Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Walter Reed and TYC

The big story here in Texas is the train wreck that is the Texas Youth Commission. The story broke on February 23, 2007 with the story Hidden in Plain Sight by Nate Blakeslee of the Texas Observer. Since then the story has mushroomed with daily revelations in newspapers across the state about how bad the problem is. Today the Austin-American Statesman reports:

“...a confidential agency report shows, 684 cases involving accusations of sexual misconduct between staff members and incarcerated youths were reported between January 2000 and October 2006. Only 75 were referred to local authorities for possible prosecution, and fewer than that were prosecuted.

Nationally there is the case of the poor conditions at the Walter Reed. This story caught national attention following a series of reports starting February 18, 2007 by Dana Priest and Anne Hull of the Washington Post.

The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.”

What do these two stories have in common? In both cases the problems in question were well known by the leaders whose responsibility it was to manage them. They may not have known the extent of the problems, but it could also be said that they didn’t want to know. If they knew they would have to take initiative, dedicated resources, offer accountability. You know, leadership.

And, of course, money. The Houston Chronicle reports:

“Getting tough on juvenile crime was one of the cornerstones of the campaign that elected George W. Bush as Texas governor in 1994, and he fulfilled that promise by almost tripling the size of the state's youth corrections system.

"The bottom line is young people need to understand there will be severe consequences for bad behavior," Bush said in the ad.

The rapid buildup of Texas Youth Commission facilities that fulfilled Bush's promise increased the number of youthful offenders in state-run facilities from 1,800 when he took office in 1995 to more than 4,550 by the time he was sworn in as president in 2001.

Legislators and youth advocates say that system expansion overtaxed an agency bureaucracy, aggravated problems with staffing TYC facilities and set up a breakdown that occurred after major cuts were made to the agency's budget in 2003.”

Money is also the core problem at Walter Reed. Military.com reports:

“In 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found, in a series of reports, that Nicholson was not delivering monies in the mental health budget to the VA's hospitals and clinics. The amount was over $50 million.

The GAO also found that Nicholson truly cooked the books at the VA by requesting less money from the White House than the VA truly needed for healthcare. Nicholson had ginned-up non-existent savings to make it look like less money was needed.

And, Nicholson has deliberately misled Congress. The GAO caught him here too and said he based VA budget requests on "unrealistic assumptions, errors in estimation, and insufficient data" which caused massive budget shortfalls.”

In short, Republicans wanted to look tough on crime and appear aggressive on foreign policy, but steadfastly refused to offend their corporate paymasters by actually paying for it. Juvenile offenders and wounded soldiers would still be suffering the repercussions with no one doing anything about had the press not finally brought them to light. That would never have happened if all journalists were folksy pundits like David Brooks or sycophantic propagandists like Britt Hume. These stories show that good things can happen from good journalism.

Update: Grits for Breakfast finds that Ed Owens, the man Gov. Perry chose to take control of the agency, participated in the cover up of a sexual harassment case.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pots and Pans

The reason this blog has come into existence can best be explained by the last article Molly Ivins published. It it titled "Enough is Enough" and ends with:

We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, “Stop it, now!”

This is me banging pots and pans. Happy Birthday Armadillo Republic.