From the Huffington Post:
Two days after a tractor-trailer crashed into Tracy Morgan's limousine, killing a passenger, road safety advocates hammered Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other lawmakers on Monday for efforts to peel back recent reforms aimed at curbing trucker fatigue.
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Is it possible not to have an opinion about the unfortunate Bowe Bergdahl?
Colonel David Hunt, longtime contributor to Fox News: "We don’t know yet whether he joined the Taliban or not. But, there’s no question he deserted."
One report said Bergdahl had left a note saying he was leaving to start a new life. Fox News went further, reporting the note as saying he wanted to renounce his citizenship.
Fox also reported, from what they said were secret documents, that the captured soldier converted to Islam and declared jihad on the United States.
Sarah Palin condemned his failure to stick to English while in captivity.
Does anyone remember abused POWs like John McCain, Tom Moe, James Stockdale, Tom Kirk, and other American troops forgetting the English language during their years and years of brutal, inhumane captivity? Seems these war heroes returned to their beloved country not speaking Vietnamese, but speaking KickAss against those who would destroy the red, white, and blue.
- Sarah Palin, on Facebook, June 4, 2014
Some reports indicate it was not unusual for Bergdahl, when he had free time, to take walks off base alone. He had returned safely each time until he was captured. The extent to which walking off base after guard duty violates permissible military conduct is unclear. Was walking alone and unarmed a serious violation?
His appearance upon release did conform to the account he was reported to have given later. He was beaten and kept for weeks at a time alone in a darkened cage as punishment. The punishment was for his habit of trying to escape from his captors.
Which of several versions of his captivity will turn out to be accurate? It is at the moment, or ought to be, permissible not to know.
One obvious point can be lost amid the news analysis and punditry of the lost soldier's personal character. As policy, we don't determine whether each captured soldier deserves rescue from the enemy.
This point was not always lost on Republican critics. In fact, before his release, some conservatives were uninhibited in condemning President Obama for failing to obtain the release of the captive soldier.
In January, conservative news outlet PJMedia encouraged readers to sign a petition:
The petition asks the Obama administration to "take action to secure the release, or rescue, of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, using all means available, including force."
It needs 100,000 signatures by Feb. 16 to prompt a White House response. As of this writing, more than 2,800 have signed the petition.
Add your name to the petition here.
- PJMedia, January 21, 2014
In 2009, Sarah Palin, who was then Governor of Alaska, offered her support. Texans for Sarah Palin quotes a press release from the Governor:
Todd and I are praying for Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, his family, and all of his fellow soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom and protect democracy abroad,” Governor Palin said. “The capture of Private Bergdahl and the bombings in Jakarta prove that we have not defeated terrorism, and that radical extremists will stop at nothing to attack Westerners and our ideals.
A major objection to the exchange is that it amounts to bargaining with an organization of terrorists to release 5 highly dangerous individuals.
The accusation that we were negotiating with terrorists has two answers. One is technical. The Taliban have never been considered terrorists, although they did harbor and shield terrorists. The other is more basic. America has been negotiating with terrorists back to Ronald Reagan. In fact, we have negotiated for hostages going back to the earliest part of our history.
More troubling is the objection to allowing dangerous individuals to go free. John McCain has made this point.
So what we're doing here is reconstituting the Taliban government, the same guys that are mass murderers. One killed thousands of Shiite Muslims.
Senator John McCain on CNN, June 8, 2014
Actually, the 5 seem to have been, not so much actual fighters, but rather office holders in the Taliban government before it was overthrown. In fact, Senator McCain had joined other conservatives in supporting variations of the same exchange, all involving the same five prisoners.
Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.
Senator John McCain on CNN, February 18, 2014
Senator McCain later insisted that he had qualified his support, saying it depended on those details. However, one of the details he explicitly supported was the release of the same five former Taliban government officials.
The most significant issue is the law. Can President Obama break the explicit law he signed? The law said the administration had to give Congress 30 days notice before releasing prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison. It was, to be sure, part of the year's military appropriation. He couldn't very well veto it. He did say all the time that he considered the notification requirement unconstitutional.
Some news outlets say that President Obama is ignoring the law. Jack Goldsmith, Assistant Attorney General for George W. Bush, is joined by other legal experts when he points out that disregarding a legal requirement that the President considers unconstitutional is quite different from ignoring the law.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says intelligence reports indicated that the Taliban were likely to immediately execute their captive if word of a deal got out. Perhaps they were also worried about internal objections to the deal.
Members of Congress were notified days or hours ahead of time, rather than 30 days. Secretary Hagel says this was "substantially" in compliance with the disputed requirement. The secrecy was not arbitrary. Notifying Congress would have endangered Bergdahl's life.
It is possible to view this as an implied insult to Congress. It makes it seem as if Congress could not be trusted to keep a life-and-death secret. How does Congress answer that? Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), says he would have gone public:
I’d have raised holy Hell. Absolutely. I did last time and I would again.
The administration had to make a decision. They determined that the desire not to have a soldier die was more important than adhering to an unconstitutional law.
Conservatives, at one time, wanted the captured soldier rescued. On the other hand, they hate President Obama. They too had to make a decision as to which was more important.
Changes that keep keep minority voters and the elderly from voting for the other side are necessary. If voting rights are violated, that's just the price you have to pay. The campaign activist locked alone with the ballots? Let's not make a big deal over every little thing.
Depending on our level of ignorance or on our philosophy, we either negotiated for a hostage, or we negotiated for a prisoner exchange.
The meaningful question is whether either one will encourage other enemies to take prisoners for the purpose of negotiation.
Perverse Incentives in the Veterans Administration (4:36) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Eric Shinseki's management techniques work in combat. In a non-combat organization, a narrow focus on motivation works about as well as overfilling a gas tank in response to a dead battery. Perverse incentives are a recognized enemy in the private sector.
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Tommy Christopher, at the Daily Banter, brings us a new wrinkle in the Edward Snowden saga. As related by his lawyer, Snowden's flight to China, then Russia, is pretty much like the Underground Railroad of slave days. In fairness, he quickly said that he wasn't saying what he had just said.
At The Moderate Voice Dr. Ben Carson tries to explain how Obamacaer is the worst thing for America since slavery. Deadier than 9/11. More shocking than than Pearl Harbor. More devastating than the Great Depression.
Infidel 753 correctly points out the evil of the caste system. He expands the point to a more general criticsm of Hinduism, then of all religion. I suspect Mohandas Gandhi would agree with the criticism of placing people into castes, but would be more muted about religion. He was, after all a devout follower of Hinduism who believed in the transcendent truth of all religion, and who campaigned against caste until his assassination.
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A short time ago, a 92 year old Texas woman, a lifelong resident, was told she will no longer be allowed to vote. Up to now, she has been voting in Texas since 1944.
Texas has a new restrictive voter ID law. You can't say she didn't try. She took her Medicare card and her Social Security card and eventually found the right office where she could get a photo ID.
They said no. Feeling a responsibility to public safety, she had stopped driving a long time ago. She let her drivers license expire. In a bit of good luck, she found the expired license. Officials said no. She couldn't vote.
A 93 year old who has been voting in Alabama since World War II was told he can no longer vote. He no longer drives and can't get the documentation to get a substitute ID.
These are not isolated cases. The Brennan Law Center has done extensive work on the issue. They have found that 5 million eligible voters are likely to lose the right to vote.
These are mostly minority or elderly voters, who have no vehicle and live more than 10 miles from an office open more than a couple days a week that can give them a photo ID. Even then they have to find documents that are often long gone. Students trying to vote for the first time are also hit hard by the new rules.
The reasoning for the restrictions is that keeping all these folks from voting is the only way to prevent abuse: voters who would vote more than once, or people who are not voters who would try to vote anyway.
If there was a way to keep voter fraud from happening and yet would also allow these eligible voters to keep their rights, why not do that?
For example, we could accept substitutes, common IDs that most folks already have. A statewide database could avoid duplication. A signature comparison could work. Requiring in voters to say aloud who they are and where they live would make it dangerous for someone to try to vote where they shouldn't. Too great a chance some neighbor will know something's not right.
One tried and true method is strict, very strict, penalties.
In fact, most of those steps are done now, and they work. Actual fraud by voters, the kind a Photo ID will catch, is pretty much non-existent.
Voting fraud does happen, but it almost never involves voters. It happens behind the scenes. Someone changes totals, or stuffs ballot boxes, or throws ballots away while nobody is looking.
What new restrictive laws do accomplish is to keep the wrong kind of voters from voting. The wrong kind of voters are the voters that elected officials don't want to see on election day, voters who might vote for the other candidate.
What the restrictive laws don't do is prevent actual vote fraud, the kind that happens when campaign workers find unlocked doors and spend time alone with ballot boxes.
In Mississippi, Republicans put into effect some of the harshest voting restrictions since Jim Crow days. There has never been a problem of voters voting fraudulently in Mississippi. But you can't be too careful about the future.
A recent election may decide whether there will be a new United States Senator from Mississippi. It will result in a runoff. It is the first election with the tough new voter restrictions.
On election night, after hours, a Republican official in the Tea Party movement found an unlocked door to the building where the ballots are stored. She was alone with those ballots for hours. Nobody else was in the building.
The campaign activist locked alone with all those ballots did call for help after several hours. And officials do say the ballots were secure. So all is well.
Changes that keep keep minority voters and the elderly from voting for the other side are necessary. If voting rights are violated, that's just the price you have to pay. No voter fraud has been discovered, but we have to be alert for the future.
The campaign activist locked alone with the ballots? Let's not make a big deal over every little thing.
For more than two decades, Chester Nez kept silent about his role as one of the original Navajo code talkers responsible for developing an unbreakable code during World War II.
His death Wednesday at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at age 93 was lamented by the Marine Corps as the end of an era -- for both the country and its armed forces.
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Utah will not recognize, at least for now, the marriages of gay couples who rushed to wed after a federal judge's ruling briefly legalized gay unions in the conservative, predominantly Mormon state, the governor's office said on Wednesday.
The state's decision comes as a blow to roughly 1,400 same-sex couples who tied the knot after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled on December 20 that a state ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. His ruling was later put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court pending an appeal.
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The killing of a US Ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 was not without precedent.
Over 40 years ago, eight Palestinian gunmen broke into the Saudi embassy in the Sudan and captured ten diplomats. Two of them represented the United States. One was Ambassador Cleo Allen Noel who had been assigned to the Sudan a short time before.
The gunmen demanded the release of prisoners held by Israel, and of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. They would kill the hostages if their demands were not met. The demands were absurd, of course. The question was what lessor concession negotiators could arrange.
President Nixon went on television to announce the United States negotiating position. The United States had no negotiating position. We would not give in to blackmail demands.
He began by observing that Ambassadors served in dangerous places.
Last night I was sitting by the wife of Mr. Rabin, and we were saying that the position of ambassador, once so greatly sought after, now, in many places, becomes quite dangerous.
He acknowledged that diplomats had been taken by terrorists, then went on.
I don't mean to suggest it is that hazardous everyplace, but it is a problem and it is a risk that an ambassador has to take.
As far as the United States as a government giving in to blackmail demands, we cannot do so and we will not do so.
The casual words were not as explicit as later accounts would have it. He did not say that the United States would never negotiate with terrorists. In fact he told the press that a high official of the State Department was on the way for discussions.
But the tone was unmistakable.
I was not far into adulthood by then. I remember my dad watching the Nixon announcement. "That is one cold SOB," he said.
The captured American diplomats and a representative of Belgium were killed within hours.
The Nixon pronouncement quickly evolved into policy, and the policy became doctrine. America would not negotiate with terrorists. Ever.
The United States had a history of negotiating with terrorists. Our first three Presidents paid off pirates to get hostages. Teddy Roosevelt did the same. Lyndon Johnson negotiated with North Korea to get hostages released. So did Nixon himself.
The Nixon Doctrine was new. The idea was simple. If we did not negotiate with terrorists and if we maintained that position without fail, it would be irrational for a terrorist group to take hostages.
Problem was it kept happening anyway. It was as if terrorists were not completely rational.
After Nixon, Presidents still negotiated with terrorists. It was mostly called something else, and done through intermediaries, but the idea was the same. It was war by means of euphemism.
Negotiating with terrorists, but not negotiating directly with terrorists, kind of took the wind out of the sails of the no-negotiation principle. Is it still completely irrational for terrorists to take hostages if they then have to negotiate with Sudan or some other country for American concessions, instead of with the United States directly?
President Reagan tossed even that fig leaf away when he negotiated with Iran to get seven American hostages released. Not that he was alone. Jimmy Carter had negotiated as well, to get hostages back.
So, how could Chuck Hagel recently announce that we did not negotiate with terrorists to get an American soldier back from the Taliban?
The only obvious way is to make a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. In 2001, the Bush administration, in getting tough with the Taliban, was willing to make just that distinction. They demanded the Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden and the entire al Qaeda leadership, and deny any further protection to other terrorist groups. The accusation was that the Taliban government was harboring terrorists, not that they were terrorists themselves.
The United States position has since been that al Qaeda is the terrorist group the United States directs the greatest force against. The Taliban are only the former rulers of Afghanistan who were driven out for allowing terrorists to operate.
The Taliban are now regarded as insurgents, enemy combatants, fighting to regain authority that we will deny to them until we are satisfied they will no longer provide a haven to terrorists.
Most Americans will see no distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. In some cases this will be a matter of ignorance. Aren't the two just different words for the same thing? For others the words are synonyms for philosophical reasons. If you shield my mortal enemy, you are my mortal enemy.
For still others, such as myself, there is a distinction. al Qaeda is al Qaeda and the Taliban is the Taliban. They have connections, but they are separate and apart.
In any case, the distinction, if it exists, is not relevant to a principle that collapsed long ago. We do not negotiate with al Qaeda. We capture or kill them.
But we have been negotiating directly with the Taliban for years.
Most recently, depending on our level of ignorance or on our philosophy, we either negotiated for a hostage, or we negotiated for a prisoner exchange.
The only meaningful question is whether either one will encourage other enemies to take prisoners for the purpose of negotiation.
That danger, if it exists, has not changed with the release of a US soldier. The Ship of State sailed through those waters a generation ago.
In response to Burr Deming's The Work Ethic of Urban Youth
After all, has any living white person ever owned any living black person? Does benefiting from an ancestral advantage count?
- Burr Deming, May 28, 2014
Very insightful. The White man’s progress is the result, in part, of the oppression of other peoples.
The short answer to the question of urban work ethic is obvious. Motivation depends on the individual person.
I started out, once upon a time, rejecting outright, affirmative action. Later I supported it. I supported it because equal opportunity involves undoing any injury that typically stops one form partaking in the “equal opportunity,” else the opportunity is not equal. You cannot deny a group education at all, then tell them, now, “anyone capable can attend college.” The opportunity is not truly equal until each group is equally capable of seizing it. To get to this place, we must undo negative perceptions, negative self-perceptions, negative financial statuses, and negative stereotypes at some level. In order to undo that, education is needed, but in order to get the education, undoing that is needed.
So, I support initiatives that truly do reverse the effects of oppression. Once the effects are, in essence reversed, whenever that is, the initiatives should be discontinued. People can argue all day about when it is time to stop the initiatives.
That said, the question was about motivation of urban youths. In some areas urban youths are mostly black, and are also without motivation. I don’t consider observing this to be racist. How we deal with this problem should include recognizing cause. The youths did not create the problem. They are mostly at the effect of it.
The rest of us might focus our attention a little less on what advice to give "urban" youth on curing what ails them, and a little more on how to make right that tilted field.
I completely agree with this. At a personal level, however, I see no contradiction in trying to undo the effects of former oppression on black youths and at once acknowledging they are black.
My opinion may be formed by racism. Who knows? I don’t feel like it is, but I am definitely not blind to race, as some claim. I have always been a xenophile, and I include race as a subset of xenophilia.
John Myste contributes his thoughtful xenophilia in frequent posts. His participation advances our debates and provokes our gratitude.
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Eric Shinseki accomplished a lot by putting pressure on staff and management of the Veterans Administration.
He took a special interest in homelessness. He announced that homelessness among veterans would reduce to zero by the end of 2015. By one measurement, it went down by 24 percent by January 2013. By another, it went down by almost a third by the end of 2012.
He pushed the automation process. The backlog of veterans waiting for treatment had gotten to be huge. In one case, the existence of of so much paperwork waiting for processing was creating a fire hazard. Shinseki assigned a group of technicians to work day and night during a year and a half surge so new veterans needing medical help could be processed electronically, rather than though piles of paperwork. They put the process into place.
When he left office last week, it was not because he was opposed by veterans groups. In fact, when those groups were pushed - roughly pushed - by one US Senator, Richard Burr (R-NC), they pushed back. Hard.
Shinseki seemed to care. Many veterans seemed to feel he was one of them. He had served. He had served in combat. He had been wounded in combat. Part of one foot is gone as a result of those wounds.
But problems were swept under the rug, records altered, deficiencies kept from him and most everyone else. He described the underlying issue as one of integrity. People had disappointed him.
During his tenure, tasks multiplied. The health problems caused by Agent Orange had been dodged by government for decades. Now, the V.A. welcomed veterans who needed treatment. policies for issues like PTSD were similarly changed. Treatment was expanded.
And, of course, the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan came in like an overdue bill. More than 9 million veterans are in the medical system.
Funding has increased, but hasn't kept up.
Staff has remained a problem. There is not enough staff. Doctors are a bigger problem. There are not enough doctors.
Lack of resources can be ascribed to an uncooperative Congress. The lack of information belongs to Shinseki.
The scandal part of the Veterans Administration issue involves falsification of information. The Department had issued a mandate. Applications for appointments would be processed, and the patient would be seen within 14 days. Those directed to see that the mandate was carried out had access to information systems.
It seems to have been a mandate against mathematics.
Eric Shinseki once discussed his management technique, comparing it to combat, where you never have enough information or resources. "Sometimes you just gotta launch, and fight your way through the unknowns."
That might work at times in combat. In determining military progress and loss, it is hard to mistake where you are and whether you are alive. In Vietnam, it was said to have been the proximate cause of inflated calculations of enemy casualties.
In a non-combat organization, a narrow focus on motivation works about as well as overfilling a gas tank in response to a dead battery. When fake statistics are the price a dedicated health care worker must pay to continue that work, the temptation must be enormous. For some for whom bonuses might be tied to statistics, devotion to duty does not even have to enter the picture.
Perverse incentives are a recognized enemy in the private sector. In this case, the 14-day mandate provided an incentive that was singularly perverse.
Perverse incentives were not confined to the Veterans Administration. Slate Magazine put together a list of Senators who demanded that Shinseki resign, but had previously voted against significant appropriations for VA spending.
They were very angry about the care veterans were getting, right after they voted against that care for those veterans.
- Richard Burr (R-NC)
- Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
- Rob Portman (R-OH)
- John McCain (R-AZ)
- Tim Scott (R-SC)
- Marco Rubio (R-FL)
- Jerry Moran (R-KS)
- Pat Roberts (R-KS)
- Deb Fischer (R-NE)
- Dean Heller (R-NV)
- Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Political incentives are sometimes the most perverse of all.
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