Thursday, May 24, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, heavily protected Baghdad sees a mortar attack, the summit with Iran wraps up, a new US report offers a very chilling view of life in Iraq, there are claims of enough votes existing to oust Nouri as prime minister, and more.
Violence has not ended in Iraq. Yesterday alone, Iraq Body Count notes
14 violent deaths and, through yesterday, 173 violent deaths for the month of May thus far. The hot spots yesterday were Ramadi (3 deaths), Hamam al-Aleel (4 deaths), Abu Saida (2 deaths) Mkhesi (2 deaths), Kirkuk (1 death) and Rawah (1 death). Not on the list? Baghdad.
Al Jazeera and Christian Science Monitor
correspondent Jane Arraf
RTE reports, "Around 15,000 Iraqi police and troops will protect the venue inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone." In addition, James Reynolds (BBC News) explains, "Outside the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone), Iraqi soldiers wearing balaclavas stand up on the turrets of armoured jeeps." AFP offers, "Thousands of additional Iraqi security personnel have been deployed in areas north, west and south of Baghdad to try to prevent the firing of mortars and rockets into the capital, a security official said. The official also said without providing figures that additional forces have been deployed at checkpoints in the Iraqi capital, and that searches have been increased. "
All of those precautions were for yesterday and today's meeting that Baghdad was hosting. The UN Security Council permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- and Germany are in Iraq for talks with Iran. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports
that it appears the six nations "were dropping demands that Iran completely halt the enrichment of uranium. Instead, the six powers formally asked Iran to halt enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a proposal that would allow it to continue enriching uranium to the 5 percent level Iran says it needs for electrical power generation." Last night on The NewsHour (PBS -- link is audio, text and video), the New York Times' Steven Erlanger told
Judy Woodruff, "Well, we're hearing that they're not going wonderfully well. The six powers put down a proposal for the Iranians which they claimed would be a set of concrete agenda to really get to the heart of the most urgent problem with Iran, which is their enrichment to 20 percent of uranium." Earlier today, Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) discussed
the summit with journalist Peter Kenyon.
Steve Inskeep: OK. So the shape of some kind of a deal here would be freezing enrichment at some level in exchange for a loosening of sanctions, but that's turning out to be difficult for both sides to do, both sides to obtain. Now, do the Iranians expect to have a little more leverage here, a little more leeway, because they are reported to be on the verge of agreeing to let UN nuclear inspectors have more access to the country?
Peter Kenyon: I'd say that did appear to be the case. That was their hope. The international side, on the other hand, was quick to distinguish these talks from the nuclear inspector's work. Western officials also say, you know, this agreement, if it comes between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, won't be real until it's signed. And so there's still a possibility that this was some kind of a maneuver by which Tehran would hope to see what it could get out of these talks. The IAEA, though, I should say, does seem confident that an agreement will be reached soon. And I think we need to point out that these inspections are about alleged experiments that happened years ago. There's no clear and convincing evidence that Tehran is right now actively seeking a weapon. What experts are worried about is that Iran wants the knowledge and the capability to do so should it choose to build one.
Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports
that Saeed Jalili who is representing Iran in the talks held a press conference with Catherine Ashton of the European Union and he declared, "We emphasized that having peaceful nuclear energy, especially uranium enrichment, is our people's inalienable right." Today on All Things Considered (NPR -- audio -- text will be posted by Friday morning), Peter Kenyon reported
, "After two days of what she called for intense and detailed discussions, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said the talks had established a new level of seriousness to grapple with the international community's longstanding concerns about Iran's nuclear activities." From the joint-press conference, we'll note this.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton: First of all, I would like ot thank the Iraqi government, and in particular Foreign Minister [Hoshyar] Zebari, for the excellent hospitality and organisation of these talks. The E3=3 remain firm, clear and united in seeking a swift diplomatic resolution of the international community's concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, based on the NPT, and the full implementation of UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors Resolutions. We expect Iran to take concrete and practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence and to meet its international obligations. We have met with our Iranian counterparts over the last two days in very intense and detailed discussions. In line with our agreement in Istanbul, the E3+3 laid out clear proposals to address the Iranian nuclear issue and, in particular, all aspects of 20% enrichment. We also put ideas on the table on reciprocal steps we would be prepared to take. Iran declares its readiness to address the issue of 20% enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognie their right to enrichment. Having held in-depth discussions with our Iranian counterparts over two days -- both in full plenary sessions and bilaterals -- it is clear that we both want to make progress and that there is some common ground. However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground. We will go back to our respective capitals and consult. We will maintain intensive contacts with our Iranian counterparts to prepare a further meeting in Moscow with arrival on 17th June with talks on 18th and 19th June. As we have already agreed, the talks will be based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity. We remain determined to resolve this problem in the near term through negotiations and will continue to make every effort to that end.
While Jalili and Ashton were holding their press conference, US State Dept spokesperson hid behind that to avoid answering questions at today's State Dept press breifing.
Victoria Nuland: Well, as you said, Arshad, she [Catherine Ashton] is speaking even as we are speaking, and so I think it's probably not appropriate for me to comment on top of her. Why don't we let her conclude her remarks? I'm sure there will be U.S. officials out in Baghdad who will be commenting to the press, and we'll continue this tomorrow.
Victoria Nuland: Again, Arshad, she's in the middle of characterizing the round on behalf of the EU3+3, so I really think it would be highly inappropriate for me in the same time and space to jump on top of her, much as you would like me to.
Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) quotes
China's Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu and he states, "Based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity, all sides, during the meeting, declared their willingness to address the issue through dialogue." One of the few concrete outcomes was the decision to meet in Moscow next month and continue the dialogue.
Russia? Today another nail was driven in the coffin of Iraq's tourism industry. RIA Novosti reports
Alexander Orlov has revealed to them that 4 members "of the Moscow-based mororcyle club RAMCC" were arrested in Iraq at the start of the week: Oleg Kapkayev, Alexander Vardanyants, Oleg Maksimov and Maxim Ignatyev. The charges? The four bikers, Baghdad insists, are spies. Remember that depiste the Iraqi Constitution putting into writing that all are innocent until proven guilty, judges and officials haven't familiarized themselves with that principle yet. And it's Thug Nouri's Iraq, remember. So you don't just get booked, you get printed -- finger printed, fist printed, etc -- you get beaten in custody:
According to Orlov, the men, who have been severely beaten, are accused of espionage, visa forgery, and are being threatened with the death penalty. "They are one of the most experienced moto-tourists in Russia. They have crossed the whole world…the speculations that they had forged the visas is mere nonsense."RT adds
, "Their text messages suggest they were finally taken to a military prison at a base in Baghdad, handcuffed, and that all their belongings were taken away except for one hidden mobile phone. Suddenly at night they texted they were being beaten, accused of espionage and visa forgery and threatened with the death penalty." Orlov tells the Russian Legal Information Agency
, "They had another 20 kilometers to go before reaching Bagdad. They were detained by individuals in military uniform, who did not introduce themselves. They were delivered to an Iraqi military base and their documents were taken away from them." The Voice of Russia notes
that Russian Embassy spokesperson Sergei Cherkasov has confirmed that the four are being held and on charges of being spies. Of Cherkasov, The Moscow Times adds
, "But in a separate interview with NTV television he said the embassy's efforts had been complicated by Iraqi authorities' distraction with international talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program, which are being held in Baghdad this week." A relative of one of the bikers spoke with The Voice of Russia and stated
that the four had "been transferred to a prison cell containing over 100 people." Today in Russia, RIA Novosti reports
, over "300 people, including 200 bikers, gathered near the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow, protesting against the arrest of four Russian nationals". The Moscow Times reports
that both Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari have declared that the bikers will be freed shortly. AFP quotes
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich declared of those promises, "We hope that this is exactly what happens." Meanwhile The Moscow Times also reports
that Oleg Kapkayeve texted that he and the other three were being threatened by Iraqi forces with 10 years in prison or the death penalty.
Meanwhile Fars News Agency reports
that, as the summit ended, Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbaq declared, "My country is prepared to host future negotiations between Iran and the Group 5+1." But they were done with Iraq. Not that there wasn't a parting gift.
During the year the most significant human rights developments were continuing abuses by sectarian and ethnic armed groups and violations by government-affiliated forces. Divisions between Shia and Sunni and between Arab and Kurd empowered sectarian militant organizations. These militants, purporting to defend one group through acts of intimidation and revenge against another, influenced political outcomes. Terrorist attacks designed to weaken the government and deepen societal divisions occurred during the year.
The three most important human rights problems in the country were governmental and societal violence reflecting a precarious security situation, a fractionalized population mirroring deep divisions exacerbated by Saddam Hussein's legacy, and rampant corruption at all levels of government and society.
That's about Iraq and it's not from a newspaper or a human rights group, it's from the US State Dept's 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
just released today. Of the report, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared today (link is text -- video should be added by tomorrow)
, "As Secretary, I have worked with my superb team on advancing human rights in a 21st century landscape, focusing on new frontiers even as we stand up against age-old abuses. Where women have been and continue to be marginalized, we're helping them become full partners in their governments and economies. Where LGBT people are mistreated and discriminated against, we're working to bring them into full participation in their socieites. We're expanding access to technology and defending internet freedom because people deserve the same rights online as off. And we know that in the 21st century, human rights are not only a question of civil and political liberties, it's about the fundamental question of whether people everywhere have the chance to make the most of their God-given potential." One of the State Dept's Assistant Secretaries, Michael Posner, had some strong opening remarks but that press briefing was a joke -- due to Victoria Nuland trying not only to field questions (Posner can handle a press briefing all by himself) but also to tell jokes (while the topic is human rights abuses -- she is so tonally deaf) and the general appalling questions offered by the press. The main message from the press briefing was that the press covering the State Dept doesn't give a damn about Iraq or the people of that country. All the US taxpayer money spent, all the Iraqi lives, all the US lives, all the British lives, all of it, none of it matters one damn bit. The Iraq War was nothing but a summer popcorn movie for the US press. They've already forgotten it and wet their pants with excitement over the next possible war.
Here's more from the opening of the report's Iraq section:
During the year the following significant human rights problems were also reported: arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life; extremist and terrorist bombings and executions; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; poor conditions in pretrial detention and prison facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of fair public trials; delays in resolving property restitution claims; insufficient judicial institutional capacity; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; limits on freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; extremist threats and violence; limits on religious freedom due to extremist threats and violence; restrictions on freedom of movement; large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees; lack of transparency and significant constraints on international organizations and nongovernmental organizations' (NGOs) investigations of alleged violations of human rights; discrimination against and societal abuses of women and ethnic, religious, and racial minorities; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and limited exercise of labor rights.
A culture of impunity has largely protected members of the security services, as well as those elsewhere in the government, from investigation and successful prosecution of human rights violations.
Terrorist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq committed attacks against a wide swath of society, including Sunnis, Shia, and members of other sects or ethnicities, security forces, places of worship, religious pilgrims, economic infrastructure, and government officials. Their means were suicide bombings, attacks with improvised explosive devices, drive-by shootings, and other acts of violence aimed at weakening the government and deepening ethnosectarian divisions. Certain militant organizations, such as those influenced by Iran, also committed numerous terrorist attacks, primarily against foreign embassies and foreign military forces.
It didn't prompt one damn question about Iraq at the press briefing. But one reporter wanted the US 'to talk about' balancing human rights issues with security issues because, goodness, Amnesty International had a few bad things to say about the US' own record on human rights. That's called lackey or boot licker, it doesn't really say "reporter" -- or "CNN producer" to be more specific.
The US press largely ignored the targeting of Iraqi youth -- especially those thought to be Emo and/or LGBT. Did the report?
No. So we'll make room for this section of the report:
There was no law specifically prohibiting consensual same-sex sexual activity, although the penal code prohibits sodomy, irrespective of gender. There were no data on prosecutions for sodomy. Due to social conventions and retribution against both victim and perpetrator of nonconsensual same-sex sexual conduct and persecution against participants in consensual same-sex sexual conduct, this activity was generally unreported.
In light of the law, the authorities relied on public indecency charges or confessions of monetary exchange, (i.e., prostitution, which is illegal) to prosecute same-sex sexual activity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons often faced abuse and violence from family and nongovernmental actors. UNAMI reported that at least six individuals were killed because of their perceived sexual orientation and that an NGO relocated a 17-year-old boy after his family attempted to kill him because they thought he was gay. The procedures used to arrest LGBT persons also were used to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with persons other than their spouses.
Due to social conventions and potential persecution, including violent attacks, LGBT organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, occupation, and housing was common. Information was not available regarding discrimination in access to education or health care due to sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no government efforts to address this discrimination.
At year's end authorities had not announced any arrests or prosecutions of any persons for violence against LGBT individuals.
The report does not paint a pretty picture of Iraq today. The US government launched an illegal war and now wants to ignore the reality of what that illegal war has produced. There were a lot of self-righteous reporters in 2002 and 2003 insisting that the Iraqi people needed to be remembered and that the impending war would be for the good of the Iraqi people. I guess the reason the US press is so silent on Iraq today is because talking about Iraq right now means choking on their lies.
On to the political crisis, the never-ending political crisis in Iraq. In another major blow to Nouri al-Maliki's already fragile public image (in addition to the State Dept's today there is a damning report that came out last week -- click here
for Human Rights Watch's report on his torture prison), Alsumaria reports
that it is said that there are now 200 MPs ready to vote to withdraw confidence in him -- and 20 of those votes would come from Nouri's own State of Law political slate.
March 7, 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections. Nouri is the head of Dawa, a political party. He didn't want to run with Dawa and wasn't crazy about the Shi'ite groupings that existed. So he ran on his own political slate, State of Law. Despite using the Justice and Accountability Commission to force various rival politicians (such as members of Iraqiya, such as Saleh al-Mutlaq) out of the election, despite tarring and feathering the other new political slate Iraqiya as "terrorists," Ba'athists and controlled by foriegners, despite suddenly taking an interest (as he does two months before every election) in 'public works' project such as water -- no, not improving the infrastructure so people can have potable water, instead he sends a water truck to the area to try to make the residents feel they owe him -- and so much more, State of Law still came in second to Iraqiya.
Because he is the US puppet, the White House backed him over the Iraqi people and the notions of democracy and the process outlined in Iraq's Constitution. Because he had the backing of both the White House and Tehran, he could bring the country to a standstill and did. For eight months following the election, Iraq suffered from gridlock. That means one, brief embarrassing session of Parliament and nothing else. Nouri refused to step aside and let the country move forward. Finally, in November 2010 (over eight months later), the US brokered a contract known as the Erbil Agreement. Nouri was given his second term as prime minister. The political blocs agreed to that provided Nouri met their demands such as finally implementing Articel 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, such as creating an independent security body headed by Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya). Every one of the blocs gave up something and did so to try to end Political Stalemate I. The day after the agreement was signed by all parties, Nouri was named prime minister-designate (Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq, would 'officially' name him that days later to give him more time than the Constitution allowed to create a Cabinet).
Iraqiya wanted to discuss the independent security council, Nouri and State of Law said "too soon." Allawi led many members of Iraqiya in a walk-out. The US worked over time to get Allawi and his MPs back into that session. They told him that the agreement would be honored but that Allawi had to give it time.
In December, having failed to name a full Cabinet (a Constitutional requirement), Nouri was illegal moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister. And still people waited for the implementation of the Erbil Agreement. Last summer, the Kurdish bloc was tired of being put off and ignored and declared publicly that Nouri needed to return to and honor the Erbil Agreement. They were quickly joined in that call by Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr.
Political Stalemate II has gone on for over a year. This is the ongoing political crisis. Nouri's decision to target Sunnis and Iraqiya in the fall of last year didn't help. His attacks on provinces who wanted to -- as they are allowed in the Constitution -- move towards semi-autonomy went along with his arrests of various innocent Sunnis (such as elderly college professors) in an attempt to destroy their lives and then, in December, he went after Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi -- both Sunni, both members of Iraiqya.
A real leader would have resolved the political crisis long ago. Not just because it's good for Iraq but because it's good for the leader's own image and legacy. Nouri's not a leader. Puppets so rarely are. April 28th, there was another Erbil meet-up and among those attending were Allawi, Moqtada, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabni. At the meeting, it was decided that the Erbil Agreement needed to be implemented and so did Moqtada's 18-point plan. Moqtada al-Sadr then informed Nouri that if this did not take place, they would pursue a no-confidence vote against him. If unsuccessful, it still leaves him wounded image wise. If successful, it leaves him out of a job. So you'd think a real leader would say, "Sure, I promised to abide by the Erbil Agreement, let me implement it right now and stop all this fighting." But Nouri's no leader.
And now there are supposed to be 200 votes against him. Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly stated that Nouri still has time so you'd think, before the deadline got here, Nouri would implement the agreement. Dar Addustour reports
that Jalal Talabani met with Nouri yesterday and urged him to resolve the crisis by implementing the agreement but Nouri refused.
Nouri's sometime political ally, sometime political foe, Ahmed Chalabi is in the news today. Alsumaria reports
he has stated that the National Alliance (a political slate of various Shi'ite groups including Moqtada's and Nouri's) to determine what their plan of action will be and how to best resolve the political crisis. Ibrahim al-Jaafari is said to have called the meet-up. Chalaib also insisted that the supposed move to have a vote of no-confidence on Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi (a member of Iraqiya) was not a National alliance plan, did not originate with the National Alliance and that the alliance has received no request for such an action.
Remember how Nouri was illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister at the end of December 2010? He had not filled a Cabinet. That's nominating them, that's getting the Parliament to vote for them. The security ministries were left vacant. Iraqiya stated Nouri was doing that intentionally because it would allow him to control them.
Because Iraq's system's different than the US, let's explain that.
If Barack Obama wants Noam Chomsky to be Secretary of Education, he nominates him and the Senate votes on whether or not to confirm him. If he's confirmed, he begins serving. Barack might decide Chomsky's not doing a good job or that he's a liability to his election campaign or that he just wants someone else in the job. So he would convey that to Chomsky who would offer his resignation and depart. Then Barack could name someone else to the post.
That's not the way it works in Iraq. Nouri nominates. The Parliament votes. If the Parliament votes someone into the Cabinet, only the Parliament can remove them. So if Nouri nominates Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers journalist) to be Minister of Defense and the Parliament approves that nomination, Laith is in place and running things and has a great deal of power including that he can't be forced out of the post by anyone but the Parliament.
Nouri has 'named' 'acting ministers' to the security posts. Acting ministers are not real ministers. They are not approved by Parliament. They have no independence and no powers. (The notion of them doesn't even exist in the Constitution.) Nouri can name Ahmed Chalabi acting Minister of the Interior tomorrow and fire him three days later for no reason other than Nouri had gas the night before. Because it's not a real position and it doesn't require a vote from Parliament. These are people Nouri puts in place and that Nouri controls. As his first term established, Nouri does not control the Cabinet. He is a member of it, the alleged head of it but he has to work with these members he can't fire or risk more gridlock.Dar Addustour reports
today that Nouri is nixing names for Minister of Defense. There is no Minister of Defense. All this time later. None. Nouri was supposed to have nominated and seen one confirmed before he could move to prime minister (from prime minister-designate). The Constitution gives the designate 30 days to form that Cabinet. It's two years later and Nouri still doesn't have a Minister of Defense. Or Interior. Or National Security.
And turning to the United States where US Senator Patty Murray led on the Hire Heroes Act and is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes an important speech she gave. I'd love to include it in full but we've had to edit the top part of the snapshot and aren't even including Al Rafidayn's report
that Jalal Talabani wrote his resignation, gave it to KRG President Massoud Barzani and wants Barzani to hold it -- it's an apparent effort by Talabni to demonstrate that his goals are the goals of Kurds in the KRG. So we're going to include a large portion of it but we can't include the speech in full today.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
VETERANS: Senator Murray Discusses Progress in Veterans Hiring, Importance of Working with the Private Sector
With Memorial Day approaching, author of VOW to Hire Heroes Act discussed 5 important steps private companies should take to bring veterans on board, debunked stigma many employers have attached to the invisible wounds of war, and cited success stories
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the state of efforts to hire veterans. The speech focused on what steps private businesses are taking that are improving veterans hiring and what challenges veterans still face in the job market. The speech comes after extensive discussions Murray has had with private employers, veterans, and employment experts on what's working and what isn't in the effort to hire veterans. Recent labor statistics show that unemployment, particularly among young veterans, remains unacceptably high.
Full text of Senator Murray's speech:
"Next week Americans will spend time honoring and commemorating the men and women who died fighting for our great country. Memorial Day is a day to reflect on and give thanks for the sacrifices made by those who made the ultimate sacrifice—but it is also a day to look forward and to think about what we all can do to help our veterans who have also sacrificed so much -- and who deserve our support when they come home. So, I come to the floor today to discuss an issue that, quite frankly, defies common sense.
"The high rate of unemployment among recently separated veterans is an issue that continues to make the transition home for veterans harder than ever. Despite the fact that our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century. Our veterans continue to struggle.
"Despite the skill, talent and training of our veterans, statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is nearly 20%. That is one in five of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family, don't have an income that provides stability, and don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.
"We know this shouldn't be the case. We shouldn't let the skills and training our nation's veterans have attained go to waste. And that's why we all joined together to overwhelmingly pass my VOW to Hire Heroes Act here in the Senate late last year. Among many other things, this law provides tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire veterans, makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for most separating servicemembers, and expands the education and training we provide transitioning servicemembers.
"Thanks to this legislation we have been able to take a real, concrete step toward putting our veterans to work. The tax credit is working. And VA is set to begin accepting applications for a retraining program that will benefit unemployed veterans ages 35-60 and help get them back to work. This bill is only that, a first step.
"Today, I'd like to talk about the next step. And that step is to build partnerships with private businesses large and small – all across the country – to hire our nation's heroes.
"Just recently I was in New York where I participated in a lively roundtable discussion hosted by the Robin Hood Foundation. This discussion on veterans' employment was moderated by Tom Brokaw on the USS Intrepid and brought together people of various backgrounds – including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan – to talk about this important issue. What is very apparent is that there is momentum to build public/private partnerships. What is also apparent is that there
is a lot of room for improvement in this area.
"Now, I want to first make it clear that a lot of companies across the country are far ahead of the curve on this. In fact, many private sector companies have already joined our efforts in addressing this critical issue. For example, JC Penney, one of America's largest retailers, and Joseph Abboud, a men's clothing company, partnered with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to launch the Welcome Home Joe – Thanks a Million Program. To prepare veterans for job interviews, this program has provided 5,000 veterans with certificates to purchase business attire.
"For the last decade we have expected our brave men and women in uniform to prepare for the battlefield. In the process, they have become accustomed to wearing combat boots and battle dress uniforms. Now they are expected wear a suit and tie for job interviews - something that sometimes seems foreign to them. But thanks to this program, thousands of transitioning veterans can now hang-up their battle dress uniforms and dress for their next challenge.
"Other companies like, Schneider National, one of America's largest trucking companies, are realizing that the skills our veterans have gained over the last decade of war are directly applicable to their businesses. Schneider National recognizes that a veteran who has driven a seven-ton truck across Afghanistan's dangerous and rugged terrain is more than qualified to drive a freight truck across our nation's roads. And in addition to providing many veterans with new jobs, Schneider National also provides newly separated veterans with on-the-job training through their Military Apprenticeship Program. As part of the program, veteran employees are eligible to earn a monthly educational benefit check from the VA in addition to a paycheck. Schneider National serves as an example of how companies can hire veterans that have proven they can perform the job, but lack proper certifications for civilian employment.
"The US Chamber of Commerce also must be commended for launching its Hiring Our Heroes initiative which has sponsored 150 hiring fairs in 48 states. At one of these recent hiring fairs, General Electric, the employer of 10,000 veterans
launched its Veterans Network Transition Assistance Program. As part of this program General Electric has vowed to hire 1,000 additional veterans every year
for the next five years and will provide job-seeking veterans with one-on-one mentoring sessions. These sessions help transitioning veterans improve resume writing and interviewing techniques so they can capitalize on the skills they've developed during military service.
"This is just a fraction of the work being done at our nations employers. There are many other success stories at big companies like Home Depot, and at small companies like General Plastics in my home state - which has created a pipeline to hire veterans at its aerospace composites factory. All of these companies are not only examples of success stories – they have also created a roadmap for how best to find, hire, and train veterans. And it's our job to make sure those lessons are being heard. So today I want to lay out a few things that all businesses – large and small – can do to bring our nation's heroes into their companies.
"First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the benefits of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can't tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and on resumes fail to get through to interviewers.
"Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning servicemembers. This is something I've seen done at large organizations like
Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills
developed during military service but also utilize on-the-job training.
"Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations, at local military bases to help connect veterans
with jobs, and to work with local One-Stop Career Centers.
"Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,
"And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.
"Thank you. I yield the floor."