Sunday, April 25, 2010
The protests, despite the flowery worded memorandum, proceeded and Obama was rightly heckled in California as he campaigned for the drowning Senator Boxer. It’s what we have advised Women, Gays and Jews to do because the mainline organizations for these groups are more interested in protecting Obama than in protecting their constituents.
Obama, as can be seen by the video did not like being heckled. Obama was clearly angered at the challenge from the Left and not the easier to demonize Right. The Hopium guzzlers in the California audience, the ones who gave farm animals more respect than gay people on election day 2008, instead of defending the Gay activists, defended Barack Obama. Retaliation from Obama followed against the boo happy Gay people.
-- Hillary Is 44, "Volcanic Bill Clinton And The Tea Party Movement, Part II."
-- Bob Somerby, "DEATH WISH! If Rich and Blow didn’t exist, the RNC would have to invent them" (The Daily Howler).
Another Sunday and along with Dallas, the following helped on this edition:
The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Trina of Trina's Kitchen,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.
And what did we come up with?
We thank them, we thank everyone who participated and everyone who is now reading this edition. We'll see you next week.
-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.
When it comes to Iraq, is there any outlet more stupid than NPR these days?
It's a question worth asking especially in light of "Our Man In Iraq Leaves" airing on NPR today. All Things Considered explains the 'story' as:
NPR's Quil Lawrence is finishing up a year's posting as Baghdad bureau chief this week, capping off a decade covering Iraq. Few western journalists have been on the story that long. In this "exit interview," guest host Jacki Lyden steps back and focuses on the arc of events, from dictatorship to invasion, to occupation and to what now appears to be an exhausted insurgency in Iraq.
An exhuasted insurgency? Where did Quil -- or to be NPR's Frank James, Quill -- discover that? Under the sheets with Nouri?
"My, Nouri, what an exhausted insurgency you have?"
"Put your lips on it, Quil, it will come back to life."
What a kind of moron, after Friday, refers to "an exhausted insurgency"? One who's been laid and played by Nouri, but not a journalist.
Friday has been called "the bloodiest day of the year in Iraq" by several outlets. NPR?
Quil was too busy going down on Nouri to file a report on any show though he did take his puffed up lips to the microphone to mouth a few sentences during the hourly headlines.
Poor Quil, did anyone do more to help Nouri mount an offensive?
In fact, to listen to NPR's 'analysis' of the March 7th election -- which Quil helpfully provided March 8th -- Nouri won. Not just his political slate, mind you, Nouri.
Nouri won. Quil, in those early days, did not appear to grasp that voters across Iraq were not able to check off Nouri's name. He did not appear to grasp that voters in each region were selecting who would represent them in Parliament and that those elected to Parliament would be selecting the Prime Minister.
All that mattered to Quil was telling you that Nouri won.
He had a poll that said so. A poll Nouri paid for. And he had some friends in Iraq. Not in all provinces, mind you. Or even in half the provinces. Not many friends at all in fact.
So with no real polling, no real information, it tooks some big time whoring for Quil to call the election for Nouri on March 8th, but never underestimate the power of lust and greed.
And the reality? When the vote tally was finally released, Nouri hadn't won an easy victory by a clear majority. In fact, no victory. First place went to Ayad Allawi's political slate who won 91 seats in the new Parliament to Nouri's 89.
Quil Lawrence files his I'm-leaving-Iraq report less than 48 hours after bombings slammed Baghdad (Friday) and he has the gall to declare that the insurgency appears exhausted? Well, at least he's consistent. He's bad, but he's consistent. And he makes it so very easy not to miss him.
How's that? Glad you asked.
Last week, the deaths of 3 US service members and 1 Defense Department worker in Iraq were reported. Nouri al-Maliki stomped his feet long enough and was granted a selective recount in Baghdad. A lot of claims were made about 2 alleged al Qaeda leaders being killed (in an operation in which 1 US service member died -- though the press was loathe to go into that) and Nouri was soon boasting a third kill and then that he had the leader of last fall's bombing campaign imprisoned -- imprisoned, said Nouri, since before the March 7th elections.
Some idiots were insisting that it was all over for whomever was doing the bombings -- bombings which, rightly or wrongly, are being pinned (unquestioningly) on al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Friday, 8 people died in bombings in Anbar Province and (remember the time difference) in the US that's what people were waking up to discover; however, the eight dead quickly became a sub-story in Iraq coverage and, in some reports, were dropped out. Why? Multiple bombings in Baghdad resulted in multiple deaths. Reports varied on the death toll, with some going with 56 and others going as high as 69 depending on their sourcing.
Nouri al-Maliki and others -- including US Vice President Joe Biden -- made real fools of themselves as they aped the worst of the Bush years and claimed that a corner had been turned and that the insurgency (resistance) was dismantled.
A few print reporters maintained healthy skepticism -- Jane Arraf of The Christian Science Monitor and Sahar Issa and Mohammad al Dulaimi of McClatchy Newspapers to name three -- but they were generally in the minority as reporters rushed to ride the latest wave in Operation Happy Talk.
Fairness dictates that we also note the centrist organization Brookings Institution's Bruce Riedel cautioned that the claims didn't amount to what some were making of them.
Then came the cold slap to the face for so many that was Friday, what Rebecca Santana (AP) called "the bloodiest day of the year in Iraq" and Santana made that call well before any of the network evening news programs began airing.
So how did they handle it and what did viewers learn?
The answer to that was not much. Not much on Iraq, not much on anything at all.
Brian Williams reduced it to a headline on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, "In Iraq today, in Baghdad and elsewhere, a wave of bombings. 58 people are dead. The attacks targeted mainly Shi'ites. They may have been in retaliation for that joint Iraqi-American raid that killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq. That happened earlier this week." Over at ABC, on World News with Diane Sawyer, Sawyer also reduced it to headline but a randomly worded one which sounded more like some Haiku hybrid or maybe just a bad fortune cookie, "Overseas in Iraq today, a coordinated series of explosions -- aimed primarily at Shi'ite worshippers --rippling across the country, mangled cars, buses clogging the streets outside two mosques, party headquarters and a market. At least 58 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured. The country's political turmoil continues to deepen. No clear outcome still in the recent elections."
Mangled cars, buses clogging the streets . . .
Diane, what you're looking for in that random phrasing is a conjunction. Might we suggest "and"?
We would love to now tell you about how the one time "Tiffany network" CBS showed the other two how the news was really done; however, Tiffany long ago stopped bringing to mind a high end jewelry store and now the name just conjures up a tired hookers and cranky toddlers. Either way, it's nothing to strive for.
CBS Evening News with Katie Couric managed to miss Iraq completely. An amazing feat in what was the bloodiest day of the year. Three networks, two minor headlines.
But rest assured, what really matters was covered: amatuer video of a twister! And a barking dog!
Both made all three network broadcasts.
Diane handled the barking dog story best. She didn't blather on about Lassie (that would be Brian Williams) or Rin Tin Tin (Katie Couric). But where she failed, where they all did, was in not asking an obvious question.
The minor story (from Alaska) was about a dog who led a lost police officer to a fire. Do they not have firefighters in Alaska? The police officer, we were told in all the stories, got lost on his way to the fire. Where was the fire department? For the story to be worth anything, the police officer would have to be the first on the scene. So where was the fire department?
When you've got squad car video footage of a barking dog leading the way to a fire, you apparently don't ask questions, just rehearse your that-is-so-cute facial expression.
Then there was the twister and this was actually informative to any viewers who paid attention. Not because the video would impress anyone (no destruction in the video). Not because there had only been 19 reported tornadoes reported this month and not, Katie Couric informed, the usual 200. And not because Brian Williams told you that "reports of severe weather are about a third of what they usually are, tonight that could change" -- well, yes, Brian, at any given hour, at any given minute, things could change. Such is the nature of life. Are you just discovering that?
No it was informative because it was not credited. No person apparently filmed the twister. Which is the way Old Media loves to behave. David Remnick has a really bad book about US President Barack Obama that's just come out. If you've seen any print coverage, you've probably seen the only known photo of Barack Obamas Senior and Junior together (at the airport in Hawaii). And if you've seen that photo, you've no doubt noticed the credit: "AP." Really? AP was present when that photo was taken? No, they obtained a copy and stamped AP on it the way they always do. (And then they want to whine that other people rip them off. They usually don't pay for these photos they 'obtain.' They didn't pay for the Steven D. Green photo they slapped AP on, nor did they properly credit it.)
In and of itself, that's not news because that's how Big Media's always behaved. But now that it's Old Media (or fears it is) watch it suck up to New Media. Diane used a few seconds of Google Earth to show where Paris was (because Americans have never heard of Europe?). And not only
was it used, Google got credited for it. And goodness if YouTube wasn't a big story -- it's anniversary. In fact, Couric turned over the closing minutes of her program to what, as she put it, was "Happy Birthday YouTube."
If you watched all three newscasts you might have asked the question serious viewers generally ask in the last year: Is NBC doctoring the Barack Obama footage and photos? The pink lipstick? Okay, that's most likely Barack himself. But the way his gray hair disappears on NBC and not on ABC and CBS?
We learned about crime and non-punishment. Golly, we thought the envelope said failure to fill out the census was breaking the law. But Brian Williams informed us that the 28% of American households who did not return their census forms could expect a visit . . . from census workers. Not the police, mind you, census workers. (He also informed that the 72% who did return it was "the exact same percentage as ten years ago.") That we could at least follow.
But on larger potential crimes, how could we be led when our guides were themselves lost? Arizona's state legislature passed a law which the governor signed. It's on immigration and what does it mean? Jan Crawford showed up at CBS to explain it . . .
Or so she thought. Us? We don't confuse the Supreme Court with the US Constitution. One is a document and the law of the land while the other is the highest judiciary body we have. A Supreme Court ruling is not a Constitutional amendment. If it were, for example, Roe v. Wade would not constantly be under threat.
Crawford failed to grasp that and repeatedly insisted to Katie Couric that "there are Constitutional issues" but she never once referred to the Constitution itself and instead cited two Supreme Court rulings.
Over at ABC, Diane referred the matter to "chief legal correspondent" Terry Moran and he handled it much better than Crawford, "The Constitution gives to Congress exclusive authority to determine who is in this country legally and who isn't." Only Congress, according to Moran, not states, have the power to legislate on this issue.
Brian Williams had little time for immigration when he was so busy with Veggie Tales for adults -- or at least pre-teens -- and, in the process, came off like Bruce Willis in Death Becomes Her, running around wildly, exclaiming "It's a miracle!" He was eager to give time to an alleged Christian miracle and also to the trials and tribulations of our modern day Ananias, Brother Franklin Graham.
For the block, CBS went with "things of the flesh" and served up a lengthy report by Nancy Cordes on SEC workers . . . looking at porn online at work. But it's not just them, warned Nancy, "In March alone, 29% of Americans with work computers used them to access adult web sites."
It didn't get better for CBS. Anchor Katie Couric shared, "In a letter to Congressional leaders today, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the final bill to tax payers could be as low as $87 billion. A year ago, that estimate was half-a-trillion. And there's more good news . . ." That was good news? US tax payers on the hook for $87 billion is good news? On PBS' Washington Week (which began airing Friday on most PBS stations), David Shepardson (Detroit News) showed how you talked tax payer money, "But, as you point out, there's still another $43 billion that the tax payers won't know if they're going to get back until the government goes to sell off that 61% majority stake in GM."
In fairness to Katie, she was the only anchor who filed a report, a lengthy one (approximately six minutes and thirty-eight seconds, including the facts in her intro behind the anchor desk) on a critical care facility in Haiti.
Reality for Katie, her happy talk on March home sales was not informative. ABC also noted the national 27% increase in the sale of homes but, unlike Katie, they explained it was "fueled in large part by a special tax credit for home buyers which expires next week." That tax credit? $8,000 if you are a first time home buyer, "$6,000 for everyone else." ABC explained that some areas of the country were doing better. (CBS News offered a graph that really drove this home featuring 5.7% for the west, 4.3% for the central north, 35.7% for the north east and 43.5% for the south.) And they featured Yale's Robert Schiller explaining that, as a result of the tax credit expiring, "we could see a rebound down."
Time and again, the message the three shows drove home was if a viewer was able to watch all three, s/he might be able to piece together enough needed knowledge to make sense of a story. Left to just one evening newscast as a primary source of current events? We think a consumer would be woefully and repeatedly misinformed. And more and more, it appears that is not only the broadcast way, it's also the intent.
Jim (Con't): Sylvia e-mailed last Wednesday requesting a roundtable and that we tell her what we have so far. So, Dona, what do we have so far?
Dona: We do try to pay attention to the e-mails. And that address is firstname.lastname@example.org, by the way. A regular reader who is a big fan of mystery novels e-mailed and so we worked on a piece addressing that. That's completed. Mike and the gang have already done highlights, Ava and C.I. have done a DVD review and that's honestly all we have at this point.
Jim: Cedric and Ann went to the movies Saturday night. We've got art coverage if nothing else this edition, for those missing the transition. What did you two see and did you like it?
Cedric: We went out with another couple and they actually picked the movie. I didn't care for it. I'll let Ann talk about it.
Ann: I don't know why he's nervous, I told him I hated the movie. It was The Back-Up Plan. I like that song that's playing right now, tell me the title when I'm done with my quickie review. I don't need Jennifer Lopez as an actress if she's going to act six-years-old. I know that the lie is she's only 40 years old. But lie or truth, she's far too old to be playing the little twit she plays in one film after another. Grow up or play the bimbo on the arm of some guy. She's an embarrassment as a woman. I'm sorry. Give me Jada Pinkett or Sandra Bullock, real women who act like real women. I don't need a little girl speaking in a little girl voice thinking she's passing for young. Act your age Lopez.
Cedric: And Ann was actually looking forward to the movie.
Ann: I really was. She'd been gone so long, I thought she'd have to have done some growing up. I thought we wouldn't have her play the idiot-airhead of The Wedding Planner, for example. And I hope she gets that her characters look like idiots. A woman twenty years younger in the same roles might pull them off. She's not pulling off any of it. And not pulling it off, could they have used more soft focus during her close ups? Her image was fluttering so it practically sprouted wings. And she can't count on Alex O'Loughlin because he can't act. He catches the eye shirtless but that's about all you can say for him. Now what's that song?
Ty: Kate Nash's "I've Got A Secret." And Kat's got a review of Nash's album, My Best Friend Is You, that's going up shortly.
Ann: Well I love this song. Makes me want to dance.
Rebecca: I love it too. And love the whole album. And you should have heard the reaction during a roundtable for Polly's Brew a few weeks ago when Kat brought up the album. Kate Nash is British and they love her.
Jim: I think I like "Pickpocket" best of all the tracks on the album. Leigh Ann e-mails asking why we aren't covering the three Americans held by Iran. Does anyone know the status on them.
Mike: I've got the press conference at the State Department Friday where that was raised. I was going to bring it up, didn't know about the e-mail. But I can quote the transcript, Philip Crowley was doing the briefing, State Department spokesperson.
QUESTION: On the – actually, on the Iran, what – before going to Mitchell, what kind of shape are these kids in?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t get into too much detail. Obviously, the families – we do not have Privacy Act waivers on these --
QUESTION: The families have a website.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. So --
QUESTION: They have not been shy about talking about this in the past.
MR. CROWLEY: And which is the prerogative of the families. We have to respect their privacy. Obviously, we are concerned about their health and think the families have spoken publicly about this. We obviously believe that the detention is unwarranted, but the fact that they’ve gone nine months with no charges filed is of great concern to us. And as we have said – repeated over several months that, in our view, their detention is unjustified.
QUESTION: Well, you’re asking the Iranians to grant the families visas so they can visit them, and at the same time you’re saying they should be released immediately.
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: It sounds as though you’re not very optimistic that they’re going – the Iranians are going to release them at all if you want the families to be able to visit them.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have made that request. The Iranians, I think, have indicated a willingness to grant visas but for whatever reason have not – have chosen not to do so. We would like nothing more than to have these individuals on the next plane out of Iran and back here to the United States and with their families as soon as possible. Barring that, we obviously think that they have fundamental rights, including the right of these kinds of visits and the right to an attorney, and those have not been granted either.
QUESTION: Well, but back to the consular visit, though, in the statement by the families, they say that the Swiss reported that – to them that they were in bad health. Is it your understanding that they’re in bad health? Because they’re saying that this is what they’ve been told by the people that conducted the visit.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. And clearly, what we know about their status comes from our Swiss protecting power.
QUESTION: So does that concur with what they’re saying that they were told by the Swiss?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay --
QUESTION: You said you’re noting that the family is concerned about their health. They’re saying that they’re concerned about the health because of the Swiss telling them that they’re in poor health. So did the Swiss also tell you that they’re in poor health?
MR. CROWLEY: I have not received a specific report. We have no reason to challenge the judgment of the families. They know their children best. We have concerns about their health and welfare. We’ve had concerns since last fall. But again, I can’t be the specific source of information because of privacy concerns. But I understand the families have been communicating their concern. We share that concern.
QUESTION: Are the visas requests new? Your appeal today to the Iranians to grant the visas – I don’t remember that ever coming up.
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not sure that we have mentioned that publicly, but I think we made that request a few weeks ago.
Mike (Con't): So that covers the current status.
Rebecca: And the three are two men and a woman, Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd. I've covered them at my site before. C.I.'s mentioned them, during the first two weeks or so. But they're not an Iraq story. So I have grabbed them since at my site probably twice or three times. I could cover them more. Or at least mention them more. There's certainly a great deal that's not known. For me, honestly, and I'm lazy, I'll admit it, the last time I covered them, I went to the website for some information and the website was down. So that's probably why I haven't covered them since. Something that minor, yes, will lead me to pursue some other thing to write about.
Jess: I just want to point out that the Iranian woman who seemed to be all but calling for a war on Iran -- Iranian-American woman -- didn't get a lot of coverage from us either. We don't pretend that Iran's a beautiful government and the people move freely but we also are very wary about contributing to stories which can be used to further along a war. I also think, as Rebecca's said, there's a lot of unknowns and I think C.I. stuck to that on the coverage provided in the Iraq snapshots.
Jim: On what is covered, we had three e-mails regarding Betty's "Twitter, tweets, twit" and Elaine's "The real Tina Fey" -- e-mails complaining and saying there were more important things to write about than Lindsay Lohan. Betty? Elaine?
Elaine: Betty, is it okay if I go first?
Elaine: Thanks. First off, Betty and I can write about whatever we want at our sites. For myself, the story struck close to home for two reasons. One, I wanted to again point out that Ava and C.I. called it right in "TV: The Woman Who Loathed Women" but that wasn't the only reason. The actress' sister lives with her, her younger sister. The father showed up with the police blustering that Lohan wasn't mature or responsible enough to provide a home for her younger sister. If you know my own history in any form, you're aware that I lost my parents at a very early age and my brother was the one who raised me. That story or any other story on a similar note will always catch my attention. But if I want to write a celeb post or Betty wants to, we have every right to do so.
Betty: I think Elaine worded it very well. I would add, you're talking about a Friday night post. We don't generally go for hard hitting on Fridays, sorry. There's not usually a great deal of news on Friday anyway. Elaine wrote about it because readers raised it to her in e-mails and I did because a friend at work raised it to me -- both due to Ava and C.I.'s review. And for those who didn't read Ava and C.I., they called out Tina Fey for sexism which did include Fey participating in a skit where Fey played Dina Lohan, Lindsay Lohan's mother, and playing her as a drunken, foolish, sluttish, good for nothing whatever. As Ava and C.I. pointed out, it's Michael Lohan that Lindsay blames for family issues, not her mother. And there it was, Michael causing trouble and Lindsay writing for the world to see her thoughts on him and her love for her mother. But Tina blamed the woman in the skit. Tina always lets the man off.
Ty: And we had several e-mails come in pointing out what Betty just did. We also had an e-mail for Jess from someone who didn't sign their name and their yahoo id is basically numbers. The question was, if Jess cares so much about the death penalty -- Jess is strongly opposed to it -- then he should know which states allowing hanging and which allow a firing squad. Jess?
Jess: Due to Utah's upcoming execution, planned execution, we probably all know that it's the only one that allows a firing squad still. As for the hanging, that's the state of Washington and New Hampshire. And, for the record, you can be strongly opposed to death penalty and not know minor trivia. Ronnie Lee Gardner is the man who's asked for the death squad, excuse me, the firing squad.
Jim: And he's been on death row for over 20 years. Ruth, you wrote a piece this week entitled "Out-FM disgraces itself." Would you like to discuss that?
Ruth: The program is an hourly show which airs each Monday morning on WBAI out of New York City. Last Monday, during fundraising, they decided to devote the hour to a documentary that one of the hosts -- the only one appearing on Monday's show -- could not stop bragging about on air. There was nothing to brag about. A bunch of whiny little babies were not happy with how people chose to donate their money. Boo-hoo.
Jim: Is that all?
Ruth: I am not going to curse here.
Jim: Okay. Anybody?
Mike: I noted at my site that I listened because Ruth was so upset by it so I can talk about it. The documentary attacked, attacked is the only word, marriage equality. It whined about it. It whined that big money donors were funding it. Get over yourself, people will spend their money -- big or small -- however they want. You need to grow up. You really need to grow up.
Jim: Where did they want the money to go?
Mike: That what was especially stupid. As Ruth pointed out, what they basically wanted was a social safety net. You know what? All of America needs that. It's not an issue exclusive to the LGBT community. The safety net has been chopped away at for decades. What a bunch of losers whining the way they did. I lost all respect for that show. That they could air that crap.
Marcia: I listened and I was too angry to blog about it. If I had, I would've noted these pampered spoiled New York assholes would have probably had a fit over efforts to integrate counters in the fifties and whined, "There are real issues! Blacks can eat. They just have to eat over there!" It was stupid and the people were stupid. By airing that bad documentary and endorsing it in the remarks before it aired, Out FM revealed themselves to be anti-gay. All it was was a bunch of you know whats who want to overthrow the capitalistic system and do away with property and everything has to come down to that for people like that. You just wanted to say shut the f**k up. I'm surprised Ruth was able to write as much as she did with only one curse word. Marriage equality is a very real issue. You don't have to want to get married, you don't have to ever get married to believe that the issue matters. All those whiners wanted financial aid. And one was whining about discrimination which is illegal. He wanted a form of discrimination addressed. It's already illegal. What a stupid idiot. The whole gang was stupid. Whiny babies. And I especially loved the idiot who didn't know Gavin Newsom but just knew why Gavin pushed marriage equality. What a bunch of crap. And what kind of world are we living in when a Pacifica radio station rips apart a politician for standing up for equality? How very, very sad.
Jim: Alright. New topic. Stan, Friday night you wrote "Avatar" -- about the film coming out on DVD. I know from Ann's "Terry doesn't care for women" that she and Cedric were about to watch it Friday night. And they'd seen it at the movies. As did you. So tell us about the DVD.
Stan: Okay. First off, there are no special features. If you're looking for special features, you're not going to buy this DVD. It's the movie. That's about it. Actually, let me correct that. It has a number of languages available and it has Closed Captioning. That last part, Closed Captioning, is a feature especially worth noting. I'm thinking of Hilda writing a column for Hilda's Mix over a DVD she'd recently purchased and being surprised to discover it didn't have Closed Captioning which made it just pretty pictures for her and nothing more. And if it weren't for her column on that, I really wouldn't have thought about that. Thank you to her for bringing that up.
Jim: You got in on sale, right?
Stan: Yeah. I think it was $17.99 at my local Wal-Greens. It's also on sale at Borders and I'd recommend people go there just because they're offering a free gift if you buy the copy there. I don't know what the gift it but I'll pass that on.
Jim: Okay. So prices takes us to the economy. Trina, we're told the economy has improved.
Trina: As the saying goes, been down so long it almost looks like up. Who is it improving for? Some of the chattering gas bags on TV? Maybe so. For most people? No. Banks continue to fail. Unemployment has not gone away. Excuse me, massive unemployment has not gone away. Consumer spending increased a little. At the time of the year when people begin receiving the checks from filing their tax returns. Wow. I can't make the connection between the two so I must be a network evening news anchor! Of course spending goes up when people begin receiving their IRS refund checks. That's not surprising and it's really not news. There's an effort to trumpet the increase in home sales; however, look at the data, the only ones to make into the double digits are the south and the northeast. The rest of the country? That's not data that's saving the economy or really making a difference.
Cedric: If I can jump in, at our church this month so far, we've actually seen more requests for assistance. We do provide assistance at our church. So, in my area, there's no improvement. I know Trina works with her church as well and I'm wondering what she's seeing there.
Trina: I'm seeing the exact same thing. We're getting more people needing more help. And I don't see these people in need on the news but I see a lot of overpaid anchors insisting to the country that the economy has recovered.
Isaiah: I see that too, what Trina and Cedric are talking about. What I do not see is the alleged improvement that is supposedly taking place. At my job, for example, we're gearing up for another round of layoffs in the summer and we lost 30% in every department back in October.
Trina: And I mean, I don' t mean to put you on the spot, Isaiah, but I mean how does that make working when you know heads are going to roll and you're not sure whose heads they are?
Isaiah: It's very stressful and finally you either live on the stress or you do what I do which is to say, well, they'll do what they'll do and I'll have a job or I won't. If not, I'll go on unemployment.
Cedric: You've never been on it, have you?
Isaiah: Me? No.
Cedric: That's the real story here that I think's been missed in the news coverage of late. When they had yuppies to serve up, they loved to offer it in 2009. But there are people like Isaiah who've never not worked, never been laid off and they're the ones facing unemployment. That's the reality of the Great Recession. It's destroying things for everyone. It's not focused on any one segment and -- except for the rich -- no one is spared.
Isaiah: There's another element, to be honest, dropping back to Trina's question. I talked about it in terms of me and how I'm dealing with it. There's another side too and I don't want to be part of that side. There are people taking notes and keeping track of every tiny thing because if they're laid off they intend to take everyone they can down with them. You either don't worry about it or you go to the other extreme where you're so fanatical that you're trying to take down your co-workers.
Dona: There's a lull right now so I'll note this, and Ty can jump in anytime he wants, but I am noting that Wally, Ava, Kat and C.I. have not spoken.
Jim: I was saving them for last so we could talk about Iraq. There's a piece you wrote Saturday, C.I. that --
Ava: C.I. and I are addressing Iraq in our TV commentary. We have tossed around a few ideas but we haven't written it. We're not going to use those ideas up now in this roundtable. So sorry.
Jim: You're serious?
C.I.: Iraq is the central focus for the TV piece, what took place in Iraq last week. And we're not able to discuss Iraq in terms of current events here.
Jim: Okay. Well the four of you -- Wally, Kat, Ava and C.I. -- attended some Congressional hearings last week and covered them in "Iraq snapshot," "Burris asks, Wilson sometimes answers," "Scott Brown," "Marco Reininger testifes to Congress" and "Iraq snapshot." So what did you learn from the hearings?
Wally: I'll start. C.I. covered two hearings, a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing and a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. We all attended both -- and other hearings -- but Kat, Ava and I only covered the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. I reported on Scott Brown's participation in the hearing at Rebecca's site. Scott Brown is her Senator. He's the senator who was just elected last January. This was the first hearing I've been at where he's done anything. I found his participation interesting and, since I was guest blogging at Rebecca's, I made him my focus.
Jim: What stood out and include one thing you haven't already reported?
Wally: Okay. Well, I noted that he was prepared. I didn't note that he had some notes in front of him. He caught his shirt cuff on them at one point. I didn't report that either. So there's two things. He had specific questions. He had spoken to people in his district about some issues. If you read what I wrote, I think you'll notice that he starts with the general and then moves to the specific. He was specifically concerned with promised increases for GI Bill checks that had not been increased even though the increase was supposed to take place by January 1st. After a song-and-dance non-response, Brown had to return to the question to try to get an answer. A lot of senators didn't do that. Scott Brown was never the way that Laura Flanders and Keith Olbermann and the other liars made him out to be. No surprise. But what did surprise me was that he did his work before he showed up and he wasn't afraid to press for real answers. He didn't stick to a script.
Jim: Alright. Thank you for that. Kat, I'm jumping to you now.
Kat: The hearing had two panels. The first was the government witnesses who lied and wasted all of our time and did so at great length. The second panel was people actually effected. And they were hustled on and off in about a half hour. I was not pleased with that. By the way, I'm going to push that we include Marco Reininger's prepared opening statement in this edition.
Jim: That's fine. Explain who he is.
Kat: He's an Afghanistan War veteran and a college student now. He spoke of the problems he had and the problems others had. That includes veterans waiting for the GI Bill checks last semester. Waiting for those checks -- those promised checks -- which would pay tuition and housing and books. And not getting them. Veterans who were forced to depend upon others for generosity, veterans who were eating sardines and green beans, surviving on those two things because they were cheap. They waited and waited and where were the checks. He spoke about how one friend of his only got his fall check last month. There are approximately 500 still waiting for their fall checks. This was a huge scandal in September and October and we were told it was being taken care of. And it wasn't. In terms of one thing that I didn't include in my post? There was a woman speaking on behalf of the universities. She was prepared and organized and was able to detail the way the VA's system was not helping colleges.
Jim: Okay. Ava?
Ava: I went with Senator Roland Burris and I did so in order to be in the history books. I'm joking but it has been pointed out that my coverage of Burris -- this wasn't the only time -- tends to be part of a very limited coverage he receives. So when books are written about him -- and they will be -- they're going to have mine my writing for what he actually said and did in Congress. I like him, honestly. I haven't met him, I just know him from hearings. He is someone who can joke and can be serious and can alternate the two. He doesn't mind a joke in a hearing but he doesn't descend to sillyness -- unlike two senators I won't name who begin to think they're Conan and Andy riffing on one another in some hearings. What did Burris do? This was the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's first hearing on this issue -- on the problems with the GI Bill. Which, as Kat noted, go back to September of last year. Burris wanted a walk through on how the VA was determining housing allowance. And that's a fairly basic question but the government witnesses couldn't provide a straight answer. So it took some time. As he noted, it took more time than he planned to spend. He asked for time to ask an additional question. I found his questions to be pertinent. I did already know about the housing allowance -- having attended the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings -- but I thought he pursued it well and that it needed to be asked.
Jim: Ava, you're already a big donor to the Democratic Party. And your family has been for years. I'm pointing this out because between you and C.I., I'm just wondering why it is that you haven't met Burris. He's probably the only senator that one of you hasn't met?
Ava: Hmm. I know why C.I. hasn't. C.I. advocated for Burris at the request of friends, including House Rep. Bobby Rush. C.I. didn't know Burris then. For C.I. -- and correct me if this is wrong -- the responses from drive-bys were to attack so I don't think C.I.'s going to meet with Burris ever. Am I right?
C.I.: Yeah. I advocated on his behalf -- at the request of friends -- when the Senate began saying they wouldn't seat Senator Burris. He was the senator. They may not have liked it, but he was the senator. If they didn't want the then-governor to appoint someone, they should've impeached the governor. They didn't. He appointed Burris, Burris was the senator, the law had been followed, Burris needed to be seated. I've been very open from the start about why I advocated for that and about knowing Bobby Rush for years, long before he was ever in Congress. But Burris has been so attacked and distorted that, for me, I'm most comfortable being able to say, "I have not met him." That way when I defend him or note he did something strong, I can be accused of sticking up for him or praising him because "he's your friend!" but I know I don't even know the man. I have nothing against him and assume he's a wonderful person. But I want that wall because there weren't a lot of people defending him and those of us who did were ripped apart in e-mails -- Betty, can back me up on this -- so I don't want to do anything that ever gives that group of people an easy out to say, "Oh, well, she was friends with him that's why she defended him, that's why she praised him." I have been very impressed with what he's done in Congress. Betty?
Betty: Thanks for bringing me in. I love Roland Burris, I just love him. I look at him and I just love him the way I love my grandfather. And even now, all these months after, it still makes me want to cry to think about how the Senate tried to keep him out, how they refused to seat him the first day he showed up. And I have defended him at my site and when you do that you get the most hateful e-mail in the world. The first wave that came in really upset me. I mentioned it to C.I. and she said, "I'm so sorry, Betty, I should've warned you. There are a lot of people that just seem to hate him and seem to live to write nasty, little e-mails." Now I know they'll come in and they don't surprise me but they also haven't stopped. I've written about the senator several times this year and everytime, even now, I get the most hateful e-mails over it. As Ruth's said at her site and I've said at mine, I think he's shown real dignity and grace under all the attacks -- and I'm sure the attacks on him continue if I'm getting hateful e-mail just for writing positively about him -- and I think history will look back favorably on him. At any point, he could have given up and at any point he could have lashed out publicly. Instead, he did what needed to be done with his head held high. I'm very proud of him and, if you asked me what I'm most proud of at my site from 2009, I'd tell you it was sticking up for him when they wouldn't seat him. I've got a small site, nothing big, but I didn't sit it out and a lot of other people -- I'm not talking about this community; however, I am speaking of the Black community online -- a lot of other people chose to sit it out.
Jim: Okay and on that note we'll wrap up. This is a rush transcript.
A good who-done-it can keep you guessing. Mystery is a popular genre in books but less popular in film because a film dependent upon a shocking who-done-it answer is one dependent upon a world where spoilers don't rush to inform everyone they know, "The killer was ____!" When the board game Clue was made into a film in 1985, it attempted to get around the spoilers by offering one film with three different endings. That did not help the box office. Suspense is more popular in film as a result of the fact that the audiences know who-did-it and are instead following how they'll continue doing it or how they'll get caught.
One of the biggest criticism of the mystery genre was voiced by Truman Capote's character in the comic-mystery film Murder By Death. In the film, various detectives (spoofs of Miss Marple, Sam Diamond, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, etc) are assembled at a spooky mansion to solve a murder and the Capote character castigates the writers for their surprise endings that depend upon characters never mentioned before and incidents never revealed to the reader until the last pages.
Perhaps partly as a response to this criticism, for a brief period in the early eighties, a number of paperbook mysteries were published with no last chapter, just blank pages for the reader to write the outcome. (Yes, that strikes us as lazy as well.)
But mysteries have long been a genre of popular literature. Some of the notable past writers include Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler among others. A list of today's strongest writers would have to include Sara Paretsky.
Prompted by an e-mail from mystery lover Debbie P., we decided to take a look at some of today's mystery novels. How to do so? We randomly selected page 167 (numerologists should be able to figure out why) and grabbed five of the best sellers in the genre.
The first writer on the list is a household name . . . as a TV personality. Al Roker, the weather guide of the NBC's Today Show. And he teams up with Dick Lohte to write The Morning Show Murders which, despite the title, is not about forcing Jane Pauley off The Today Show. Instead it focuses on a morning television personality and a celebrity chef teaming up to solve a murder as Mossad wanders the sets with assassins on their trail. And you thought CBS' The Early Show had a rough and tumble set!
I let Kiki handle the whole car-repair thing. While she made the calls and arrangements, I slumped on the only soft chair in my office, brodding as I dabbled at the red spots on my jacket with lighter fluid. That's where Arnie found me. "Your presence is requested in Gretchen's office," he said. "What's up?" I asked, getting to my feet and following him through the door. "Something about a car accident." "How'd she find out about it?" "She passed your car on the way back from lunch," Arnie said, leading me to the bank of elevators. "It's not that big a deal," I said. "Gretchen said the car looked like crap," he said. "What's the big deal? It always looks like crap," I said.
You get the idea that "crap" is Al's attempt at 'working blue.' Or maybe that should read:
We said, "You get the idea that 'crap' is Al's attempt at 'working blue.'"
"Said" is certainly a popular term, appearing four times in the above excerpt and one more time on page 167. As a general rule, repeatedly resorting to the same verb is not seen as a hallmark of good writing. But telling writing? We learn from the above that there was a car accident; however, the details will be . . . handled by someone's assistant. So it's kind of like Al's writing autobiography!
The Morning Show Murders came out last year, published by Delacorte Press (Random House), retails for $26.00 in hard cover and is 312 pages.
Unlike Al Roker, Sue Grafton has a lengthy history of mystery writing. Her most famous character is probably Kinsey Millhone who is the lead character in what's termed Grafton's "alphabet series" due to each novel starting with the letter of an alphabet. She's now up to "U" with U is for Undertow published last year by Putnam, retailing for $27.95 and featuring 403 pages.
In this novel, Kinsey Millhone becomes entangled in a long ago murder of a small child when a potential witness steps forward.
After a brief consultation and a phone call, they loaded her onto the gurney and put her in the rear of the ambulance. From the look that passed between them, Jon knew she was sicker than he'd thought. When the paramedic told him he could follow them to St. Terry's, he wanted to laugh. "I'm a kid. I can't drive. My dad's not even home. He's out of town."
After more murmured conversation, he was allowed to ride in the front of the ambulance, which he gathered was against the ambulance company's policy.
In the emergency room, he sat in the reception area while the doctor examined his mom. The nurse told him he should call someone, but that only confused him. He didn't know how to reach his brother in Nashville and who else was there? It wasn't like he had his teacher's home telephone number. The school would be closed by then anyway, so that was no help. There weren't any other close relatives that he knew of. His parents didn't go to church, so there wasn't even a minister to call.
The nurse went back down the hall and pretty soon the hospital social worker showed up and talked to him. She wasn't much help, asking him the same series of questions he couldn't answer. She finally contacted a neighbor, a couple his parents barely knew.
Jon spent that night and the next night with them. He left notes on the front and back doors so his father would know where he was. His mother survived for a day and a half and then she was gone.
The last time he saw her -- the night his father finally showed up -- she had IV lines in both ankles. There was a blood-pressure cuff on one arm, and a clamp on her finger to measure her pulse, a catheter, an arterial line in one wrist, and tubing taped over her face. He knew the exact moment the rise and fall of her chest ceased, but he watched her anyway, thinking he could still see movement. Finally, his father told him it was time to go.
And that, Al Roker, is how you write a mystery.
Walter Mosley is also a veteran of the genre and is most famous for his series of novels featuring the detecitve Easy Rawlins. In 2009, he introduced Leonid McGill. 2010's Known To Evil is another Leonid McGill mystery, this one running 326 pages and retailing for$25.95 (published by Riverhead Books). Doing a favor, the NYC detective ends up at a murder scene and the prime suspect increasing the tense nature of the book.
"They tried to pick her up or something?" I asked, trying to seem as dense and as coarse as I possibly could.
"No. At least I don't think so. Two big strong men in suits tried to make her get into their car."
"There's a building down the street tenanted by some, uh, long-haired men with tattos and the like. They work on cars." Nichols sounded excited by these men. I was sure that he could describe the scent of their sweat. "They saved Miss Lear . . . drove the attackers off."
"That sounds promising," I said.
"Yes. Their place is three buildings east of our property."
"You seem to know a lot about that building, Mr. Nichols. Are you this familiar with all Plenty properties?"
"The senior Mr. Planter owned quite a few buildings," Mr. Nichols said wistfully. "His son has sold almost everything. Now we . . . I . . . am mostly a real estate agent for rentals and sales here in the West Village. But I go out to look at the three buildings we still own . . . at least once a month."
He took off his glasses and rubbed them clean with his blue-and-white tie.
"Can you think of anything else, Mr. Nichols?"
"There's no name associated with the money from the bank?"
"Maybe if I spoke to Jeff?" I suggested.
"The transfer was made electronically, and the original communication was made by phone -- with me. Jeffy . . . Mr. Planter doesn't spend much time in the office even when he's in New York. It was a woman's voice but I'm sure it wasn't her money."
Note that Walter Mosley has Leonid McGill speaking to the people that Al Roker's novel ignores. The ones who do the work. Note how, like Grafton, Mosley offers key details that grab the reader and increase the interest.
Elizabeth George is a best selling mystery author and, like Mosley, a number of her books have been adapted (his for film, hers for television). Her popular detective is Thomas Lynley. This year, HarperCollins published the latest Inspector Lynley mystery entitled This Body Of Death which runs for 689 pages and retails for $28.99. Still grieving over his wife's murder (see 2005's With No One As Witness), Lynley returns to assisting his team when a new murder and a new staffer both raise issues.
Unlike so many small parks in town, this one was neither locked nor barred. It was fenced in wrought iron, which was typical of London's squares, but the fence was only waist high and its gate stood open to admit anyone who wanted access to its wide lawn and to the pools of shade offered by the leafy trees that towered over it. Children were playing noisily on the green near to where Barbara parked her old Mini. In one corner a family was having a picnic, and in another a guitarist was entertaining a young adoring female. It was a very good place to escape the heat.
Sidney answered the door to Barbara's knock, and Barbara tried not to feel what she indeed was in the presence of St. James younger sister: a frightening contrast. Sidney was quite tall, she was slender, and she was naturally in possession of the sort of cheekbones that women happily went under the knife to acquire. She had the same coal-coloured hair as her brother and the same blue-today-and-grey-tomorrow eyes. She was wearing capris, which emphasised legs that went from here to China, and a cropped tank top that showed off her arms, disgustingly tan like the rest of her. Large hoop earrings dangled from her ears, and she was removing them as she said, "Barbara, I expect the traffic was a nightmare, wasn't it?" and admitted her into the house.
This was small. All the windows were open, but that was doing little to mitigate the heat inside. Sidney appeared to be one of those loathsome women who did not perspire, but Barbara was not among their number, and she could feel the sweat popping out on her face the moment the front door closed behind her.
Sidney said sympathetically, "Terrible, isn't it? We complain and complain about the rain, and then we get this. There should be some middle ground, but there never is. I'm just this way, if you don't mind."
Just this way turned out to be a staircase. This rose towards the back of the little house, where a door stood open to a small garden from which the sound of vicious pounding was emanating. Sidney went to the door, saying over her shoulder to Barbara, "That's just Matt." And into the garden, "Matt, darling, come and meet Barbara Havers."
Lastly we arrive at Robert Graysmith's The Girl In Alfred Hitchcock's Shower: A Murder That Became A Real-Life Mystery, A Mystery That Became An Obsession and with that lengthy of a title, you might expect this 2010 book to have the most pages of any in our survey; however, it's only 289 pages of text. Retailing for $25.95, this Berkley Publishing Group book explores the murder of Janet Leigh's nude stand-in, Marli Renfro, for the shower scene in Psycho.
He had cut the mouths away from four women's faces and made cutouts for eyes so he could wear them as Halloween masks. When the flashlights gave out, the police worked by the light of a kerosene lantern that illuminated a belt of nipples hanging from a doorknob, and ten skulls grinning down on them from a high shelf. In the desolate summer shed, cops came to the nude, headless torso of Bernice Worden hanging upside down from pulleys attached to block and tackle and hoisted to the ceiling.
Scattered around the farmhouse were Bloch's stories in Marvel Tales and Unknown Worlds, anatomy books, and catalogs of embalming supplies. Upstairs, the sickened investigators located five dusty, unused rooms.
Gein's deceased mother's bedroom door was nailed shut and when they broke it down, they found the only clean room in the house unchanged from the day she died.
Bloch put down his newspaper and considered what he had read. His hands were shaking a little. This article suggested to him that even the reclusive loner down the road might really be a killer, something he might use in a book. He tried to figure out how such an ineffectual man could get away with murder for so long. He was really intrigued when he read Gein's comment that he had a thing about his mother ever since he had lost her.
"I decided to write a novel based on the notion that the man next door may be a monster," Bloch wrote," unsuspected even in the gossip-ridden microcosm of small-town life."
In a week he had completed a first draft, shipped it to Harry Altshuler, his New York literary agent, who sent it to Harper & Brothers, who rejected it, and to Simon & Schuster editor Clayton Altshuler, who did not. Clayton aquired Psycho for their Inner Sanctum Mystery Book series for a $750 advance on a run of sixty thousand copies. Hitchock, finished with shooting North by Northwest and preparing for postproduction, wasn't particularly searching for his next project. As his production assistant Peggy Robertson recalled, "Hitchy would read the New York Times Book Review over the weekend and bring it into the office on Monday."
Of the five books, we most strongly recommend Grafton and Mosley's titles. All but Roker's book held our attention; however, if the excerpt from The Morning Show Murders captures your interest, it's probably the book for you.
I've got a secret, I can't tell you
I've got a secret, I can't tell you
I've got a secret, I can't tell you
You would charge . . .
About the only big change we'd make in Danny Schechter's latest documentary Plunder would be giving it a catchy theme song like Kate Nash's "I've Got A Secret" which -- even in the way the music slows down -- seems to capture the economic collapse.
"I used to think of Wall St. as a financial center, I now think of it as a crime scene," Danny declares in one scene with Rev. Jesse Jackson standing next to him and we disagree with that slightly.
Before we get to that, let's explore it. Plunder charts the economic collapse -- something Danny's been doing for some time. And in fact, he wrote a book entitled Plunder as well but this isn't a film strip, it's a full blown documentary. And though reading the enjoyable book will certainly increase your knowledge, it is not required reading to grasp the movie.
In fact, that's probably the most important thing any review of Plunder can get across: No homework needed.
There is no math. Danny's done all the work for you. You don't need a degree in economics or to know the ins and outs of stocks and banking beforehand.
That's important because you and a group of friends decide to see a film and someone suggest "documentary" and a few beg off. Someone suggests a documentary about the economic crisis and a number are going to feel unprepared and out of their depth. Rest easy, Danny guides you from the shallow end to the deep end safely.
The economic crisis, he explains, has to do with mortgage fraud which involved interest rate changes and tricking people into terms of a contract they could not afford (subprime lending) and overvaluing the properties being flipped. This is the housing bubble. We're keeping it simple. Danny does as well but goes into much more detail (all of which any viewer will be able to follow with keen interest). See, the issue wasn't just that people were tricked into mortgages they could not afford, it was that the properties themselves were overvalued.
There is a group that tends to blame those who agreed to take out the loans (Seth Meyers, for example, has publicly ridiculed them on Saturday Night Live) and the fact that these were loans they couldn't afford (which they were tricked into taking) is only part of the story. It's easy for some people to dismiss what took place as some sort of 'personal problem' if they chose to ignore that the ones profitting were gaming both sides: They were lying to the people taking out the loans and they were lying to other banks that were backing the properties thinking they had value. Like good con artists, they didn't screw over just one group of people when they could screw over two. And those, like Seth Meyers, who have no sympathy for the economically downtrodden who suffered might find some sympathy if they grasped that it was not just the failure of the loans but also the inflated property value that caused the collapse.
Then again, maybe not. Like dirt, the jerks are forever with us.
The above and other details are how Danny sketches out the crime scene.
But, again, we don't see it as a crime movie.
No, to us, it's a horror movie.
That's really brought home when people speak to the camera about losing their homes.
It's an American and modern day horror story. And some have dismissed Plunder insisting that they know the basics already. Really? Did they see the film they criticize (you'd be surprised how many people don't see the films they slam)? If they did, they missed over half of it.
This isn't a lecture.
This isn't Danny at the podium.
These aren't dry facts. Yes, Paul Krugman -- among other experts -- appears in the film. But so do real people with very real stories. And it's in telling these stories that the film becomes so much deeper than its detractors realize. And it's in providing more footage of these oppressed people fighting back that the horror film motif really works.
Danny's addressed what's happened. But this is a story still unwinding and the ending remains unwritten. Plunder can be rented on iTunes for $3.99 or downloaded for $9.99. We went with the latter and one word of caution -- on WiFi, that took forever. We mean hours. If you're WiFi, you may consider just renting (or else ordering a hard copy of the film which you can do here). If you're dial up, forget it, it's not going to download (for purchase or rental).
However you watch it, carve out time for afterwards. At least an hour. You'll want to discuss various issues raised by the documentary. For us, it was why the US continues to fail to invest in a solid economic base and instead the government prays for and courts the bubbles -- the dot.com bubble, the housing bubble, etc. -- when every bubble eventually bursts?
I've got a secret, I can't tell you
I've got a secret, I can't tell you
I've got a secret, I can't tell you
I've got a secret, I can't tell you
You would charge
You would charge
U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS, “IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NEW POST-9/11 GI BILL
LOOKING BACK AND MOVING FORWARD”
APRIL 21, 2010
TESTIMONY OF MARCO REININGER
IAVA MEMBER, STUDENT VETERAN AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and members of the committee, as a member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the nation's first and largest group dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on behalf of the quarter of a million student veterans who have taken advantage of the new GI Bill this year it is an honor to be able to address you today. I want to especially thank Senator Webb, Chairman Akaka and the other members of this committee whose hard work and commitment to veterans secured the largest increase in veterans’ education benefits since WWII. Your investment in us will help make us the next greatest generation.
The new GI Bill has unlocked many doors for me that I never dreamed were possible, while I was serving in Afghanistan, conducting investigations into IED attacks. It has always been my dream to attend an Ivy League university that would challenge my full academic potential. Today, I am living that dream as a student at Columbia University, studying political science, with aspirations of working with you as a Congressional staffer. I want to help Senators like you craft new and innovative programs that are crucial for my fellow veterans.
As the Vice-President of the Columbia University Military Veterans group and an active member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, I have firsthand knowledge of the successes and failures of the new GI Bill implementation. I am pleased to report that the VA’s implementation has improved since last fall, but there is still much to be done.
I will address the following four issues:
1. Late GI Bill checks mean no rent checks and sleepless nights;
2. School certifying officials are overworked and undertrained;
3. Emergency check recoupment is inaccurate and not transparent; and
4. Living allowances have not been adjusted for the COLA increase.
Late GI Bill checks mean no rent checks and sleepless nights
I applied for my new GI Bill benefits on May 1st, shortly after being accepted to Columbia University. I knew that living in New York City and attending a private school meant that I could not afford any delays in my benefits. When my first living allowance check was significantly late, I was incredibly worried. I did not live in university housing and had to count on the generosity of my landlord to forgive my late rent payments. Columbia University was also very accommodating and did not penalize student veterans for late VA checks. That wasn’t the case for all student veterans. A fellow Army veteran was un-enrolled from courses shortly before his final exams because of overdue account balances.
I am thankful the VA finally started issuing emergency checks in October. Without this stop-gap measure, I would have quickly gotten into severe financial distress. When I stood in line, at the local New York City VA office, for my $3,000 advance payment, many of my fellow veterans from all over the region were extremely hesitant to accept the emergency payment. They were concerned that it would come back to haunt them in the future. This engrained distrust of the VA is not unusual among my peers.
I had no choice but to accept the emergency payment. I took the hand written check and a letter from the VA to my bank, so they wouldn’t place a hold on the check when I deposited it.
In addition to the VA checks, members of our student veterans’ community supported one another by lending each other cash in order to get by, avoid bad credit scores and collection agencies.
I finally started receiving my GI Bill benefits in November 2010. Last fall, I was one of the lucky ones who received their GI Bill in a somewhat timely manner. Sadly, many of my friends and fellow students had to struggle to make ends meet because their GI Bill checks never arrived. A fellow Columbia veteran pal of mine just received his first check last month.
Interestingly enough the most common complaint I hear from fellow student veterans is that they didn’t know when their GI Bill checks would arrive. Student veterans can scrimp and save in a pinch, photocopying assigned readings instead of buying the textbooks or being content to eat Ramen noodles for another week instead of going out to dinner with our classmates. We can make due, but only if we know that our GI Bill check is going to arrive on a particular day. Not knowing when it will arrive and not being able to get an answer from the VA can wreak havoc on your life. You have to plan for the worst. I know some veterans who took some drastic measures. A fellow veteran ate canned beans and sardines three meals a day for an entire semester, trying to scrape up gas money for his wife and children back home. How could he possibly thrive at school when he was consumed with the responsibility of providing for his family? The new GI Bill was meant to relieve him of that burden.
So far, this semester has been significantly better. My fellow student veterans have been receiving their GI Bill benefits with fewer delays. However, there remains great uncertainty among vets about their individual accounts and amounts of future payments. Many of our new incoming student veterans are still confused about the complicated benefit calculations, which is a product of misinformation during their separation process. And some of my veteran friends, from upstate New York, have told me about GI Bill payments that do not reflect the actual BAH rate for 2010. They have budgeted based on one number, but received something else.
Uncertainty is demoralizing, distracting from studies, and financially perilous.
Greater transparency can go a long way. Here’s an idea: The VA could start by posting a widget on their homepage that reads: “Now working on GI Bill claims from (fill in the date).” This widget will give student vets some idea of where they are in the GI Bill queue. This is information we can count on and plan around.
I also strongly believe the VA needs to do a better job helping veterans monitor their own GI Bill benefits. If I can never predict when the VA makes a payment to my school, it is difficult to account for what individual checks are covering in my tuition and fees. We need a mechanism that would allow me to track my GI Bill claim from the moment I file, to the day when it actually pays. I can track a book from an Amazon.com warehouse to my apartment, why can’t I get the same transparency from the VA?
School certifying officials are overworked and undertrained.
Probably one of the biggest surprises, throughout the whole process of using my GI Bill benefits, was how confused some school financial aid officials were. I expected the VA to have formally trained these School Certifying Officials. I assumed that the school officials would have answers, but they were frantically trying to figure out how the new GI Bill worked, just as we were.
Thankfully we were able to turn to IAVA’s GI Bill resource (www.newgibill.org), where we found answers to our questions. IAVA has the most up-to-date website, with the most accurate benefits calculators, a robust Frequently Asked Questions page, and 24-7 counseling via email and Twitter.
Working with school certifying officials it often feels like processing GI Bill paperwork is an additional burden for them, on top of an already heavy workload. I was shocked to find out that my school was only being reimbursed by the VA at the rate of $7/veteran. That is considerably less than minimum wage. We must properly incentivize schools to prioritize processing of GI Bill paperwork. If the school can’t turn in the paperwork accurately or on time, a student veteran will suffer the consequences.
Emergency check recoupment is inaccurate and not transparent.
I recently received a letter from the VA Debt Management Center warning me that they were planning to take back the $3,000 emergency payment they loaned me in the fall. They advised me that they would be deducting $750/month from my living allowance check unless I made other arraignments. Thankfully, I was reminded by IAVA that I needed to turn in my paperwork by the April deadline, otherwise the VA would have deducted the $750 automatically from my living allowance. It wasn’t the VA that told me---it was IAVA. I emailed the VA Debt Management Center, and they set up a payment plan of $150/month, which is within my means.
Other student veterans didn’t have it so smoothly. Some tried to set up payment plans but still had the full $750 deducted from their living allowance check. When you are living on a tight budget, $750/month can mean the difference between focusing on studies and looking for a second job. Other veterans had their debt applied to their accounts, even though the VA owed them money.
In preparation for this testimony I read on the VA’s and IAVA’s website that the VA would be taking care of this problem and that the “checks would be in the mail.” Frankly, anytime anyone who makes a mistake tells me not to worry because “the check is in the mail” I worry even more. I hope this issue is fully resolved soon. Our veterans need your help.
Living allowances have not been adjusted for the COLA increase.
Lastly, and I hope not to sound too petty, I believe the VA owes me some money. The military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates went up on January 1st, but I never saw an increase in my living allowance checks. I know the rates for Columbia’s ZIP code increased slightly. So what happened?
I ask because I know if I owed the VA money (which I do), they would certainly be in quite a hurry to collect (which they are). But when the VA owes me money, I can’t seem to get any answers. Furthermore, in some of my veteran friends’ areas the difference is quite significant, particularly when one receives less money than originally budgeted.
The Post-911 GI Bill is changing lives and it will definitely change our country for the better. The questions are: how much trouble will this change be? How difficult must it get before student veterans give up on their education? How do we make it as easy as possible for our veteran students to focus on their studies and not on collection notices?
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
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:
, 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.http://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2010/04/08/this-anti-wall-street-film-isnt-just-for-michael-moore-fans/tab/print/
YOU CAN ORDER THE FILM HERE: http://plunderthecrimeofourtime.com/order.htm
In a recent poll, 82% of those surveyed across the partisan divide favor a "crackdown on ", 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 Mediachannel.org, 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 or
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See the trailer and get the press kit at: www.plunderthecrimeofourtime.com