Thursday, October 5, 2017

US state run media?

If it's an important topic, you can generally find Margaret Kimberley weighing in.

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This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, October 5, 2017.  Whatever happened to the VA backlog?  Did it go away?  Or did the press on it just vanish?

Senator Johnny Isakson: Do you believe you have the tools with that legislation to expedite and clean up the legacy of appeals that exist before it today?

Cheryl Mason: Yes, thank you for that question.  Yes, I do. 
 She does?
Year after year, for over a decade now, in hearing after hearing, members of Congress have asked VA officials if they have enough tools, enough money, enough everything to address the veterans backlog.
Year after year, for over a decade now, in hearing after hearing, they tell Congress that they do.
And yet the backlog remains.
Senator Iskakson is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Senator Jon Tester is the Ranking Member.  Yesterday, the Committee held a hearing.  We'll note this press release that the office of Committee Chair Johnny Isakson issued:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today held a hearing to consider the qualifications of three nominees to serve in various U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) roles.
At a hearing on the nominations of Melissa Sue Glynn to serve as VA assistant secretary for Enterprise Integration, Cheryl L. Mason to be chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and Randy Reeves to be  VA undersecretary for Memorial Affairs, Isakson noted that each possessed the experience and qualifications needed to excel in their respective roles. He cautioned, however, that the VA must continue to be accountable and responsive to veterans.
“One of our greatest obligations as elected officials is to ensure the seamless transition into civilian life for our veterans,” said Isakson. “I have full confidence that each nominee will use their vast experience to do great work on behalf of our nation’s heroes. If confirmed, I look forward to working with each of them in their future roles at the VA.”
About the nominees:
Glynn previously led Alvarez and Marsal’s public-sector practice focused on improving the delivery of government programs, and K-12 and higher education. Prior to that, she was a principal with PricewaterhouseCoopers and was responsible for the firm’s work with the Department of Veterans Affairs. A New Jersey native, Glynn holds a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.
Mason is nominated to serve as chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals for a term of six years. She is the currently the interim principal deputy vice chairman at the Board of Veterans Appeals. She previously served as deputy vice chairman, chief veterans law judge, veterans law judge, and counsel at the Board of Veterans Appeals. Mason’s government experience also includes serving as an attorney at the Federal Labor Relations Authority and as an Air Force civilian employee in Europe. She received her bachelor’s with distinction in political science and psychology from Ohio Northern University and her law degree from Creighton University School of Law.
Reeves currently serves as executive director of the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board and serves as president of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs. He is a retired commander and surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. Prior to being commissioned in the Navy, Reeves served as an enlisted airman in the U.S. Air Force. He received his bachelor’s degree in management from Peru State College in Nebraska and a master’s degree in health sciences. He also completed the senior executive program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as more than 750,000 veterans.

Contact: Amanda Maddox, 202-224-7777
Camlin Moore, 202-224-9126

It was a brief hearing with the Committee leadership dispensing with the reading of opening statements to move the hearing along more quickly.

We're going to focus on the issue of the backlog because we remember, in 2009, then-Secretary Eric Shinseki insisting he would break the backlog.

Shinseki is gone.

The backlog remains.

From yesterday's hearing, we'll note this exchange.

Senator Mazie Hirono: This is from Ms. Mason.  How many attorneys are there at the veterans appeals board?

Cheryl Mason: Currently, we have approximately 700 attorneys.

Senator Mazie Hirono: And you have a backlog of about 150,000 cases. I know that you are aware that there is a move to increase the number of cases that each attorney is supposed to complete from 125 cases annually to 169 cases annually.  And if my math is correct, you have 700 lawyers, that gets you to 118,000 cases once this new standard is implemented.  So is that how you'll came up with the number of cases that each lawyer should complete?

Cheryl Mason:  The-the-the evaluation for determining, uh, how the attorney, uhm, productivity has been in progress for the past, uh, for all of the FY '17 and we started off FY '18, correct, with a-a response a-a request to our attorneys to do a extra case a week.  The-the-the, uh, the productive standards, we currently have in place that asks our attorneys for 169 a year also allows for deduction of leave and holiday time factored in.

Senator Mazie Hirono: Mm-hmm.

Cheryl Mason: So based on the data, uhm, that we have from previous years, we expect that actually the attorneys will be producing approximately 144 decisions per person this year.

Senator Mazie Hirono: Do you use paralegals?

Cheryl Mason: We do not at this time.

Senator Mazie Hirono: Since all the appeals are not as complex -- they're not all equal -- would you consider using paralegals to address some of the backlog to get rid of some of the so-called 'easier' cases?

Cheryl Mason: Thank you for that question.  That's actually one of the areas that I'm looking at as re-engineering the board's processes and figuring out where we can get some im-impact to those, uhm, less complex cases.

Senator Mazie Hirono: Mm-hmm.

Cheryl Mason: Yes, that is something that I, if confirmed, would look at.

Senator Mazie Hirono: I think it makes a lot of sense -- with 150,000 backlog -- to basically triage the kind of cases that you have and move things along.  And is the workload for your lawyers -- because they are unionized -- is that a subject of negotiations with the union?

Cheryl Mason: It is.  This past year, we have, uh, sat down at the table with our, uh, union partners, uh, several times at the beginning of FY '17.  We sat down and agreed to a non-productivity standard at their request.  We tried that for one quarter and we lost approximately 4,000 cases.  And so we implemented a lesser standard than we had had before.  But we, uh -- And we routinely, uh, sit down and speak with them and assess how that's doing, get feedback from our -- from-from our union partners on how that's going.  And, if confirmed, I would continue to do that going forward.  I think it's very important to have a strong, open, communicated relationship with our union partners. 

Senator Mazie Hirono: So as far as the performance standard, the number of cases that each attorney is supposed to handle every year, that is something that you would work out with your union?

Cheryl Mason: Absolutely.  That-that is an area -- Thank you for the question.  That is an area that we always must assess continually to-to gain the appropriate workload balance while ensuring that we're serving veterans to the best of our ability.

And let's stay with the topic to note this exchange.

Senator Mike Rounds: I'd like to follow up a little bit more with the direction that Senator Hirono was going with regards to the claims backlog.  With 150,000 claims in the backlog, 700 attorneys working on it, I'm just curious, do you know right now what the average number of new claims coming through is that-that we're processing?  

Cheryl Mason: I-I would have to ch- uhm -- Thank you for that, uh, question, sir.  I, uh, I would have to check with, uh, my partners at Veterans-Veterans Benefits Administration.  But I, uh, believe that we receive approximately 1.4 million claims a year.  Of that amount, approximately 13% are appealed to the Board of Veterans Appeals.

Senator Mike Rounds: So, right now, if-if -- that means that if you were looking at it on a chronologic -- and I recognize that some of these are much older -- you've got basically a year's backlog work in terms of it would constantly be one year behind based on the current work.  Fair?  And I being -- I know that some of these are considerably older than that, some of them are newer than that.  But, uhm, basically one way to analyze that is you've got a year's work in the backlog?

Cheryl Mason: Yes, that, uh [. . .]

Let's stop there.

Grasp that the backlog is still huge.  Grasp that no one's even raising the issue of how old some of these cases are.

The VA has gotten everything they have asked for.

Not only have they received everything they've asked for, they've been offered far more and refused it.

Their standard excuse, for example, for over a decade has been that more money for new hires means they slow down production because they have to pull people to train new hires.

So they've been offered the moon and the stars, turned down the stars saying it would slow them down, and yet they still don't have their act together.

Let that sink in.

That is the message of yesterday's hearing.

What's the message in Iraq?

ALJAZEERA reports that Hawija has been liberated or 'liberated' from the Islamic State.  Which prompts this Tweet:

US excuse to be against referendum was the war against . Now is virtually free of . What is the excuse?

Good question.

What is the excuse now?

NEW: U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have liberated Hawija, the last ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq

Again, what is the excuse now?

Two Islamist enemy regimes come together in their common aim to oppress Kurdish minority at home and crush Kurdish aspirations in Iraq.

Let's note this from WSWS:

The WSWS published Monday an article reporting on the New York Times' interview with WSWS International Editorial Board Chairperson David North, which was sent out in the last newsletter. 

In response to the Times article, North issued the following statement:

“The WSWS’ exposure of Google’s attack on democratic rights is being widely followed and is having a substantial impact. The article that appeared in the Times was in preparation for a month. Its own research confirmed that traffic to the WSWS has fallen dramatically. When asked by the Times to answer our allegations, Google chose to stonewall its reporter. If Google had been able to refute the WSWS, it would have provided the evidence to Mr. Wakabayashi. It failed to do so because our charges are true. Google is engaged in a conspiracy to censor the Internet.

“Google’s effort will fail. Awareness is growing rapidly that core democratic rights are under attack. Google is discrediting itself as its name becomes synonymous with manipulating searches and suppressing freedom of speech and critical thought.

“The World Socialist Web Site will not retreat or back down from this fight. We are confident that our fight against government and corporate-sponsored censorship will continue to gain support.”

The WSWS’s petition protesting Internet censorship is gaining support, and has received nearly 4,500 signatures.

Over the past several weeks, Indian supporters of the International Committee of the Fourth International took the campaign against Google’s censorship of the World Socialist Web Site to workers in Chennai, and to students at the city’s Madras and Anna universities.

Ganesh, a 28-year-old government worker, said: “Blocking information is a dictatorial measure. Governments and big companies are trying to prevent us from finding critical information.”

Read the full report here

We need your help to fight Google’s censorship!
  1. Donate so that we can continue to expose the blacklisting of left-wing media. Give $500, $250, or $100 today.
  2. Share the Google petition on relevant websites, forums, Facebook groups and event pages, and engage with others to explain the importance of this campaign. The ruling class fears the Internet and social media because they can be powerful tools to spread the truth.
The World Socialist Web Site will continue to publish additional exposures of Google censorship and the role of corporations like Facebook and Amazon. If you agree with this fight, take action today.

The World Socialist Web Site

The following community sites -- plus PACIFICA EVENING NEWS, DISSIDENT VOICE and BLACK AGENDA REPORT -- updated:

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    Wednesday, October 04, 2017

    Iraq snapshot

    Wednesday, October 4, 2017.  A US service member is killed in Iraq on Sunday and so many ignore it -- media, the state's governor, the city's mayor, etc.

    Stupidity on CNN.  10,000 ads supposedly on FACEBOOK in 2015 and 2016 [*supposedly purchased by Russia*].  Supposedly.  The network invites Senator Richard Blumenthal on.  He's asked about the alleged ads which supposedly targeted Michigan and Wisconsin.


    "They had to have some kind of highly sophisticated and technical advice."

    Is Blumenthal as stupid as Hillary Clinton?


    Did anyone need expert advice to know Wisconsin would be in play?

    Have they not read Matthew Rothschild's hysterical Tweets and efforts over the last years?

    Scott Walker, a Republican, was elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010 and again in 2014.  He also survived the 2012 recall effort Rothschild and others led.  That tells you the state is up for grabs.

    Need more?

    In 2013, Ava and I noted:

    We were also struck by the nonsense Rothschild and Welsh offered regarding Wisconsin.  At one point, Rothschild insisted, "Well it was devastating when he [Walker] won the recall I've got to say because we had a million people sign signatures to get him out of office, all we needed was about 400,000 more people to vote against him and he'd have been out of office."

    Facts are needed for an honest debate.  400,000 votes were not needed.  Walker received 1,335,585 votes while Tom Barrett received 1,164,480 votes.  171,106  was the amount of additional votes needed to defeat Walker.  Does Rothschild struggle with basic addition and subtraction?  That would explain a great deal.

    (For any wondering, 939,266 registered voters did not vote in the recall.  Had Rothschild and company worked harder, they wouldn't have had to pull from Walker's support, only motivate 1/4 of the registered non-voters to vote and vote for Barrett.  All figures from the Government Accountability Board of the State of Wisconsin.)

    Rothschild clearly struggles with other realities.  Despite the (small) ongoing protests against Walker, his approval rate was 48% with 46% disapproval.  Rothschild may want to portray Walker as hugely out of step with Wisconsin but the polling does not suggest that's the opinion of the state's citizens.

    That doesn't mean Walker's good or great.  It does mean that despite running off national readers with their near exclusive focus on Wisconsin, The Progressive has failed to communicate effectively to the people of Wisconsin on what they see as Walker's faults.

    That is the portrait of a a swing state.

    In fairness to Richard Blumenthal, he doesn't know s**t about Wisconsin.  (He represents Connecticut.) But Hillary and her campaign should have.

    If, IF!, FACEBOOK ads were bought to influence Wisconsin, no expertise was needed, just a basic grasp of the facts.

    Here are a few more facts:  CNN isn't just promoting allegations, it's promoting an agenda.

    You got the 'reporter' who did nothing but repeat what Democrat Adam Schiff told him.  No fact check, no alternative opinion.  Then they brought on Democrat Richard Blumnethal.  Both men promoted the still not proven allegations that Russia influenced the election.  Two segments, no skepticism, the very definition of Fake News.

    We'll stop there on CNN except to note that Howard Kurtz looked like a media critic and Brian Stelter looks like a child molester.  In TV, looks matter.  And on CNN, they matter when it comes to women but any ugly piece of s**t man can get hired.  Oh, let's note one more point, Chris Cuomo needs to stop picking fights with guests on air and needs to stop cutting them off.  He's far too emotional and hysteria-prone to be on TV.  (He's also aged out of his limited looks.)

    Let's stay with the trash that is Brian Stelter.

    As noted in yesterday's snapshot, he can use Iraq as a political football on his Twitter feed -- can and did -- but he still hasn't Tweeted about the US service member who died in Iraq Sunday.  He hasn't even reTweeted Jake Tapper's Tweet.

    Pentagon IDs US soldier killed by IED Sunday in iraq: Spc. Alexander W. Missildine, 20, of Tyler, Texas. RIP

    Stelter is an idiot and an embarrassment.

    Army Spc. Alexander W. Missildine, killed in Iraq bomb blast Sunday, was just starting first deployment:

    Honoring the memory of a fallen 10th Mountain Division Soldier. Specialist Alexander W. Missildine, killed Sunday, October 1, 2017 in Iraq

    Alex Horton and Dan Lamothe (WASHINGTON POST) report:

    Troops learn early on to call peers by their last name. But for Pfc. Gabrielle Babbitt, she was drawn to a fellow soldier she just calls Alex, the guy with a “silly” Texas accent.

    She met Spec. Alexander W. Missildine while training in summer 2015, with her coming from Fairport Harbor, Ohio, and he from Tyler in East Texas. Both were learning to become Army truck drivers.
    [. . .]
    “I told him, ‘You have to promise me you’ll come back.’ I had a feeling something was wrong, because normally he’d send a message throughout the day just to say hi,” said Babbitt, also 20, “and I didn’t hear from him at all.”

    KLTV is the local ABC affiliate in Tyler, Texas.

    Remembering a fallen East Texas soldier
    02:05 - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

    And this is from KLTV Doug Murray's text report:

    "Towards the end of high school, we would talk about that transition of graduating and getting to real life," former Robert E. Lee High School Band Director Robert Castillo said. "He was really excited about serving his country."
    [. . .]
    "I knew him when he was an 8th grader at Hubbard," Castillo said. "He took care of me, he took care of the band and he had pride in helping others."
    Outside Missildine's mother's home there are yellow ribbons affixed to the mailbox and tree. His mother, Robin Goodwin, says the family does not wish to offer any official statement in relation to his death, but expresses thanks for the condolences pouring in.

    KXAN notes:

    Tyler ISD released the following statement on Spc. Missildine’s passing:
    “Tyler ISD is saddened to learn of the passing Spc. Alexander Missildine, a 2015 graduate of Robert E. Lee High School. The District joins the Tyler community in thanking him for his service to our country. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time of loss.”

    Good for the school district.

    How sad for the governor, Greg Abbott, that he can Tweet about carnivals but can't Tweet (or release an official statement) on the fallen.

    I usually note governor's statements.  If a member of Congress notes a death and I'm aware of it, I try to note that as well.

    Martin Heines.  Do you have no ethics?

    The fallen is from your city.

    You've got a Twitter feed and you should have already issued a proclamation.


    I don't usually mention mayors.

    I'm making an exception for Martin.

    I met him in 1992 while helping the Clinton campaign.  (I believe it was with Ron Brown -- it was one day 25 years ago so that could be wrong -- I remember he was proud of a new home he'd built for himself and how he'd only put in a microwave, no stove or oven.)   I'm going to call him out here.  This is your city.  You've been elected mayor at least twice.  Get off your candy ass, step up to the plate and issue a statement on Alexander Missildine.

    At some point, maybe someone can tell America when US troops get to leave Iraq?

    Because the answer as of now is "never."

    The US government -- regardless of who the Oval Office occupant is -- wants "stability."  Which means they want someone who does their bidding.  Bully Boy Bush installed Nouri al-Maliki.  Barack re-installed him.  Then Barack installed Hayder al-Abadi who remains prime minister.

    These two men have not brought 'stability' and probably can't.

    They're not Iraqis.

    They're cowards.

    They both fled Iraq decades ago and only returned after the US-led invasion.

    No one wants to be governed by an outsider.

    Add in that the outsider is picked by a foreign government.

    The US government's 'plan' appears to be that they can exhaust the Iraqi people.

    Thus far, it hasn't happened.

    Which is why US troops remain in Iraq propping up the government that the Iraqi people do not support.

    More reality?

    Unbelievable! U.S. Votes Against U.N. Ban On Death Penalty For Homosexuality Joining Saudi Arabia, Qatar & Iraq

    The U.S. just voted against a U.N. resolution that would ban the death penalty for gay consensual sex. No words.

    US joins Saudi Arabia and Iraq in voting against UN resolution condemning the death penalty for gay sex

    Maher Chmaytelli (REUTERS) notes:

    Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region announced on Tuesday it was calling presidential and parliamentary elections for Nov. 1 as the Kurdish leadership moved to capitalize on a referendum that delivered huge support for independence.
    The central government in Baghdad imposed further punitive measures in retaliation for the independence vote last month by slapping sanctions on Kurdish banks and halting foreign currency transfers to the Kurdish region.  

    We're going to wind down and I'm going to note there are two hearings -- one I've already attended and one I'm attending today -- that I'm planning to cover in this week's snapshots.  (That's for me to try to make sure I do it.)

    The following community sites -- plus BLACK AGENDA REPORT, the ACLU and Tavis Smiley -- updated:

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