At Politico tonight, Darren Samuelsohn reports:
Eighteen months ago, Barack Obama took office pledging to deal with a “planet in peril.”
His party held big majorities in Congress, and the House answered by passing a tough cap-and-trade bill. A massive climate conference in Copenhagen, with Obama at the center of the action, focused the world on the need to address global warming.
Then came the nation’s worst-ever environmental disaster, an oil spill in the Gulf that put momentum behind environmentalists and scarred the image of big, polluting industries.
Add in a summer of record-high temperatures, and it would seem the stars had been aligned like never before for climate legislation.
And we know how this ends, right? They do nothing with it. They blow it. Barack blew it.
In fact, he should look to the camera and say, "I blew it!" (Like Goldie Hawn does in Cactus Flower.) (Although she may say "you blew it.")
The difference is Goldie Hawn, a great actress, is playing a young and inexperienced woman (Toni) in Cactus Flower and Barack Obama is president of the United States. So why is Mr. Obama unable to act like one?
I have no idea, but I will tell you this: I would prefer any of Goldie Hawn's characters in the White House to Mr. Obama. That is Private Benjamin, Sunny Davis from Protocol, Gloria from Foul Play, Annie from Overboard (also Joanna), Helen from Death Becomes Her, Gwyn from Housesitter, Jill from Shampoo, any of them. They would all be better at the job -- with no experience and from day one -- than Mr. Obama.
And, for that mater, Ms. Hawn would make a strong president. She should certainly consider politics if she ever tires of the entertainment business.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Thursday July 22, 2010. Chaos and violence continues, the Iraqi refugee crisis continues, the US (and many other countries) offers a paltry dollar figure towards humanitarian relief, Turkey looks for new ways to keep the PKK out, and more.
Starting with Iraqi refugees. Tuesday the United Nations released [PDF format warning] "Regional Response Plan for Iraqi Refugees." The 108 page report focuses on "the immediate needs of Iraqi refugees in 12 countries: Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Iran" Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudia Arabia and the UAE. Syria, Jordan and Lebanon continue to house the most Iraqi refugees. And humanitarian organizations -- including the UNHCR, CARITAS, CARE International, UNICEF, France RC, -- are suffering from a drop in donations. This comes at a time when Iraq itself continues to be unstable. The report notes that "human rights violations continue, including illegal detention, targeted killing, kidnapping and discrimination. The formation of a new Government following the Parliamentary elections in March continues to be delayed and the political vacuum may continue until August or September 2010." These conditions and others continue to influence the flow of Iraqis out of Iraq and create new refugees -- with very few refugees (the report covers external refugees only) returning to Iraq. In Syria, for example, new Iraqi refugees are citing "threats made against them" and/or "the security situation in their area" as reasons for departing Iraq in 2010. One new feature emerging is a drop in official refugees. How can that be?
Many refugees are no longer apparently confident that they can be helped and they have been dropped from the UNHCR rolls (it's noted that all they have to do is ask to be reactivated). In addition, this year, the UN has resetled 7,918 Iraqi refugees as of May 31st. The report offers a breakdown of registered refugees by country and by gender. GCC is Gulf Cooperation Council and Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudia Arabia and the UAE make up the GCC. Iraqi refugees (registered) in Syria, Jordan and Egypt make up 49% of each countries' Iraqi refugees. By contrast, in Lebanaon, females make up only 36% of the Iraqi refugee population with males coming in at 64%. All host countries have similar needs because the realities refugees face don't differ a great deal. They need medical assistance, they need food assistance, they need training if they're fortunate enough to be in an area that will allow them to work, they need housing assistance and much more. It's all the basics and with the global economy having dived, donations are down to humanitarian organizations.
We won't provide a breakdown of each country (the report does); however, we will not a camp on the border between Syria and Iraq. Iraq's Palestinian population has been noted at this site several time before; however, it is the segment of the population that has received the least attention at this site. So we'll note the section on the ones at Al-Hol camp in full. But first, Palestinians who became Iraqi refugees mainly populated Al-Hol, Al-Tanaf, Al-Walid and Al-Ruwesiehed camps. The Al-Tanaf camp closed February 1st. The Al-Hol camp was set up in 1991, during the first Gulf War. Children of this camp attend Syrian schools. From the report, we'll note:
As of 15 May 2010, some 561 Palestinians from Iraq were living in Al-Hol camp. This population comprises three major groups:
1) The former Al-Hol camp population, the majority of whom is awaiting the completion of formalities for resettlement departure.
2) The remaining Al-Tanf population who were transferred to Al-Hol between the ened of 2009 and 31 January 2010, and have fallen outside the resettlement process for Al-Tanf camp.
3) Palestinian refugees recently arrived at the camp from Damascus.
Since the beginning of the year, various achievements have been made. They include the closure of the Al-Tanf camp, thanks to increased advocacy efforts by the humanitarian community in 2009 with the Syrian Government and resettlement countries.
Regarding the Al-Hol situation, improved and standardized registration procedures for camp residents have been introduced, all vulnerabilites and basic bio-data being checked and updated. Three refugee committees were newly elected and participate in the camp management and decision-making process.
All agencies involved have set up and now closely monitor an accountability framework of the activities. On the assistance side, all shelters have been connected to the potable water system; a food basket was agreed at the beginning of the year with the refugee community; primary health care has been provided at the camp level; and regular food and NFI distributions (such as hygiene kits or school supplies) have taken place.
In terms of solutions, return to Iraq is not considered a viable option, given the current security situation and the uncertain future for Palestinians in Iraq. Resettlement is still considered the most desirable option for Palestinians ex-Iraq living in Al-Hol camp. At the same time, UNHCR and UNRWA are exploring a local temporary solution with the Syrian authorities, whereby part of the remaining Palestinian population from Iraq would be authorized to regularize their stay and enjoy a set of minimal rights.
In this view, and similarly to the process that took place in Al-Tanf, the Syrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs has publicly communicated that its objective is to support the joint efforts to close Al-Hol camp by the end of 2010.
It's worth noting that while US government dollars have been wasted on a huge number of projects and 'projects,' the US -- which led on the Iraq War which produced the refugee crisis -- has only agreed to provide $17,724,493 (in US dollars). That's appalling. Though they can take pride in not being the United Kingdom ($2,400,000). And Australia whose John Howard (prime minister when the war started) wanted to be a player and got so upset when the press would forget to mention him as one of the three big leaders on the war? They're bellying up to the bar to waive $161,570. They can't even reach the million mark. How very sad. Of course, these are only the figures to date and all the countries -- including the US -- could increase their contributions before the end of the year. Refugees International issued the following press release today:
Washington, D.C. -- Refugees International President L. Craig Johnstone today called for a greater U.S. commitment to more than two million Iraqis who have fled their homes due to conflict and fear of persecution during seven years of U.S. engagement in Iraq. "As the U.S. military departs Iraq it is leaving behind nearly 500,000 Iraqi refugees -- mainly in Syria and Jordan -- and one and a half million Iraqis who have been uprooted from their homes, many of whom live in total destitution in shanty towns of Iraq," said L. Craig Johnstone, President of Refugees International. "This is the tragic legacy of the conflict in Iraq and as the United States disengages militarily it would be unconscionable to abandon our responsibilities to these civilian victims of war." Ambassador Johnstone testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing, "No Way Home, No Way to Escape: The Plight of Iraqi Refugees and Our Iraqi Allies." Johnstone is former Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and former U.S. Ambassador and Director for Resources, Plans and Policy in the Department of State. Recalling his own experiences in Vietnam, he called on Congress and the Administration to step up to its commitment to Iraqi refugees, as it did after the fall of Saigon. "The United States was woefully unprepared for the collapse of South Vietnam and unfortunately the prevailing attitude bordered on callous disregard for the well being of the many Vietnamese civilians the U.S. was about to leave behind," stated Johnstone. "But as Saigon was falling, the nation mobilized with unprecedented effort, opening its arms to welcome to hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees. We now face an analogous situation in Iraq, and the United States must again wake up to its responsibility -- this time to the millions of Iraqi civilians displaced by the war." Johnstone asked Congress to expand the program that has resettled some 48,000 Iraqis in the Unites States, and to provide greater financial and social support for refugees struggling to rebuild their lives. Seven years after the beginning of the war in Iraq, an unprecedented number of Iraqis are still living in squatter slums filled with open sewers and lacking water and electricity. Most of the squatter settlements are located precariously under bridges, alongside railroad tracks and amongst garbage dumps. Following visits this year to 20 different squatter settlements throughout Iraq, RI found that nearly 500,000 Iraqis are left living in squalor receiving little help from the Iraqi government, aid agencies and the United Nations. Johnstone called on Congress and the Administration to fund at least 50 percent of the United Nations humanitarian appeals for Iraq and noted that to date it has funded only 23 percent of the some $700 million requested. "The United States must fund humanitarian efforts in proportion to its responsibility," stated Johnstone. RI also recommended that the UN adapt its security measures so that humanitarian officials can access squatter communities regularly and provide assistance. "UN and U.S. officials need to get out of the Green Zone and work the problem where it is, in the slums, in the cardboard shelters that go without electricity or sewage systems," stated Johnstone. In February RI staff traveled to Iraq, Jordan and Syria where they interviewed displaced people, local and national government officials and international agencies. Since November 2006, the organization has conducted eleven missions to the Middle East and has led the call to increase assistance and solutions for displaced Iraqis. To read the report, go to: http://www.refugeesinternational.org/policy/field-report/iraq-humanitari...Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. www.refugeesinternational.org.
Oussayma Canbarieh (CBC) reported Friday from Damascus on Iraqi refugees (the UN report notes that Damascus is home to the most Iraqi refugees within Syria) where people like Zakiya reside: "Look at me here, I used to be happy. Now, I've lost it all. First two of my daughters were killed and, a couple of months ago, my husband went back to Baghdad to get us some of our savings and he never came back." Meanwhile John Pontifex notes that Syrian Bishop Antoine Audo SJ has thanked Aid to the Church in Need for their latest contribution of $29,000. From Pontifex's press release:
The Chaldean-rite bishop, who is a Jesuit, said: "I do not think the situation for Christians in Iraq is improving. It is still difficult especially in Mosul [city, north Iraq]. "In Baghdad, it varies a lot. Life can be quite normal and then suddenly there can be attacks on the churches and acts of persecution against the people." His comments come after Pope Benedict XVI told the new Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See that the beleaguered country should "give priority to improved security, particularly for the various minorities". At the meeting earlier this month in which Habeeb Mohammed Hadi Ali al-Sadr presented his credentials to the Pontiff, the Pope stressed his concern that if at all possible, Christians resolve to stay in their ancestral homeland. But he added: "Iraqi Christians need to know that it is safe for them to remain in or return to their homes and they need assurances that their properties will be restored to them and their rights upheld." Aid to the Church in Need is prioritising help for the Middle East after Pope Benedict XVI told the charity that "Churches in the Middle East are threatened in their very existence." As well as helping Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria, ACN is providing aid for those fleeing to Turkey and Jordan.
Also giving thanks this week was Ayad Allawi. Al Jazeera notes, "Allawi in turn thanked Syria for hosting hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and for its support for efforts to restore stability in Iraq." Meanwhile AINA reports that the Council of Europe is demanding that "the Swedish government stop the deportation of Iraqis." And Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News -- link has video) reports on an internal refugee camp within Iraq near the Iranian border.
Gabriel Gatehouse: [. . .] this tent village has grown up in just the last month. The people who are living here now come from villages between here and that border [Iranian border] and they fled because of the persistent shelling from inside Iran and aerial bombardments byTurkish planes. They're living a very basic life, water systems provided by UNHCR, the same for the tents they're living in. These people are farmers, they're too scared to go back home to their villages. What's more, they don't know when they'll be able to go back.
Turkish military aircraft is targeting the PKK -- a Kurdish group which believes in an autonomous, Kurdish homeland and is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, Iraq, the US and others. From the June 3rd snapshot: "Shamal Arqawi (Reuters) reports that the cease fire the PKK had with Turkey is now off according to 'PKK spokesman Ahmed Danees [. . .] in Kurdistan. This followed PKK leader (one of them) Abdullah Ocalan, in prison in Turkey since 1999, stated he was no longer engaging in any dialoge with the government of Turkey. Last month a historic visit took place to Turkey and that got little attention as well. Even though PBS' NewsHour had Turkey's Foreign Minister on as a guest the day before, they didn't even bother to ask about the meeting. Robert Olson (Lexington Herald-Leader) offers: Turkey reportedly offered KRG President Masoud Barzani these choices when he visited in June: The KRG takes unilateral armed action to destroy PKK bases in Iraq; or the KRG, Baghdad government and/or U.S. forces take joint action against the camps. Failing either of those, Turkey undertakes "unilateral armed action against the PKK in Iraq," including a substantial land invasion. Turkey's top commanders say the U.S. -- loathe to diminish the political and military power of the KRG or the Kurds in Iraq -- would oppose a major Turkish incursion. But if the PKK attacks from Iraq into Turkey continue, Ankara may risk U.S. ire by launching an invasion into northern Iraq because Turkish nationalist outrage against the PKK and Kurds could hurt the ruling Justice and Development Part (JDP), led by Prime Minster Recep Tayyib Erdogan, in next year's national election. Today's Zaman reports, "Turkish defense authorities have decided to use remote sensing systems, called 'moles,' to prevent the infiltration of terrorists from Turkey's border with northern Iraq and to ensure the security of military outposts along the border." As they work to keep the PKK from slipping in, Justin Vela (Asia Times) notes, Turkey is flooding northern Iraq with investment money which is, historically, one way to control a region. Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reports from a PKK camp in northern Iraq: After a number of abortive approaches, we finally made contact with the PKK.With the help of a guide, for hours we travelled by car along miles of bumpy, unpaved winding roads up into the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq. When we got to the camp, hidden in a dip in the mountains, our reception was friendly but guarded. Few of the fighters wanted to talk to us. About a third of them are women. All were dressed in the same heavy green uniform. Most carried Kalashnikov rifles.
Violence isn't only on the borders of Iraq. Tim Arango (New York Times) reports the Green Zone was attacked with a rocket and 3 "foreign contractors" who work for the US Embassy in Baghdad were killed in the attack with fifteen more ("including two American citizens") injured. Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) notes the dead hailed from Uganda (two of the dead) and Peru and that "nationalities of the other 13 injured aren't known."
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports four Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people, a Baghdad mortar attack which injured two people, a Diyala Province sticky bombing blew up a police officer's motorcycle, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left four injured (all police officers), a Mosul roadside bombing wounded three people, a Mosul sticky bombing claimed the life of "a retired Brig. Gen." and a Falluja roadside bombing claimed 1 life.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Iraqi military officer Ahmed Jassim was injured in a Baghdad shooting, 1 civilian was killed in another Baghdad shooting (and one person wounded), 1 civilian was shot dead in a Mosul shooting (and two police officers and a female civilian were injured), another Mosul shooting claimed 1 life and another Mosul shooting claimed 1 life.
In other news, Ned Parker and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) report Camp Cropper prison (just handed semi-over to Iraqis -- US military retains one wing) saw four prisoners escape today.
Meanwhile March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and five days and, in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. Today makes it four months and fifteen days without any government being established.The Council of Foreign Relations' Mohamad Bazzi (New York Daily News) focuses on Moqtada al-Sadr's face-to-face with Ayad Allawi earlier this week, "But Sadr's political ascendance threatens to stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq: His followers were responsible for some of the worst atrocities against Sunnis during the country's recent civil war. Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, unleashed death squads that assassinated Sunnis and drove them out of Shiite neighborhoods." The editorial board of the New York Times weighs in on the stalemate:Four months after national elections gave a cross-sectarian alliance led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, a two-seat lead over Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's Shiite coalition, Iraqi politicians are still squabbling over who should form the new government. Until that is sorted out, Mr. Maliki is in charge -- a caretaker with limited authority. The list of problems for the new government to address is long. Iraq's economy is growing, but even the most optimistic estimate puts unemployment at 15 percent. Despite billions of dollars in American aid -- too much of it squandered on corruption and mismanagement -- Iraqis still lack adequate electricity.Iraqi politicians also have yet to settle some of the most difficult, and potentially combustible, political issues. The government has to come up with a better plan for protecting, and employing, former Sunni insurgents whose decision to switch sides helped quell the violence. They are increasingly the target of revenge killings by Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Parliament still has not agreed on laws for negotiating oil contracts and for sharing oil revenues. Competing Kurdish and Arab claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk must be settled.
In London yesterday, the Iraq Inquiry heard from Stephen White (Director of Law and Order and Senior Policy Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003 - 2004), Colin Smith (Senior Police Adviser, Basra, 2005 - 2006), Lt Gen Anthony Palmer (Deputy Chief of Defence Staff - Personnel - 2002 - 2005), Lt Gen Alistair Irwin (Adjutant General, 2003 - 2005), Carolyn Miller (Director Europe, Middle East and Americas, Department for International Debelopment 2001 - 2004) (link goes to video and transcript option). Last week, we were calling out Dimiter Kenarov's idiotic article for Esquire where he was glorifying DynCorps. So we'll note that they got a shout-out in the hearing. Colin Smith: I don't think they were initially. I think the IPLOs, who worked the Dyncorps were really working as part of CPATT and they saw their role as looking at 22 very much logistics. They didn't see them themselves coming under British military command. They didn't see themselves coming under my command. So they attended weekly meetings with the Provost Marshall in the APOD, MND South East headquarters, but they really were operating -- I brought them in -- when I looked at the development strategy, I brought them on board and their views were taken. I tried to bring them in to be more inclusive but it was difficult because they just awe [saw] themselves as part of CPATT, which was a US-led organisation. They didn't see themselves as part of the team. I made them welcome and I think by the time I left, I would like to say again the work Dave Haverley(?) and his team did -- that we brought them all on board. The Armourgroup when I arrived, were very much on a contract, set to do certain things -- mentoring, monitoring, advising and I was slightly surprised to find they weren't actually under my control. So I couldn't task them. Contractors were mentioned in James Jeffrey's hearing this week on his nomination to be the US Ambassador to Iraq (click here for Tuesday's snapshot, Wednesday's snapshot, Kat's coverage, Ava's coverage and Wally's coverage). It's worth noting that there are few problems that could spring up in the coming months with contractors that could be seen as surprising at this late date. A point to remember should mercenaries shoot up Iraqi civilians again and the State Dept try to spin a Condi Rice golden oldie: "No one could have guessed." We'll note this from Lt Gen Anthony Palmer's testimony: Committee Member MARTIN GILBERT: I would like to ask about a specific MoD announcement which we have taken evidence on. That was the announcement in March 2003, made on 20 March, that unmarried partners of service personnel killed in operations might be eligible for the equivalent of a widow's pension so long as certain eligibility criteria were met. Can you tell us the background to this rather important change of policy? LT. GEN. ANTHONY PALMER: Gosh! Well, clearly it has to be seen in the general context of government policy on partners more widely. My own personal view was that we ought to be responding to partnerships in exactly the same way as we should be responding to marriages, and that, of course, eventually became the law. So we were looking for a response which took that into account, and to me, quite clearly, if somebody had been living as a partner, provided it could be proved, and I seem to recall one of the difficulties was to define exactly what a partner was and, as I recollect, it was if there was a joint mortgage on a house or whatever. So, as you can imagine, in the armed forces there are partnerships and partnerships, and some are enduring and really take the place of a marriage and others less so. So this, again, I think is an example of where we had to tread very carefully. Another issue I think was that there was a bit of reluctance within some parts of the armed forces on the partnership issue. It wasn't generally accepted that it was going to be necessarily a good thing to have people who were married and people who were partners, and we are going back eight years now, so obviously the situation has changed since, living on the same married quarter, etc. So there were issues like that. That's why I say that coordination, consultation with the principal personnel officers and, of course, with ministers on this issue, and sometimes other government departments, was extremely important to produce an enduring policy. Committee Member MARTIN GILBERT: Given the actual timing of it, to what extent was it driven by the imminence of the invasion, and to what extent was it a longer element that just happened to come into place on that day? LT. GEN. ANTHONY PALMER: Well, quite clearly, there were going to be issues that were going to affect people in partnerships, that were going to need to have exactly the same treatment as people in marriage, for instance, in the event of a fatality or whatever. As I said, I was very keen to make sure that these people were treated with the same degree of compassion and sensitivity, because, to me, a partnership, provided it meets the criteria, is every bit as much a commitment as a marriage, that they should be treated exactly the same and that is eventually what happened. LT. GEN. SIR ALISTAIR IRWIN: I have a little titbit to add to that, if that's helpful. I am pretty sure I am right in remembering that the issue of partners' entitlements emerged after the death in action of Bombadier Tinnion in Sierra Leone, during the course of a helicopter assault in the rescuing of some hostages. Bombadier Tinnion's partner -- I think they had a baby. I think they had been planning to get married, but they had not got round to it. The rules at the time clearly were going to be disadvantageous to her, because there was no entitlement to anything of the things she would have had, had she been a wife. There was then -- that, I think, was in 1999, something like that, towards the end of 1999. So from then until -- I don't remember when, but certainly halfway through my time as Adjutant General, this was an issue that was debated, and, you know, as Anthony says, there were a lot of different opinions. Certainly at the beginning of the argument, as Adjutant General, I am afraid I took an old-fashioned view that, you know, commitment means marriage and, if you love somebody enough, you should marry and then -- but clearly this is an out-of-date idea now. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) covers Carolyn Miller's testimony here. And that covers the three testimonies worth noting.
Turning to the issue of US service members. This afternoon, Lt Dan Choi Tweeted the following:
I have been discharged under DADT. Our fight is just beginning. http://tiny.cc/thpr5 about 7 hours ago via Twitterrific
"DADT" is Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Dan Choi is an openly gay man serving in the military. Many people thought voting for Barack Obama would mean the end of DADT -- because Barack and Michelle Obama claimed it would mean that. But DADT continues. Don't despair though, Barack's ordered a study about repealing it. And, maybe someday, it could be repealed. Bill Hutchinson (New York Daily News) quotes Dan stating, "After 11 years since beginning my journey at West Point and after 17 months of serving openly as an infantry officer this is both an infuriating and painful announcement." The Advocate has posted [PDF format warning] the discharge letter which notes Lt Dan Choi will be discharged July 31st. CNN adds:
Choi told CNN he received the news through a phone call from his Army National Guard battalion commander. His discharge, however, actually became effective on June 29, according to Eric Durr, a National Guard spokesman.
"You prepare yourself," Choi said. "I built an armor up."
Choi, a 2003 West Point graduate who is fluent in Arabic, was an infantry platoon leader, serving with his unit in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
Turning to veterans issues, in England, Today (BBC News -- link has audio) speaks with Iraq War veteran Sgt Maj John Dale who states, "You can't come back and just switch off." Meanwhile in the US, Iraq War veteran Peter Kastner has taken his own life. WSAW reports that he was discovered at Yellowstone National Park. WQOW notes that Park Rangers began looking for him in May after finding his rental car but only discovered his body last week. His father Larry Kastner tells WXOW that his son suffered from PTSD. KOTV reports that the "autoposy revealed Kastner died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound." KRTV adds, "Kastner had been honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after serving for four years. During his service, he was injured twice by Improvised Explosive Devices while serving in Iraq." John Brewer (Pioneer Press) explains, "Male veterans are twice as likely as civilians of either gender to commit suicide, according to the VA, with 1,000 suicides occurring per year among veterans receiving VA care. About 5,000 suicides occur per year among all living veterans, the VA said, an average of 14 veterans a day."The House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees have examined the suicide rate and other issues effecting veterans such as education which is the topic of a press release issued by Senator Daniel Akak who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:AKAKA TO MOVE FORWARD WITH POST-9/11 GI BILL IMPROVEMENT ACTChairman holds hearing on strengthening new education programWASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following a favorable hearing on improving the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) is preparing to move forward with legislation to improve the new program. "The original GI Bill changed my life and our country," said Akaka, one of three current U.S. Senators who went to college on the original GI Bill. "I am committed to strengthening the new program for post-9/11 troops and veterans, and I look forward to moving this improvement bill to a vote."Akaka is the author of a S. 3447, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010, a bill to enhance the new education benefit for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The Committee on Veterans' Affairs is scheduled to hold a markup of pending legislation on August 5, 2010, at which point Akaka intends to bring the bill up for a vote.At the hearing yesterday, witnesses testified in support of the legislation and offered suggestions. Eric Hilleman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars stated that Senator Akaka's legislation "addresses every area of concern the VFW has with improving the Post-9/11 GI Bill." Tim Embree from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America offered ideas for the draft bill as well as IAVA's endorsement. Embree said the "discussion draft of S. 3447 will improve the New GI Bill and ensure that all student veterans have access to the most generous investment in veterans' education since World War II."Akaka, a World War II veteran, attended the University of Hawaii-Manoa on the original GI Bill. He cosponsored the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and worked with Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) to revise and negotiate the legislation. More information about the hearing, including statements, testimony and the webcast is available here: veterans.senate.govFor more information on the GI Bill, please visit http://www.gibill.va.gov-END-Kawika RileyCommunications DirectorU.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' AffairsSenator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairmanhttp://www.veterans.senate.gov
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