Sunday, May 27, 2012

Truest statement of the week

So Obama loses 40% of the vote in two Democratic primaries and the dummies don’t realize this is a wake-up call to dump Obama or die.
Scott Brown was a wake-up call.
The 2010 election results were a wake-up call.
The recall election results in Wisconsin have been wake-up calls.
The phone is ringing, it’s 3:00 a.m. and no one is answering. All you hear are the whistles in the graveyard.

--  Hillary Is 44, "The 13 Keys, Thank You Arkansas, Thank You Kentucky."

Truest statement of the week II

So we're all in agreement that we're just south of 400 days in the cycle of an applicant being processed?  395, I think, 394.  In May 2011, the Secretary of the Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs committed to revising the IDES so that it could be completed in 150 days and went further and agreed to explore options for it to be 75 days.  Now I-I -- I've had too many of these hearings.  We have them every year.  And we hear the same thing: "Oh, gosh, look at what we're doing."  Now I've heard the most glowing progress report from both of you and then I get the realities of the days haven't changed.  You have met some improvements in certain areas.  I commend you on that.  The timeliness goals in areas have been better.  But the reality is that we've got a broken system and we're five years into it and I hear testimony where 'we're starting to begin to review our business processes.'  Well, you know, why did it take five years to get to this?  What -- What can you convey to me today that's concrete, that tells me a year from now, we're not going to be at 393 days.  When you [Dr. Jo Ann Rooney] said earlier, "We're instituting IT changes this summer that will improve our times by thirty or forty," I thought you were going to say "percent."  And you said "days."   So now my expectations are that if we implement what you just said, we're going to be down to 360 days which exceeds the DES [Disability Evaluating System] and Secretary of the VA by the 110 days over what their goal was for today.

-- Ranking Member Richard Burr at last Wednesday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, covered by Kat in "Senator Burr: I've had too many of these hearings."

A note to our readers

Hey --
Another Sunday.

First up, we thank all who participated this edition which includes Dallas and the following:

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),
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Trina of Trina's Kitchen,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

We thank them all. What did we come up with?

Hillary Is 44 probably summed up domestic politics best this week.
Kat lobbied hard for Senator Richard Burr.  But she didn't have to twist any arms.  He earned it.

Moqtada's smiling because Nouri appears to be imploding.  Seriously though, have you ever before seen a photo of Moqtada smiling?

If it was going to be a light edition, I asked Ava and C.I. if they could do anything a bit heavier than usual. They mentioned professional reaction to their piece last week and how they could write about that.  They didn't make it sound important and I know they are sick of this site so I didn't push.  Imagine my (Jim) surprise when I read it out loud to everyone.  This is a really strong piece and, yet again, the thing that makes them leaders and the Water Cooler Set nothing but followers.

Dona didn't really play with Barbies.  The idea was Jess would moderate.  Jess was fine with moderating but he wondered if it should be confined to those who had played with Barbies?  We agreed that was probably best.  So Jess was out.  Dona was out.  That left Ava and C.I. Ava didn't want to do it so that left C.I.  Participants also had to have played with Barbies at some point in their lives.  (Like Mike, I'm sure I'll play with Barbies if my daughter gets into them -- Dona just said, "My daughter too!")  I think this really turned out good.  I was afraid it was going to suck because it was postponed so many times.  That's what usually happens to a feature that gets knocked back and knocked back again and again.

A quick roundtable on Congressional hearings moderated by Dona.  This wasn't planned and only when another feature -- on music -- couldn't be saved did Dona rush into this one.

A short feature.  But honestly, could he look more stop-motion?

Another Iraq piece.

Memorial Day is upon us.
We continue to note Jill Stein's campaign.

A repost from Workers World.

Mike and the gang wrote this and we thank them for it.


-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.

Editorial: Why is he smiling?

Here's something you rarely see: A photo of Moqtada al-Sadr ("radical, anti-American cleric") smiling.


So what's got him smiling these days?

Maybe because for nearly 12 months now he's looked like a diplomat.

During the same time Nouri al-Maliki's come off like a tyrant and Little Saddam, when he's refused to compromise or address the needs of Iraq and Iraqis, Moqtada has often come off sounding like the voice of reason.

Setting aside any differences, last summer, he joined with the Kurds and Iraqiya (headed by Ayad Allawi) in calling for Nouri to implement the Erbil Agreement (an agreement that allowed Nouri to become prime minister in exchange for concessions from Nouri; however, Nouri used the agreement to get a second term and then trashed it).  Since then, while Nouri's seemed more and more hysterical and shrill, Moqtada's come off publicly as an even-tempered, stable leader.

Moqtada al-Sadr has long wanted to be prime minister.  For the US, he was always too "radical."  These days, he appears less so.  At the start of the year, when Iraqi youths were being targeted with violence for being or being thought to be gay or Emo, it was Nouri's Ministry of Interior that he runs and heads (don't buy the 'acting minister' nonsense -- there's no such thing legally) that was going around to schools denouncing Emos.  Where was Moqtada?

He's the one who said he disagreed with Emos but that Iraqis needed to remember that you don't hurt someone because of how they dress.

Has Moqtada had a major change?  We doubt it.

Maybe this is sincere.  If so, we'd guess it just wasn't noticeable before.  Maybe it's insincere.  If so, we'd guess he's learned how to play the public image game.

Regardless, he's the one who thus far is sailing along while Nouri sinks.  That's something Nouri al-Maliki might want to remember as the deadline he's been given for the Erbil Agreement dwindles.

TV: The whines of summer

Wednesday, ABC's Revenge wrapped up the season with a one hour episode so jam packed it took Rebecca two posts (here and here) to cover it, Emma Gray (Huff Post Women) provided 9 reasons to rewatch the series' entire first seasonEntertainment Weekly was among those pimping that difficult Marcia Cross should play Emily's mother next season, Betty was among those calling the Cross proposal nonsenseKelly Woo (WetPaint) observed, "Cliffhangers? The Revenge season finale just redefined the word," The Adam's Corner hailed "one hell of an OMG! finale," Alison Willmore (Indie Wire) detects in the audience  "a genuine sense of frustration that those in power, miserable as they may be, will always be first to shore up their position and further barricade themselves away in their oceanview mansions, away from the rest of the world," and so much more. It showed what a real TV show could do as opposed to a slice of whimsy endlessly propped up by Terry Gross and other asexuals in the Water Cooler Set.

Revenge is a real TV show and, as such, a real TV moment.  And while it went out reminding us of how TV can thrill, despite the fact that so much of it underwhelms near daily.  We thought about that last week as "TV: The Vanishing CW"  resulted in calls and e-mails from friends in various capacities at various TV networks.  We thought about that as we heard endless whines about how hard it was to program and how cable was stealing the audience and what would the future of TV be?

The same topics from producers, writers, actors or directors would seem to be whining.  Because they don't decide what goes on.  But the ones whining can influence, can promote and, in two cases, can get something on the air.   And yet they do nothing.  It's beyond playing it safe, it's playing it stupid.

Of all the programs we followed last week looking for something to cover -- that's public affairs, news, things that aired on TV and radio and summer programs we were given discs of -- the only thing that stood out besides the Revenge finale was a thirty minute broadcast on Catholoicism in Ireland.

"Things are changing here in Ireland," declared Ruth McDonald at the start of "Ireland's Troublesoome Priests."  Some people are snitching on various priests to the the Vatican, saying they're too modern or straying from dogma, and the response is the Vatican ordering priests to cease speaking. 

Father Brendan Hogan: It's very distubing and I think a lot of us thought that that kind of attitude, silencing people, saying to people, 'You can't talk about women priests, you can't talk about this, you're disloyal if you ask questions.'  I mean, most of our members are in their fifties , sixties, seventies -- as most Irish priests are now. We're not crazy radicals.  We're at the very heart of the Church.  We want to stay at the very heart of the Church.  But we need to ask questions about the direction the Church is taking.  We need to ask questions about the views and the expectations of the people who are in our churches.  And we need to bring lay people into the very center of our churches.  That's what they want.  That's the appetite that's been expressed here today. And I think that's the way we should go. There's no Plan B. to the reforms of the Second Vactican Council.  And we have lost fifty years and so much of it has been rolled back in terms of the last two pontificates unfortuantely.   And I think we're paying the price for it now because people are not engaging with the Church that's being presented to them.  They want a different Church .  We're not tlaking about fundamental teaching or questioning fundametnal teaching.  Church governmance and the way we do our business.  And silenceing people is not the way for the Catholic Church to do its business.

 A continuing problem with pedophile priests -- March saw the Vatican publish [PDF format warning] "Summary of the Findings of the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland" which acknowledged that "those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively"  -- and a changing world that the Church seems unwilling to acknowlege have resulted in more and more empty pews across the country.  In addition, there are worries.  One man told McDonald,  "It's really driven by the fact that we're not going to have priests in the future."  And while that's one opinion, it's also true that from hundreds of men joining the priesthood each year in Ireland, last year Ruth McDonald explained, saw "just 16 men beginning priestly studies here."

It was riveting programming.  Sadly Ruth McDonald's report wasn't part produced by American radio or television, it was part of BBC's radio series Heart and Soul (and click here for that episode specifically).

It did not cost an arm and a leg.  Any US network could have done the same sort of programming (including NPR which avoids documentaries to instead provide you with endless patter and prattle).  They could have done a summer series on faith, for example, each week looking at a new practice.  They could have done so much.

Instead they do so little -- and have done so little for so many years -- that cable channels like USA know to program their best offerings with first run episodes in the summer.  Nothing, for example, has ever prevented NBC from having an In Plain Sight, a highly praised USA staple that just wrapped its fifth and final season, or a piece of fluff like Covert Affairs which got higher ratings last season than the last 12 new episodes of The Office. (Covert Affairs kicks off season three on USA July 10th.)

CBS may actually be worse than NBC.  It had a solid show in Flashpoint, one that delivered respectable ratings for a show moved all over the schedule.  But they let it go to Ion Television which begins broadcasting the first new episode of season five this Tuesday.  On top of losing a program they really did need, they cut a show with ratings ABC, NBC and Fox would have killed for.  When they realized they'd be cutting the hit show Unforgettable (the decision was known in April), they should have instead made it a summer series and asked the show to go into immediate production for those episodes.  Over ten million viewers every week is nothing to sneeze at.  And a network willing to cut a show with that many viewers is one suffering from hubris and one soon to find the ground kicked out from beneath it.  ABC has stood by their summer scripted drama Rookie Blue and they've been rewarded with solid ratings each summer (third season kicked off last Thursday night).

A lot of bad reality programming -- some anchored by a network head's wife -- does not make for a mixture of programming and does not make for ratings to brag about.  The CW is whining that episodic TV does not repeat well.  That's hilarious because outside of their attempts at failed sitcoms, all The CW has ever offered is episodic tv.  That's where ou have elements that continued.  The term "episodic" TV was applied early on to Dallas but took off with Hill Street Blues whose viewers didn't want their police soap opera called a soap opera.   Continuing elements have always been an audience favorite.  By contrast, loyal viewers have been outraged to see weekly shows rewrite history from episode to episode.

The problem is not that episodic TV does not repeat well.  The problem is that with a wealth of entertainment choices, few people want to watch the same thing over and over.  There is an argument to be made for reruns.  CBS' NCIS has been a year-round staple.  People wrongly insist that NCIS is a big hit because of syndication.  That's wrong.  It's a huge show that appeals to a large number of people.  But if syndication alone did it, CBS would have seen the limp when USA started syndicated airings (January 2008).  It's the year after that the already hit TV show, sees a huge leap in the ratings.  USA exposed new people to the show but the reason it's a hit -- and this is true of the CBS Monday night comedies as well -- is because CBS keeps them on at the same time year round.  You know you can count on them.  When NBC had a Must See TV, it did the same thing.  And people take comfort in that.  [Related: After 9-11, NBC's Friends went from 4th ranked for the season to the number one show and a great deal of that was due to the comfort of Friends being there, a much enjoyed show, on the schedule, in the same spot on the same day.]  The trick is to figure out which shows viewers will watch repeats of in the summer and also to grasp that you really need original summer programming.  It's not really until the 1980s that the networks walk away from original summer programmming.

Without summer programming, you never would have had the 1976 variety show The Jacksons (CBS) or The Gladys Knight & the Pips Show (1975, NBC), or The Johnny Cash Show (ABC, 1969) or The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (CBS, 1971).  And  The Johnny Cash Show would go on to the regular schedule and air for three years while that last one not only became a huge hit and earned a spot on the regular schedule where it would run through May of 1974, it ended after four seasons only because Cher wanted it to (Sonny and Cher had separated and would soon divorce).

And does anyone remember why Fred Silverman gave Sonny & Cher the 1971 summer slot?  He'd caught their night club act, yes.  It was obvious there was something there that would translate well to TV but why he needed them and needed them right away was because he needed a show to fill the hour before each installment of The Six Wives of Henry VIII.  CBS was airing the BBC mini-series. Can you imagine any broadcast network today airing a historical mini-series?

You really can't.

It's not that they're not able to, it's that they won't.  They won't air a mini-series.  They won't air documentaries like the  BBC's Heart and Soul.  They won't put together summer variety shows.

Do you see why we call it whining, those e-mails and phone calls last week?  Yes, USA, TBS, HBO, TNT, AMC and even Ion Television are going to be airing new programming this summer.  But if you're not doing anything to counterprogram that, if all you're offering is tacky (and cheaply made) reality shows, do you really have a right to compalin or is it just whining?

Beginning in the 80s, the networks gave up on summer audiences (with the exception of burning off pilots they'd passed on).  In the 90s, Fox briefly took advantage of that to turn so-so series Beverly Hills 90210 into a blockbuster hit by airing new episodes in the summer (season two kicked off in the summer, as did season three). Entertainment abhors a vaccum.  Along came cable.  If the networks want to change that, they're going to have to start with changing themselves.

Barbie Roundtable

C.I.: As many have noted at their own sites, we've long planned a Barbie roundtable here. Barbie is a fashion doll, a little over 11 inches, put out by Mattel beginning in 1959.    I'm C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review and I'm moderating. Participating are Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man;  Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ;  Ann of Ann's Mega Dub and Mike of Mikey Likes It!  Ava, of The Third Estate Sunday Review, is kindly taking notes for this rush transcript piece and she'll get to have closing thoughts at the end.  As a new father, Mike has entered the world of Barbie with his five-year-old daughter.  We're especially glad to have Mike because Barbie is not just a toy that girls play with.  Elaine, of Like Maria Said Paz, told me that while attempting to locate commercial to prove a dollhouse was not a Barbie dollhouse, she came across many commercials of the 70s -- a time where gender roles loosened somewhat -- where boys were included in the commercials such as with the commercials for the Mego Farrah Fawcett doll and the Dyna-mite doll.  We had hoped that at least one of the men who regularly participate in these roundtables here would have played with Barbie as a child but none had.  We do want to stress, however, that Barbie -- despite advertising -- is not "a girl's toy."  Boys and girls have played with Barbie and will continue to.  In this community, Barbie bloggers include Trina, Kat, Marcia, Betty, Ann and Mike.  I want to start with a photo.  Trina, you just got one of those for the granddaughter who lives with you.  Tell us what that is.

barbie dream house

Trina: I won that on E-bay.  My version doesn't contain the bathtub, the bed, the vanity, the sofa, endtable or coffee table.  The kitchen fridge, stove, dishwasher and washer and dryer are built in so I have that as well as the also built in second story bathroom features of toilet, sink and laundry basket and the third story -- I laugh at that that -- room's stereo system which folds down into a bed.

Betty: Why do you laugh at it?  I think I know because I know that dollhouse.

Trina:  Because, as you know, that room comes loose and you can put it elsewhere, like on the ground next to the kitcehn.  If the roof was flat, I could see an argument for a third floor more. You could set up deck chairs, for example and it would be a sun roof.  But, as it is, I really don't see it as a third floor.

Betty: I agree with Trina on that.  This is the Mattel Barbie 3-Story Dream House and it came out around 2006.  They no longer make it new.  One of the good features here is that Barbie can go up the stairs.  There's a 'floating step' that you can attach her legs to, turn a wheel and she will go up the stairs without you holding her.

Marcia: This was a very popular dollhouse so I'm surprised they stopped making it.  But I will point out that the first floor reminds me somewhat of the apartment Mary had on most of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I noticed that with Hannah Montana's Malibu Beach House as well, with its sunken living room.  And what I wonder, just tossing it out there, don't expect anyone to have an answer, if the people designing these dollhouses aren't influenced by early TV homes they fell in love with?

C.I.: That's a very good question.  If someone reading knows the answer, our e-mail address is  Now Betty noted that they aren't making that one anymore and I want to talk a bit more about that but before we do, the Barbie Townhouse was introduced by Mattel in the early seventies.  A three-story structure that looks like a set of plastic shelves quite honestly -- buy your own furniture and paint backdrops and you can grab a three story plastic shelf from a store and have everything but the elevator.  Marcia had one of the first  and wrote about it two weeks ago in "Townhouses, country kitchens, mansions and pads."  You loved it when you were little.  You think the ones they make today are better.  Why?

Marcia: The Barbie Townhouse was a major thing.  There were only the vinyl dollhouses that were carrying cases and folded out.  Some were one room -- a bedroom for example.  Some were two.  Some were actual homes.  But other than that, the only thing that might have existed was the wooden Barbie Dollhouse.  If it existed before the Townhouse, I never saw it but after I wrote my post, a friend at work swore to me she had a wooden dollhouse before the townhouse came out.  The Townhouse was everywhere.  In the big toy sections of big stores and even in the cheaper toy stores.  And it was a big deal because it was three stories.  It was permanent.  You didn't fold it out.  You set it up and wherever in your room it was, that's pretty much where it stayed.  If you moved it, you risked looseing parts.  It had an elevator which was so great.  I had a Maxwell Smart and 99 doll that a neighbor had given me -- they were characters on Get Smart, and I'd pretend like they were spying on Barbie and have them be on different floors.  I'd have Barbie on the first floor in the kitchen, for example, and have them on the second floor listening.  Then she'd go to the elevator and I'd have them ride on top of it so that when she got off at the second, they'd get off at the third.  Eventually, they'd be on the roof.  And it was a flat roof.  It was a boxy look.  And, C.I.'s comment about book shelves, that really is true.

Mike: In eighth grade shop, we made a number of things.

Trina: Including a foot stool that is still used as a chair.  That thing is so hugely popular.

Mike: Thank you, Mom.  And one of the other things we made was a bookcase.  It was just two stories.  The shop teacher then asked us if we had a use for a two story book case.  Those who did were allowed to take it home.  Those who didn't or who had younger sisters, this included me, were told we had just made the basic structure for a dollhouse.  And so those of us who wanted to, continued working only how we added a backing to it and we made windows in that.  We created a wall on each shelf to divide it into four rooms as well.  I have one younger sister and when I took it home, she loved it.  I forgot about that until C.I. talked about how they were really like bookcases.

Marcia: And that was even more true with the first Townhouse.  The third floor had a flat roof all the way across.  Now days, they've changed it so that it has a half roof, half of it is covered.  That does break up the boxy feel to it.  So did moving the elevator from the side to the center of the house.  And I have to repeat, the colors -- and I'm not a fan of pink -- are much better today.  When I got it decades ago, it was woodsy and yellows and all this other ugly colors.

C.I.: Does anyone need a Barbie house?

Ann: I think you do.  If you're playing Barbies, I think you do.  I can remember my Barbie days and I've seen it echoed with other young girls.  You start out with one Barbie.  She's your favorite in the world.  But she needs some friends.  So you get another.  And maybe she needs a boyfriend.  So you get that.

Ava: Jumping in -- Maybe she needs a boyfriend?

Ann: Ava's the only one who knows this story.  I'll get to it quickly.  But to answer the question, you add Barbies and Kens and doll clothes and maybe you even get a Barbie car -- you can get one for less than 20 bucks at our Toys R Us currently, I don't know about elsewhere.  But at some point, you really do want a place for Barbie to sleep and to eat with friends.  And maybe you have free standing furniture that you set out on your bedroom floor but you really do want the walls, I don't know why, but you do.

C.I.: And to grab the point Ava raised?

Ann: I had gay Kens.  I had a Ken who dated Barbie.  And that was all I wanted.  But I was the first kid for my aunts and uncles so when I got my Ken and they heard they rushed to get me Kens.  So I ended up with a ton.  I had Kens who were boyfriends.  I didn't call them Kens.  In fact, I tended to rename almost all of the dolls.  My Black Barbie was Regina.  That's the name I gave her.  I had one blond Barbie that I called Barbie but all the others had different names.  I gave the boys dolls different names as well.

Marcia: When you say they were gay, I have to ask, what did you know at that age and also were there lesbian Barbies?

Ann: Betty has a brother who's gay. I have an uncle.  I'm sure that for Betty it was just the way things were growing up.

Betty: True.

Ann: And that's how it was for me as well.  Did I know where everything went when having sex?  Not when I started playing Barbies but that was true of male and female coupling as well.  The most they did -- the gay Kens or the Barbie and Ken pairings -- was kiss.  And live together.  Again, being the first meant I had aunts and uncles with spending money who were very sweet to the first niece in the family so I had a ton of dollhouses.  And my gay Kens had one of the dollhouses.  As for lesbian Barbies. Nope.  But I'd never heard or thought of that at that time.  If I'd had a relative or a neighbor who was a lesbian, I'm sure I would have had that coupling.  I didn't have dream jobs, for example.  My Barbies and Kens worked jobs that my parents and uncles and aunts and people I knew did.  Did you have your Barbies in same-Barbie relations?

Marcia: No.  But I didn't pair her with Ken so maybe that was an early tell -- that I was gay.  I got a Barbie with a wedding dress from a grandmother one year for my birthday mainly because she couldn't understand why I wouldn't pair up my Barbies with my Kens.  I took scissors to the dress and turned it into a mini-dress.  I turned the veil into a cape.  I had no interest in marrying my Barbies off to Kens.

Kat: Did they live together in the Townhouse?

Marcia: When I got the Townhouse, Ken, Steven -- that was the Black Ken I believe -- and some other guy were relegated to my vinyl fold-out house and my Barbies took over the townhouse. They would visit.  They would throw parties and invite each other.  But they did not date and they did not marry.

C.I.: And, in contrast, Rebecca made her Barbies have sex.

Rebecca: That's a for-real story.  C.I.'s heard that from me and from my sisters.  When I was 9, I had all my Barbies taken away by my mother when she caught me with Ken and Barbie having sex.  Which means, they were stripped naked, on the bed in the Barbie Dream House -- one story vinyl foldout case that had one space that was a bedroom, kitchen and den.  And they were naked, on the bed and rubbing against each other. "What are they doing!" That's what my mother said suprising me because I hadn't heard her enter the room.  My guilty look made it impossible to pretend I had no idea what she was talking about.  So she packed everyone up until I told her how I knew what I had those dolls doing.  I'm not joking. She thought my sisters had told me about sex.  Or that someone at school had.

C.I.: But you knew because?

Rebecca: I'd swiped one of my mother's paperbacks.  One of those 'romance' stories.  So when I told her that, she was embarrassed but I got all my Barbies back.

C.I.: With your young daughter now, she has a number of Barbies and Barbie clothes and homes, etc.

Rebecca: Right.  Thus far, her Barbies haven't had sex.  That I know of.  If they do, that's between Barbie, Ken and the person acting out the story.  But seriously, Kat had a great post a little while back that I loved called "Skipper with boobs, Skipper without, what the heck?"  Kat, talk about that.

Kat: I was an adult and no longer playing with Barbies.  But my second oldest niece had gotten a Skipper doll.  I think it's called Growing Up Skipper.  And you turned the arm clockwise and she grew boobs.  You turned the arm all the way around counter-clockwise and they retreated into her chest.  My oldest niece saw that as proof that Barbie had jumped the shark basically.

Rebecca: Right.  And I loved you point about what was that supposed to be?  And what was it supposed to teach?  I'm serious.  Once we enter the phases where we're starting to get breasts, they're there.  We might want them to go away -- I was huge from an early age and I certainly wanted them to disappear -- but they didn't.  So, and maybe this is just me having always had big breasts, I just wonder what the thinking behind that doll was?  If it was to teach about transitions, getting breasts is a one-way transition.  You get them.  They do not grow back into you and disappear.  I know no one hear can answer this but I would really love to know who came up with that toy and what their thinking was.

C.I.: That would be interesting to know.  Mike, you and Elaine have a daughter now and she's into Barbies.  What stands out to you about her playtime with them?

Mike: Hmm.  I'm seeing one thing but she sees something else.  One thing I'm learning to do is to get into the creative mind-set she's going into.  I don't just mean that fact that she holds Barbie and she's talking and that's supposed to be Barbie talking and I'm supposed to talk through whatever doll she's given me.  I get that.  But she's using the toys and everything for this full blown story.  I did that with some little Planet of the Ape figures in first and second grade.  I can remember being in the sandblock with Tony and another friend and we'd create this big mound of dirt and then hollow out tunnels and we'd play with the little Planet of the Ape figures -- they were about an inch tall -- and we wouldn't be seeing a sandlot or mound of dirt.  And she's like that.  You really have to keep up and I had no idea.

Betty: You're right about that.  C.I. has a Barbie room.  And she and my daughter play there on Saturday and  Sundays and my daughter all during the week.  They have storylines that they pick up.  It's like a soap opera.  I always play the new Barbie anytime I play.  And if there's not a new Barbie, I have my assigned Barbie say, "I'm sorry, I just got back from vacation and I forgot what was going on."  Because it's so hard to keep up.  I'm guessing that your daughter has continuing storylines.

Mike: Yes, she does.  And if you don't get into that mind set and clear your head of everything else, forget about following along.

C.I.: Trina, each Friday you take the granddaughter that lives with you to get a toy.

Trina: That's right and if Mike and Elaine's daughter, my other granddaughter, is there, then I take her also.

C.I.: And that brings up a point that we've gotten e-mail on here and that some of you have also had at your sites.  There's a feeling that Mattel isn't really focusing on children.  That they are focusing on collectors and that children are being cheated.  When Marcia, for example, was a little girl, there were tons of Barbie clothes she could buy at the store, individual outfits.  Now days, the selection is very small -- this despite Barbie supposedly beating Bratz in the market -- and usually overpriced.  There used to be Barbie cases.  Now those are important if you play with Barbie.  Probably more so now then when Barbie started in fact.  In its early days in the fifties and early sixties, the carry case existed so you could take Barbie to school or to a friend's house to play.  Now days with joint-custody being more common, children probably have a greater use and need for carry cases.  But the Barbie carry case that exists today isn't the fun one that Marcia was talking about that folded out into a house.  Or even the bedroom.  Those were very popular, a carrying case with a slot for Barbie on either side of a closet and the fold out was two beds and a table between them.  Those were fun and highly popular.

Trina: Right.  That's actually what I started going to Ebay for after I'd looked all over for new ones at Toys R Us and Target and elsewhere.  I couldn't find one.  I finally found a case that's supposed to be a fashion runway but that my granddaughter uses as a bed.  Fashion runway?  What age was that case made for?  Come on.  As Ann's story pointed out, kids play what they know.  So a carry case that's also a bedroom is always going to be more popular with kids than a carry case that's a fashion runway.  The clothes aren't just costly though, they're also inferior.  Since I started Barbie blogging, I hear that so often.  If you played Barbies, you've probably tried to make one dress yourself while you were a little kid.  And most likely, after you failed, you tried again the easiest way possible, taking a sock and cutting a neck hole and arm holes in the top of it and sliding it over Barbie's head.  Now that's a cheap dress.  So when I see dresses that Mattel's made that remind me of that, I think, "Oh, that's so tacky."  I prefer the 70s clothes because they had sleeves and so many of the new outfits don't, Elaine and I have talked about how nearly every outfit is a dress and Barbie rarely wears pants anymore, certainly not long ones.  What's up with that?  What message is being sent?  And then you have all these dresses with ends you tire because the dresses don't have sleeves.  It's just cheap.  By contrast, those 70s outfits really do look like clothes that were worn at that time.

Kat: And Goldie Hawn.

Betty: I was just about to say that.

Kat: The Goldie Hawn doll is cute.  I like it.  I like Goldie Hawn.  It's capturing her Laugh-In character.  And that's fine though I do wonder why it's not capturing her Private Benjamin character or another.  But if that's a doll for little kids and not another attempt to make money from collectors, why did they include all that writing on the doll?

Betty: My daughter did not get it.  She thought it was Tatto Barbie.  That's what she called her.  And other little girls who'll come play with her won't pick up the Barbie doll.  That writing doesn't come off the Goldie doll and it's all over her body.  If that was made for kids, big mistake because they don't like the writing all over the doll.

C.I.: But maybe collectors is the way to go, maybe that's how Mattel intends to stay in business.  I don't know.  But I know Rebecca's got some ideas about collector dolls that they should be doing.

Rebecca: Right.  I want a Carly Simon doll.  I want a Joni Mitchell doll.  And I want them from the 1971 and 72 period.  Meaning I want Joni with long blond straight hair -- no bangs -- in some funky clothes.  I want Carly from the cover of No Secrets including that wonderful floppy hat.  And along with the clothes that they're sold in, I want a whole line of soft, romantic early seventies clothes -- peasant blouses, bell bottoms, flowing clothes, hats.  If you're going to do special collector sets then why don't you do some that people want.  And I love Goldie Hawn and would buy a Private Benjamin doll or a Goldie and Julie Christie Shampoo dolls or Goldie and Meryl Death Becomes Her Dolls, etc.  But I don't want a doll with writing on it.

Betty: And if they do those dolls they need to look those women did in that 70s period.  I'm less concerned about the body.  I get that for the dolls to be able to wear lots of clothing, you're going to have to use the standard Barbie body.  That's fine.  But the face needs to look like them.  I had a badly beaten up Diana Ross doll growing up.  It was a doll my aunt had and she gave to me.  My brother glued new eye lashes on it and also painted it because it had some marks on the face.  That was a Mego doll from before I was born.  And it looked a little like Diana.  Explain to me why, around 2003, Mattel releases a Diana Ross doll that's looks nothing like her.  The hair was solid but the face doesn't look a damn thing like Diana Ross.  I know Diana's very in charge of her image.  So if the doll's look is her fault and not Mattel's, fine.  But if it's Mattel's they need to do a better job.  That is the worst celebrity doll of the last ten years.  Mattel has done a Barbra Streisand doll that looks like Barbra but they can't do a Diana Ross that looks like Diana?

C.I.: Okay, so Rebecca wants to see Carly and Joni.  And I'll add that Rebecca's noted if they sell well that Mattel should follow up with other singer-songwriters of that period including Roberta Flack.  And I do like that idea and Rebecca's got this whole 'soft seventies' slogan for the clothes and the dolls.  I'm summarizing what Rebecca and I have talked about outside the roundtable because we need to wind down.  Betty's noted that celebrity dolls need to look like the celebrities.  And I think we can also all agree with that.  Trina's pointed out the need for better clothing and that's certainly agreeable as well  I'm going to toss to the rest of you to see if there's anything you would like to see Mattel do?

Marcia: I'll start.  Vinyl foldouts.  They need to return to making those.  Those are holdovers for a lot of little kids whose parents can't afford to spend over a hundred dollars for a Barbie home.  Now you give them vinyl foldouts at a reasonable price and you keep them as potential customers.  Otherwise, you're really not marketing to them.

C.I.: Give us an example of what type of foldouts you mean.

Marcia: I had the Barbie ocean liner which was just two rooms.  But you folded it out.  I also had the Barbie airplane which you folded out.  Both were vinyl.  In addition, they could be doing the sleep carrying cases like we've talked about, that fold out into bedrooms.  Out of vinyl.  Especially in this economy, I worry about the huge cost of a Barbie house.

Ann: Right.  We were at Target, Cedric and I, looking at toys mainly because it was raining hard so we didn't want to leave the store yet.  And there's a Babie Beach House now that's not that great, four rooms, and I'm looking at the price and it's fifty bucks.  To its credit, you can carry it out of the store in the box.  I could carry it myself.  It's not like the Townhouse or the one Trina got off Ebay.  I wouldn't be able to carry those.  But here was one you could carry and it was fifty bucks and I thought first, "Oh, thank goodness, it's not a hundred dollars."  And then there was this little girl who was on the aisle, the only one there besides Cedric and me.  And her mother came up at some point and she asked her mom for a toy and her mom told her no more than $20.  She'd been eyeing that Barbie Beach House.  And she asked her mom please but her mom that they didn't have enough for that.  She said twenty was the limit.  So I butted in and said there was a kitchen and something on the other aisle.  I led them over to the Liv Playset.

C.I.: We'll put a picture of it in here.  Go ahead and describe it.


Ann: It's  vinyl foldout.  You've got a wall with a stove and fridge and sink on it -- doors open on all.  Then the other wall has a small shelf on it and the rest of the stuff is painted except for a window.  You've got a hammock that hangs off that wall onto a pole so the dolls can sleep there. And you've got a sleeping bag, a table with two chairs and some sort of chair or cushion plus cooking utensils.  Now to be fair, that was normally thirty bucks.  It was on sale for $17.99.  The little girl had just been looking on the Barbie aisle.  She saw that and loved it.  And her mother told me thank you.  And I'm sorry but you're kidding yourself if you think parents are going to be splurging year round.  Barbie needs to be regularly putting products into the store that children can play with and that parents can afford.  The Dream House?  It's a dream, a gold to strive for.  In the mean time, provide toys that parents can afford.

C.I.: That's a very good point.  And it's on sale online at Toys R Us for $19.98 currently. Which leads us into Kat's point.

Kat:  Yeah, I was talking about this to Wally, Ava and C.I. on the plane ride home.  I go to Target or Toys R Us and I can't believe what I see.  Two small aisles of Barbie -- with at least one aisle being Barbie Disney?  We had more Barbie toys in Woolworths when I was a kid.  With big box stores supposedly dying, Mattel needs to be more aggressive in their placement.  And I'm talking about Kroger now and Walgreens, etc.  I was at a Wal-Greens Thursday that, on their toy aisle, had only one Barbie doll.  And no Barbie clothes and no Barbie car and no Ken.  Just one Barbie.  Similarly, grocery stores are moving away from toys.  Mattel needs to be on that because we are probably getting to a point where the stores that are most visited -- physical stores -- are going to be grocery stores. And the idea that Barbie is so poorly featured and displayed at Toys R Us and Target is something that Mattel needs to deal with immediately.

C.I.: Mike, you're up.

Mike:  I'm the overindulgent father so my issue isn't the price.  My issue is what's up there.  And I don't really care for me.  I understand what my mom's saying about the clothes and I agree with her and Elaine on this.  But if that's what my daughter wanted, that's what she'd get.  But I'm taking her to the store and she doesn't like the Barbie clothes.  We're actually the Liv clothes -- and wigs -- for Barbie instead.  And that's not because I'm insulting the clothes.  And Elaine and my mom do not run down the clothes around her.  This is just that those clothes are not attractive to her for whatever reason.  There's an exception, sorry.  There's something called Barbie Basics.  And they've got on blue jeans and stuff like that.  We buy those dolls just because she likes the clothes.  She'll play with them but it's the clothes that make her want those dolls.  So my suggestion would be that they need to be clothes kids will like.

C.I.: I agree with you Mike and this can be tied in to something else.  I'm going to toss that to Rebecca.

Rebecca: I know what you mean.  We're going back to Ann played careers for her Barbies based on the careers adults around her had.  By the same token, children will want to dress their Babies up in clothese that they see on adults around them.

C.I.: Thank you, Rebecca.  Good points all and this is a rush transcript.  As agreed upon between us before we started, new mom Ava gets the last word.

Ava:  Okay.  Jess and I are new parents.  Our daughter's not going to be playing Barbies for a few years.  One thing we are doing is looking at what's out there and what has been.  Trina's had some great scores on Ebay and Craig's list.  And I do like the townhouse.but that's really it of what Mattel's putting out now.  The Glam Vacation house is a joke. And though I'm not going to be limited in what I buy, it's also overpriced.  So what I'm doing is going through the toys I like.  The Dream House that Trina found?  I'm getting one of those right now.  And there's also an A-Frame House that's three pieces, two stories, from the 70s that I love and I've gotten it and gotten the more recent version of it that's on sale currently and called the Barbie Beach House.  But what I really wish Mattel would do is start making some quality things for Barbie again.  It's very telling that people are spending hundreds of dollars on Ebay to get Barbie houses that are no longer made by Mattel while the houses that Mattel now makes largely sit on the shelves at stores and no one buys them.  Mattel really needs to be reconsidering their production and design unit because it is grossly out of touch.

Congress and Veterans


Dona:  Last week the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on  the Disability Evaluation System.  Senator Patty Murray is the Committe Chair, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  C.I., Ava, Kat and Wally attended and C.I. reported on it in Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot" and again in Friday's "Iraq snapshot," while Ava offered  "How to keep the witness focused (Ava),"  Wally offered  "It's your money (Wally)" and Kat reported in "Senator Burr: I've had too many of these hearings."  We're going to discuss that hearing; however, the week before that, C.I. reported on the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health's hearing in  "Iraq snapshot," "Iraq snapshot" and "Iraq snapshot" and we may work that in as well.   But the last time we roundtabled on veterans issues before Congressional committees in "Congress and Veterans," and Kat reported on the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing we were addressing in her  "Congress Member Gone Wild" and C.I. reported on it with "Iraq snapshot," "Iraq snapshot," "Congress is supposed to provide oversight"  and "Iraq snapshot." Why might we be dropping back to the hearing?  Today The New York Times posted a column by Iraq War veteran and Afghanistan War veteran Mike Scotti wrote entitled "The V.A.'s Shameful Betrayal" and Scotti notes, "The V.A. says it tries to complete full mental health evaluations within 14 days of an initial screening. But a review by the department’s inspector general found that schedulers were entering misleading information into their computer system. They were recording the next available appointment date as the patient’s desired appointment date. As a result, a veteran who might have had to wait weeks for an appointment would appear in the computer system as having been seen 'without a wait.' That allowed the agency to claim that the two-week target was being reached in 95 percent of cases, when the real rate was 49 percent. The rest waited an average of 50 days. "  I'm going to toss that out to Ava.

Ava: I agree with him completely and I'll note that the House Veterans Affairs Committee that we roundtabled on here previously, that was where Congress woman Corrine Brown was minimizing what Scotti's complaining about.  He's right to complain.  But don't just blame the VA.  Blame people like Corrine Brown who see their role as to be the excuse offerer for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  That's the hearing where Brown attacked a doctor, verbally attacked the woman.  Insulted her profession, insulted her.  And she had to jump into the middle of Chair Jeff Miller's questions, cut the woman off in the midst of speaking to act like a rabid dog that someone on the Committee should have taken down.

Dona: I figured that would be the response.  And, again, Mike Scotti is right to be outraged.  But part of the problem is the fact that some members of Congress -- some members serving on Veterans Affairs Committee -- are less interested in helping veterans and more interested in offering excuses for the administration.  Senator Burr wasn't in the mood for excuses last Wednesday, was he, Kat?

Kat: No.  As he noted, he's been at too many of these hearings where the VA gives itself high praise and admits to a few problems but swears that next year everything will be fixed and yet they fail, the following year, to meet the target goal they gave themselves and this happens over and over.

Dona: And, Wally, you had a point on that?

Wally: Right.  For five years now, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has been holding hearing on the Disability Evaluation System.  And there's been no improvement despite all the promises from the VA.  So think about how much time the Senate's had to put into this, time that's wasted.  The Veterans Affairs Committee could have been focusing on other needs.  Then think about all the money wasted as the Senate has researched this issue, tracked this issue, prepared for hearings on this issue.  That's really too bad.

Dona: One of the problems that all of you repeatedly note when you show up for these roundtables on what you saw at the hearings is that government witnesses repeatedly try to run out the clock.  Now Wednesday, one Senator refused to let that happen.  Ava, tell us about that.

Ava: Senator Jon Tester from Montana didn't allow the witnesses to run out the clock.  Not only did he ask specific questions, he let them know when they'd answered the question.  When the question was answered, they were cut off.  I'm not sure if people realize there is a time limit for each Senator.  You have more time on the Senate than on the House Committees.  And with the exception of Senator Kent Conrad, I've never seen a Senator cut anyone off since 2008 --

Dona: Who did Conrad cut off?

Ava: C.I. reported on this.  It was an Appropriations Committee hearing.  Senator Bernie Sanders was in the middle of questioning and asked for a minute more and Conrad rudely told him there wasn't time.  I also remember him being rude to Senator Kelly Ayotte in that hearing.

Dona: Correct, C.I.?

C.I.: Senate Budget Committee. He was rude to Bernie Sanders and to Kelly Ayotte.  It was Feburary 28th.

Dona:  Thank you.  So, Ava,  there's a limited amount of time each Senator gets for questioning the witnesses.

Ava: Correct.  And Tester controlled his very well.  I really think that's an issue Congress needs to address.  The government witnesses don't even pretend to be answering the questions in some cases.  Say a senator asks a question.  It's no longer uncommon for a government official to respond, "That's a good question and I'll be happy to address it but first --" And then they'll go on for five to six minutes.  And every witness is allowed to make an opening statement before questioning begins.  So there's no excuse for this.  When you're asked a question, answer.

Dona: How would you have the Congress address this?

Ava: I think there needs to be agreement that when a question isn't being answered, the witness is cut off and re-directed.  If he or she again starts trying to avoid the question, you point that out and you publicly explain what it means to be in contempt of Congress.  Then you ask the question again.  If they did that for a solid month, I think VA officials and officials from other departments would realize that this can happen at any time and would make real efforts to answer the question.  I could be wrong.  But that's my suggestion.

Dona:   Okay, C.I., explain me to me -- in easy to understand language -- what the Disability Evaluation System is about.

C.I.: Okay, you're a service member and you are wounded.  You're now evaluated by DoD.  If you can continue to serve, you're a service member.  If you're not able to then you become a veteran.  That transition from DoD to VA should take about as long as I just did to explain it.  But it was taking much too long, a year in many cases.  More than a year in some cases.  And if you're a wounded veteran, you've been injured in service to the country so your disability check shouldn't be taking forever and a day.  DoD and VA are now supposed to be working jointly on this issue, that's the DES program.  It's been around for nearly five years now and it's yet to meet the goals it gave itself in a Senate hearing.

Dona: Right.  Reading over Kat's report, I see that Senator Burr said, "In May 2011, the Secretary of the Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs committed to revising the IDES so that it could be completed in 150 days and went further and agreed to explore options for it to be 75 days."  Yet in May 2012, it's approximately 394 days.  So clearly those target dates weren't met.  C.I., what would you say about that.

C.I.: I think you said it.  The one thing I would note is that those goals came from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  Leon Panetta is currently Secretary of the Defense Dept. but he was not Secretary in May 2011.   I know and like Leon, I'm not trying to offer him excuses.  I hope he will be judged at the end of his term by what he accomplished.  I don't believe Robert Gates was.

Dona: I'm going to go off topic because I think Gates did a lousy job.  You were at the Pentagon press conference with a friend, Gates' last press conference.  Talk about that.

C.I.: It was disgusting.  And it was off the record. I couldn't believe that.  At first, I thought the spokesperson was joking but the press turned off their recorders and stopped taking notes and the bulk of them were like giddy school children as they stood in line to have their photo taken with Robert Gates -- and gush to him during their photo.  If you thought the nonsense and never-ending Gates departure coverage was fawning, there was your reason, they were in love with him.  It was disgusting.

Dona: I agree with that.  On Panetta, when he leaves what should he be graded on?

C.I.:  Gates wasn't graded on anything.  That wasn't fair.  When Panetta leaves, he needs to be graded on what issues he raised publicly, on rates such as suicide and assault and whether they went down or not, that sort of thing.  And if The Common Ills is still around then, I will grade him on those things.  I won't fawn over him.  And unlike the press with Gates, I personally know Leon and have for many years and he is an honest and good person.  But my role at The Common Ills is not to evaluate Leon Panetta the person, it's to evaluate what he did or did not do as Secretary of Defense.

Dona: Thank you.  And that's going to have to be it.  This is a rush transcript.  We're going to close with an exchange from the hearing.  There's been a problem at Madigan with service members with PTSD being re-diagnosed and suddenly they don't have PTSD.  But they do.  So why were they re-diagnosed.  This is an ongoing problem and Senator Murray's been a leader on it so we're closing with this exchange.

Chair Patty Murray:  Okay.  Dr. Rooney, there is no doubt that the events at Madigan have shaken the trust and confidence of service members who are in the Disability Evaluation System. I believe that transparency and sharing information about the ongoing re-evaluations that are happening today and actions the Army and DoD are taking to remedy this situation will go along ways towards restoring some trust in this system. I wanted to ask you today what we have learned from the investigations that the army is conducting into the forensic science unit at Madigan?

Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Well as you pointed out earlier, there have been 196 re-evaluations completed to date.  Of which, 108 of those have been diagnosed as having PTSD where before they had not.  We also --
Chair Patty Murray: Let me just say that they had been diagnosed with PTSD.  When they went through the evaluation system they were told they did not.  Now going back and re-evaluating them once they've gone out, we're saying, "Yes, you did --

Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: Yes. 

Chair Patty Murray:  --  indeed have PTSD."

Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Correct.  108 of those 196.

Chair Patty Murray: More than half.

Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Correct. There are 419 that have been determined to be eligible for re-evaluation.  287 from the original  group that was looked at and as you know the Army actually opened the aperture up to see anybody else who would have gone through the process while forensic psychiatrists were being used.  So that was 419 totally eligible for re-evaluation. And at this point, there are three in progress and twelve being scheduled.  So what we have learned from that is clearly that the process that was put into place at that time did not function as originally designed.  Evidence did not show that there was a mean spirited attempt but really to create similar diagnoses.  Obviously, that was not something that occurred.  So the Army has taken the lessons from here and it's actually going back to 2001 to re-evaluate all of the cases where we might have a similar situation.  What we're doing from that point is not only learning from what Army is doing and looking at these re-evaluations where we're using the new standards in many ways advances in the medical and behavioral health areas to better diagnose PTSD but also then we'll be taking those lessons learned across the other services as well. So since Army has the greatest majority of people going through -- currently about 68% of the people in the Disability Evaluation Process are from Army -- we will take the lessons learned from there and apply those across to all the services.

What the hell?

Is it claymation?


At a time when Barack Obama presumably wants to connect with voters, we can't imagine a photo that would make him look less natural.  

Comical joker of the week

Ali al-Dabbagh (below) is Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson.  Last week, Baghdad hosted a meet-up of Iran, Germany, Russia, France, the UK and the US.  Nothing was accomplished.  Ali Arouzi (NECN News -- link is text and video) reports, "International nuclear talks being held in Baghdad this week with Iran ended inconclusively with both sides at a stalemate."

iraq funny
Yet as the talks ended, there was al-Dabbagh pronouncing them a success and insisting Iraq was now ready to host talks between Syria and other countries.

Senator Patty Murray on hiring veterans

Patty Murray

US Senator Patty Murray led on the Hire Heroes Act (see our "Hiring Heroes Act of 2011" from last year) and is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Last week, her office noted.

Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
VETERANS: Senator Murray Discusses Progress in Veterans Hiring, Importance of Working with the Private Sector
With Memorial Day approaching, author of VOW to Hire Heroes Act discussed 5 important steps private companies should take to bring veterans on board, debunked stigma many employers have attached to the invisible wounds of war, and cited success stories
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the state of efforts to hire veterans. The speech focused on what steps private businesses are taking that are improving veterans hiring and what challenges veterans still face in the job market. The speech comes after extensive discussions Murray has had with private employers, veterans, and employment experts on what’s working and what isn’t in the effort to hire veterans. Recent labor statistics show that unemployment, particularly among young veterans, remains unacceptably high.
Full text of Senator Murray’s speech:
“Next week Americans will spend time honoring and commemorating the men and women who died fighting for our great country. Memorial Day is a day to reflect on and give thanks for the sacrifices made by those who made the ultimate sacrifice—but it is also a day to look forward and to think about what we all can do to help our veterans who have also sacrificed so much—and who deserve our support when they come home. So, I come to the floor today to discuss an issue that, quite frankly, defies common sense.
“The high rate of unemployment among recently separated veterans is an issue that continues to make the transition home for veterans harder than ever. Despite the fact that our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century. Our veterans continue to struggle.
“Despite the skill, talent and training of our veterans, statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is nearly 20%. That is one in five of our nation’s heroes who can’t find a job to support their family, don’t have an income that provides stability, and don’t have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.
“We know this shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t let the skills and training our nation’s veterans have attained go to waste. And that’s why we all joined together to overwhelmingly pass my VOW to Hire Heroes Act here in the Senate late last year. Among many other things, this law provides tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire veterans, makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for most separating servicemembers, and expands the education and training we provide transitioning servicemembers.
“Thanks to this legislation we have been able to take a real, concrete step toward putting our veterans to work. The tax credit is working. And VA is set to begin accepting applications for a retraining program that will benefit unemployed veterans ages 35-60 and help get them back to work. This bill is only that, a first step.

“Today, I’d like to talk about the next step. And that step is to build partnerships with private businesses large and small – all across the country – to hire our nation’s heroes.
“Just recently I was in New York where I participated in a lively roundtable discussion hosted by the Robin Hood Foundation. This discussion on veterans’ employment was moderated by Tom Brokaw on the USS Intrepid and brought together people of various backgrounds – including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan – to talk about this important issue. What is very apparent is that there is momentum to build public/private partnerships. What is also apparent is that there is a lot of room for improvement in this area.
“Now, I want to first make it clear that a lot of companies across the country are far ahead of the curve on this. In fact, many private sector companies have already joined our efforts in addressing this critical issue. For example, JC Penney, one of America’s largest retailers, and Joseph Abboud, a men’s clothing company, partnered with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to launch the Welcome Home Joe – Thanks a Million Program. To prepare veterans for job interviews, this program has provided 5,000 veterans with certificates to purchase business attire.
“For the last decade we have expected our brave men and women in uniform to prepare for the battlefield. In the process, they have become accustomed to wearing combat boots and battle dress uniforms. Now they are expected wear a suit and tie for job interviews - something that sometimes seems foreign to them. But thanks to this program, thousands of transitioning veterans can now hang-up their battle dress uniforms and dress for their next challenge.
“Other companies like, Schneider National, one of America’s largest trucking companies, are realizing that the skills our veterans have gained over the last decade of war are directly applicable to their businesses. Schneider National recognizes that a veteran who has driven a seven-ton truck across Afghanistan’s dangerous and rugged terrain is more than qualified to drive a freight truck across our nation’s roads. And in addition to providing many veterans with new jobs, Schneider National also provides newly separated veterans with on-the-job training through their Military Apprenticeship Program. As part of the program, veteran employees are eligible to earn a monthly educational benefit check from the VA in addition to a paycheck. Schneider National serves as an example of how companies can hire veterans that have proven they can perform the job, but lack proper certifications for civilian employment.
“The US Chamber of Commerce also must be commended for launching its Hiring Our Heroes initiative which has sponsored 150 hiring fairs in 48 states. At one of these recent hiring fairs, General Electric, the employer of 10,000 veterans launched its Veterans Network Transition Assistance Program. As part of this program General Electric has vowed to hire 1,000 additional veterans every year for the next five years and will provide job-seeking veterans with one-on-one mentoring sessions. These sessions help transitioning veterans improve resume writing and interviewing techniques so they can capitalize on the skills they’ve developed during military service.
“This is just a fraction of the work being done at our nations employers. There are many other success stories at big companies like Home Depot, and at small companies like General Plastics in my home state - which has created a pipeline to hire veterans at its aerospace composites factory. All of these companies are not only examples of success stories – they have also created a roadmap for how best to find, hire, and train veterans. And it’s our job to make sure those lessons are being heard. So today I want to lay out a few things that all businesses – large and small – can do to bring our nation’s heroes into their companies.
“First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the benefits of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can’t tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and on resumes fail to get through to interviewers.
“Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning servicemembers. This is something I’ve seen done at large organizations like Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills developed during military service but also utilize on-the-job training.
“Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations, at local military bases to help connect veterans with jobs, and to work with local One-Stop Career Centers.
“Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,
“And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.
If we can spread the message on just a few of these steps, I’m confident that we will be able to continue to build on the success we have had in hiring veterans.
“But there’s one other – even more important step we have to insure that businesses are taking – and it has to do with the difficult issue of the invisible wounds of war some potential employees face.
“I have heard repeatedly from veterans that they do not put their military service on resumes because they fear it stigmatizes them. They fear that those who have not served see them all as damaged, or unstable. We must understand what mental health challenges are, and what they are not. As we seek to employ more veterans, we need future bosses and coworkers to understand that issues like post-traumatic stress or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience. We need them to understand that these illnesses do not afflict every veteran. And most importantly, we need them to understand that for those who are affected by these illnesses: they can get help, they can get better, and they can get back into their lives.
“We need to let businesses know that if they have a veteran who is facing some challenges, that they should do the right thing and encourage him or her get help. They need to know it is okay to reach out. Help them take advantage of the excellent mental health care that the VA is capable of providing. The veteran will be better, and they will be an even stronger member of your team.
“Those are some steps that our employers can take, but we also need to make sure that our veterans are taking steps to make sure they stand out as candidates. Unfortunately, too often our veterans don’t see how their skills translate from the battle field to the working world. And one of the biggest reasons for this barrier is that often our veterans don’t understand the vernacular of the working world.
“Just a few weeks ago I was at home in Washington state discussing these issues when I met Anne Spurte. Anne is a veteran who helps other local veterans find work through an organization called The Unfinished Mission. Anne told me about how she often heard from veterans who told her they weren’t qualified for the jobs they’d seen online or in the paper. Repeatedly, they told her they didn’t see how their experiences mattered to employers in the area. So one day in front of a whole group of veterans, Anne pulled out this job advertisement from Boeing for a position as a fabrication specialist. And Anne could once again sense that the veterans who read the ad thought they weren’t qualified for the manufacturing job listed in Boeing’s Space Exploration Division. But then Anne concentrated all the veterans in the room’s attention on the competencies and qualifications section listed in the job advertisement.
“And she asked all of them: ‘Did you spend time in the service working together to remove obstacles to help the team accomplish its goals?’ ‘Did you work to fully involve others in team decisions and actions?’ ‘Where you held responsible?’ ‘Did you demonstrate your commitment to the team?’
“Around the room every head was nodding as she read verbatim from the Boeing job announcement. Every veteran understood that they had the core skills employers like Boeing were looking for -- they just didn’t realize it.
“What Anne made those veterans come to understand was that their skills were being lost in translation. And what many of them needed to do was to simply articulate their experiences in a way that employers understood.
“So I today I want to reiterate to all of our veterans that no matter what branch you served in, when you served, or how long you served – the skills you learned are valuable – and it’s up to you to make sure that employers see that.
“Our veterans don’t ask for a lot. Often times they come home and don’t even acknowledge their own sacrifices. My own father never talked about his time fighting in World War II. In fact, I never saw his Purple Heart, knew that he had a wallet with shrapnel in it, or a diary that detailed his time in combat -- until after he had died and my family gathered to sort through his belongings.
“But our veterans shouldn’t have to ask. We should know to provide for them.
“When my father’s generation came home from the war – they came home to opportunity. My father came home to a community that supported him. He came home to college - then to a job. A job that gave him pride. A job that helped him start a family. And one that ultimately led to me starting my own. That’s the legacy of opportunity we have to live up to for today’s veterans.
“Together working with the private sector we can ensure the brave men and women who have worn our uniform have that opportunity. We can ensure they get a fair shot from America’s employers and they are not measured by fear or stigma. But by what they can do, what they have done, and what they will do.
“I want to thank those companies that are leading the way to ease our veterans’ transition from military service to the civilian workforce. The Veterans’ Affairs Committee website has a list of some of those companies that are contributing to this effort. I would encourage my colleagues to visit that website and suggest companies that can be added to that list. I look forward to working with you – and many more of our nation’s businesses - on this important next step in bringing our veterans home to opportunity.
“And as we celebrate our fallen heroes on Memorial Day next week, let’s all keep thinking about how we can make sure our veterans are getting everything they need after they have give so much.
“Before I yield the floor, I’d like to take just a moment to acknowledge a young Marine Reservist, and Afghanistan combat veteran—who has been working part-time on my Veterans’ Affairs Committee staff for the last year. Carlos Fuentes is a hard-working, well-liked young man who graduated from American University earlier this month. He has helped the Committee gain a better understanding of what our veterans are facing when looking for work. I want to thank him for his continued service to our Nation. I also want to note that Carlos will be getting married this weekend. And I want to wish him and his bride very happy years to come.
“Thank you. I yield the floor.”

Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Jill Stein's recent wave of victories

Jill Stein

  Jill Stein (above) is campaigning for the Green Party's presidential nomination.  Her campaign notes her recent wave of victories.

Super Saturday for Stein: HI, MN, MS, NY, PA, TN

Six state Green parties completed their presidential primaries on Saturday, and all six voted strongly for Dr. Jill Stein. New York was the biggest win, with Stein winning 14 of 16 delegates. She also won 4 of 4 delegates at the Mississippi convention. Pennsylvania Greens completed their caucuses by awarding 4 of 7 delegates to Dr. Stein. In Tennessee, she won 2.5 of 4 delegates. In Minnesota, Stein won 4 of 7 delegates. And in Roseanne Barr's home state of Hawai'i, Jill Stein won 2 of 4 delegates.
Greens are united across the country in voting for Jill Stein as their 2012 presidential nominee. She has won 50% or more of the vote in all 22 state primaries, caucuses, and conventions so far, and in 16 of those primaries she won over 67% of the vote.
For the full set of primary results to date, see:

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