Thursday, April 22, 2010

The inepet Veterans Affairs Committee

Alan Riquelmy (Ledger-Enquirer) reports that Staff Sgt James Patton was the US service member who died in the helicopter crash Saturday or Sunday (USF press release said it was "Saturday evening" but the operation took place Sunday morning). He was 23-years-old, was on his third tour of Iraq (and had deployed four times to Afghanistan) and is survived by his wife, parents and a brother and a sister. USASCO News Service quotes Col Dan Walrath stating, "Staff Sergeant Jimmy Patton was the life of his platoon and the epitome of a selfless servant. He made the best of every situation regardless of circumstance and he always exuded an easy confidence that 'it could be done'." Carlyn Ray Mitchell (Colorado Springs Gazette) reports that 28-year-old Pfc Charlie C. Antonio died serving in Iraq on Sunday. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin quotes Myron Antonio, Charlie's brother, stating, "He had been in the Army for a year and had been in Iraq for only a month." And the papers notes: "Antonio is the second soldier with Hawaii ties to die in Iraq this year. Hawaii Army National Guard soldier Pfc. Raymond N. Pacleb died March 29 while serving in Iraq with a Virginia National Guard unit. The cause of his death is under investigation." William Cole (Honolulu Advertiser) quotes Myron Anthony stating, "He never smoked cigarettes or drank. What he (did) here before, he just worked, worked, worked. Two jobs. Two hotels. He wanted to do anything just to make his life better."

Yesterday's snapshot addressed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Wally covered it in "Scott Brown," Ava in "Burris asks, Wilson sometimes answers" and Kat in "Marco Reininger testifes to Congress." KFBB reports, "Senator Jon Tester had some tough words today for the VA In a Senate hearing, Tester criticized the mishandling of veterans' benefits payments under the 21st Century G.I. Bill." And, yes, he did. If by tough words you mean pre-rehearsed statements and no responses when the VA replied. It goes to not understanding the issue and not understanding what the VA has already told Congress. Tester is usually effective. He wasn't yesterday.

I'm sure it appeared effective to KFBB which was as out of the loop as Tester. Tester's problem is he serves on a committee that hardly ever meets -- despite the huge influx of veterans the two wars are creating. But he asked some tough questions and didn't know that the spin he was handed back was in conflict with what the VA -- and specifically witness Keith Wilson -- had told the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He'd know that if there was better communication between the House and the Senate, yes. But he'd also know that if he served on a functioning committee. In the fall of 2009, the country was shocked to discover that the VA had still not distributed all the fall 2009 GI Bill checks. They'd be hauled in front of Congress . . . by the House Veterans Committee. They'd offer a number of excuses. The head of the VA would declare that they always knew this would happen and that he'd even hired an outside analyst to confirm that it would. And the press would give Eric Shinseki a pass on that.

But there were at least three hearings that addressed the problems. All three were the House Committee.

Until yesterday the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee never held a hearing on the issue. Until yesterday. Veterans were suffering -- there are veterans who are still waiting ("a handful" swears a friend at the VA) and the Committee heard yesterday about one who only got a check last month. People had to go through Christmas with no money. Some of those people were parents. The VA did a lousy job -- in fact, we can't describe how poor the VA's performance was here because this is a work safe site. And April is when the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee finally gets around to exploring the issue.

That is not performing to expectations. The Chair is too old to do his job. The Chair needs to be replaced. If the Democratic leadership can't do it, you better believe it's going to become a big issue.

Back to the press. All the cutbacks and everything else means these hearings are not covered. When the country is involved in two wars, the veterans affairs committees in both houses of Congress need to be covered and covered regularly. Expect for AP and some of the military papers (Army Times, Stars & Stripes, etc.), very few reporters show up at these hearings. (Yesterday's Senate hearing was actually packed with reporters.) You need the same group of reporters so that they will notice things.

For example? After groaning, "Oh, goody, another slide show from Keith Wilson," I quickly noted the dates have again changed on those slides. He made no note to the Senate Committee that the dates had changed. When he next appears before the House Committee and throws up those slides, someone will ask him, "When did those dates change? Why wasn't Congress informed?" And he'll no doubt reply that, in April, they informed Congress in a hearing.

The VA is shuffling the dates and, from yesterday's performance, it doesn't appear that the VA is ready for the start of the fall semester 2010. That's frightening. Last year's problems should never, EVER have happened. But they did. And now it appears the VA still isn't ready for the fall.

Veterans don't have time for the Congress to get their act together. Akaka needs to step down as Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee. At eighty-five years-old, why is he being allowed to chair a committee to begin with? In many states, he wouldn't be allowed to drive a car without passing some form of test but we're going to entrust oversight of veterans issues with Akaka? No. He rarely holds hearings and when he does, it's months after they should have been held. Daniel Akaka is a nice man. He is not, however, up to the job of chairing that committee. And that committee is too damn important for Democrats to allow it to remain such a state of flux. It does disservice to the issues and to the veterans.

Bob Brewin (What's Brewin') reports a suggestion that Marco Reininger made to the committee, the VA place a widget on their website. Brewin has an article on the hearing at NextGov.

The following community sites updated last night and this morning:

We'll close with this about Danny Schechter's new documentary:

Journalism has faced challenges in forecasting and covering the truth behind our economic calamity. There was a media failure alongside the financial failure. There were some economists and columnists who did see the handwriting on the wall, among them Danny Schechter, the former ABC and CNN producer and leading independent filmmaker. His 2006 film IN DEBT WE TRUST exposed subprime lending and forecast a credit collapse.

He is back with a new feature length documentary, PLUNDER: THE CRIME OF OUR TIME, as well as a companion book, calling the financial crisis what it is: A Crime Story… and the word is getting out. Rupert Murdoch's The Wall Street Journal, who you might expect would dismiss this contention, has given Schechter serious attention in the paper and on its respected Deal blog:


In a recent poll, 82% of those surveyed across the partisan divide favor a "crackdown on Wall Street", and that includes the billionaire investor Jim Chanos who asks:

"How long does it take before we see any investigations? It boggles the mind. Forget about Lehman for a second, three years after the subprime crisis first hit and 18 months after the panic, there haven't been any arrests, any indictments, nor any convictions at any major bank or at any of the government-owned financial institutions Fannie, Freddie and AIG. How do you lose trillions of dollars in the most lax regulatory environment without somebody, somewhere, at some time lying or stealing? It makes no sense."

This is precisely the issue that "News Dissector" Danny Schechter investigates in his new film arguing that there were three interconnected crimes behind the crisis: Massive mortgage fraud that the FBI calls "an epidemic," Securities deception by Investment banks, and insurance scams by companies like AIG. Together they acted like a cabal that vaporized trillions of dollars.

"Most of my more thoughtful media colleagues acknowledge that they are not focusing on this criminal dimension of the problem, even as the public clamors for action", says Schechter.

Schechter's investigative documentary exposes the truth. It is available as the newly released Disinfo DVD and Danny Schechter's book, PLUNDER: THE CRIME OF OUR TIME. The film is also
available on iTunes. His blogs and columns on the issues appear on leading websites in four countries, including the Huffington Post and, the site he edits. Danny studied at Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School and the London School of Economics. He did the first prime time expose of the S&L crisis for ABC News in the late 80's. He is a multiple Emmy-award winning TV producer and was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard.

Schechter has a provocative angle on the crisis. He is articulate and feisty and would make a great interview, especially in light of fact that many of the leading widely reported "experts" have been wrong more than they've been right. We are all watching the response to the Financial Crisis unfold. Speak with someone who has discovered the big and dirty truth of how.

I would be happy to set up an interview with him for you.

You can reach Danny Schechter at 212 246-0202 x3006 or

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oh boy it never ends