Friday, May 26, 2006

Experts caution that large hurricane evacuations may not go smoothly, although plans improved

(I suppose I can't help myself and I should apologize and just move on. I see words like "smoothly" and "evacuations" or "Experts say evacuations remain challenging" and just have to GIS and then...)
VA Chief to Undergo Tough Questioning

CAPITOL HILL -- Veterans Administration Secretary Jim Nicholson can expect some very tough questions today from Congress about the theft of veterans' personal information.Lawmakers are furious that the sensitive information may have been compromised, and that it took almost three weeks for the VA to make it public. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig says he wants to hear from Nicholson about the timing, security procedures and who was involved.

(Oh sure. Yes. Puhleeze. Nicholson hasn't figured out where his parking place is yet. The guy is a TEMP. Doesn't anybody get this? He isn't an employee with benefits and perks and rights like the fellow who had been taking home the laptop for years and years, Nicholson is just marking some time until he can move on to the next appointment and the next president appoints the next temp to the VA director slot and the beat goes on.

It's how it works and the VA has caught on to this like no other federal or state or county or city organization in any country on the planet. These guys are GREAT at what they do, serving themselves. Nicholson will show up, be treated with courtesy and respect, like royalty really and then while the cameras are rolling, a few congresspersonablepeoplemen will bluster and storm around and thats it.

If they can find a Kennedy sober enough there may be an entertaining moment or two and it'll all be over, off to the Ritz Carlton for a lunch thing and to the's Memorial weekend fer Chrissakes.

There is no change happening at the VA. None. Rank and file employees at this very minute are conducting meetings to close doors, to protect themselves, to keep out intruders. No change, nada, zip, zero, nothing.)
I talk of it often so here it is, the VA Bible. If you care for some brain tightening, go to CFR 38 and prepare for a workout. I'm sure Lewis Carrol had a hand in writing this in concert with old Tim Leary. I'll get around to putting a more permanant link on the sidebar soon.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

VA breach discovered through office gossip...

In four hours of testimony, IG George Opfer said the department failed to heed years of warnings about lax security and noted that the employee who lost the data when his house was burglarized had been improperly taking the material home for three years. Earlier, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said he was "mad as hell" that he wasn't told about the burglary until May 16 — nearly two weeks after it happened. Nicholson acknowledged that officials including Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon Mansfield knew about the incident earlier, but would not say whether Mansfield should be punished, citing a need for a full investigation. "As a veteran, I am outraged. Frankly I'm mad as hell," Nicholson said, pledging strong action against those responsible. "I can't explain the lapses of judgment on the behalf of my people. We will stay focused on these problems until we get them fixed."

"I don't feel any of the personal pain or outrage of your action," said Sen. Susan Collins R-Maine, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. "This was a monumental breach. It was inconceivable that it involved such long delays."

(OK...More of the same chest thumping behavior by the natives. I'm not familiar with Senator Susan Collins, probably because she is from maine, an inconsequential frozen state of few people who are disconnected with most of the rest of us and she proves the disconnect when she says, "It was inconceivable that it involved such long delays.", speaking of a delay within the VA system. Dear, sweet, innocent congresspersonmanSusan, a "down easter" as I believe they like to refer to themselves for some unknown reason, has apparently never actually tried dealing with the VA before. The VA's very existence is founded upon the fact of delay. To NOT delay on a matter of the simplest solution would undermine the very reason for being the VA. Good Lord, to react quickly to a "monumental breach" such as this would be, well, treason of sorts. It might set a damn precedent. You know, if you ever react quicky once and show that it can be done, they may begin to expect it of you on a regular basis and then what have you got? Anarchy, that's what. Every error will require a fast correction. There'll come a day that there'll be zero tolerance for any mistakes at all. The mind boggles at the thought.)
WASHINGTON Investigators say Veterans Administration officials did not heed warnings to tighten access to personal data for millions of U-S veterans. They add that the mistake could lead to one of the nation's largest cases of identity theft.And, to make matters worse, the Justice Department was not told about the recent theft of data on more than 26 million vets until two weeks later. That brings into question whether the V-A acted quickly enough to notify veterans of the problem Personal information -- mainly from veterans discharged since 1975 -- was stolen from an employee's home in what appeared to be a routine burglary. Officials say the employee reported the theft promptly to the V-A.

(I won't even bother linking any more of these to their sources. I use the Google Alerts or Word Search or whatever it's called and my mailbox is being deluged with local news programs reporting to their readers that the VA has been negligent in its duty to protect the Veteran. This one is almost breathless that VA officials 'did not heed warnings' blah, blah, blah. Good Lord people, the VA doesn't have to heed warnings from anyone at any time.

Nobody seems to be snapping to the fact that the VA system is accountable only to the VA system. Congress has no infuence. The VA's own director wasn't brought into the damn loop for 3 weeks. The only guy who is suffering right at this moment is the poor fool who took that laptop home. I'm betting he took it home because he doesn't have a computer at his apartment and he wanted to surf some pr0n. I just don't see a low level guy at VA burning that midnight oil at his low level broken into aprtment.

VA doesn't have to answer any questions. Nothing is going to change. The arrogance at VA is greater than that of a cash hungry Louisiana politician. They can not be punished. There is no wrong doing at VA. That isn't covered in CFR38. Read it for yourself. I have. It's perfectly clear. VA is right. You are wrong.)
"I will not tolerate inaction and poor judgment when it comes to protecting our veterans," Nicholson said in a statement.

Summoning the Veterans Affairs chief to Capitol Hill, lawmakers are demanding to know why the department waited nearly three weeks to disclose the theft of personal data from 26.5 million veterans. Also at issue is why the department waited so long before acknowledging that a government-owned laptop and disks were stolen in what appeared to be a routine burglary at an agency analyst's home in Maryland. In a statement, Nicholson said he was outraged by his agency's decision to keep the theft quiet for so long. He said he had asked the agency's inspector general to determine who knew what and when. "I will not tolerate inaction and poor judgment when it comes to protecting our veterans," Nicholson said in a statement.

The above was quoted from a Yahoo Internet news story today May 25th 2006, one of about ten thousand this week dealing with the theft of a laptop computer containing Veterans social seurity numbers and other private information.


"... to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan..." Abraham Lincoln

Thus began what became the Veterans Administration according to popular lore.

The above quote is inscribed in granite above the headquarters building of the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C. Of all the quotes inscribed above all the buildings in that town so famous for fluffing up famous sayings, none is quite as stretched out of proportion as that above.

Ask any Veteran of United States military service today what the VA has done for them since they were discharged. Before you ask, get prepared. You'll hear the same story again and again.

At first you'll think that all Veterans are simply a group of disgruntled, angry, drug abusing, alcohol swilling, shell shocked, sour-grapes sorts of people. You'll tell yourself that there can't possibly be a government agency this corrupt, this arrogant, this innefficient and this...wrong, allowed to exist. It just can't be. This is America isn't it? If it were really this bad, it would have been fixed long ago.

So, your easy answer will be that all the Veterans you talk to are angry and bitter. Angry and bitter about...well, what?

We're angry that not one of us are surprised that the incident of the stolen laptop occurred.

The congress and senate and other capitol hill power people are all acting shocked & awed and demanding answers and thumping their scrawny chests in unison but nary a single Veteran who has ever called the VA is surpised in the least.

The VA answers to no master.

The good employees of the Internal Revenue Service look over at their cousins at VA with admiration and wonder how they managed to create such a perfect world.

And it is a perfect world. For the VA, not for the Veteran. First, you must understand what the VA is. It is a Hydra, a multi headed beast loosely connected to a massive, sluggish body.

It's stated goal and purpose is service and support to a unique breed of Americans. These Americans are warriors who have joined an exclusive club. A club so exclusive that enrollment is limited to those who are qualified by certain physical and mental traits that it encourages them to travel to foreign lands, meet strange and beautiful people, use deadly explosive or chemical or radioactive devices that cost billions of taxpayer's dollars and kill hundreds of thousands of those people legally and then return home as if not much had happened.

Some of the Hydra's heads seem to function reasonably well. Most Veterans get a home loan without a problem. Education is usually pretty smooth. Getting into the health care sytem can be a challenge but if a Veteran needs care, once in, the VA health system is suddenly being seen as a model for other systems in the country in many areas.

But then...there's the rub. Getting in the system.

The VA has a "disability benefits system". This is the dark secret, the large part of the Hydra, the ugliest head that nobody wants to talk about. This head controls all the rest. If VA has a multiple personality disorder, this is the dominant personality that comes out at all the parties, right at the worst time and ruins it for everyone. The other heads talk about this one when it's distracted and they fear it.

Most Veterans never see combat. The average Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman is in a support role. I never had a bullet fired at me. I wasn't exposed to agent orange or atomic radiation. No gooks or slopes rushed at me and I didn't storm any nazis. No punji sticks, I didn't trip any booby traps or claymores. Nothing. Zip, zero, nada. Yet, I collect a service connected disability benefit and I feel damn well jusified in doing so.


By the time I was 18, I had completed basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. That alone is more than any civilian will ever have to face. No athlete, no pro football player, no mountain climber will do anything as rigorous as what a young man or woman will go through in Army or Marine basic. I can't speak to Air Force or Navy...I won't knock it although from what I'm told, it isn't as physically demanding. I do know there is nothing in civilan life that will compare.

For the next 3 years, I worked. Hard. By age 19 I was doing work that I would not have been expected to do in any comparable civilian position. I'm not bragging, not complaining, just saying.

There were few days off. We were a team. We depended on each other. There was no slack. The motto was that we had to do more and more with less and less until we could do it all with nothing. Accomplish the mission.

There was no choice. We were medics. We worked with surgeons in operating rooms and at that time, lives of comrades depended on us doing what we did. It wasn't heroics, it was what it was.
So, we got hurt, broke bones, pulled backs, slipped, fell, went without sleep...whatever.

We came home, ignored the aches and pains but eventually figured out we needed some help and knocked on the door of the VA. We knock again and again and again. Grudingly, it's eventually answered. A mound of paper is filled out. Benefits are applied for. And promptly denied. Not enough evidence. Appealed. Denied. Appealed.

A small amount is finally granted. This takes 4 years. You are now classified as 10% disabled, service connected, for an injury that is well documented to have occurred while you were on active duty.

You are not allowed to hire a lawyer. The VA is the last of the federal agencies that denies a plaintiff (or defendant?) the right to true legal representation when VA itself is loaded to its ears with lawyers.

You may not speak with a VA representative except to be told the staus of your appeal. The VA has no mandatory timeline to issue a decision. VA does not tell you what evidence you must submit but in the most general terms. Generally speaking, they are not required to show you evidence they will use aginst you when making a decision prior to making said decision.

VA relies on the highly technical legalspeak of CFR 38. These regulations are arcane, masterfully written to be so twisted, so incomprehensable that even an experienced lawyer would shake his head in wonder at it all. With a few years of practice one can make CFR 38 say anything one wishes it to say, it simply depends on the mood of the moment.

You are encouraged to use a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) to represent you to VA. These are mostly volunteers who help you complete your initial paperwork and set you free to drift alone in the VA sea. They aren't lawyers, they are often poorly trained and have no secrets to get anything done.

You may be advised to write your congressman. He will never read it of course. An assistant in his office will forward it to the VA Regional Office (VARO) where your file is kept asking for an inquiry. Your file is then pulled and sent to Washington for review by that special VA office that handles congressional inquiries. A sweetheart letter is eventually sent to your congressperson explaining that your application for benefits is being processed along with the others, it's in the pipeline, VA is doing its job in its usual efficient manner, all things are steady and good and fine and not to worry and God Bless America.

You'll eventually get a letter from your congressman telling you that the investigation is complete and you should be patient and the local Veteran's Center is waiting to serve you and God Bless America.

Your congressman has never actually been in the loop, he's been busy wrapping bundles of cash for his freezer you see. There are priorities in life after all.

Your VARO has set up the system so that anyone who dares to write a letter to congress is punished. Your file was pulled from the already slow circuit it was crawling along in and sent via bicycle courier to Washington. As it waited for a day when there wasn't a federal holiday and someone was in the office to process it as if it had been reviewed, it was out of the loop. When it was returned to your VARO, it went back to the beginning of the line.

You've added months to the process by asking for help to speed things along.

So suddenly there are millions of Veteran names, numbers, data stolen from a laptop computer and all these important Washingtonians are outraged, outraged you hear! Harumph, Harumph!

Details are still emerging but it seems that a VA employee took his laptop home to do some extra work. That alone is suspicious. Extra work, off the clock, by a VA employee just doesn't sound right but maybe I'm being mean spirited.

VA employees aren't supposed to take laptops home with them, sort of defeating the purpose of having a laptop but again I digress.

The laptop is stolen. Files are gone. This theft is apparently not reported to police authorities for maybe 2 weeks. It isn't reported to the director of the VA for the same period of time.

VA doesn't tell anybody until the story of the theft is about to be leaked to the press is seemingly how it is unfolding. And everyone is shocked and awed.

Except Veterans who have dealt with VA.

We know. Yes, we know. Veterans know.

The VA's attitude was simple. They didn't need to tell their director. He's a politician, a temp. He's here today, gone tomorrow, a pretty face with no real authority to do anything. I doubt anyone knew how to reach him. Within VA the phones never work very well in the first place so if they left him a message and he didn't get it, well, what's to be done about that?

Call the police? You're kidding? That's not covered anywhere in CFR38 is it? The police have no authority to deal with Veterans Affairs, that's the sacred trust of the VA and VA will not breach that trust and allow an outside agency to pry into the hallowed halls of that most treasured national resource, our Veterans.

Why, we at the VA consider ourselves to be the watchdogs and guardians and on this Memorial Day...

Can't you hear it now? The VA is your best friend, Veteran. And don't you forget it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The FBI revealed Sunday that Jefferson, under investigation for bribery, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded.

Both parties have protested the Saturday night search of Jefferson's office on Capitol Hill, which they said violated the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine.

FBI agents searched Jefferson's office in pursuit of evidence in a bribery investigation. The search warrant, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, was based on an affidavit that said agents found $90,000 in cash stashed in the freezer of Jefferson's home.

Democrats, meanwhile, tried to get Jefferson to resign his seat on the House's most prestigious panel.

"In the interest of upholding the high ethical standard of the House Democratic Caucus, I am writing to request your immediate resignation from the Ways and Means Committee," wrote Pelosi.

Jefferson was defiant.

"With respect, I decline to do so," he wrote back to Pelosi. "I will not give up a committee assignment that is so vital to New Orleans at this crucial time for any uncertain, long-term political strategy."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tried to strike a conciliatory tone, saying, "We have a great deal of respect for the Congress as a coequal branch of government." But he also defended the search: "We have an obligation to the American people to pursue the evidence where it exists."

(In non-politician talk...what the rest of of who don't hold an elected office in Washington, D.C. speak, what's happening here is simple. This man is so full of his importance he resembles your grandma's old stuffed sofa. He used that self-importance to influence others to give him money in exchange for favors. He has a great deal of influence on how highly lucrative government contracts are awarded. This is not speculation, this is cold, hard fact. HA! I made a funny. Cold. get it? The cash that he took from an informant, on a videotape, with Hollywood quality sound apparently, was carefully wrapped in a freezer at one of his homes..._one_of_his_homes. So, he's a crook. You know it, I know it, even old Nanci with an I knows it. He has been asked and demanded to turn over documents for weeks, months and longer and has refused. Not documents relating to matters of country or world importance but documents relating to him being a crook. He refused. You try that some day and let me know how it turns out for you. With your one call. So a federal judge, knowing the feces will hit the ventilator shaft, writes a perfectly legal warrant and they go get the damn papers this crook is hiding and now the rest of congress is crying foul. They think their offices are some sort of 14th century church and sanctity has been violated. I cry BS and say he needs to be arrested, handcuffed and perp walked right now on a charge of being arrogant and stupid. American politicians have simply gotten out of hand. Way out of hand. $90,000.00 wrapped like catfish in the freezer, indeed.)

"Family Values" Candidate Is Deadbeat Dad

(KSDK) - A St. Louis politician, whose ads promoting his campaign for the state house describe him as a "devoted father," owes more than $7,000 past due child support payments.

The politician is Talibdin El-Amin, currently a ward committeeman in the City of St. Louis, but is running for the Missouri House of Representatives in the 57th District.

His wife, Yaphett El-Amin, currently holds that spot, but hopes to move up to a Missouri Senate seat, and he hopes to fill her old job.

The children, 13 and 11, are the children of Antonnia Washington, who had a long-term relationship in years past with Talibdin El-Amin. Washington knew El-Amin as Mark Bastain, and their two children carry that last name.

(OK...I'm not in the least surprised that a politician running on a "Family Values" platform owes child support for children he fathered out of wedlock. He's a politician. That automatically makes him a liar. How can you tell when a politician is bullshitting you about anything he says? His lips are moving! These are the jokes folks. It's not getting any better than that. That was funny. OK, anyhow, what surprised me were the names. This is in Missouri. Not New York City or Newark. Did you try to keep up with the names? Talibdin El-Amin sired some rug-rats by impregnating Antonnia Washington when he was known as Mark Bastain before he married Yaphett El-Amin. She (Yaphett) has a job that, Talibdin, wants...maybe so he can get caught up on those support payments and be that family kind of guy he dreams of. Missouri? I thought Missouri had a bunch of Hatfields and McCoys and Smiths and Joneses? Just damn.)