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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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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