To be clear, I eat meat. I fish on Fridays (due to being Catholic) but I eat beef and chicken and pork at other times during the week. That said, I don't think we've been the Meat Lovers Kitchen Recipe site. That's because I started this site as the economy was getting worse with the thought that the one thing I knew -- as a mother of eight children -- was how to cook on little cash. I also knew that cooking was cheaper than eating out. So this site was about beginning and starting out cooks and we tried to go slowly. I don't worry so much about that now (maybe I should). And while we've had recipes with meat in them, it's not that often. Because meat generally costs more than vegetables, pasta, etc.
But there was some dynamic -- Jung's synchronicity at work? -- over the week where the issue of meat kept coming up in e-mails.
As a general rule, moderation should be the goal. But if you want to eliminate meat from your diet, you should. However, don't make yourself or anyone around you miserable in the process.
But if you're just concerned about the amount of meat you're consuming, you can cut back very easily. You can serve meals without meat or meals where meat's a small part of it.
While that was being debated in e-mails by one group of readers, another group was finding a different problem. These are people who are vegetarians or will eat just vegetable meals but are overwhelmed by various recipes.
That's a real problem and it's that a number of vegetarian sites are not about helping you to eat vegetables, they're about wanna-be gourmet vegetarians. So you end up with steps you shouldn't have to wade through that will confuse the casual or just learning cook.
An egg plant recipe came up in 5 e-mails. Let me be really clear, if you're trying to eat healthy and switching to meatless meals or trying to go all vegetarian, shame on anyone telling you to fry anything.
This is an egg plant casserole and, no, it does not need frying.
1 large egg plant cut into half-inch slices
1 tablespoon of vinegar (cider is best, then redwine but if you just have plain you can use that)
1 cup of mushrooms sliced*
3 tomatoes sliced (if using roma tomatoes you'll need at least five)
1 medium onion chopped
1 zucchini or yellow squash cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 small package of walnuts (from the baking section of your grocery store -- four to six ounces)
1/2 cup of shredded cheese of choice
2 cups of bread crumbs or croutons
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Dash of dried basil
You've cut the egg plant (with the purple, outer skin still on is the way I like it, if you don't remove it). Boil 3 cups of water on the stove. Place egg plant in a large bowl. Pour the water over it. Add the vinegar to the bowl and allow the mixture to stand for 15 minutes. Drain the egg plant.
Preheat the oven to 350. In a casserole dish, put down a single layer of egg plant. Add a layer of mushrooms. *I use fresh and usually one of the larger mushrooms. You can use fresh or canned based on what you have on hand or what you like best. Add a layer of tomatoes. Add a dash of dried basil.
In a bowl, combine bread crumbs or croutons, walnuts, onions and cheese. I use red onion because that's my favorite. You can use red, yellow or white. You could even chop green onions. Add half of this to the casserole as a thin layer. Add zucchini or squash slices for a layer (use all of the zucchini or squash). If you like sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds or sunflower kernals, you can sprinkle a tablespoon over the mixture here. Add remaining egg plant. Top with remaining mushrooms (if there are any) and then tomatoes (if there are any). Now top with the breadcrumb mixture (remember, you only used half of it for the other layer). And drizzle two tablespoons of olive oil over the casserole. Pop into the oven and bake for a half hour.
You can serve this with a green salad, a three bean salad, a potato salad, a side of ribs, whatever you want but that's an easy egg plant recipe that has no meat in it and requires no frying.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Friday:
Friday, March 23, 2012. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, Human Rights Watch calls for an investigation into whether or not someone was tortured to death, security sources say the targeting of Emo youths in Iraq is back on after the Arab Summit and that this time the ones targeted will be Iraqi girls and young women, even with the GAO pointing to problems the Pentagon denies there are any, and more.
There is a success story in Iraq. You'd think the White House desperate for someone to paint the illegal war as a success would have seized upon it but, even though Jane Arraf reported on it for Al Jazeera last weekend, the White House and other Operation Happy Talkers somehow missed it. This is a transcript to Arraf's video report:
Jane Arraf: It's a small step pronouncing a word but for parents and children, it speaks volumes. Without this institute, some of these children wouldn't even be making eye contact. Eleven years ago, there were no schools for autistic children, so one of the parents started her own. Nibras Sadoun was doing field research in special education when she adopted an autistic child rejected by his mother.
Nibras Sadoun: There are a lot of obstacles in the country and there were huge needs as well. So we tried to pull together the efforts of the founders, specialists and parents to establish a solid base that can serve this segment of society.
Jane Arraf: The Al Rahman Institute, named after her son, has since grown into six centers around the country -- all without Iraqi government funding. The latest just opened in Baghdad. Iraq's education ministry doesn't have any programs for autistic children. It considers them slow learners. Here in the middle of Baghdad, this is a safe place for children, a refuge. But there are only a few dozen children who have been lucky enough to come here and hundreds on the waiting list. Autism is so widely misunderstood here that a lot of children like this spend their entire lives locked up at home. Mariam has been here for a year. She's five-and-a-half but, before she came, she couldn't say "Mama" or ask for water. Her father says her progress is basic. But having somewhere to bring her during the day is a lifesaver.
Nizer Mustapha Hussein:She's a very active child and she plays with everything. Thank God, we found this place. Her mother can't cope with her at home because she can't control her.
Jane Arraf: The children have varying degrees of autism, a lot have other neurolgical or developmental problems as well. Autistic children have trouble communicating or interacting with others. At school, they teach them basic skills. Their biggest problem is lack of qualified staff. Dealing with autistic children takes training and dedication and the determination to find a place for children who don't easily fit in the world around them.
A small number of autistic children and their families can say their lives have improved. Of course, this improvement did not result from any US military project or US State Dept project and didn't result from Prime Minister and All Around Thug Nouri al-Maliki sliding over any dollars from the billions he sits on. As is so often the case with autism around the world, improvements came as a result of families of those effected doing more than their part.
The Autism Support Network highlights a report Lara Logan did for CBS News in 2008 on autism in Iraq. In the report, Logan observes, "The problem for autistic children in Iraq is that almost nothing is known about this condition. Incredibly, the only doctor who did treat it, who founded this center in the name of his own autistic son, has fled the country. He left behind these social workers who try their best to help but even they haven't been paid in four months." Click here for the CBS report with text and video. However, do not e-mail me and say, "C.I., you're wrong about the report. It aired on February 11, 2009." I have no idea what the problem with CBS and dates is this week. We noted Nancy Pelosi's "off the table" 2006 interview on 60 Minutes earlier this week and didn't link to 60 Minutes. Why? You click on that 2006 60 Minutes report and you've got a 2009 date. I didn't want the e-mails. That interview was well covered in real time (we linked to the World Can't Wait commentary the day after the interview aired). Autism is not usually well covered. So we're linking to CBS. But it aired in 2008. If you doubt it, click here, it's the video at YouTube, uploaded by CBS News on August 10, 2008. If you need further convincing, drop back to the August 12, 2008 snapshot when we first noted Lara Logan's report.
Silence on the improvement for the small number of autistic children able to attend one of the six centers may have also been ignored by the White House due to the fact that the rate of autism in Iraq may be influenced by the various chemicals and weapons and pollutants and toxins the US goverment introduced via many methods of delivery (including burn pits). Last week, Cindy Sheehan wrote about being in Stockholm with the Iraq Solidarity Group to observe the anniversary of the invasion and speaking with an Iraqi doctor who went over a number of stastics:
Two million dead during the sanction years; 1.5 milliion dead after 2003; incidences of leukemia in children in Fallujah and Basra skyrocketing by a factor of ten times normal; clean water and electricity are still in short supply; and the US occupiers do not work for the people of Iraq.
[. . .]
Of course we know that the US used depleted uranium coated weapons in Iraq and the region is now poisoned by the radioactive waste from DU for 4.5 billion years --- that is one of the reasons that incidences of leukemia are on the rise.
One woman who does activism to ban all nuclear weapons, including DU, said that now in Iraq, a woman's first question after giving birth is not: "Is it a boy or a girl," but, "Is it normal?"
No wonder the White House decided to skip the topic of Iraqi children. For more coverage of the damage to the environment and its effects on the Iraqi people, you can refer to:
Nov-04-2011: Birth Defects Reveal Weapons-Grade Enriched Uranium Used in Fallujah, Iraq - Tim King Salem-News.com
"Normal" doesn't begin to describe the ongoing political crisis in Iraq or Nouri's attempts to have Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested (he claims al-Hashemi is a terrorist) which are seen as part of the same political crisis and part of Nouri's attempt to lash out at political rivals. (Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya which came in first in the March 2010 elections while Nouri's State of Law came in second.) al-Hashemi was in the KRG when Nouri issued the warrant and he has remained in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. The KRG has not assisted Nouri in his witch hunt and Nouri has responded by ordering the arrests of people working for al-Hashmi. Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi was one such pe
Wednesday, Tareq al-Hashemi charged that his bodyguard had been tortured to death. We covered these issue in yesterday's snapshot. Today Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into the death:
(Beirut) – Iraqi authorities should order a criminal investigation into allegations that security forces tortured to death a bodyguard of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, Human Rights Watch said today.
Iraqi authorities released Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi's body to his family on March 20, 2012, about three months after arresting him for terrorism. His family told Human Rights Watch that his body displayed signs of torture, including in several sensitive areas. Photographs taken by the family and seen by Human Rights Watch show what appear to be a burn mark and wounds on various parts of his body.
"The statements we heard and photos we saw indicate that Iraqi security officers may have tortured Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi to death while he was in their custody," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It's essential for the Iraqi government to investigate his death and report publicly what they find."
The family said that al-Batawi's death certificate listed no cause of death. They said that before his arrest, the 33-year-old married father of three was in excellent health.
"I could barely recognize him," a close relative told Human Rights Watch on March 22. "There were horrible marks and signs of torture all over his body. He had lost about 17 kilos [37.5 pounds] from the day they arrested him."
Iraqi authorities have denied the torture allegations. On March 22, Lt. Gen. Hassan al-Baydhani, chief of staff of Baghdad's security command center and a judicial spokesman, said al-Batawi died of kidney failure and other conditions after refusing treatment. When asked by reporters about the photographic evidence that al-Batawi had been tortured, Baydhani replied, "It is easy for Photoshop to show anything," referring to a digital photo-editing software.
As the United States was pulling its last remaining troops from Iraq in December 2011, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi on charges he was running death squads. Al-Hashemi has taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan and refused to return to Baghdad, saying he cannot receive a fair trial. Kurdistan Regional Government authorities have so far declined to hand him over.
An unknown number of other members of al- Hashemi's security and office staff have been arrested since late December and are also in custody, including two women. On March 22, al-Hashemi told Human Rights Watch, "I have made repeated requests to the government to find out who else in my staff has been arrested and where they are being held, but they have not responded."
Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to release the names of all those detained and the charges against them, and to ensure that they have access to lawyers and medical care.
Today Al Mada reports that security sources are stating that young Iraqi women and girls are about to be targeted by the militias in part of the ongoing attacks on Iraqi youths thought to be Emo and/or gay. One source stated that the militias have pulled back and 'softened' their approach recently but only due to the fact that the Arab League Summit is approaching. To avoid embarrassing Nouri, they militia's basically about to take a vacation and plans to return immediately after the summit at which point they will "hunt down girls" and security sources are also stating that some security forces may be assisting the militias in these upcoming actions. If you're new to this topic, Scott Lang's column for the Guardian provides a strong overview of what's taking place:
A new killing campaign is convulsing Iraq. The express targets are "emos", short for "emotional": a western-derived identity, teenagers adopting a pose of vulnerability, along with tight clothes and skewed hairdos and body piercing. Starting last year, mosques and the media both began raising the alarm about youthful immorality, calling the emos deviants and devil worshippers. In early February, somebody began killing people. The net was wide, definitions inexact. Men who seemed effeminate, girls with tattoos or peculiar jewellery, boys with long hair, could all be swept up. The killers like to smash their victims' heads with concrete blocks.
There is no way to tell how many have died: estimates range from a few dozen to more than 100. Nor is it clear who is responsible. Many of the killings happened in east Baghdad, stronghold of Shia militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of the Righteous). Neither, though, has claimed responsibility. Iraq's brutal interior ministry issued two statements in February. The first announced official approval to "eliminate" the "satanists". The second, on 29 February, proclaimed a "campaign" to start with a crackdown on stores selling emo fashion. The loaded language suggests, at a minimum, that the ministry incited violence. It's highly possible that some police, in a force riddled with militia members, participated in the murders.
It's logical to compare this to the militia campaign against homosexual conduct in 2009, which I documented for Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of men lost their lives then. Gay-identified men have been caught up in these killings as well, and Baghdad's LGBT community is rife with fear. Yet there are differences. The current killings target women as well as men, and children are the preferred victims. It's not quite true to say, as some press reports have suggested, that "emo" is just a synonym for "gay" in Iraq. Rather, immorality, western influence, decadence and blasphemy have come together in a loosely defined, poorly aligned complex of associations: and emo fashion and "sexual perversion" are part of the mix.
Turning to 'security' in 'free' Iraq. Thank goodness foreign troops are out is the public pose of Nouri. But it appears that privately he's attempting to get foreign military back into Iraq.
The Sun Daily notes, "Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today said Malaysia is prepared to sen[d] a special peacekeeping team on a humanitarian mission to Iraq if the costs of operation were to be sponsored by other countries." The Defense Minister is quoted stating, "There's a request for Malaysia to sen[d] a team to Iraq and one particular country has also agreed to bear the costs of operation, but since the country has yet to keep its promise, we cannot send the team to Iraq." Meanwhile Reuters notes a Kirkuk prison break that has 19 prisoners on the loose.
Still on security news, KUNA reports, "All necessary security precautions have been taken in preparation for upcoming Arab summit due to be hosted by Baghdad in the end of this month, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced on Friday." The Arab League Summit is set to take place next week in Baghdad. Alsumaria TV notes the announcement as well and -- a press release from the Ministry of Interior -- and that the release claims that terrorists are attempting to create an atmosphere of hysteria. An atmosphere of hysteria? Like Nouri's comments reported by Al Rafidayn that Tuesday's attacks was carried out by terrorist including security officers inside the Iraqi security forces? Citing an unnamed security source, Al Mada reports that Nouri has ordered the closure of at least one bridge and that Baghdad barrier walls are going back up. It's already been reported that Baghdad's about to impose a seven-day 'holiday' and that Bahgdad International Airport will be closed to commercial flights. Salam Faraj and Abdul Jabbar (AFP) observe, "The Iraqi capital's already gnarling traffic has all but ground to a halt, and the government has declared a week of holidays on the days surrounding the March 27-29 summit to encourage people to stay at home." Iraq's a country already plagued with high unemployment and rocketing inflation. Now Faraj and Jabbar report that the prices in Baghdad markets are soaring due to transportation issues as a result of the barriers and checkpoints that have been going up.
On the topic of violence, Charles Tripp (Open Democracy) offers:
Violence in Iraq has now become a central part of the practice of power, both by the government and by certain non-governmental agencies, some of them bitterly opposed to, but others enmeshed in the webs of government practice. For the government of Iraq under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the ever unfinished project of re-establishing the power and thus, he hopes, the authority of the central state has often taken a violent form. This has been clear ever since the campaigns in 2008 that saw a reconstituted, if not always very effective, Iraqi army reconquer a number of Iraq's provinces, with campaigns in the south in Basra, the east of Baghdad, the north in Mosul and the north-east in Diyala.
At the time and in the context of the country's emergence from a bloody civil war, these campaigns were strongly supported by the US and others who saw this precisely as a token of the 'resolve' and the 'seriousness' of the fragile Iraqi government. The fact that al-Maliki had attached to his personal command perhaps the most effective and ruthless of the units of the reconstituted Iraqi armed forces, the Baghdad Brigade, was believed to assist the state-creating project. Equally, the close and some might say politically unhealthy interest that al-Maliki took in officers' careers, promotions and transfers within the Iraqi armed forces through his own Office of the Commander in Chief was regarded as merely fitting if he wanted 'to get the job done'.
The problem, as many Iraqis began to discover, lay in what else was coming into being as a consequence. In public, the military presence was meant to symbolise al-Maliki's grip on power and his capacity to restore order, as his coalition 'The State of Law' promised. It was highly visible and clearly aimed at demonstrating both that the withdrawal of the US forces in 2010/2011 would not leave Iraq defenceless, and that the government was in full control. The effect, however, in the words of one Iraqi was that 'we live as under an army of occupation'. Given the continuing threat of violence from insurgents of one kind and another, this may have been reassuring for some. However, it also seemed to bring with it the idea that any kind of open or public opposition could and should be met with force. Most notoriously, this was evident in the ferocious response in 2011 to any Iraqis who dared to demonstrate during 2011 in the spirit of the 'Arab Spring'. Thus, whether in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, or in Basra, Mosul or in the Kurdish region in Sulaimaniyya, peaceful protestors were killed, abused and beaten up on the orders of authorities for which violence has become the default response to opposition.
And the political crisis continues in 'free' Iraq. Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram Weekly) notes the various elements of the crisis beginning with Nouri's second term as prime minister and then emphasizes the speech KRG President Massoud Barzani gave this week (Tuesday):
Barzani also said that Baghdad had asked the Kurdish administration to let Al-Hashemi leave Iraq in order to avoid being put on trial, something which amounted to accusing Al-Maliki's government of hypocrisy.
"Our response was that we do not work as [people] smugglers and we won't do it," Barzani told a gathering of his Kurdistan Democratic Party in Erbil, the Kurdish provincial capital, last Thursday.
Barzani also lambasted the Baghdad government over other long-running disputes, such as oil and power-sharing with the central government. He renewed criticisms of Al-Maliki's authoritarian style of government and of his alleged attempts to marginalise the Kurds and Sunnis.
"Some in Baghdad believe they are the rulers of Iraq and want to work unilaterally," he said. "They are losers who have failed to give Iraq anything, unlike what we have done for our people in Kurdistan, and they want us to be like them," Barzani said, echoing criticisms by many Iraqis that al-Maliki's government has failed to bring security and restore basic services to Iraq some seven years after assuming power.
Speaking in the region's capital of Arbil on Tuesday, Barzani said the partnership that had built the national unity government in the country is now completely non-existent and has become meaningless. Barzani stated that if the political deadlocks remained the KRG parliament would declare independence for the Kurdish region. He also said that the oil-rich Kirkuk had to be incorporated into a future independent Kurdistan.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki kept his job only with Kurdish support after his party fell short of a majority in the 2010 parliamentary elections.
Covering Barzani and Nouri's conflict, Turkish Weekly emphasizes one section of Barzani's speech:
"There is an attempt to establish a one million-strong army whose loyalty is only to a single person," Barzani said in the speech in Arbil. He claimed that al-Maliki and the government were "waiting to get F-16 combat planes to examine its chances again with the Kurdish peshmerga [fighters]," referring to a government order for 36 warplanes from the United States. "Where in the world can the same person be the prime minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, the chief of intelligence and the head of the national security council?" he asked.
Jasim Alsabawi (Rudaw) notes attacks on Barzani from various members of Nouri's circle.
"We strongly disagree with [Mr. Allawi's] characterization of our relationship with the government of Iraq and the role we have played to keep the Iraqi political process on track." Who said that? Head liar for the State Dept, Victoria Nuland and Ben Birnbaum (Washington Times) quotes her latest lies as he reports on Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi:
Mr. Allawi headed the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc in Iraq's 2010 elections. The bloc won two more seats than Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law alliance, but Mr. al-Maliki was able to form a government under a 2011 power-sharing deal.
That deal, which gave several ministries to Iraqiya, was supposed to have given Mr. Allawi control of a new strategic policy council, but the former premier declined the post when Mr. al-Maliki refused to cede it much authority despite what he called U.S. guarantees.
"The policymakers promised to support this, but ultimately and unfortunately, none of this has happened, and the United States forgot about this power-sharing completely," Mr. Allawi said. "I think the United States deliberately is taking Iraq out of the screen because there is a gross failure in Iraq."
Monday and Tuesday, we noted that various left and 'left' programs and magazines were ignoring the 9th anniversary (Monday was the anniversary). An e-mail came in about Uprising Radio. Despite the fact that its segment aired on Wednesday and despite Sonali Kohlhatkar's embarrassing stab in the back of Aghan women to show her love for Barack Obama (we addressed this community wide in 2009 including in an all woman roundtable featuring all women who do community sites as well as Gina and Krista who started and do the first community newletter the gina & krista roundrobin), I did attempt to listen. While I'm sure Ann Wright had something of value to say and would guess that Kevin Zeese did as well, I can't stomach Sonali's garbage. I can't stomach her ignorance, I can't stomach her 'hugs for empire' and I can't stomach her damn cowardly soul. For example, to say that 100,000 Iraqis have died in the Iraq War was probably 'brave' prior to the October 2006 publication of Lancet Study which found over a million had died. To say it today on a left outlet, on Pacifica Radio, is to be a damn liar. I'm not in the mood for her garbage. We've fought this fight before, we shouldn't have to fight it again. (For those late to the party, United for Peace & Justice, when it was still pretending to care about ending wars, was pimping lower numbers after the study was published by the Lancet. Elaine and I called it out repeatedly -- and not just here -- and Elaine laid down the damn law -- offline -- and got UFPJ to change the number. I'm not in the mood to refight battles that were already won because Sonali wants to be the cheap trash of empire. Her show gets pulled from the permalinks tonight when I'm by a computer. -- I dictate the snapshots over the phone. And anyone with UPFJ who wants to play and pretend that Elaine didn't force UPFJ to change their numbers should know that I'm more than happy to make private e-mails public on this topic. Elaine did it, she deserved applause for it in real time and she never said a word -- she did do a post at her site noting the number was changed but never noting all she had done -- online and especially offline -- to force that change.)
The US Goverment of Accountability Office wrote to Congressional Committees:
According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis (DFA-IN), fiscal year 2010 active Army military payroll totaled $46.1 billion. For years, we and others have reported continuing deficiencies with Department of the Army military paryoll processes and controls. In November 2003, we reported that weaknesses in processes and controls resulted in over -- and underpayments to mobilized Army National Guard personnel. In April 2006, we reported that pay problems rooted in complex, cumbersome processes used to pay Army soldiers from initial mobilization through active duty deployment to demobilization resulted in military debt to battle-injured soldiers. In June 2009, we reported that the Army did not have effective controls for processing and accounting for military personnel federal payroll taxes because of weaknesses in its procedures and controls for assuring accurate and timely documentation of transactions. In July 2011, the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General reported that the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) made potentially invalid active duty military payroll payments of $4.2 million from January 2005 through December 2009 for the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.
These reported continuing deficiencies in Army payroll processes and controls have called into question the exten to which the Army's military payroll transactions are valid and accurate and whether the Army's military payroll as a whole is auditable. The Army's military pay is material to all of the Army's financial statements and comprises about 20 percent of the Army's $233.8 billion in reported fiscal year 2010 net outlays. Accordingly, Army active duty military payroll is significant to both Army and DOD efforts to meet DOD's 2014 Statement of Budgetary Resources and audit readiness goal.
That's from the cover letter to the GAO's report, released yesterday, entitled [PDF format warning] "DOD FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: The Army Faces Significant Challenges in Achieving Audit Readiness for Its Military Pay." These issues were the subject of a joint-hearing yesterday of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management (Chair is US House Rep Todd Platts) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Committee (Chair is Senator Thomas Carper). Appearing before the two Subcommittees were the Army Reserve's LTC Kirk Zecchini, the GAO's Asif Khan, the Army's Director of Accountability and Audit Readiness James Watkins, the Army's Director of Technology and Business Architecture Integration Jeanne Brooks and Aaron Gillison, the Deputy Director of Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis.
Yesterday's snapshot covered LTC Kirk Zecchini's testimony which included being stationed in Afghanistan and going without a month-and-a-half's pay because of some auditing error and how he does have a family to support and had to dip into savings to cover that period of time (not to mention the stress this causes -- he noted that these sort of periods of no pay are so common you can't walk through the dining halls without hearing someone discussing how it has just happened to them). We're going to briefly note the an exchange from the second panel which really sums up the entire second panel.
US House Rep Gerry Connolly: I guess one of the things I would just say to the panel is, it seems to me, progress achieved notwithstanding, we need to move from sort of the administrative clutter to the human level. No soldier on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else serving in uniform ought to -- on top of everything else -- be worried about whether the spouse and kids back home can pay the bills. That ought to be our goal, bottom line. 'That part, we got your back. Don't worry about anything but the mission, we've got the rest of it.' And it's very difficult to hear testimony as we did this morning from LTC Zecchini that in the middle of Afghanistan, on the warfront, he's worrying about trying to pay the bills back home and so's his spouse, so are the kids. That's a very human concern, a very legitimate one. We may never get to perfection. It's a big, complex system with lots of change orders. Bigger than any private sector enterprise. I understand. But that ought to be our goal. It's a human goal. We need to be seized with a mission. This isn't about numbers. This is about men and women and their lives. And I just -- I say that as somebody who's managed a big enterprise. If that's our mentality, we will fix this problem. And I commend it to you. I know that you are committed but we need to redouble that commitment so that we never have that kind of testimony again and LTC Zecchni and his colleagues never have to worry about that again. Mr. Watkins, in your outstanding testimony, you indicated that you were pretty confident we were going to meet the deadlines we've set four ourselves to finally have a certifiable audit like most federal agencies. The Pentagon's not like most federal agencies so we understand the complications. On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that we will in fact meet that deadline finally?
James Watkins: Representative Connelly, I'm very confident. I'd rate it about 8.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: Okay. Thank you. Mr. Kahn, your testimony, if I understood you correctly was the GAO found appreciable progress had been made on the fronts we're talking about. Is that correct?
Asif Kahn: Some progress has been made but there's a lot more work that needs to be done to meet the 2014 deadline.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: That's on the audit?
Asif Kahn: Correct.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: What about on the issue of accurate payroll?
Asif Kahn: That continues to be a problem.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: Statistically how much of a problem is it from the GAO's point of view? The Chairman [Platts] was talking about 250 but obviously the problem has to be bigger than that, given the size of our armed forces.
Asif Kahn: Well let me just pick up from where you left. Our sample of 250 was a statistical sample. That means the results could be generalized or extrapolated over --
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: And if we extrapolate, what would we say?
Asif Kahn: We could not say anything on the accuracy or the validity of Army's active-duty pay for Fiscal Year 2010.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: But are there metrics we can -- I mean, if we don't have some metrics for these folks to measure against and to gauge progress than it remains anecdotal. Based on that statistical sample, what percentage of active-duty military do we feel suffer from mistakes in their payroll.
Asif Kahn: I mean that -- based on that, that will be very difficult to say because -- I mean getting two payroll records out of 250 doesn't really say much.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly explained that without some sort of basic estimate, it was impossible to know if this is a problem that's improving or if it's getting worse. His goal is to reduce it to zero. But he explained he has no idea where the problem stood without some basic numbers that the Congress could work with. Chair Todd Platts echoed him on that and also noted without a basic number they not only can't estimate how many people are being effected by this (not receiving pay in a timely fashion) but they also can't estimate how much "time and effort and money" it's taking the government to correct these problems when they arise.
Chair Thomas Carper followed by asking for some general reactions from the second panel. Khan was very clear about the problems. The Pentagon witnesses, by contrast, were optimistic and things were great, and, oh, we have figures, we do, we do, we do, we do. But Kahn was then asked what he thought about the responses and he was very clear that there was no documentation at present -- despite what Pentagon witnesses were saying. Kahn explained that the problem remains, "This is a real problem. The length of time it took to provide the documentation? It's not really going to enable an auditor to stay there and to give a valid audit opinion in a timely fashion. And the other one is the issue of supporting documentation. Regardless of the robustness of the system, the auditor will need access to the supporting documentation, the underlying records of the information which is maintained in the system. So those are the two points that need to be recognized. One is the timeliness and the other is the accuracy and the validty of the information in the system."
Chair Thomas Carper: I think in responding to the GAO's work, the Army's official letter to the GAO said -- and I'm going to quote it, "We appreciate your confirmation that no significant issues were identified in your review of the miltiary pay accounts for the Army." That's part of what it said. "We appreciate your confirmation that no significant issues were identified in your review of the military pay accounts for the Army." I think based on what we've heard from you and some from the Colonel , it just seems like a bit of an odd comment based on your testimony. Do you believe, as the Army stated, that your audit showed no significant issues?
Asif Kahn: Our report has been very clear in highlighting the deficiencies in the Army's processes and systems. The deficiencies in the processes and systems really increase the risk of inaccurate payments -- just like I'd mentioned before. So that along with the timeliness -- with the timeliness of which information is presented, those are very significant issues -- both towards the accuracy and the validity of the information in the system and also to be able to get ready for an audit whether it's 2014 or 2017. So the issues tha we've highlighted, they're very significant.
And that is the second panel. The auditors point to problems, the Pentagon thanks them for saying hello. The Pentagon is in denial about the problems. To even themselves? Who knows but they obviously wanted to play dumb in public. As long as they continue to do that, look for this to drag on forever and for more and more service members to suffer with wrongful pay and no pay.
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