Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The White House has gone too far again

CNN reports:

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Wednesday he was threatened by a senior Obama administration official following his reporting on the White House's handling of the forced federal spending cuts set to take effect on Friday. "They're not happy at all," he said on CNN's "The Situation Room," adding that an e-mail from a senior administration official - who he would not name - communicated a message which caused him great concern.

"It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this," he said.
Woodward penned a 2012 book reporting that the idea for the spending cuts, known as the sequester, originated with the White House. It's a claim President Barack Obama originally denied, but the White House has since acknowledged.

 You can read Woodward's article here.


I would've missed it if it weren't for Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Sequestration" on Sunday (in the caption to the comic, C.I. included a link to Woodward's article).

The White House is out of control.

You get these little whores like Eric Boehlert who are just embarrassing.

I don't care if I spelled the asshole's name correctly.  He didn't have the guts -- as he admitted afterwards -- to call out the sexism in 2008.

Stupid ass pig.

And he showed up most recently on Centrist Welfare (aka Media Matters) to insist the press has been hard on Barack, hard he swears!


They may have had a hard on for Barack but they didn't treat with anything but kid gloves.

I'm so sick of the liars.

Bob Woodward is under attack for telling a basic truth.

And where's Media Matters?

Oh, there's little ugly ass face Eric Boehlert on Current TV saying Bob Woodward has declared war on the White House.

Do you get what whores these people are?

Eric Bohlert is nasty.

If someone looks like that, they should stay off TV.

He looks like the toilet seat in a gas station.  The uncleaned toilet seat in a gas station.

And he's nothing but a cheap ass liar.

We never needed Media Matters.

We didn't a group of whores who whored for politicians.

We needed an organization that was going to get ideas out there that were needed.

Not advance White House talking points, put forward things we need like a Declaration of Human Rights -- which would include education and medicine.

Instead, we got the weak ass, candy ass Media Matters.  Home of the lie that Michelle Obama said "Whitey" or whatever it was.

Remember, it was David Brock who told people about that videotape.  Larry Johnson took the fall for it but it was David Brock.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, February 27, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Bradley Manning was the leak to WikiLeaks (he tells the court in a filing), Nouri supposedly has arrest warrants ready to go on various politicians (political rivals), Fright Night was last night in Baghdad as Nouri and others freaked out over a sit-in outside the Green Zone, Senator Patty Murray earns a well deserved honor, and more.

Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) reports on a US military court filing in the case of Bradley Manning, specifically that Bradley stated in the defense filing that he passed material to WikiLeaks with the intent to "spark a domestic debate on the role of our military and foreign policy in general."  What are we talking about?

Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."

So Bradley has admitted in court filings that he passed on papers; however, he has not entered a plea on the major charges. Murphy explains:

Private Manning's guilty pleas, however, are not to the crimes he's been charged with and will not effect the prosecutions ongoing case. They're to lesser offenses, and will have no impact on whether he's convicted on the more serious charges sought by Army prosecutors. So why do it? Manning, who has only been allowed to speak during the pretrial process once before and who has been kept largely isolated from the press, friends, and supporters during his over 1,000 days in detention since his arrest in Iraq on May 28, 2010, wants to expand on the political motives that moved him to commit his acts.

Medina Roshan (Reuters) adds that Bradley "is expected to take the witness stand on Thursday, when he will read aloud from a 35-page statement defending himself in the espionage case."  The Canton Daily Ledger reports on the statement as well:

The statement was written by Manning in person and hand-typed by him. Discussion in court indicated that in it he makes a declaration of the motives that led him to want to pass information to WikiLeaks – making the account a possibly seminal document.
Lind said that she would decide overnight whether to allow Manning to read out the document in court on Thursday. She insisted that the statement had to have the soldier's signature erased so that it would not be a sworn document – following prosecution protests that they would not be able to cross-examine him on the content of his speech.
- See more at:
The statement was written by Manning in person and hand-typed by him.  Discussion in court indicated that in it he makes a declaration of the motives that led him to want to pass information to WikiLeaks -- making the account a possibly seminal document.
Lind said that she would decide overnight whether to allow Manning to read out the document in court on Thursday.  She insisted that the statement had to have the soldier's signature erased so that it would not be a sworn document -- following prosecution protests that they would not be able to cross-examine him on the content of his speech.

The statement was written by Manning in person and hand-typed by him. Discussion in court indicated that in it he makes a declaration of the motives that led him to want to pass information to WikiLeaks – making the account a possibly seminal document.
Lind said that she would decide overnight whether to allow Manning to read out the document in court on Thursday. She insisted that the statement had to have the soldier's signature erased so that it would not be a sworn document – following prosecution protests that they would not be able to cross-examine him on the content of his speech.
- See more at:

Lind is Col Denise Lind who will be presiding over the court-martial.   Ben Nuckols (AP) notes that a small number of (84) of court documents were released today.  Ed Pilkington (Guardian) adds, "The 84 documents released by the army include court rulings on defence and government motions, and orders that set the scheduling of the trial that is currently earmarked to begin on 3 June. But the batch constitutes only a tiny portion of the huge mountain of paperwork that has already been generated in the proceedings, including some 500 documents stretching to 30,000 pages."   Adam Klasfeld (Courthouse News) reports that "a prosecutor asked the court to close the public from about a third of the upcoming" court-martial.  Klasfeld reports Maj Ashden Fein told Lind that "very little" would be kept from the public, elaborating it would be "no more than 30%" to which Lind replied, "The government considered 30% very little?"

So right now, where do things stand for Bradley?  Julie Tate (Washington Post) offers this take, "Manning would face 20 years in prison if he pleads guilty, as anticipated, to unauthorized possession of classified records, videos and documents and willful communication of those to an unauthorized person. After that, Manning would still face 12 other charges in the case, including aiding the enemy and violation of the espionage act."

The National Iraqi News Agency reports that the National Alliance (Shi'ite slate of various political slates and parties) announced today, via MP Haitham al-Jubouri, that "The issue of replacing Maliki is unlikely ever within the Iraqi National Alliance and what is being addressed today about scenarios to extend the demonstrations in all the cities of Iraq to join the demonstrators in Baghdad to pressure on the government to get the prime minister out is impossible."  That doesn't help the protesters feel heard.

Since December, Iraq has seen ongoing protests.  They want a government that's responsive.  In many ways, the protests are an echo of the ones from 2011 -- the ones Nouri derailed by attacking (physically) the protesters and also be swearing that if the people just gave him 100 days, he'd respond to the protesters demands.  He took the 100 days and refused to respond.  The disappeared were always a concern to the protesters. In 2011 and currently, it's been one of the ethical grounds from which the protesters argue for change.  A difference between then and now, however, is that now the Iraqi people have learned that women and girls are being tortured and raped in Iraqi prisons and detention centers.  This is among the reasons that they feel that if change cannot come to Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki needs to go.  And yet today the National Alliance declares that will not happen?  It's statements  like that which fuel the protesters belief that they are not being listened by the government.

No dobut, Nouri's listening, probably with an electronic tap on your cell phone.  This morning,  National Iraq News Agency was reporting:

The MP, of the state law coalition, Sadiq al-Labban revealed that "the government would issue arrest warrants against those who instigated and participated in fueling sectarian strife through exploiting the demonstrations to split the Iraqi National Front, noting that among these names, the Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi. 

This is apparently  another case of Nouri's State of Law political slate being unable to control themselves in public.  In this case, al-Labban has revealed something in existence that Nouri wasn't wanting known just yet.

Rafie al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya, the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections (beating Nouri's State of Law).  He is also Sunni.  Nouri's reputation is one for fighting dirty against political opponents.  If the warrants are real, expect things in Iraq to get a lot worse a lot quicker than many anticipated.  If the talk of warrants if false, al-Labban just made some very uninformed remarks that will have huge repercussions.

NINA quotes Iraqiya MP Wissal Saleem stating:

The statements of the State of Law coalition's MPs about arrest warrants against the leader of the Iraqiya, Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi is dangerous [and]  if they have court orders issued by their courts, this is another subject.  We do not know the basis that the state of law coalition's MP is authorized to talk about an arrest warrant while the judiciary did not say anything about it, indicating that the goal is to create new crises after failing of the Government.   These remarks will lead to a backlash, especially at this critical juncture, through which the Iraqi state is passing.

Distrust, anger and hostility are just some of the feelings State of Law has created with the comments about arrest warrants.  Look for this Friday's protests to be larger than last week's which saw over 3 million people participate -- 10% of the Iraqi population.

Nouri's not responding to the needs of the protesters.  So others are having to step in to try to calm the crisis.   Martin Kobler is the Special Envoy to Iraq of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  National Iraqi News Agency reports that Kobler met today with the Governor of Kirkuk Najimalddin Omar Karim and he went on to meet with representatives of the Kirkuk demonstrators, including those who've been holding a sit-in.

Also making the rounds to discuss the political situation has been US Ambassador to Iraq Robert Beecroft.  Ahlul Bayt News Agency reports he met yesterday with Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, and that the two discussed the ongoing political crisis.  All Iraq News quotes from a statement issued by al-Hakim's office which includes, "For his part, the US Ambassador praised Hakim's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Iraq, appreciating his calls for all the politicians to follow dialogue and calmness in coping with the crises."  In addition, Al Mada reports that the US and Iraqi governments -- specifically the US Treasury Dept's Deputy Secretary David Cohen who is meeting with Iraqi officials in Baghdad -- are discussing ways to disrupt the flow of terrorist financing in Iraq.

Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc has accused Nouri al-Maliki of not applying justice fairly with regards to the Justice and Accountability law.  Making their statement in a Parliament press conference today, they pointed to Nouri's ally Medhat al-Mahmoud who was Chief Justice of the federal judiciary.  When he was removed from his position because the Accountability and Justice Commission found him to have ties to Ba'athists, Nouri did not abide by the decision and insisted that al-Mahmoud remained a judge and remained off-limits from prosecution.  Falah Shanshal was the head of the Justice and Accountability Commission at that time and Nouri fired him a week after the decision on al-Mahmoud. Moqtada's bloc agrees with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, who reinstated Shanshal on the Justice and Accountability Commission -- that commission, they argue, is overseen by Parliament and Nouri has no control over it.  Despite having no control over it, he has stepped into their dealings the minute he didn't like a decision.  This is why the Sadr bloc accuses him of not applying the law fairly.

Alsumaria reports in the press conference today they also addressed the issue of the budget.  This is the 2013 budget which, yes, should have been passed before 2013 started.  Alsumaria reported yesterday that supporters of cleric and movement leader  Moqtada al-Sadr launched a sit-in outside the Green Zone to get the budget passed.  This followed Monday's announcement that the vote on the 2013 budget was again postponedMohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported of the sit-in, "Demonstrators are demanding movement on the $115 billion budget that was approved by Iraq's Cabinet in October. Parliament still needs to pass the draft legislation, and leaders of key political parties are struggling to reach an agreement."  AFP noted, "It was not immediately clear if the additional security measures, which the ministry official said have caused heavy traffic jams across the city, were aimed at preventing people from joining the protests, or guarding them against attack."  NINA observes, "It is noteworthy that the vote on the budget in the House of Representatives has seen a series of delays because of disagreements among the blocs and lack of approval." Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports the sit-in resulted in increased measures including keeping journalists out of the Parliament building which meant missed out on the 'big' press conference staged by Nouri's State of Law.  A police officer told a reporter who had intended to cover the press conference that he was under orders to shoot anyone -- including a journalist -- who attempted to enter the building.  Kitabat reports that the sit-in lasted through the night and frightened authorities who attempted to pressure Moqtada to ask his followers to end the sit-in.  Citing an unnamed government source, Kitabat states the Green Zone administrators and the Office of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (Nouri) were scared on "fright night" (their term) and forces in the Green Zone were put on maximum alert. The Iraq Times notes that today Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement decrying the government's (over)reaction to peaceful protesters protesting the fact that Parliament still had not passed the 2013 budget.

And it is ridiculous the way the government reacted.  But Nouri's reactions are always ridiculous.  At the heart of everything he does is the knowledge that he is an illegitimate ruler.  He was not the choice of the Iraqi Parliament.  The Bush White House vetoed the Parliament's choice and that's how Nouri became prime minister in 2006.  In 2010, voters showed their support for Iraqiya.  Nouri only got a second term because the Barack White House backed him and came up with the idea of using a contract -- the US-brokered Erbil Agreement -- to 'grant' Nouri a second term as prime minister since the Constitution did not allow for him to have a second term as a result of the votes.  When you are an illegitimate leader, you always fear the public. 

In Kirkuk today, All Iraq News reports, a Turkman was kidnapped and taken from his home.   Kidnappings have long been a staple of the landscape of violence in post-invasion Iraq.  Now, as the month of February, winds down, the number of people killed during a month is yet again in the triple digits.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 313 violent deaths in Iraq this month.  That leaves two more days for them to count (today and tomorrow).  And violence is already being reported today. All Iraq News reports that the Mosul Municipality Department's head of Human Resources, Nadhim Khalaf, was shot dead in front of his home and a Baghdad grocery bombing left two people injured.  In addition, they note that a missile has targeted a police station in south Kirkuk.  National Iraq News Agency notes that the beheaded corpse of a 15-year-old male was discovered in Falluja, and, late last night, a stun grenade was tossed at the Basra home of attorney Tariq Jaber.  Also late last night, Alsumaria reports that a person sitting in Baghdad's Cafe Hurriya was shot dead by unknown assailantsAlsumaria also says the corpse discovered in Falluja was that of a 17-year-old male.

 All Iraq News reports that an announcement by the Ministry of Trade declared there would be a referendum on whether or not to continue to provide flour via ration cards or to instead supply the citizens with money they could spend on flour (or whatever).  The rations program began in 1995 and has been repeatedly slashed since the start of the Iraq War at the repeated request of the US government which frowns upon aid to the poor and struggling. Attempts to outright kill the program have been repeatedly met with a strong pushback from Iraqis so the US pushed for incremental cuts until there is little left.By 2010, the packages only offered sugar, rice, flour, cooking oil and milk. Milk for some, of course. Milk for all was cut sometime ago. Gone are the days of tomato paste, tea, chicken, soap, beans, detergent, cheese, etc. In a population of approximately 30 million (US government estimates vary between 26 million and 28 million -- of course, Nouri 'forgot' to conduct the census he was supposed to do in 2007), over eight million Iraqis are dependent upon the program to meet basic dietary needs as a result of the extreme poverty in Iraq.  Dropping back to the November 12th snapshot:

Something only slightly less than confusion surrounds the food-ration card system. Last Tuesday, Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh announced the cancellation of the program. There was a huge pushback that grew and grew -- from politicians, from clerics, from the people until Friday when it really couldn't be ignored. The program has been in place since 1991 meaning that it is all over half of Iraqis know (Iraq has a very young population, the median age has now risen to 21). It allowed Iraqis to get basic staples such as flour sugar, rice, etc. As the clerics, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, noted, this move would hurt the people who are already struggling economically. It was also an idiotic political move to make. In April, provinicial elections will be held. Nouri's already in campaign mode and this very unpopular move did not help him there. The smartest thing politically would have been to go into a full retreat on the proposal and announce that you had heard the people, to flatter them and make it appear you listened.
Saturday, there was a moment when it looked like Nouri might grasp that. All Iraq News reported the Cabinet of Ministers will hold an emergency meeting on the issue. Nouri's political slate is State of Law, his political party is Dawa. How unpopular is the move to cancel the food-ration program? Alsumaria reported Dawa announced that they had nothing to do with the decision and they're also tried to insist at the same time that it wasn't Nouri's decision. Kurdistan Alliance MP Sharif Soliman told All Iraq News that those responsible for the decision are trying to make up excuses and push the blame elsewhere. The Kurdistan Alliance's Mohsen Saadoun told Alsumaria that Nouri is responsible for this decision.
Today Alsumaria reports that the food program is not getting the axe. Instead, the people will be able to decide if they would like to remain on the existing system or receive cash. When you tell people they can remain on the ration card system or they can get cash, when you tell that to people in a bad economy with many bills, they will be tempted to go for the cash. The ration card is the better system. But there are bills owed that have to be paid and there is the hope in people that things have to get better. So they will tell themselves that they can make it right now with the cash and that, in a few months or a year, fate will provide and things will be better. In the meantime, they've been moved off the progam and the prices -- as Sistani, politicans and the people have noted -- will sky rocket. So the money will be of little use to them then.
But they won't be able to go back on the ration card system. The point is to dismantle the system. That was what the US government tried to do immediately after the invasion. It's what Nouri and others have done with the constant reduction of what rations the cards provided. All Iraq News notes the Parliament has voted to cancel the decision to replace the cards with cash but it's not clear whether the Cabinet's emergency meeting and new decision overrides that move by the Parliament.  Khalid al-Ansary and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) covers it in a brief English language story.

And now they're getting ready to vote.  But this was a dumb move, always.  It was dumb politically and it was dumb when it comes to the health of the Iraqi people.  Now Nouri's inviting people to spend a year on this program . . . before parliamentary elections.  That's a year to grow hostile should you drop flour to receive money. 

Suadad al-Salhy and Isabel Coles (Reuters) report that Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri declared today that Turkey and Qatar supporting the "Syrian insurgents is tantamount to a declaration of war against Iraq." From November 26, 2011:

And Nouri is so divisive that the Badr Organization (headed by Hadi al-Amiri) is breaking with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (headed by Ammar al-Hakim). Al Rafidyan reports that move is yet another sign of the crisis facing the National Alliance -- a loose grouping of Shi'ites including State of Law, the Sadr bloc and others -- which backed Nouri for prime minister. By backing Nouri, Hadi al-Amiri was given the portfolio for the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Communication.

The Badr Organization was previously the Badr Brigade which came to be in 1982 in Iran and was the armed wing and they spread into Iraq in April 2003. Hadi al-Amiri has gone public with his issues with the Islamic Supreme Council including that Ammar al-Hakim was selected to fill the post created when Ammar's father passed away. al-Amiri has called that moment when the seeds of division began to take root and decried the leaders who voted Ammar al-Hakim in for, in his opinion, choosing a successor not based on wisdom but to keep the control within the al-Hakim family.

Hadi appears to be working with Nouri again.  Nouri made similar points in an AP interview with Adam Schreck and Qassim Abdul-Zahra: "Nouri al-Maliki stopped short of voicing outright support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's embattled regime. But his comments in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press marked one of his strongest warnings yet about the turmoil that the collapse of the Syrian government could create."

"Together there's no challenge we can't meet on behalf of our veterans," declared Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller declared yesterday at a hearing where members of Congress heard from Disabled Veterans of America.  Chair Bernie Sanders offered, "It is unacceptable that veterans wait months and months and years and years to get those claims adjudicated.  That is an issue we've got to work on and that we've got to solve."

Two Chairs?  Yes, not a typo.  Yesterday the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a joint-hearing.  House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Jeff Miller, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Bernie Sanders.

Chair Sanders is the new Chair of the Committee.   Everybody finds their own way as Chair and Ranking Member.  I love Daniel Akaka, he's a great senator.  But I criticized him when he was in the post.  Chair Miller got raked over the coals by me for months.  And then, when he was doing a strong job, the raking was gone and I thought we were all aware that was due to the stronger job but a friend asked me if I hadn't noticed how Miller had adjusted so it obviously wasn't clear so there's a snapshot where I make a point to note that he didn't just improve, he grew into his role and was doing a strong job.  Senator Patty Murray? 

She's the exception.  Over a year before she became Chair, we were advocating for her to be the Chair here.  That was because she had the energy, she had the skills and she had the determination.  She's the rare person who takes over as Chair and hits the ground running.  I don't believe we ever had a need to criticize her negatively as Chair.  By the same token, I am sure she did not get the praise others would have gotten for the same work.  In the coverage of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearings, we advocated for her to be the Chair and when she became the Chair, she really did the amazing job that most knew she was capable of.  And because we expected her to do such a great job, we were able to focus on what she was doing and she probably got short changed in terms of praise here as a result.  So my apologies for that.  She was a great Chair and I wish she was still Chair.  (She now Chairs the Senate Budget Committee and she remains on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.)

I say all of that to note that things just aren't fair.  Miller's performance got critiques that Murray's never did.  I paid attention to Miller's performance because I found it lacking.  I didn't even note Murray's performance because it was so professional -- from day one as Chair -- that we were able to instead focus on what happened in the hearings.  And let's put in an honor that's been bestowed upon Senator Murray.  Her office issued the following today:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Senator Murray Honored by Military Order of the Purple Heart
Recognized for leadership and distinguished service to our nation's veterans
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was presented the Inspirational Leadership Award by the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) during a private ceremony in her Capitol Hill offices. MOPH National Commander Bruce McKenty presented this year’s award to Senator Murray which read:
“Since being elected to the Senate in 1992, Senator Patty Murray has consistently served as an advocate for veterans, military members and their families.
“Having been raised in the family of a disabled World War II veteran, she came to the Senate fully understanding the sacrifices, as well as the physical and emotional scars the veterans bring home with them.
“Senator Murray was the first female Senator to serve on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and serves as its Chair in the 112th Congress. She has consistently been a tireless advocate for all veterans.
“She led the battle for increased funding for veterans’ healthcare and increased benefits, and profoundly recognized the importance of specialized programs for veterans suffering from TBI and PTSD.
“Senator Murray continues to support education and employment opportunities, better health care for women veterans and a myriad of other programs that she believes America owes its veterans.
“Senator Murray’s service reflects great credit upon herself, the United States Senate and the United States of America.”
The organization now known as the "Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Inc.," was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Chartered by the Congress, The MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat. For this sacrifice, they were awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
Click here to download high resolution photo.

Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834
Get Updates from Senator Murray
RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

So congratulations to Senator Murray on a well deserved honor.

As I stated earlier, Chair Jeff Miller grew stronger and stronger and is a very good Chair today.  Bernie Sanders may grow stronger and stronger.  But this was his first hearing as Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

In these hearings, the joint-hearings where they hear from one service group, you're really just trying to get your message out -- regardless of whether you're providing testimony on behalf of your organization to the Committee or whether you're a member of the Committee addressing the veterans gathered and outlining what you hope to do or assuring what you plan to do.  One of Chair Sanders' big points -- probably his biggest -- was what follows.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Last point.  How many people in this room know what a chained CPI is? See, everybody up here knows what a Chained CPI is.  We know.  But most people in America don't know.  So on TV tonight, you're going to hear people talking about the need for entitlement reform for a Chained CPI.  What a Chained CPI is a different way of configuring COLAS for Social Security and for disabled veterans.  A Chained CPI would make significant cuts for some 3,000,000 disabled veterans as well as everybody on Social Security.  Now I feel very strongly that (a) the deficit situation is a serious problem, it has to be dealt with but you don't deal with it on the backs of disabled veterans and widows who lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anyone see any problems?

First up, don't insult you audience.  Did he mean to?  No.   'We all know up here but you don't' doesn't necessarily sound welcoming and was griped about by three veterans I spoke with after the hearing.  Two more veterans were confused by "COLAs."  They knew he didn't mean sodas.  But what did he mean?  COLA is a Cost Of Living Adjustment.  I doubt anyone is now confused reading "Cost Of Living Adjustment."  The three offended were all over fifty.  Not surprising, COLA questions came from two veterans under the age of thirty.  You're going to have a wide audience of veterans and you need, if you're the Chair, to communicate with them.  Anytime they're stopping to ask "Hey, what's COLA?" or "Did he just insult me?" -- that's time they stop listening because your words have distracted them. The point was important to Sanders -- he's one of the strongest advocates for Social Security in the Senate.  But he lost five I spoke to.  This was the first hearing as Chair of the Committee.  I do feel it was a mistake.  It wasn't a mistake that's going to haunt him or even be remembered in a month.  But it did take place and it was remarked on (strongly) by three veterans.  I did share with them a point that's worth noting here.  That section that we quoted, it wasn't being read.  Chair Sanders was speaking off the cuff and trying to get away from the reading aspect of his statements.  I'm not trying to rescue him.  If I were trying to rescue him, I'd be saying, "And he looked nervous, everybody, it was his first time chairing!"  He didn't look nervous.  He looked comfortable in his environment.  It was a mistake -- in that the wording distracted from an important point he wanted to make -- but it wasn't a major one or the end of the world.

I spoke with twelve veterans after the hearing -- two were unimpressed with the entire hearing -- it was the first one they'd attended that was one service organization.  Those really aren't typical hearings.  There's no real questioning and not a panel of witnesses because usually one person speaks for all.  That left ten veterans.  We've already noted five, the other five?  Two were impressed with Miller (though one confused him with Senator John Boozman, he was praising the remarks Miller had made).  Two felt all the members who spoke did a good job.  And one felt House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael Michaud did a great job.  I thought he did as well and he's been slighted the last two times I've covered full House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings because I've wanted to quote him but there were other aspects of the hearing and other representatives we had to grab. 

Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  As you know, the administration has delayed the release of its Fiscal Year 2014 proposal.  While VA programs are spared from the effects of sequestration, it does not mean that veterans will be left unaffected.  Veterans will lose extended unemployment insurance as well as face cuts in the critical TAP program -- just to name a few.  In addition, all of our citizens will face the effects of sequestration at the state and local levels as well.  The VA is at a crossroads.  Many important decisions will need to be made as we look towards the future.  Working with you and the VA, we'll make sure that the choices are both fiscally responsible and in the best interests of our veterans.  I look forward to your testimony today.  Again, thank you and your organization for the years of service that you have given to make sure that veterans issues and their families issues are heard here on the Hill so thank you very much, Commander.

Commander is Larry Polzin and he is the National Commander of Disabled Veterans of America.  There are many ways a veteran can end up being disabled.  They can be harmed while serving, for example.  When we think of that, we may think of the loss of a limb or of emotional or mental wounds.  Hearing issues actually remain a constant even in the most recent wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.  As Manuel Gallegus (CBS News HealthWatch -- link is text and video) reported last May,  "60% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have damaged hearing" -- with tinnitus being the most common, followed by hearing loss.  We note that regularly because veterans write to the public e-mail account to note the hearing issues and how they often feel that newer and 'hotter' disabilities get attention while hearing issues don't.  One thing that hasn't gotten attention in the last weeks from me is the victims of burn pits.  I'm an idiot.  My apologies for being an idiot.  My plan was to note regularly the upcoming symposium -- it's next week -- and I believe we only noted it twice, the last time near the start of the month.  Disabilities from burn pits are life threatening.  The Congress passed a burn pit registry bill at the very end of the last session and that is great news but there is so much to be done. 

Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York is gearing up to host a symposium on the issue.  This will be their second one, their 2nd Annual Scientific Symposium on Lung Health after Deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan.  The symposium will take place March 4th which isn't that far away.  If you'd like to register to attend, you can click here for the registration info if you're doing it by mail or by fax as well as a registration link if you'd like to register online.  A resource for burn pit issues  is Burn Pits 360

Two key points here.  Friday, March 1st is the last day to register to attend the symposium.  So keep that in mind.  Second, one of the things the Veterans Affairs Committees in both houses have long addressed is rural veterans.  Senator Jon Tester, for example, often notes the rural veterans in his state and how certain computer interaction would benefit them.  If you're a rural veteran or you're no where near Stony Brook, New York, they are offering -- for $50 for veterans or veteran family members -- a live stream of the symposium.  So that may be something that you'll be interested in. 

The Congressional hearing we noted earlier was a joint-hearing of the House and Senate's veterans committees.  Chair Bernie Sanders solos in his first Senate hearing as Chair next month:


There will be a meeting of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs in SR-418, Russell Senate Office Building, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. to conduct a hearing titled "VA Claims Process -- Review of VA's Transformation Efforts."


Jeff Johnson
Deputy Clerk/ Systems Administrator
412 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510 | 202.224.6478

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