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Author: TriSec    Date: 02/14/2017 11:21:24

Good Morning.

There's a new host on the block for diplomatic maneuvering. Curiously enough, they still fly a flag of red, white and blue. But it's in the Kremlin instead of the White House.


It's something I said back before the election - if Mr. Trump actually wins, our position as a diplomatic center is instantly finished. Up until January 20, if there were warring nations anywhere around the world, there was pretty much only one entity that could go to all the parties and say "We need to talk."

With Mr. Trump in charge, with his attitude, his ineptitude, and honestly his far-reaching business entanglements - who wants to deal with that?

So now it falls to Russia. There's another round of talks regarding Afghanistan in the offing. This is actually already round two - and the first go-round was also in that city on the Moskva river.


MOSCOW —
Russia is expected to host a second round of international talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on February 15, reports Russia's TASS news agency, with Afghanistan representatives invited for the first time.

Russia says it wants stability and cooperation in the fight against extremists in the region. But Afghan officials are not happy with Russia’s direct talks with the Taliban, which U.S. officials say are aimed at undermining their efforts.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the peace talks on February 7, during a visit by his Afghan counterpart, Salahuddin Rabbani.

China and Pakistan were at December talks in Moscow, while Iran, India and Afghanistan representatives are invited to participate at this week’s round for the first time.

It is not yet clear which representatives have accepted the invitation.

The Russian side will be represented by special presidential envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov and Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, reports TASS.

“The essence of these talks is to get together all the countries that have at least some influence in Afghanistan: on the government, or on any informal level, on the armed opposition level, and to work out a certain consensus, so that these countries could implement it in their policies,” says the Center of Contemporary Afghanistan Studies’ Dmitry Verlhoturov.

The United States has not been invited to participate in the talks.

The exclusion of Afghanistan from the first round raised concerns among officials in Kabul as well as in the United States.

“We should not overestimate [the] real ability of [the] Afghan government to control its territory,” says Director of the Analytical Center at the Institute for International Studies at MGIMO University Andrey Kazantsev. “And this was probably one of the reasons why [the] Russian government sometimes acted in cooperation with other players but not with Afghan government.”

Russia wants security cooperation to fight against Islamic State terrorists gaining ground in Central Asia.

“Afghanistan is a place where there are many international terrorists. Many of them are with Russian passports or they are Central Asians, Russian-speaking Central Asians, who can also represent a threat for Russia,” says Kazantsev.


Moving on to our veterans, it appears we finally have a VA Secretary. Mr. David Shulkin was unanimously confirmed by the senate overnight, by a score of 100-0. That does strike me as unusual, but perhaps he's the least offensive of any cabinet member so far. There are some positives - he's an actual M.D., and he has been working within the agency since 2015, so maybe he already has some handle on what's going on there. But of course, there is the spectre that he's there only to execute Trump's policy, instead of making any real progress to reform and improvements. Only time will tell.


The Senate unanimously confirmed David Shulkin on Monday night as President Trump’s new secretary of veterans affairs, putting the first nonveteran ever in charge of the agency with a $182 billion budget and chronic unresolved challenges from the Obama administration in providing health care for veterans.

A practicing physician, Mr. Shulkin has served since July 2015 as undersecretary for the agency’s largest division, the Veterans Health Administration, which has about 300,000 employees in more than 1,200 health care facilities serving nearly 9 million veterans annually.

He takes over a department saddled with scandals, from delays in veterans’ care to the payment of millions in taxpayer-funded bonuses for employees to retaliation against whistleblowers.

President Obama had dismissed one VA secretary, Eric K. Shinseki, as the department’s problems mounted in 2014, but the troubles persisted under the last secretary, Bob McDonald.

“I am hopeful Dr. Shulkin will break away from the failed policies of the last two years under Bob McDonald,” said Brandon Coleman, a disabled veteran and whistleblowing VA employee in Phoenix. “I am also hopeful Dr. Shulkin will bring transparency to the Department, and whistleblowers will finally be protected instead of hunted for simply telling the truth.”

Trump officials say Mr. Shulkin has the management skills and the passion to turn around the VA. He’s also confronting one of the toughest jobs in Washington.


Finally today, we'll peer into a recent meeting Mr. Trump had concerning the aforementioned V.A. If you follow Paul Rieckhoff on facebook, you might have heard about this meeting. It's notable because of who wasn't invited - primarily the largest veteran's advocacy groups in the United States. It's unclear what, if anything, was actually accomplished other than a photo opportunity.


White House officials held their first listening session on problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday, but without inviting prominent members of the veterans community to the event.

Officials from the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars said they were not invited to the morning event and did not know about it until it was announced late Monday night, as part of the White House’s routine schedule outline.

Other prominent veterans groups were surprised Tuesday morning by news of the event, and unsure who was invited to take part in the discussion.

White House officials initially did not release any other details of the event, other than the meeting followed a similar listening session with President Trump and county sheriffs discussing local law enforcement issues. A press pool event to take pictures of the meeting was cancelled shortly before the veterans meeting began.

As news spread of the meeting, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said White House officials told him the meeting was with health care executives, and that veterans groups would be invited for a similar session later.

In the afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a statement saying the meeting included Tiffany Smiley, the wife of a veteran who was blinded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, Isaac Perlmutter, chairman of Marvel Entertainment, and "health care experts" discussing "actions are necessary to improve health care access and quality for our heroic veterans."


Pretty typical fare, I'd say. I could go on, but I'm still shaking my head over the "football" incident at Mar-a-Largo this weekend. The aide-de-camp that carries the satchel has been photographed many times before, often in the background doing his duty. But what is unprecedented this time is posing for photos with civilians, and who knows if this was going on while the North Korean missile was in flight?

"Button, button, who's got the button???", as old Johnny Most used to say.





 

36 comments (Latest Comment: 02/14/2017 22:34:55 by Raine)
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