Thursday, April 11, 2013

DAV calls for Congress to reject 'chained CPI'

Today we attended the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing where they heard about the budget and I'm not focusing on Eric Shinseki's panel.  Shinseki is the VA Secretary.  I'm focusing on the second panel which was Disabled American Veterans' Jeffrey Hall, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, AMVETS' Diane M. Zumatto, VFW's Ray Kelley and the American Legion's Louis Celli.

Do you know about CPI?  It's what Barack is proposing for Social Security.  It will take scissors to Social Security for most Americans.  This includes veterans.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders explained this in a joint-hearing held by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  C.I. reported on it in her March 5th snapshot:

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Let me begin by asking a couple of questions.  One on budgetary issues and one on the unemployment situation.  As I mentioned in my opening remarks, there is a proposal floating around which would reconfigure how COLAs [Cost Of Living Adjustments] for Social Security beneficiaries and disabled veterans are calculated.  What that proposed change in the annual Cost Of Living Adjustments, COLAs, are calculated would mean that veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 -- not uncommon -- would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2341 at age 55 and $3231 at age 65 according to the Congressional Budget Office.  Commander Hamilton or anybody else at the table, could you describe for us the real world consequences that using this so-called Chained CPI would have on disabled veterans and surviving family members.


John E. Hamilton:  Senator, thank you for the question.  I think our disabled veterans have given enough.  They've given enough.  And obviously we're opposed to that, we remain opposed to that and-and we'll always be opposed to that.   Look, when people live on disability, live on that, it's an increased hardship for them.  And we'll continue to do so -- we'll be happy to talk -- our people and your people -- about why and how ever --


Chair Bernie Sanders:  But I think what you're saying is that you perceive the benefits now not being overly generous.  Is that right?


John E. Hamilton:  Absolutely right.  Absolutely correct.  Let me -- You know, there's a guy in here named Mike Ferguson, Senator, who's one of my heroes.  Mike was a young Marine, lost both his legs, both above the knee, okay?  You can never repay that young man for his service to this country enough.  1% keeps us free.  Take care of our heroes, take care of our brothers.


Chair Bernie Sanders:  And the only point I want to make is the theory behind this is that we have been "too generous" in cost of living increases [laughter] -- I know.  That's right.  People laugh.  That's the theory that's circulating around here and that's the theory we want to defeat, I think. 

So we get that, right?

Bernie Sanders and the VFW's John Hamilton were very clear.

DAV's Jeffrey Hall spoke about CPI today and called for the proposal to be rejected:

In the past year, there has been much discussion about replacing the current CPI formula used for calculating the annual Social Security COLA with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) new formula commonly termed the "chained CPI." Such a change would be expected to significantly reduce the rates paid to Social Security recipients, and thereby help to lower the federal deficit. Since the Social Security COLA is also applied annually to the rates for VA disability compensation, DIC, and pensions for wartime veterans and survivors with limited incomes, its application would mean systematic reductions for millions of veterans, their dependents and survivors who rely on VA benefit payments. The IBVSOs urge Congress to reject any and all proposals to use the "chained CPI" for determining Social Security COLA increases, which would have the effect of significantly reducing the level of vital benefits provided to millions of veterans and their survivors. The IBVSOs also note that the CPI index used for Social Security does not include increases in the cost of food or gasoline, both of which have risen significantly in recent years. While no inflation index is perfect, the IBVSOs believe that VA should examine whether there are other inflation indices that would more appropriately correlate with the increased cost of living experienced by disabled veterans and their survivors.

Chained CPI is harmful to veterans, it's harmful to non-Americans.  It must be rejected.

Louis Celli of the American Foreign Legion testified about many things but one was about leases on VA facilities that are expiring and that the budget currently is not providing money for.  He declared it would be devastating if the 15 VA centers were closed.

Where are they?


My first question too.  But his time had run out and, sadly, no one asked him.  The facilities were listed in his written statement.

This is his list of the 15 facilities that could be lost under the current budget:  Albuquerque, New Mexico; Brick, New Jersey; Charleston, South Carolina; Cobb County, Georgia; Honolulu, Hawaii; Lafayette, Louisiana; Lake Charles, Louisiana; New Port Richey, Florida; Ponce, Puerto Rico; San Antonio, Texas; West Haven, Connecticut; Worchester, Massachusetts; Johnson County, Kansas; San Diego, California; and Tyler, Texas.

I know some of those.  Lake Charles, for example, we've spoken in.  When we speak there, the groups are all African-Americans.  I mention that because Lake Charles is a community with minorities and the VA should especially be aware of that before they try to shut it down.

Okay, I looked this up on Wikipedia:

As of the 2010 census, the population was 71,993.[6] In 2010,[12] the population density was 1,711.8 people per square mile (689.7/km²). There were 32,469 housing units. The racial makeup of the city was:

I wouldn't have guessed it had 47% White (again, we speak to all African-American audiences when we speak there).  But if you look at the figures above, you see that it is majority-minority (the term for when a city's population is over 50% minority populations).

The other thing about Lake Charles?  Louisiana is a drive.  Everything is spread out in that state.  We once had to be in Baton Rouge that evening after speaking early in the morning in Shreveport.  That drive took about four hours.  It would have been even longer to have gone to New Orleans on that trip.  My point is that the state is spaced out.  And so you pull Lake Charles, you're making veterans in that area -- and there are a lot of veterans there -- travel great distances for care.  That shouldn't happen.  I'll also note that I'm sure Lake Charles serves the many surrounding towns.

I'm not in favor of any of the 15 closing but when I saw Lake Charles on the list, I really thought, "Oh no!"  I love Lake Charles.  We've spoken there probably 10 times in the last six years.  It has its own rhythm.  You just stop and breathe when you get there and it bends you to its rhythm (which is a more relaxing one than most areas -- including my home in the Bay Area -- have).

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

Thursday, April 11, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, an Iraqi governor's media office informs that he hasn't fled the province, the Iraqi museum remains closed, the Iraqi electricity problem will not be solved by November despite promises from Nouri and the Minister of Electricity, in the US VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is informed that without results the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee will no longer support him, Shinseki reveals that despite Congress working on and funding seamless transitioning for over 8 years now nothing has been done -- not the first and most basic step (choosing whether to use DoD or VA's operating system -- they are not compatible so one has to give to the other), and more.

This morning the House Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on the buget request for Fiscal Year 2014. If you're wondering about the timing, Chair Jeff Miller pointed out at the start, "As everyone knows, this budget is a couple of months late."  Not only did the administration falter in coming up with a timely budget proposal, they also failed to give the Committee more than 24 hours to review the proposal.

Appearing before the Committee were two panels.  The first was led by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki who brought with him the 'madcap screwup' Dr. Robert Petzel, the always incompetent Allison Hickey, Steve Muro, W. Todd Grams and Stephen Warren.

Chair Miller thanked Shinseki for his attendance and stated "I look for your cooperation in getting timely answers to the Committee."  This is a problem, this a regular problem.  Miller pointed out that discretionary spending was increasing in the VA budget at a time when other departments were decreasing their discretionary spending and he said this could be seen as a sign that, even in tough economic times, there is committment to VA spending.

Chair Jeff Miller:  On the other hand, I'm concerned that we're not really seeing the results for the money that Congress has provided to VA over the last years.  For example, the budget proposes a 7.2% increase for expanding mental health services.  I'm still waiting, Mr. Secretary,  for information from VA showing that veterans with mental illnesses are in fact getting healthier with the resources that we've provided.  After all, I know that's an outcome that you and this entire Committee are both after.  Dr. Petzel,  I asked that question of you at our mental health hearing two months ago and we are still awaiting a response.

Which is why Congress should stop allowing witnesses to take questions for the record.  Government officials use that as a way to avoid providing embarrassing answers while reporters are present at the hearing.  They say they will follow up "for the record" and provide that information.  They may or may not follow up -- clearly, Robert Petzel didn't and this is a repeated probelm with him that's gone on for a number of years now/  This is the modern age.  You don't know the answer?  As you sit at the panel table, you have behind you staff.  Any one of them can text your Dept for an immediate answer or step outside and use the cell phone to call your Dept for an immediate answer.  Congressional hearings are a lot like court hearings only in a court a judge wouldn't let you say, "I'll take the question for the record, your Honor, and provide you with a written answer in a week or two."

Chair Jeff Miller:  Then we get into the funding request for the Veterans Benefits Administration -- a staggering 13.4 precent increase over the current year -- and I'm really at a loss because the claims processing performance just isn't there.  Despite already record high budgets, numerous investments in technology, record numbers of employees available to process claims, the situation is worse today than it ever has been before.  Mr. Secretary, when last year's budget was released, VA issued a press release saying that with the funding provided, "By 2013 . . . no more than 40 percent of compensation and pension claims will be more than 125 days old."  Here we are today, and we have 70% of claims out there that are older than 125 days.  And the same is true for prior budget requests --  what many of us would say are lofty promises, excitment about new initiatives and technologies, but lackluster, at best,  results.  And we don't have what this Committee would contend  was a positive trend.  VA has missed its own performance goals every single year. And I think most Committee members are very tired of the excuses we keep hearing from those who come before us testifying.

Chair Jeff Miller:  VA submitted a strategic plan to eliminate the compensation claims backlog.  That plan was submitted in January of this year --  in which it forecast expected number of claims it will decided in years '13, '14 and '15.  And now, three months later, the budget assumes a lower number of claims will be decided.  For example, the strategic plan assumed 1.6 million claims would be completed in 2014 but now the budget that's been submitted assumes only 1.32 million will be completed. So I think this is consistent with my opening statement where I said we talk about bold predictions about performance year and after year but the results aren't backing up.  And -- and my question is, it happens all the time.  The goal posts keep shifting and I'd like, just as brief an answer as possible because we will go to a second round of questioning and we'll talk about the backlog further but why does the goal post keep moving on one of the most important issues that are out there with the veteran community today and that's the backlog?

Secretary Eric Shinseki: Fair enough.  Mr. Chairman, I'm going to call on, uh, uh, Secretary Hickey to provide some detail.  But, uh, I would say, any time you write a longterm, large plan that describes solving a complex problem, they are assumptions based.  And we rely on those assumptions being fulfilled.  One of which is there are no additional complicators which get edited -- added to the work load.  Uh -- And another, uh, assumption is that we're going to be funded for the things we say we need.  If either of those things change, it's going to change the, uh, the work flow.  I believe the plan that, uh, uh, you're referring to, the, uh-uh, Common Operating, uh, Plan, uh, delivered in, uh, in January, uh, did not include VOW- VEI as-as-as part of that, uh, discussion.  Uh, the current estimate does.  And so there is an additional requirement that we've accomodated. Uh, I think, uh, we can explain the difference between those two numbers but we have a resource uh, uh plan now with submission of this budget and I believe our latest, uh, estimates are-are accurate.  Uh, let me just see if Secretary Hickey has anything to add.

No, they didn't make an accomodation.  The VA failed -- probably intentionally -- to include VOW/VEI in their projections.  I say probably intentionally because it's the excuse they're using now.  I also say that because the VOW/VEI aspect was something the VA was very familiar with long before Januarary. 

"VOW VEI" refers to the legislation Senator Patty Murry led on (Vow to Hire Heroes Act) and to Veterans Employment Initiative (VEI).  Why didn't a projection turned in in January include it?  As you can see if you [PDF format warning] click here, this is a document put out by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (bottom right hand corner of first page) and the Veterans Benefit Administration (bottom left hand corner of first page).   What's the title of this information flier?  "VOW Act and Veterans Employment Initiative" is the title.  And the date of it?  August 2012.  So if the VA is circulating information on VOW and VEI in August of 2012 to veterans, it's VA's own damn fault if a Common Operating Plan they turn in five months later fails to include projections for VOW and VEI.  And January 25, 2013, VA submitted "(VA) Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog."  Page 11 of that 20 page document?  "Veterans Opportunity to Work Act/ Veterans Employment Initiative (VOW/VEI)."

If indeed it was left out, that was on the VA.  Congress didn't suddenly pass something after January.  The VA was damn well aware of VOW/VEI long before January rolled around.  So it was the VA's mistake and yet Shinseki tries to blame Congress for it.   Nothing changed.  Nothing was added.  VA made the mistake and Shinseki refuses to even get honest about that.  There is no accountabilty at the VA.

Allison Hickey:  Mr. Chairman, we do create a plan.  And then we look at our actuals and if -- I know that most of you all have uh individuals that are checking our uh eekly reports that we send to you uhm, uh, through the Monday work load report or through aspire and I will tell you that we try to adjust for what we see in real life.  And if we -- And you will see right now there is a slight decrease uhm in-in applications being made for claims compensation.  Not a ton.  But there's a little bit of a decrease.  It is -- These are objectives.  These are estimates for the future in terms of past veteran behavior that we have to base, you know, what we're looking at in the future in terms of what, you know, what we are seeing and adjust for that year after year.  So we will be making those adjustments on a regular basis and as we start to see changes we will certainly keep this Committee and you up to -- up to speed on where we are.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Chairman, I'll just add as close out here.  I believe I'm correct that the-the-the COP you saw in January did not have VOW/VIE in it.  This latest set of estimates does and that's why you see an adjustment.

US House Rep Michael Michaud is the Ranking Member.  In his questioning about the seamless transitioning that DoD and the VA are supposed to finishing -- he said working on as did Shinseki.  No, finishing.  This has been funded for several years now.  Shinseki tried to weasel out saying there was a new Secretary of Defense (Chuck Hagel).  Well whine to Barack if that's causing you a problem.  This is nonsense that Shinseki told the Committee that he's talking with Hagel to find out what Hagel wants to do and what --

No.  This was supposed to have been planned years ago, the implementation stage was already supposed to have been rolled out.  This is nonsense.

And it's the lack of awareness of what's already taken place.  Gus Bilirakis, is not that new to the Committee, new to the Congress (he took his seat in 2007).  More importantly, he should know what happened beacuse his father served on this Committee.  And in 2006, June 30, 2006, this document was sent to him.  It outlines the efforts of seamless transition beginning in 2005.  So the nonsense that Shinseki offered about how he's getting with Hagel ("just yesterday") to discuss this matter?  No.  The discussions should have stopped long ago, the implementation should have already been started.  Where has the money gone on this each year because it's been funded each year?  Where has the money gone because if all that's taken place in the last 8 years is talking?  There shouldn't be millions being spent on it.  Again, this is nonsense.  US House Rep Gus Bilirakis would do well to speak to his father former US House Rep Michael Bilirakis.  Even better, ask the former House Rep Bilirakis to appear before the Committee to provide a refresher for members who were serving in 2006 and a summary for those who weren't.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Another question I have is the integration between DoD and VA on the eletronic health records and the benefits. Should we have a joint meeting between VA and DoD -- and I realize that Senator -- that Defense Secretary Hagel has a lot on his plate with North Korea and the Middle East right now. 

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Yep.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  But this is one of my concerns when we changed was the fact that this would get a backburner again.  And are we going to be sitting here -- and you and I have spoken about this and that was a private conversation and it will remain that way but are we going to be sitting here a year from now or two years or three years because it's not a resources -- putting of money -- to be able to integrate these systems.  I mean, it's really become very frustrating to me to sit here year after year and, unless the voters have a different idea, I plan to be here in 2015 and see if we complete these things we say we're going to do.  Is it there.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Again, Congressman, Secretary Hagel and I have discussed this on at least two and maybe three occassions.  He is, again, putting into place, his system to assure the way ahead for him to make this decision and be the partner that we need here.  Uhm, he is committed to a, uh, integrated electronic health record between the two departments.  We are -- VA has made its decision on what the core  and we're prepared to move forward.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Somebody has to blink. Obviously, we can't integrate them, so it's going to have to be one system or the other.  And I think what I heard you say was you've decided the VA is going to stay with the system it has.  That means that he's going to have to blink.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Uh, I would say the VA system is government owned, government operated.  We have put VISTA into the  open architecture trade space so that anyone who wants to use it can use it. It's used in other countries.  I believe it is, uh, a powerful system and, uh, I'm just awaiting, uh, a discussion with Secretary Hagel.

Clearly, from Shinseki's remarks, it is time for US President Barack Obama to step in a Cabinet meeting and say, "The system used will be" either VA or DoD.  That decision should have been made years ago.  Again, this has been funded and covered in Congress over eight years now.  The most basic step for a seamless transition record is deciding what system will be used.

So what we learned today is that nothing's been decided.

It needs to be.  Barack needs to make a determination of which system will be used, announce it and make sure the determination sticks -- no matter if Hagel is replaced or Shinseki or both.  This should have been determined long ago.  It is the first step.  Instead, for over eight years now, this has gone on and on without even completeing the first basic step.

Could be replaced?  Hagel is Barack Obama's third Secretary of Defense (after Robert Gates and Leon Panetta).  Shinseki's tenure has not been stellar.  In fact, Chair Jeff Miller noted his support for Shinseki was waning.  This was in his opening statement.  We're going with the written here and not as it was delivered because I'm assuming greater precision was taken when writing than when speaking off the cuff.   (Miller doesn't read his opening statements, he uses the text as a format or outline and often changes it up -- we usually go with what he states in the hearing -- and did earlier above -- but because this is a major move, we're going with the written statement).

Chair Jeff Miller: I'm proud of the efforts this Committee has made to protect VA's resources.  But the point of those efforts is to ensure improved benefits and services to America's veterans.  And, right now, I'm not seeing improvement in many key areas.  I'm seeing the opposite.  Mr. Secretary, we need to see results.  We need to see the outcomes the Administration promised with the resources Congress provided.   The excuses must stop.   I have supported you and your leadership up to this point.  I believe the Committee and the Congress has provided you with everything you have asked.  It's time to deliver.  

"I have supported you and your leadership up to this point."

US House Rep  Phil Roe continues to be one of the strongest members of the Committee.  Hearing this and that excuse for the backlog and how much work it is to check the claims and the process and blah blah blah, Roe cut through the nonsense by noting, "An issue I brought to you, six weeks ago, was when a veteran dies -- and there's no discussion about that.  You have a death certificate. This veteran dies and their spouse sometimes takes months or as much as a year to get their benefit. That is absolutely unacceptable.  When you've got a veteran out there -- a spouse, a man or a woman -- and they're -- especially the older veterans that are out there, that are living on a very meager income and then to have them wait?  And they have a house -- as we talked about -- they have a house payment, they have food to buy, they shouldn't miss a check.  That should not even be questioned."

Most idiotic remark made during the hearing by a member of Congress?  No, not Corrine Brown.   Ava will cover it at Trina's site tonight (she'll note another moment as well), Wally's going to cover an aspect at Rebecca's site and Kat's going to cover some basic impressions of the second panel.  The second panel was composed of Disabled American Veterans' Jeffrey Hall, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, AMVETS' Diane M. Zumatto, VFW's Ray Kelley and the American Legion's Louis Celli.

March 5th, the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a joint-hearing and they took testimony from the VFW.  In that day's snapshot, my coverage of the hearing included noting that the VFW is always complaining about difficulties recruiting new, young members.  I noted the lack of inclusive language used in testimony -- where every example offered was a "he." After the hearing this morning, a veteran whose opinion I always seek out when he's at a hearing said I should note that VFW has added to their webpage an announcement welcoming new veterans "and they screwed even that up."  He wasn't joking. "VFW WELCOMES AMERICA'S NEWEST GENERATION OF VETERANS" is across the top of a photo.  The photo?  13 men.  One of whom may be Latino, the rest are all Caucasian.  This is how you welcome veterans of today's wars?  When the fastest growing veterans population is women?  When nearly a quarter of the Army and Navy are currently African-American?  This is not, "Boo, hiss on the Anglo Whites!"  They represent over 60% of the Navy and over 70% of Army and Airforce (over 80% of the Marines) so they should be in the photograph.  But the point is the veterans of today's wars are more diverse in race, ethnicty and gender than your photo reflects and yet you continue to complain about how hard it is for you to recruit from today's young veterans?

This is one photo that flashes across the screen.  Another does show a woman.  Anglo White.  Of course, she's not a veteran, she's "Richelle Hecker wife."  This photo also flashes.  Am I wrong because I count three people in that photo but the caption (link goes to Facebook) only names two.  Who is the woman?  Presumably a translator.  But you posed for a picture with her and she's not even identified in the photo.  So VFW's message is women are welcome as wives only and if they pop up elsewhere they will be ignored.

The VFW is whining.  It keeps moaning and whining that today's young veterans aren't joining in significant numbers but everytime they claim to make an effort at outreach, it's not to women and it's not to racial or ethnic minorities.  If you don't try, if your actions don't back up your words, then you're just whining.  And nobody likes a whiner.  People also aren't into joining restricted country clubs.  Those days are long gone.  So why do VFW photos repeatedly portray the VFW as a restricted country club?

While we're on the topic of the US Congress, let's switch to the budget, specifically the move by Barack to gut Social Security.  Norman Solomon covers it at Z-NetTrina covered this topic last night and noted Senator Bernie Sanders, Chocolate City, the AFL-CIO and Major Garrett's report for CBS NewsAnn covered it noting Patrick Burr; and Mike covered it noting David Walsh, Bruce A. Dixon and Ruth Conniff.  In addition, Wally and Cedric covered it yesterday ("THIS JUST IN! HE GRABS THE SCISSORS!" and "FDR rolls over in his grave") and today ("THIS JUST IN! HOW THEY LOVE TO WHORE!" and "The American Whore Corps").  So while scissors are taken to Social Security, is there non-essential spending, in the billions, that maybe the taxpayers should have a vote on?  How about, from the White House's website, this is [PDF format warning] "Department of State and Other International Programs:"

Includes $6.8 billion for the frontline states of Iaq ($2.1 billion), Afghanistan ($3.4 billion), and Packistan ($1.4 billion), including $3 billion in base funding and $3.8 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding. The Budget prioritizes core diplomatic and development activities to ensure strong, lasting partnerships with these countries and to promote stability.

 Please note that the $2.1 billion isn't all that the State Dept wants to spend in Iraq during the fiscal year.  Nor does that necessarily include USAID's 'needed' funds for Iraq.  It doesn't address DoD's spending in Iraq either.

Oh, yeah, the war didn't end.  (We went over the DoD's "Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013" was covered in the March 26th snapshot.)  So what's the final bill for the US taxpayer for the costs of Iraq?  $5 billion?  $6 billion?  When all the agencies add up their costs, just what is the US taxpayer spending for Iraq 'operations' -- a war that supposedly ended?  And when does the US taxpayer stop footing the bill for new costs in Iraq?

From the topic of theft, let's turn to violence.   All Iraq News reports 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul, a Mosul home invasion claimed the life of a former officer with the Iraqi military and his wife, and Sabah al-Kraiem (cousin of Iraqiya MP Shalaan al-Kraiym) was shot dead last night in front of his home. National Iraqi News Agency reports a Mosul sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 person and left a second injured,  an al-Etha village bombing claimed the life of former Sahwa commander and former police officer Hussein Taha,  and 4 people were shot dead in Jada village.  Through yesterday, April 10th, Iraq Body Count counts 138 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

Still on violence, Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch) observes, "Al-Qa’ida in Iraq has said it has united with Syrian rebel group, the al-Nusra Front, in a move likely to embarrass Western countries supporting Syrian insurgents seeking to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad."  Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) adds:

News of the merger first appeared yesterday, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State in Iraq, the local Al Qaeda affiliate there, released a statement about the joining of forces. 
Today Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jawalani, released a statement saying that he had not been informed of the union prior to Mr. Baghdadi’s announcement. Mr. Jawalani added that the group’s conduct in Syria would not change, regardless of Mr. Baghdadi's remarks, or Jabhat al-Nusra's pledge of loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, that same day.

In other news, Press TV notes that last night Iraq inspected another Iranian plane bound for Syria: "It is a third isnpection in three days and the Islamic Republic has officially protested to Baghdad."  In related news, Ali Abel Sadah (Al-Monitor) reports:

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi believes that the Iraqi government's position on the revolution in Syria will make it an enemy of the Syrian people, and that it should reconsider its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as soon as possible.
Regarding Iraq's internal affairs, Nujaifi calls for early elections, but not according to the government's terms. He calls on the government to disband, to be replaced by a reduced government that will oversee fair elections.
Nujaifi also expressed his surprise that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was able to gain the support of Iran and the US for his government, and said that there is most likely a confidential strategic agreement on this matter.
al-Nujaifi is referring to parliamentary elections when he speaks of "early elections."  He's not talking about the April 20th provincial elections which will take place in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces.  Waheed Ghanim (Niqash) takes a tour of Basra city to see the various campaign posters which have been posted there.  Ghanim notes that in Basra Province alone, there are 26 political coalitions and over "655 candidates competing for 35 seats on the provincial council."  In Diayal Province, a candidate has been confirmed to still be competing for office.  All Iraq News reports the governor's media office has confirmed the governor continues his official duties and continues campaigning in the elections.  Why is this news?  Because Saturday the rumors were flying that Governor Omar al-Hameri had fled the province over allegations that he was behind a bombing.  He denies the allegation and continues to campaign.

Alsumaria reports that Nouri met today in Baghdad with a Kurdish delegation to discuss the various crises and that Nouri was in agreement with a great deal.  It would appear the threat of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi returing to Iraq (to Erbil) has suddenly conveyed to Nouri the need to get along.  MP Hassan Wahab has protested in statements in Parliament in the last weeks over the refusal of Nouri to allow Anbar Province and Nineveh Province to participate in the provincial elections scheduled for April 20th.  As it stands currently, only 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces are set to to participate.

Martin Kobler is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy to Iraq.  All Iraq News reports that Kobler arrived in Nineveh Province today.  Alsumaria reports that he met with election officials, some candidates for provincial office and the protesters who have been protesting Nouri's government for over 100 days now.  Alsumaria interviewed various people in Nineveh and found sadness and anger over Nouri's announcement that they cannot hold elections.  NINA quotes Coordinating Committee of Liberal Square head Ghanem Abid stating,  "Kobler met with the Governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi and some of the candidates for the local elections and representatives of the protesters to resolve the main outstanding problems in the province of Nineveh and calm the political situation in the province."

Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports that protesters in Anbar Province dismiss the talk of ending the Justice and Accountability Law (and commission) as "talk, just talk."  You may remember the western press has been infatuated with that.  So infatuated, they've failed to note that Moqtada al-Sadr has come out firmly against it.  Today All Iraq News reports that MP Hussein al-Mansouri, with Sadr's bloc, denounced the proposal and accuses Nouri's State of Law of being in bed with Ba'athists.   Al Mada notes Hezbollah of Iraq's Secretary-General Watheq al-Battat  is also strongly opposed to the proposal.  Alsumaria notes that activists and intellectuals in Baghdad are protesting the proposal.  It's interesting how the western outlets 'report.'  They took a proposal and treated it as though it were a law passed by Parliament.  As non-stop objections have built inside Iraq over the last few days, they've ignored reporting on that.  I guess it would take the bloom off the rose they call Nouri al-Maliki?  Ali Abel Sadah (Al-Monitor) feels its an obvious conclusion why Nouri is supporting this move:

Although Maliki’s step has shocked the Shiites, it has revealed Maliki’s road map for a third term, which he seems to strongly desire this time through a political majority government.
It seems that Maliki wants to be provided with additional support from the Sunnis, which is difficult to achieve, in light of the political atmosphere in the country’s western areas that oppose his policy. His decision to bring back the Baath leaders could possibly be a way to bring the Sunnis onto his side.
Maliki is clearly planning for another chapter in his political life in the country, and he is keen, as it was proved in the electoral conference of the Rule of Law [Coalition], to make his political team a totally polarized party, and prepare for himself a long-term political majority.

Ali Abel Sadah may be correct, he may not be.  I have no idea.  If he is correct, it would appear Nouri's not courting Sunni voters across Iraq.  Instead, he's court post-election votes, he's courting Sunni officials.  They are the ones who would benefit and be most grateful by the move, a Saleh al-Mutlaq, for example.  If you want to appeal to Sunni voters in the general population, you get rid of Article IV.  As we noted in yesterday's snapshot:

You live in a country we'll call Justica.  In Justica there's Law A which prevents you from running for public office or holding senior government positions.  There's also Law B which allows the government to arrest your family members for crimes  you are suspected of.
In Justica, does Law A or Law B matter the most to you?
Since most people don't run for public office and since most people don't hold senior government positions?  Law B.
And it's Article IV that has so outraged the protesters -- not the Justice and Accountability which has outraged politicians and would be politicians.

Alsumaria reports that the Electoral Commission notes 651,000 security forces will be voting in the provincial elections.  Dropping back to Tuesday's snapshot:

Still on the political, from the April 2nd snapshot, "Alsumaria reports that Salah al-Obeidi, spokesperson for the Sadr bloc, declared today that pressure is  being put upon police and military recruits to get them to vote for Nouri's State of Law slate."  Al Rafidayn reports today that Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has also called out the efforts to pressure police and army to vote for a specific list of candidate (Al Rafidayn notes that al-Hakim avoided naming the list in question).  

651,000 votes would be a lot to control, wouldn't they?  Alsumaria notes that Iraqiya adviser Hani Ashour declared that campaigns for provincial elections are spending close to one billion dollars which is shameful because the money could built ten hospitals across the country to address the needs of all the country's cancer patients.

For years now, the press has repeatedly rolled out one wave of Operation Happy Talk after another declaring the Baghdad national museum was open.  It's not and Diaa Hadid (AP) reports today, 'Ten years after Iraq's national museum was looted and smashed by frenzied thieves during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, it's still far from ready for a public re-opening."

The museum has grabbed so many headlines over the years (starting in 2003 with Bremer) for it's 'opening' but it's still not opened.  It's like the electricity which is always on the verge of being reliable and fully operating . . . yet somehow never gets there.  This week Omar al-Shaher (Al-Monitor) reported on the promise by Minister of Electricity Karim al-Jumaili that, by November 1st, the electricity problems would be over in Iraq and 24 hours of power would be available to all:

However, the US Energy Information Administration, a body providing statistics and economic analysis, mentioned in a detailed report about the electricity situation in Iraq that “for most of the postwar period from 2003-2012, Iraq has struggled to meet its power needs.”
The recent report noted that “daily outages lasting 16 hours per day have not been uncommon, even though $45 billion was spent on this sector.” The report ruled out the possibility of providing 24-hour electricity as promised by the prime minister and the minister of electricity.

All Iraq News adds that MP Hassan Wahab, who sits on the Oil and Energy Committee, states that promies being made to the Iraqi people about the electricity are "exaggerated" and "fake." Wahab is with Ammar al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  More importantly, as late as 2010, he was the adviser to the Ministry of Electricity.  As late as then, he was explaining how, if certain measures were taken, Iraq could fix the electrical problems in three years.  Those measures were never taken.  The museum, the electricity, there's never in progress in Nouri's Iraq.  And yet he wants a third term as prime minister.  With so very little to show for it.

Lastly, US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  Her office issued the following yesterday:

April 10, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Murray Mental Health Bill Clears Committee Hurdle
In wake of recent tragedies, Murray provision in mental health package provides support for children and families affected by trauma

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, legislation authored by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to provide increased support for children and families affected by trauma, passed through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of a larger package addressing mental health awareness and improvement. Sen. Murray’s Children’s Trauma Recovery Act includes a reauthorization and updates to the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCTSI), which works with children and families who are exposed to a wide range of traumatic experiences including physical and sexual abuse; domestic, school, and community violence; natural disasters, terrorism, or military family challenges; severe bereavement and loss; and life-threatening injury and illness.  

“As we have unfortunately witnessed too often in recent years, trauma involving children can happen at any time and in all parts of our country. The Children’s Trauma Recovery Act ensures the providers have the proper tools available to not only serve their day-to-day needs in treating child trauma, but also maintain absolute preparedness in the event of a national tragedy. Additionally, this bill supports the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative in its mission to raise the standard of care and increase access to evidence-based and trauma-informed practices in all child-serving systems.” said Senator Murray. “I applaud Chairman Harkin’s hard work in putting this comprehensive package together, so we can all work to ease the burden on our children and their families as they face very difficult times.”

NCTSI currently supports a national network of child trauma centers in forty-four states, including seventy-nine university, hospital, and community-based funded centers and ninety affiliate members. In addition to supporting everyday child trauma work, this network also mobilizes in response to national crises such as the shooting in Newtown, CT and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. 
Specifically, the Children’s Recovery from Trauma Act authorizes the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to:
·         Support a national collaborative network of child trauma centers, including: grants for university and hospital child trauma centers which are involved with intervention development and dissemination of evidence-based practices; grants for diverse community-based organizations which are involved with providing services to children and families affected by trauma; and a grant for the NCTSI coordinating center to organize the collaboration, training, and dissemination activities of all funded and Affiliate NCTSI members to maintain the NCTSI network and outreach infrastructure;
·         Support the analysis and reporting of the child outcome and other data collected by the NCTSI coordinating center to establish the effectiveness, implementation, and clinical utility of evidence-based treatment and services;
·         Support the continuum of interprofessional training initiatives in evidence-based and trauma-informed treatments, interventions, and practices offered to providers in all child-serving systems;
·         Support the collaboration of NCTSI, HHS, and other federal agencies in the dissemination of NCTSI evidence-based and trauma-informed interventions, treatments, products, and other resources to all child-serving systems and policymakers.

The following groups have endorsed the Children's Trauma Recovery Act of 2013: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, Futures Without Violence, National Children's Alliance, National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health, Prevent Child Abuse America, Mental Health America, uFOSTERsuccess, American Art Therapy Association, American Association on Health and Disability, American Dance Therapy Association, American Group Psychotherapy Association, American Orthopsychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, School Social Work Association of America, and The Trevor Project.
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834