Monday Mashup Part 1 (8/31/09)

August 31, 2009

Terra

  • I guess you can file this under a new category for this site called “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”

    With all of the back-and-forth from former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge about whether or not he was pressured by Bushco to mess around with the “color-coded alert” system (he admitted he was here, but more recently, he seemed to be “walking back” that one here), I realized that it was incumbent upon yours truly to be more aware of developments concerning this vital function of our government (and I feel much better about the fact that this is now under the control of Janet Napolitano versus Mike “City of Louisiana” Chertoff).

    So, to what corporate media outlet should I venture to satisfy my thirst for knowledge? Why, Fix Noise of course!

    And as I looked over their site’s special section on Homeland Security, I found the following:

    Dubya_DHS
    As you can see, they are stuck in a pre-1/21/09 time warp.

    And that reminds me of the quote that Jessica Lange, portraying the legendary country music singer Patsy Cline in “Sweet Dreams,” once uttered to her husband Charley Dick, played by Ed Harris: “Well, people in hell want ice water; that don’t mean that they get it.”

  • jeb21rq

  • And speaking of the Bushes, Michael Barone wrote the following today at creators.com about the Kennedys (there’s a connection I think, and I’ll get to it; the title of Barone’s piece is “The End of America’s Experiment With Royalty”)…

    Other political families — the Adamses, the Harrisons, the Tafts — produced multiple generations of national politicians but generated nothing like mass enthusiasm. The sons of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt set out on political careers but never got very far.

    The Kennedy boys — John, Robert and Edward — were different. They won three elections to the House, 12 elections to the Senate and one to the presidency. From 1960 to 1980, they were major presences, active or off to the side, in every presidential contest.

    The next generation of Kennedys has had mostly disappointing political careers. Joe Kennedy and Patrick Kennedy made it to Congress; Kathleen Townsend and Mark Shriver failed to do so; Maria Shriver made it to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, but Townsend failed to do so in Annapolis; Caroline Kennedy will not follow her father and uncles in the Senate.

    I suspect the royal status the Kennedys temporarily achieved in our democratic republic will seem bizarre to future generations. Perhaps it already does even for those of us who can remember the 1960s.

    I realize that the whole “royalty” thing concerning the Kennedys is all “sooo sixties,” as Barone observes (as in the “Mad Men” era as opposed to the Woodstock era), but there are some who believe that there is still somewhat of a legend concerning another family that has lived in the presidential spotlight for twelve years, including the last eight. And it’s not as if Barone hasn’t done his part to perpetuate that “dynasty” also.

    This tells us of Barone urging Dubya to appoint his brother Jeb as a “special envoy to the Americas” (with Barone channeling Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council for the Americas), and this tells us of Barone urging Florida governor Charlie Crist to appoint Jeb Bush as a senator to fill the seat vacated by Mel Martinez prior to a special election (at least Ted Kennedy won his seat in ’62 in another special election without benefit of an appointment…I had some thoughts on Jeb Bush also here).

    I wonder if the fact that Barone has taken it upon himself to act as the Jeb Bush Employment Agency “will seem bizarre to future generations” also?

  • mccain_two

  • And finally, this story tells us that Sen. John McCain…

    …(said) his private comments about harsh interrogation methods were misrepresented by the Bush Administration in a recently released legal document intended to justify a six-day course of sleep deprivation for one CIA detainee in November 2007…

    The newly declassified memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel mentions a secret briefing McCain and other members of Congress received sometime before Oct. 17, 2006. The memo says the lawmakers were told about six CIA interrogation techniques, including prolonged sleep deprivation.

    The memo recounts McCain’s reaction this way: “[S]everal Members of Congress, including the full memberships of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Senator McCain, were briefed by General Michael Hayden, Director of the CIA, on the six techniques that we discuss herein,” writes Steven G. Bradbury, a deputy assistant attorney general in the July 20, 2007, memo, which cites a CIA summary of the discussions. “In those classified and private conversations, none of the Members expressed the view that the CIA detention and interrogation program should be stopped, or that the techniques at issue were inappropriate.” (See TIME’s photos: “The (Mis)Adventures of the CIA.”)

    A spokeswoman for McCain said that contrary to those claims, the Arizona Republican repeatedly raised objections in private meetings, including one with Hayden, about the use of sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique. “Senator McCain clearly made the case that he was opposed to unduly coercive techniques, especially when used in combination or taken too far – including sleep deprivation,” says Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for McCain.

    It’s commendable that Sen. McCain voiced his objections to sleep deprivation as a “harsh interrogation method” (again, assuming his spokeswoman is telling us what really happened). However, as noted here from February ’08…

    …Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war, has spoken strongly in favor of implementing the Army Field Manual standard (for all intelligence agencies also…a standard that bans water boarding, by the way). When confronted today with the decision of whether to stick with his conscience or cave to the right wing, McCain chose to ditch his principles and instead vote(d) to preserve water boarding:

    I realize our corporate media would collectively wet its metaphorical pants, as it were, as opposed to calling out this man on such inconsistencies (I’d give fluffyhead David Gregory a picture of our 7th president if he ever did that), so it is up to us filthy, unkempt liberal blogger types such as yours truly to do so.

    McCain deserves our eternal thanks and gratitude for his sacrifice on behalf of our country. But that doesn’t mean that, when it comes to his votes in public service, the “hero” narrative should obscure some rather craven political calculation that ends up endangering our military, which would be more subject to the “harsh methods” we used on others in defiance of laws we signed ourselves years ago.


  • Sunday Video

    August 31, 2009

    In tribute to Larry Knechtel (playing the piano)…


    A “Heal The Vet” “Reset” At The VA?

    August 27, 2009

    large_PTblaxton

    This AP story tells us the following…

    CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now estimates that more than 600 veterans erroneously received letters telling them they had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said Thursday.

    As a result of the panic the letters caused, the agency plans to create a more rigorous screening process for its notification letters and is offering to reimburse veterans for medical expenses incurred as a result of the letters.

    “That’s the least they can do,” said former Air Force reservist Gale Reid in Montgomery, Ala. She racked up more than $3,000 in bills for medical tests last week to get a second opinion. Her civilian doctor concluded she did not have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

    ALS is a rapidly progressive disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling muscles and typically kills people within five years.

    This takes us to the VA home page where there is a Q&A on the ALS-related mixup at the bottom, including the following (the explanation provided here is a computer glitch)…

    Why did Veterans who do not have ALS get letters?

    • VA used data and information from its data base to identify Veterans diagnosed with ALS or who had filed a claim for ALS, but were not currently receiving disability compensation benefits for the condition. However, as a result of problems in the codes VA used to identify these Veterans, VA sent the letter to some Veterans who do not have ALS.

    What is VA doing to correct the mistake?

    • We are working to identify the specific problems that caused the misidentification of Veterans records. We will ensure any future data extracts for similar outreach purposes are properly formulated and independently validated to prevent these types of problems in the future.

    What will VA do to prevent this from happening again?

    • As a result of this incident, VA is creating a more rigorous process that includes thorough and careful screening of the data, comprehensive review and approval process that will include involvement from our stakeholders before release of notifications letters.

    This 2005 story tells us that Bushco and the Republican-controlled Congress tried to make changes to the VA’s computer recordkeeping system, but ran into predictable results…

    A $3.5-billion computer overhaul at veterans’ hospitals across the country is poised to fail unless the Department of Veterans Affairs makes drastic changes, according to a closely guarded government study obtained by the St. Petersburg Times.

    The multiyear project is designed to modernize almost all phases of hospital computing at the VA, including appointment schedules, lab reports, drug prescriptions and a clinical record system already widely admired as one of the best in the world.

    But a February report by Carnegie Mellon University, which the VA hired to evaluate the computer conversion, says the ambitious undertaking – known as HealtheVet, or HeV – is “not viable” and an “unacceptably high risk.”

    And if the project fails, the VA could not deliver timely medical care to 5-million veterans, another internal VA document says. The result would be “gridlock.”

    “The VA must rethink HealtheVet,” says the Carnegie Mellon report. “Current plans are not realistic given the complexity and magnitude of HeV and the VA’s ability” to carry out those plans.

    And this story from about a year ago tells us that “HealtheVet” was “far from complete,” in particular…

    Without an integrated plan that includes independently validated cost estimates, VA increases the risk that HealtheVet could incur cost increases and continued schedule slippages and not achieve its intended outcomes. Various levels and types of oversight are currently being provided for the HealtheVet initiative by business owners, developers, and departmental information technology governance boards. However, the business owners have not yet implemented a complete governance structure, several key leadership positions within the developers’ organization are either vacant or filled with acting personnel, and the governance boards have not yet scheduled critical reviews of HealtheVet projects. Until all elements of governance and oversight are in place, the risk to the success of the HealtheVet initiative is increased.

    And it’s not as if former Bushco VA Secretary Jim Nicholson was completely truthful on other agency-related matters to Congress (here and here). But in the matter of “HealtheVet,” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers For Common Sense said in the 2005 story that…

    “At this time of record-high budget deficits, it makes sense that agencies of the federal government be extra vigilant with taxpayers’ money,” Nelson wrote. “Not addressing potential problems with a national health-data repository now could lead to another fiscal disaster.”

    “It’s horrifying, billions of dollars at stake and it seems nobody is minding the ship over there.”

    I will acknowledge that a conversion of medical data on the scale of “HealtheVet” is a daunting task for anyone regardless of their political affiliation. However, we had years to get this right when we were under Republican “governance,” and the massive ALS screwup, though perhaps not a “smoking gun,” is at the very least evidence that Secretary Shinseki should testify to Congress exactly at what state of operational readiness we are – or aren’t – as this stage of the “HealtheVet” initiative.

    (No posting tomorrow, by the way – talk amongst yourselves…)


    Funeral Plans For Sen. Kennedy

    August 27, 2009

    Mark Carlson of the AP provides the details.


    Our Corporate Media’s Tortuous “Trillion Dollar” Obama Tale

    August 26, 2009

    adf-cartoon-money-bag1
    This story tells us the following…

    WASHINGTON – In a chilling forecast, the White House is predicting a 10-year federal deficit of $9 trillion — more than the sum of all previous deficits since America’s founding. And it says by the next decade’s end the national debt will equal three-quarters of the entire U.S. economy.

    But before President Barack Obama can do much about it, he’ll have to weather recession aftershocks including unemployment that his advisers said Tuesday is still heading for 10 percent.

    (Funny, but I don’t recall hearing stories like this about 10-year budget projections when Obama’s predecessor took up space in An Oval Office.)

    But concerning the story, we find out the following near the end…

    At the same time, 10-year budget projections can be “wildly inaccurate,” said (former BCO official Stan) Collender, now a partner at Qorvis Communications. Collender noted that there will be five congressional elections over the next 10 years and any number of foreign and domestic challenges that will make actual deficit figures very different from the estimates.

    And of course, since we’re talking about the AP after all, God forbid that they omit the “Ooga Booga!” scare graf in the lede, right? And who cares whether it’s 100 percent factually correct.

    Yes, this is bad stuff, I know. But considering that Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion dollar deficit, only a teabaggin’ fool would believe he could turn that around in a mere matter of months.

    And of course, for good measure, former Bush economic advisor N. Gregory Mankiw chimes in here that it may be $14 trillion (past Mankiw ignominies on behalf of the former Bushco cabal are documented here).

    Also, I fail to understand yet again why Mankiw is considered some kind of an economic sage, since he surely should have known what would happen to the deficit as a result of Dubya’s Medicare Part D scam, noted by Brad DeLong here (and wasn’t it “Deadeye Dick” Cheney who told us here that “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter”).

    Fortunately, we have the reality-based commentary of Paul Krugman (here)…

    As I’ve pointed out, (the deficit is) bad, but it’s not horrific either by historical or international standards. On a comparable basis, federal debt hit 109 percent of GDP at the end of World War II, and hit a second peak of 49 percent at the end of the Reagan-Bush years. And a number of European countries have hit substantially higher debt levels without crisis.

    The only reason to fear these numbers is if you believe that our political system is broken, and that markets will soon come to see it that way. Then we could become a debt-intolerant country, and all bets are off. So it’s not really the debts per se, or even the economy; it’s the politics, stupid.

    Meanwhile, what everyone should be focused on is the sheer awfulness of the economic projections. OMB has unemployment still at 9.7% at the end of 2010; still at 8% at the end of 2011. These numbers cry out for a more aggressive economic policy. If that’s politically impossible, we’re really in terrible shape.

    “Stimulus Two,” anyone?


    RIP Teddy

    August 26, 2009

    463px_Ted_Kennedy__official_photo_portrait_crop
    I always thought that, though Ted Kennedy gave this eulogy for his brother Bobby 41 years ago, of course, a lot of it applied to him also.


    Playing “Taps” For The “Death Book”

    August 25, 2009

    toweyandbush
    I’m about a day or so late in the news cycle for this, but I wanted to comment on it anyway.

    The New York Times reported the following yesterday (from here)…

    Senator Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania, called for hearings to investigate a guide used by the government to counsel veterans with critical or terminal illnesses.

    On “Fox News Sunday,” H. James Towey (pictured with you-know-who), the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, said the guide seemed to encourage people to “hurry up and die.”

    The booklet, “Your Life, Your Choices,” asks people to consider whether life would be worth living if, for example, they were in severe pain, relied on a feeding tube or a breathing machine, lived in a nursing home or imposed “a severe financial burden” on family members.

    In addition, the booklet asks, “Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘If I’m a vegetable, pull the plug’?” It then explains that people have different ideas of what it means to be a vegetable or to “pull the plug.”

    In a bulletin last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs recommended the booklet as a tool to help veterans with “advance care planning.”

    Tammy Duckworth, an assistant secretary of veterans affairs, said it was being revised.

    But Mr. Towey said, “The document is so fundamentally flawed that the V.A. ought to throw it out.”

    The document noted in the story isn’t the only thing that’s “flawed,” by the way; as Media Matters tells us here, the Times doesn’t even bother to report that one of the reasons why Towey is up in arms over the guide is because he’s selling a competing booklet.

    And what of the “death book,” anyway (God, first “death panels” and now this!)? Once more, I give you Media Matters (here)…

    On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace repeatedly cropped quotes from a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) document to falsely suggest that the Obama administration is pressuring veterans to end their lives prematurely and to accuse Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth of lying about it. In fact, contrary to Wallace’s false assertions, the document he referred to does not require doctors to direct veterans to what conservatives have labeled the “Death Book for Veterans.”

    Here are three things to keep in mind:

  • The “Your Life, Your Choices” book is just one of other books on this subject that the VA permits veterans and their families to consult for end-of-life planning; it doesn’t require anyone to use only this book.
  • Here is what the book actually says about assisted suicide (from David Weigel of The Washington Independent)
  • Can I specify that I want assisted suicide in my directive?

    No. Assisted suicide is currently illegal. However, even if it becomes legal, the person making the request would have to be competent and able to change their mind at the time of the suicide. Advanced directives only go into effect when you are no longer competent to make decisions.

    (Gee, that doesn’t sound like “angel of death” stuff to me – what a shame J.D. Mullane is on vacation this week and he’s missing all this fun.)

  • As Jed L. notes in a linked post to Weigel’s article (and as VA Secretary Duckworth tried in vain to explain to Fox propagandist Wallace), Bushco, not the Obama Administration, decided to include the guidebook in the VA handbook.
  • We also learn that Robert Pearlman, M.D., M.P.H., is listed as the document’s lead author. He is chief of ethics evaluation at the VA’s National Center for Ethics in Health Care (though he was one of six authors who contributed).

    And let us not forget that Towey himself, as a member of the prior ruling cabal, has other issues to answer for also (snidely noting here that “liberals…measure compassion only by tax dollars” – what a creep.)

    As Bill Berkowitz told us here in 2005…

    (Besides the Iraq war) the president’s faith-based initiative — the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda — is also a combination of fabrications, faith, and fantasy. Despite concrete data, the Bush administration insisted that faith-based organizations would provide social services to the poor and addicted more effectively than secular programs. No data existed four years ago, and little more than anecdotal evidence exists today.

    And by the way, “Democrat” Arlen Specter can avoid wasting precious time and resources investigating what happened with this guidebook, which to me looks like the mountain hatched from the proverbial molehill. If it will help, I’ll settle this matter for him.

    Number 43 made a promise to a core constituency that he didn’t care if he honored or not. So he ended up doing so in a way that rewarded one of his friends. Next, the inevitable outcry ensued (a bit manufactured in this case) because the result didn’t achieve its intended goal, wasted taxpayer dollars, offended the previously mentioned core constituency, or any or all of the above.

    Lather, rinse, repeat…


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