Secretary expressed appreciation to Minister Dulaymi for Iraq's willingness to host the E3+3 meetings in Baghdad and noted that, following the successful hosting of the Arab Summit in March, it is another sign of Iraq taking a constructive role in the region and with the international community to reach shared goals of greater regional stability.  Deputy Secretary Burns assured Minister Dulaymi that the United States would continue to support Iraq in its effort to strengthen ties with its regional neighbors.
 And the Defense Dept issued this American Forces Press Service story about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta meeting with al-Dulaymi.  There's no "acting defense minister."  Not per the Iraqi Constitution.  The prime minister nominates someone to be Minister of Defense and Parliament says yes or no via a vote.  That's how it's supposed to work per the Constitution.  But Nouri's never put a name to the Parliament.  The minute he does, he doesn't control the Defense Ministry, the Minister does.  Why are US public servants wasting time and tax payer money meeting with these non-ministers?  If they hadn't lied so much -- the White House -- $500 million wouldn't have already been wasted on the police training program this year.  Most Americans don't realize that the Iraqi police are under the Ministry of the Interior and even more aren't aware that Nouri has never named a nominee for that position either.
How do you waste $500 million US tax payer dollars on a training program for a ministry that has no minister?  That's your first clue that the money's going to be wasted.  Nouri was supposed to have named a full Cabinet before he was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister.  It's a power-grab and the US government enables and endorses it. 
Doubt that?
The Defense Dept issued the following late yesterday:
May 24, 2012

Joint Statement of the U.S. - Iraq Defense and Security Cooperation Joint Coordinating Committee

            The Governments of the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq reaffirmed their commitment to a strong and long-term security partnership between the two countries at the inaugural meeting of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC) of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), from May 22-24, 2012. 
            The meetings, held at the U.S. Department of Defense following a meeting with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Acting Iraqi Minister of Defense Saadoun Al-Dlimi, were co-chaired by the Iraqi acting minister of defense and by the U.S. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, and Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller.  Defense and security is one of the eight areas of cooperation agreed upon by Iraq and the United States under the 2008 SFA to strengthen cooperation in areas of critical interest to both countries.  The establishment of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee signifies both countries' commitment to strengthen the U.S.-Iraqi strategic partnership and continue coordination and cooperation on these vital issues. 
            During three days of meetings, discussions were held on a number of items of mutual interest, including future sales of military equipment, joint military exercises, and Iraq's strategy to ensure its future stability and security.  In support of an enduring partnership, the United States and the Government of Iraq expanded dialogue on ways of increasing strategic cooperation that would promote stability within Iraq as well as throughout the region.  The United States also reaffirmed its commitment to advancing Iraq's stability through the training, equipping, and enhancing the capacity of Iraq's armed forces for defense against external threats and for counterterrorism. 
            Both sides discussed ongoing and future security assistance.  In addition to an initial purchase of 18 F-16 aircraft in September 2011, during the meetings the Government of Iraq reconfirmed its interest in purchasing a second set of 18 F-16s and the United States reconfirmed its commitment to the sale.  The F-16s and other military equipment will help protect Iraq's sovereignty, meet legitimate defense needs and symbolize the long-term security partnership envisioned by both countries.
            The United States commends the Iraqi security forces for their demonstrated capability to protect the Iraqi people and recognizes the continued sacrifice being made to ensure Iraq's security.  The Iraqi security forces have made great strides in stabilizing the security situation in Iraq and in facilitating Iraq's emergence as a strategic partner that promotes and contributes to regional security. 
            The United States and the Government of Iraq agreed that the next meeting of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee will be hosted by Iraq in Baghdad this fall.  The purpose of the second meeting will be to build upon the foundation laid out this week, and continue discussions on strengthening defense and security cooperation as part of the multifaceted relationship developed between the United States and the Government of Iraq.
I seem to remeber, a few years back, a US Senator talking about the danger that we would arm Nouri with the weapons he could use on his own people.  Maybe that observation doesn't matter because the man is no longer a US Senator -- now he's Vice President of the United States.  Joe Biden knew this was a problem in 2008.  I'm failing to see how anything's changed to make Nouri less at risk of attacking the Iraqi people.
Yesterday the US State Dept released 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and here's how the section on Iraq opens:

During the year the most significant human rights developments were continuing abuses by sectarian and ethnic armed groups and violations by government-affiliated forces. Divisions between Shia and Sunni and between Arab and Kurd empowered sectarian militant organizations. These militants, purporting to defend one group through acts of intimidation and revenge against another, influenced political outcomes. Terrorist attacks designed to weaken the government and deepen societal divisions occurred during the year.
The three most important human rights problems in the country were governmental and societal violence reflecting a precarious security situation, a fractionalized population mirroring deep divisions exacerbated by Saddam Hussein's legacy, and rampant corruption at all levels of government and society.
That doesn't qualify as a ringing endorsement of Nouri al-Maliki.
Today the US puppet sent his little cult into the streets of downtown Baghad.  Alsumaria reports that the thug's thugs were out in full force, carrying signs supproting Nouri and insisting that anyone not supproting Thug Nouri was influenced by foreign countries.  They also threatened violence if Nouri was subjected to a no-confidence vote.  Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraqiya, noticed what took place this morning.  Alsumaria reports that he charges Nouri with attempting to take the political crisis into the Iraqi street and to scare people into silence.  Allawi says that if there is any bloodshed, Nouri will be responsible.
"We were preparing a party for her birthday, which was May 11, a party she was not able to enjoy.  She was going to be 26 years old when she died."  That's Ramon Rubalcava speaking about the 2004 death of his daughter Isela Rubalcava.  Spain's wire service EFE notes Isela Rubalcava was born in El Paso to Maria Isela and Ramon Rubalcava and she was killed in a Mosul mortar attack on May 8, 2004 becoming "the third woman of Mexican descent to die on the Iraq war front and the first woman from El Paso to die in combat."  She is one of at least 4488 US service members to die in the Iraq War.  Monday is Memorial Day.  At Huffington Post, Jim Downs offers the origins and history of Memorial DayDora Robles Hernandez (Detroit Free Press) notes that Saturday through Monday will see the Detroit area host 20 different Memorial Day parades.  Though not all metro areas will see that many events -- for example, the states of New Hampshire and Maine will have about that many events this weekend combined -- there will be observations throughout the US.  And because it's Memorial Day, the Sunday chat and chews finally find veterans issues and the Chair of a veterans committee.  Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committe) will be among the guests which also include Iraq War veteran Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion's Tim Tetz and Peter Chiarelli who is now a retired general and who has carved out a role for himself advocating on behalf of those with Post-Traumatic Stress and coming up with proposals to allow the stigma attached to PTS to be removed.  It should be a very interesting broadcast.  (I was asked to note this by a friend who endorses Chiarelli's PTS work.)
To address veterans issues in a meaningful way that actually helps, bi-partisanship is needed in the Congress -- a point Senator Mike Johanns made Wednesday in a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing entitled "Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System." Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  There Committee heard from one panel of witnesses: DoD's Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, GAO's Daniel Bertoni and the VA's John Gingrich.  We covered Chair Murray's questions and some of the report entitled Interim Committee Staff Report: Investigation of Joint Disability Evaluation System in Wednesday's snapshot,   Ava covered Senator Jon Tester's questioning in "How to keep the witness focused (Ava)," Kat reported on Ranking Member Richard Burr's participation with "Senator Burr: I've had too many of these hearings" and Wally  focused on how the VA claiming next year they'll fix things or the next year or the next never does anything but waste the Committee's time and the taxpayers' money with "It's your money (Wally)."  Ava, Kat and Wally covered important aspects of the hearing so please read their reports.  From Kat's, we'll note this:
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So we're all in agreement that we're just south of 400 days in the cycle of an applicant being processed?  395, I think, 394.  In May 2011, the Secretary of the Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs committed to revising the IDES [Integrated Disability Evaluation System] so that it could be completed in 150 days and went further and agreed to explore options for it to be 75 days.  Now I-I -- I've had too many of these hearings.  We have them every year.  And we hear the same thing: "Oh, gosh, look at what we're doing."  Now I've heard the most glowing progress report from both of you and then I get the realities of the days haven't changed.  You have met some improvements in certain areas.  I commend you on that.  The timeliness goals in areas have been better.  But the reality is that we've got a broken system and we're five years into it and I hear testimony where 'we're starting to begin to review our business processes.'  Well, you know, why did it take five years to get to this?  What -- What can you convey to me today that's concrete, that tells me a year from now, we're not going to be at 393 days.  When you [Dr. Jo Ann Rooney] said earlier, "We're instituting IT changes this summer that will improve our times by thirty or forty," I thought you were going to say "percent."  And you said "days."   So now my expectations are that if we implement what you just said, we're going to be down to 360 days which exceeds the DES [Disability Evaluating System] and Secretary of the VA by the 110 days over what their goal was for today.
At its most basic, the VA and the Defense Dept are attempting to make the transition from service member (DoD's role) to veterans (VA's role) seamless and timely.  That's not happening currently.  with respect to Integrated Disability Evaluation System, this is supposed to determine whether or not a service member is able to continue serving.  If the answer is no, the service member then becomes a veteran and VA needs to have a disability claim.  The disability rating will determine the benefits. So it matters.  And the Interim Committee Staff Report noted examples including, "A servicemember with a lung condition who was being treated with steroids and immunosuppressive drugs was incorrectly rated at 0% rather than 100%." 
 Not only are there problems with the disability ratings, there's the problem with the length of time they take.  This isn't minor if you're the veteran and you're waiting for a disability check that you've more than earned to come but it's not in the mail.  Committee Chair Patty Murray noted 27,000 have waited over 100 days to go through the system.
As he questioned the witnesses, Senator Mike Johanns observed, "I don't hear anything that makes me feel 'Gosh, we're going to turn the corner here.'  In fact, I must admit, quite the opposite, I'm going to walk away from this hearing very, very worried that the system is imploding."  Even the issue of supervision was a question mark.  Senator John Boozman wanted to know who was in charge of overseeing the joint-DoD and VA effort?  The best answer he received was that John Gingrich was the point-person for the DoD side; however, he stated he does not oversee the VA effort.
Who is responsible for overseeing the full project and not components or pieces?
No answer was ever provided.
Senator Boozman declared, "I guess I would like to see somebody accountable for the whole system. And you may be that person but it's not fair to you if you don't really have authority to see it through. So I personally think that the two Secretaries need to designate somebody that's got the authority."  Possibly if there was one person responsible for overseeing it, the process would be moving along more smoothly and much quicker.  That was the argument Boozman made and it sounds reasonable.  But did anybody listen?  Will a single person be named to be responsible for overseeing the entire project?
Senator Johanns wanted to know much longer it is going to take -- "1 year, 2 years, 5 years?" -- for the goals to be met?  No one could provide an answer. "I can't give you a specific time frame," Daniel Bertoni told him.  But he did note that enrollments continue to rise -- 19,000 just last year -- and that this adds to to the delays. 
We'll close with this from Senate Veterans Committee Chair Patty Murray's office:
Thursday, May 24, 2012 

Murray (202) 224-2834
Collins (202) 224-2523
Michaud (202) 225-6306
VETERANS: Murray, Collins, Michaud Applaud Veterans Homes Fix in Military Construction Spending Bill

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), members of the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, along with U.S. Representative Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health, applauded the inclusion of an amendment in the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill which would modify the way State Veterans' Homes are reimbursed for nursing home care provided to veterans. The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 30-0. The amendment, authored by Senator Murray, would result in more flexibility in determining reimbursement rates by requiring VA and the State Veterans' Homes to collaborate in setting rates that accurately reflect the level of care provided. Washington and Maine are home to State Veterans' Homes which require a high level of skilled nursing due to requirements by Medicare and Medicaid. However, currently the VA payments do not cover this level of care.

"This amendment is a critical step to ensuring Washington State Veterans' Homes will not lose out on millions of dollars they need to keep operating," said Senator Murray. "Thankfully we were finally able to move forward to provide this flexibility -- preventing staff layoffs which would have dramatically reduced the number of Washington veterans they serve. I am grateful to Senator Collins and Representative Michaud for their leadership on this issue."
"By granting the Department of Veterans Affairs increased flexibility in reimbursement rates, our goal is to recognize the high-quality of care State Veterans' Homes provide disabled veterans and ensure they never have to turn away any of our veterans because of inadequate reimbursement from the VA," said Senator Collins. "The men and women cared for by State Veterans' Homes defended our freedom, many of them in combat. We must defend their right to the care they deserve."
"Our severely disabled and elderly veterans deserve access to the best possible care and Congress cannot wait any longer to address the shortfalls our State Veterans' Homes are facing," said Representative Michaud. "I am grateful for Sen. Patty Murray's collaboration and leadership on this issue and I look forward to continuing to work with her to ensure that this issue is resolved before the end of the year."

Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray