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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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Mad Mike's America reports the exchange between self-described whistle-blower and international spy, Edward Snowden and the NSA. Snowden says he did his best to notify higher ups of abuses. The NSA says they have been searching for those emails and actually found one. Snowden asked if the President could overrule laws. NSA lawyers wrote back and told him no.
Folks have been documenting how insurance companies lied to them about their coverage. When the insured got sick or injured, they did not have the coverage they were told they had. Something has to be done, and quickly. Last Of The Millenniums explains how Republicans are pushing a new law prohibiting policyholders from suing inurance companies for those lies. The law will be retroactive to 2001.
Conservative James Wigderson doesn't much like Texas Democrat Wendy Davis. His notice of her new book begins with "Wendy Davis, the Texas state legislator that got Democrats all twitterpated with a filibuster in favor of killing unborn children without any restrictions", a common charge that has been debunked repeatedly. The temptation to exaggerate the positions of those we oppose is not limited to ideology. It is a human failing that afflicts us all.
- Favorite conservative T. Paine, at Saving Common Sense, tells us a lot of what he has learned about life by listening to cowboys sing.
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It was hard, and it got harder with each second, listening to the angry grief of the parent. I heard it on car radio as Richard Martinez began with what sounded like a determined calm.
"Our son Christopher Martinez and six others are dead. Our family has a message for every parent out there: you don’t think it will happen to your child until it does."
Within moments, the emotion began to break through.
"Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights – what about Chris’s right to live?"
The fiery image of angry sorrow was on full, painful display. He quickly graduated into a shout.
"When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say stop this madness, we don’t have to live like this?"
The raw emotion was more than compelling. It was a shock to the system. It was as if we were unwilling witnesses, in violation of something hurtful and private, not meant to be seen or felt. We were trapped in a sort of sacrilege, treading on holy ground. The sound was angry and desperate.
I found myself trying to detach.
The Book of Jeremiah is repeated in the Gospel of Matthew. "Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." My thoughts briefly went to a contemporary Christian hymn, "as deep cries out to deep."
The voice of this terrible, sudden, senseless loss kept bringing me back. This was not scripture or song. It was immediate and raw.
Later, the television image was more rending. A few moments after leaving the podium, the father collapsed, disappearing briefly from sight, falling to his knees.
The reaction of passersby to violence or injury seems to depend on signals of social support. Sometimes that support is simply implied. Witnesses become participants, leaping to the rescue as someone falls onto subway tracks or is assaulted. But others cower in isolated apartments, listening to the nighttime screams of a victim on the street below. You don't know what is inside of you until you are forced to confront it at some decisive moment.
The reaction to tragedy after the fact seems to depend on a different level of character. There really are a small number of activists so devoted to ideology they cannot find within themselves any sympathy for the families of the Sandy Hook children. Some parents of those little kids still report anonymous messages of hostility.
And this newest tragedy carried with it yet another stunning reaction. The open letter on a conservative website targeted the grieving father who had appeared on television. A prominent conservative figure began with pro forma condolences. "I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now." Then went quickly to the core of heartfelt concern.
As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.
"As harsh as this sounds" seems a mild self-description.
The open letter contains more acknowledgments of grief. They are combined with the written equivalent of a surly sneer.
We still have the Right to Bear Arms and I intend to continue to speak out for that right, and against those who would restrict it – even in the face of this horrible incident by this sad and insane individual. I almost said "Obama Voter" but I’m waiting for it to be official.
It would be easy enough for a committed conservative to embrace the grief and dismiss the anger as the understandable result of personal devastation. It's hard for me to understand why uncompromising hardliners cannot more often offer even that one small concession to crazed sorrow.
The curious impulse to attack those already suffering did not begin with this series of killings. It did not begin with Sandy Hook.
It seems that some extremes of opinion drag their captives near some ragged edge.
At some point, they fail to see ideological differences in those they oppose. In 1968 a leftist publication juxtaposed images over a photo of a dying Robert Kennedy so that his head was replaced with the head of a pig.
At some point even more extreme, some of us can fall entirely over the edge. The commitment to an ideal acquires a force so strong that it swallows those it holds. They cannot pause in their dedication long enough to express, or even to perceive, the independent value of actual individual people.
May God help us when we become so devoted we lose touch with the best part of ourselves, the part of the human soul that is transcendent, that can feel. We are truly lost when we reach that point of no return.
Where winning is not everything. It is the only thing.
From the Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington KY:
Sen. Mitch McConnell has some explaining to do.
What in the world did he mean last week when he told reporters that repeal of the Affordable Care Act — "root and branch," as he has demanded many times — is "unconnected" to the future of Kynect, Kentucky's health insurance exchange?
Asked specifically if Kynect should be dismantled, McConnell said: "I think that's unconnected to my comments about the overall question."
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From The Missouri Times:
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Saying they would reduce state and local revenues by more than $700 million annually, Gov. Jay Nixon released a statement today slamming the “special tax carve-outs and loopholes” approved by the Missouri General Assembly in the final hours of the Missouri legislative session.
“While this Friday free-for-all will benefit a select few special interests, its far-reaching fiscal impact has thrown the budget dangerously out of balance,” Nixon said. “From special breaks for fast food restaurants to power companies, the only thing these giveaways have in common is that they were not accounted for in either the state budget or in the budgets of the cities, counties, and fire districts they would affect. By going on a $776 million special interest spending spree, members of the legislature have broken their own budget, and I’m prepared to fix it.”
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From The White House:
It is no secret that the last several months have seen dramatic progress in expanding access to high-quality, affordable health insurance. Over the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period, more than 8 million people signed up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplaces, and, through March 2014, 4.8 million people gained coverage through Medicaid or CHIP. Meanwhile, multiple independent surveys have reported sharp drops in the share of Americans without health insurance.
What is not widely known is that the last several months have also seen a steady stream of good news on health care costs.
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Failure is not getting knocked down. It’s not getting up.
- Ray Rice, Ravens Running Back, May 23, 2014
Ray Rice was not offering helpful advice to his fiance, now his wife, after knocking her out cold in a domestic battering. He was referring to himself. But the reaction among critics was severe.
It's considered poor form even to project the appearance of helpful advice to someone you have injured.
The application of that lesson to an historically oppressed minority is controversial, especially when we include the someone-you-have-injured part. After all, has any living white person ever owned any living black person? Does benefiting from an ancestral advantage count?
So, continuing our analogy, what if it had been some witness to the domestic assault, rather than the repentant Mr. Rice? What if a neighbor or a passerby had contributed that helpful advice to the woman lying on the ground, as the batterer stood above her? "Excuse me ma'am. Failure is not getting knocked down. It’s not getting up."
It would be impossible to answer the question of what is wrong with that person on the ground without noting the person standing over her.
My friend John Myste asks me my diagnosis of urban youth.
Race notwithstanding, Mr. Deming, what do you think of the general work ethic, or more specifically, the motivation to succeed, of the urban youth?
My friend T. Paine seconds the motion, along with the lament:
I would not be able to ask simply due to the racist implications of the question regardless of whether I specified "race notwithstanding" or not."
The life of an oppressed conservative is hard.
Mr. Paine is correct in that "urban" has become a euphemism for African American. That is why he hesitates. A long, long history of stereotypes would make Mr. Paine's hesitation a conservative anomaly.
The short answer to the question of urban work ethic is obvious. Motivation depends on the individual person.
A family survey that includes in-laws will find one or two whose most notable achievements involve considerable time in the criminal justice system. The same survey would also find a noted author, two prominent business leaders, three military veterans (one still severely in pain), an active Marine who has seen combat, and a technological expert who worked her way through college as a LIDAR physicist at Goddard Space Center.
What sort of racial or "urban" generalities are we to make of all that? A family does not a nation make.
Should we travel down urban streets early on most any weekday and note the people patiently waiting for buses to take them to work?
Should we look for wider measurements?
If we go to prisons, we will find a higher percentage of residents who might be called "urban." If we go through Job Corps statistics we will find that, given a chance, urban youth are highly motivated. Participants become employed at a high rate and go to college at a high rate. What are we to conclude?
One administrator several decades ago told me that black Job Corps participants tended to perform better than whites. His surmise was that there was a built in selectivity involved. More highly motivated whites already had better opportunities and were more likely not to be participants. But who knows?
One subjective observation does not a nation make.
The great Ta-Nehisi Coates examines his own history with uncommon introspection. He seems to suggest that what is described as cultural pathology is a series of survival mechanisms. Without some habits that prove self-defeating in early adulthood, early adulthood may never arrive.
Those who can transcend circumstance are more likely to prosper. It is a talent unneeded by the un-urban.
He also takes seriously the kinder, gentler versions of Cliven Bundy. "Let me tell you another thing I know about" ...well... urban youth." Coates' own analysis of some questions begins with "I actually don't know why that is." He adds, "Too often 'culture' is basically spoken in the way one might say 'magic.'" He urges diligent study over a mere suspension of prejudice.
He suggests an actual search for reasoned, factually based, truth.
Parents have much to fear, much to hope. Even when we don't know, we sometimes have to take a best guess based on the intuition and personal experience we embrace, and whatever unconscious bias we try to avoid. Years ago, I suggested that, when faced with a tilted playing field, one choice might be to form a strategy. How could my little girl grow up to win on an unfair playing field?
She is the former Goddard Space Center physicist.
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.
In response to Burr Deming's The Age of Hillary Clinton
Who can forget the third time Walter Mondale raised the issue? You don't remember that? Okay, how about the second time? The very first time?
I don't blame you. I don't recall Walter Mondale ever bringing it up at all. I have searched as diligently as I know how to search. I can't find a word or even a sly implication. I don't find anything from Mondale. I don't find anything from the Democratic campaign. I don't find anything from any national Democrat.
- Burr Deming, May 21, 2014
Burr, in that audio of Reagan saying he wouldn’t hold against Mondale his youth, followed by your research that no Democrat mentioned age relating to Reagan: That is a bit misleading.
I’m not going to take time (or at least not a lot of time – lol) to do the research on Dem Party insinuations about Reagan’s age, but that really wasn’t the deal. I think there was a slight oversight in not using the question that Reagan responded to in that debate:
Mr. Trewhitt: Mr. President, I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for 2 or 3 weeks and cast it specifically in national security terms. You already are the oldest President in history. And some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall yet that President Kennedy had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances? [Bold text added]
THE PRESIDENT: Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt, and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience. [Laughter and applause] If I still have time, I might add, Mr. Trewhitt, I might add that it was Seneca or it was Cicero, I don't know which, that said, "If it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state."
(October 21, 1984 Debate Transcript; Under heading – The President’s Age; Commission on Presidential Debates)
I am thinking the talking points about Reagan’s age may not have come from any Dem directly, BUT it is obvious a hostile press that desired to bring the age issue to the fore. AND I think it would be foolish not to believe somebody in the Dem Party and/or the Mondale campaign pushed the press to make an issue of age.
I’m just saying. ☺
John Houk is a friend who is always willing to correct liberal errors. He also writes for his own site. Please visit Slant Right
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Families of those in combat don't share the experiences. The stress, the necessities that survival demands are an unknown. There are only the anxious dreads. His mom was holding up for the most part. But the less usual moments were revealing.
An unfortunate juxtaposition of events amplified the anxiety, just after our young Marine ended his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Military transport operates on its own schedule, and so he remained in a sort of limbo for a few days. He stayed, waiting only for logistical requirements to be met.
Social media and the ubiquitous internet kept us in touch. He and his mother exchanged messages.
We got news reports of the attacks on the base, and Marine fatalities, just as his messages suddenly stopped. We realized that electronic communication would not be possible during transport, but as days dragged on, fear bore down a little harder. I had private talks with God that were a little harsher than usual. Of course, we feared the worst.
He eventually was able to let us know he was safe.
I occasionally think back on that time, and on the prayers. We still carry the relief that came when we heard from him. I also carry the inherent selfishness, the zero-sum nature of my talks with God. Please, Lord, let it be other families who get the bad news.
As his time of service nears an end, he tells us he is thinking of reenlisting. He once wrote a letter to a cousin. We have not seen it. We're told that he wrote of being part of a larger purpose, of the common bond of those who serve, of belonging. He loves the Marines. We are told his cousin wept at the beauty and power of the words.
We are proud of him, of course. And we are thankful for the prayers of friends and neighbors during his deployment into danger.
We pray for those whose lives and well being remain an uncertainty. We join in the national day of remembrance for those who will not be returning to families. Their sacrifices were not voluntary. My imagination tells me their own desperate prayers were unanswered. Their dread has been realized, transforming to something the rest of us cannot understand.
At worship yesterday, we prayed for those who serve. We prayed for those in authority, that they be granted wisdom.
I thought of my conversations with God, of my prayers that burdens be borne by other families. I prayed for those families.
I added a silent prayer for forgiveness.
From CBS Evening News:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Remembering 60 years back is hard for anyone, but for Melvyn Amrine, it's especially challenging.
Melvyn was diagnosed with Alzheimer's three years ago. For his wife, Doris, it's been hard to watch. But she says something happened recently to remind her that the man she fell in love with is still here.
"It's special, because even though the mind doesn't remember everything, the heart remembers," Doris says.
It happened the day before Mother's Day, when Melvyn, who normally needs help just walking around the block, turned up missing. Police dispatch in Little Rock, Arkansas, put out the call.
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Degrees of Separation - Still the Same Old Racism (6:41) - Click for Podcast
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- My friend T. Paine, at Saving Common Sense, publishes remarkable thoughts about beauty in nature, in humanity, and in spirit. He builds to the one who inspired this example of beauty in words about beauty..
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Conservatism was so much simpler when I was a kid. Conservatives just didn't much like black people.
Some were outspoken about it. Black people had all sorts of new privileges. Too many. They could vote. In fact, they could vote for the first time in some parts of the country. Lynching was now against the law. Segregation was still pretty strong, but it was technically against the law. Same with discrimination in housing and hiring. It was still going on, but it was against the law.
What more did they want?
The fact that, with the leadership of a Democratic President, some form of civil rights had become the law enraged enough conservatives that a migration of sorts had already begun. Lyndon Johnson remarked privately that new laws respecting the rights of black people would ensure that Democrats would lose the South for many decades. Conservatives left the Democratic party and became Republicans.
Even back then, outright racism, the kind spoken out loud, was confined to a vocal minority. Most commonly, the some-of-my-best-friends denial was a preface to each expression white resentment.
There was talk of whites organizing to counter newly enfranchised black voters.
Later, as overt racism became associated with pure evil, conservatives began using euphemisms. The wink and nod story was that black folks were too dim to vote for their own interests. So, someone was telling them how to vote. Organizing against black voters evolved into organizing against block voters. No kidding, that's what some politicians campaigned on. Stand up against the "block vote."
After a while, the "block vote" became too identifiable. Political language changed again. The "urban vote" came to represent for conservatives the enemy of all that was good and American and White.
In New York State, a liberal Republican - liberal by virtue of supporting civil rights - pushed for urban renewal. A conservative Republican legislature refused to allow bonds to fund Nelson Rockefeller's hopes for building up New York State's cities. After all, hadn't urban folks already been given enough, what with civil rights laws?
Then Rockefeller enraged conservatives by issuing unofficial "moral bonds." They weren't backed by law, but investors were told the state government - specifically Governor Rockefeller - would regard repayment with interest as a sacred moral obligation.
Conservatives regarded that end run as one more unearned benefit given to black people - excuse me, urban people: a minority that had already been provided the gifts of voting rights, anti-discrimination laws, and anti-lynching protection by an overly generous government.
As time went on, spoken-out-loud racism became too much for polite company. It was no longer something to be voiced at your grandmother's book and coffee club. Racism became a matter of degrees of separation.
The effort to maintain mental caution and verbal self-editing produced a kind of active resentment among conservatives.
Bill Clinton and, later on, Barack Obama came to be hated. That they do not have the same skin color is obvious. What they have shared is that conservatives regarded both with fear and loathing. Conservatives suspected President Clinton, and now suspect President Obama, of harboring sympathy for what one conservative calls "America's pampered minorities."
This is a character flaw that some black public conservatives do not have. This makes such politicians especially attractive to some conservative voters. These candidates do not sympathize with black people, and they offer a modern substitute for yesterday's worn out cliche of some-of-my-best-friends. I may get laughed at for some-of-my-best-friends, but I can proudly get by with I-voted-for-Herman-Cain. So don't call me racist.
Still the charge of racism, even the implication, still stings. It produces endless clarifications and occasional anger.
When Congressman Paul Ryan talked about the faltering work ethic of urban youth, we all paid attention. He later clarified. He had misspoken. He was not singling out African American young people. He should have applied his criticism to rural culture as well.
Recently, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) suggested that some Republican obstruction of President Obama was motivated by Obama's race. "For some, it's just we don't want anything good to happen under this President because he's the wrong color." A Republican colleague went ballistic, charging Rockefeller with "playing the race card."
"Please, don't assume, don't make implications of what I'm thinking and what I would really support," said Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI). You have no idea."
Rockefeller stood by his criticism. "I actually do. God help you."
"No senator," said Johnson, "God help you for implying I'm a racist."
It is an understandable reaction, one shared by most conservatives, in or out of government.
Soon after that, conservatives in the House of Representatives considered keeping up a pilot project that had been helping feed little kids from families struggling to get out of poverty. The project was an experiment to figure out how to feed hungry kids during summer months when they are out of school. It was pointed at "urban and rural areas."
Hard to argue with a program designed so explicitly to help both white and non-white little kids in off-school months: "urban and rural."
The House passed the bill. But only after the program was redirected by the Republican majority.
Only rural kids will be allowed to participate.
It's possible that some brave soul in the House or Senate will offer an honest appraisal of Republican motivations at explicitly excluding urban kids.
That honest voice will provoke more angry indignation from Senator Johnson.
If you get my drift.
From the Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
Walker has taken to pointing to the number of newly registered "business entities" to show that his conservative policies are boosting the state's economy. But many of the organizations in Walker's count have no workers at all — and aren't likely to have any.
Walker's count includes hundreds of nonprofit organizations such as Scout troops, youth athletic leagues and condo associations.
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