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“The Veterans Scandal On Bernie Sanders’ Watch”: An Obscured View Of The Situation On The Ground

Bernie Sanders’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was characterized by glaring neglect of his oversight responsibilities, allowing the 2014 VA scandal to unfold under his watch, veterans’ rights advocates argue.

Sanders has touted his work on veterans’ issues, most recently citing his involvement in “the most comprehensive VA health care bill in this country,” in a debate Thursday.

Left unsaid however, is that he was the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, responsible for overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the scandal erupted.

Dozens of veterans died while waiting for medical care at Phoenix Veterans Health Administration facilities, a scandal CNN broke in the spring of 2014. The imbroglio spread with reports of secret waiting lists at other VA hospitals, possibly leading to dozens more preventable deaths.

He held one-sixth of the hearings on oversight that his House of Representatives counterpart held. Republicans griped that they had made multiple requests for more oversight hearings, but received no response. A news host even challenged Sanders as the scandal erupted, saying he sounded more like a lawyer for the VA than the man responsible for overseeing it.

“We feel that he did not live up to his responsibilities as SVAC chairman to provide oversight into this. He keeps hiding behind the mantle [of the title]. And yes, he did pass the $15 billion piece of legislation, but that’s… akin to closing the barn door after the chickens have escaped,” said Matthew Miller, the chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

By the time the scandal broke, Sanders had been chairman for more than a year. While the House VA committee held 42 hearings on VA oversight, the Senate VA committee chaired by Sanders held only about seven hearings on the matter.

“The House needed a partner in the Senate to help flesh out the problems at the VA, and unfortunately Bernie Sanders was not that partner. Jeff Miller and his committee were the ones who pursued this and ultimately uncovered [the VA scandal]… only when the VA scandal broke was when [Sanders] ultimately decided to do oversight hearings,” said Dan Caldwell, the vice president for political and legislative action of Concerned Veterans for America.

Republicans on the committee signed a letter shortly after the scandal broke, demanding to hold multiple oversight hearings on the VA, and complained that they had requested “multiple oversight hearings since the beginning of the 113th Congress with none of the requested hearings taking place and no response.”

Even as the scandal was breaking, Sanders was challenged for his defense of the VA.

“You sound like a lawyer defending the hospital, as opposed to a senator trying to make sure the right thing is done,” CNN host Chris Cuomo lectured Sanders as the scandal unraveled.

It was his progressive worldview that blinded him to the problems of the VA, some veterans advocates argued, and it prevented him from seeing the problem as it emerged.

Sanders, some veterans’ rights workers say, wanted to believe that the VA was a model for government-run health care.

“For years, many people within the progressive movement and the left touted the VA as an example of what government-run health care could look like for Americans,” added Dan Caldwell. “Based on Bernie Sanders’s ideology, he wanted the government-run system at the VA to work, because it reinforced his view of what government health care should look like for all Americans, not just veterans.”

Those advocates don’t think his rosy view of what was happening at the VA lined up with reality.

“His worldview got in the way of the facts on the ground. He’s concerned about veterans, but had an almost blind faith in the VA system to where it obscured his view of the situation on the ground as the scandal was unfolding,” said a congressional source close to the legislative negotiations on VA reform.

The problem, the source said, was that Sanders “believed in government, and he believed in it to a fault.”

Ultimately, an emergency piece of legislation was passed that infused money into the VA and created some accountability mechanisms. The Choice Act, as it was called, also allowed vets to find private-care providers if they were unable to schedule medical appointments within 30 days, a major concession that Sanders was forced to make.

“He got backed into a corner and had no choice but to support the bill. The consensus on the committee was strong—to have some more accountability and give veterans some private choices,” Caldwell said. “Bernie just got outgunned… he had no choice. Now he’s turning it around and using it as an example of finding consensus… The bill that passed would have largely passed even if he had walked away.”

The congressional source close to the negotiations said Sanders “helped negotiate this bill and got some of his elements in,” including additional funding for the VA, but only after a late start, having defended the VA during the early days of the scandal.

Sanders cites awards from the American Legion and the VFW as evidence of accomplishments during his time as chairman.

But Miller batted this away: “That’s not uncommon for the chairman and ranking member of committees to get awards from veterans associations. Or, quite frankly, if they’re chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to get it from a tax-writing firm. Or if they’re chairman of House Armed Services, to get something from Boeing.”

“When vets needed Bernie Sanders to aggressively oversee the VA and hold them accountable, he was AWOL,” Caldwell added.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“There Is No Post Racial America”: Can Bernie Sanders Win The African-American Vote?

Bill Clinton, so the saying goes, was America’s first black president.

Novelist Toni Morrison dubbed him so, noting that he displayed “almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”

The analogy stuck because people saw Clinton’s rapport of kinship and familiarity that crossed racial lines.

His wife is not blessed with the same attributes. This became starkly apparent in 2008 when she faced a formable political challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination and lost as African-American voters flocked to him.

This go-around, it’s not an upstart biracial senator from Illinois who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the coveted prize in this election cycle. It’s a 74-year-old white guy with a Mister Rogers appeal.

Bernie Sanders is the exclamation point on bad news for Clinton. In the Iowa caucuses, Sanders’ virtual tie in votes showed that Clinton can’t rest on her substantial resume.

Clinton cannot take black voters for granted. Sanders may not win enough African-American support to snag the Democratic nomination away, but he’ll give her a considerable run for it, even in Southern states like South Carolina, whose Democratic primary will take place at the end of the month.

Sanders’ appeal is that he acknowledges something that African-Americans know viscerally: There is no post-racial America. He has also offered a forthright critique of wealth and income equality in America, along with measures to rectify it. All he has to do is package his message right.

The election of Barack Obama did not substantially alter the lives of most black Americans. True, it was a collective emotional achievement for much of America, and especially for black America. Yet it’s ludicrous to believe that one man in the highest office of the land, even serving two terms, was going to undo the entrenched realities of race in America.

African-Americans, segregated and humiliated first by slavery and then by segregation, and further still by subtler forms of bias and discrimination that are still with us, are lagging behind other people of other races and ethnicities in employment and economic and educational attainment.

By the time the recovery began from the most recent recession, African-Americans had lost the most ground and now have to make harder strides to catch up.

Those without wealth invested in stocks and those whose work skills are less in demand — especially people whose families are less firmly entrenched in middle class — are struggling. And Sanders speaks well to these voters, especially to a new generation that is worried that they won’t be able to achieve, not due to personal failings but because systems of government such as taxation and justice are rigged against them.

In Iowa, Sanders swept Clinton with voters under 30, winning by a 70-point margin. He also won resoundingly with voters aged 30 to 44.

Iowa, some shrug, is overwhelmingly white. True.

But what if younger African-American voters aren’t as beholden to the idea that they must stick with the Clinton team, even if Hillary is a surrogate of Obama? Some evidence of this is appearing.

In recent weeks former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner has become a vocal advocate, along with the attorney who represented the Walter Scott family. Some rappers have begun advocating for him, plying their networks on social media. And the revered scholar Cornel West has been actively campaigning and took to Facebook with a post that begins, “Why I endorse Brother Bernie….”

It reads, in part: “I do so because he is a long-distance runner with integrity in the struggle for justice for over 50 years. Now is the time for his prophetic voice to be heard across our crisis-ridden country, even as we push him with integrity toward a more comprehensive vision of freedom for all.”

All Sanders has to do is speak ferociously for the underdogs of society, for the masses of people who have been left behind. And he is very adept at connecting these dots.

A good example is Sanders’ platform on racial justice. It seeks to address what he defines as “the five central types of violence waged against black, brown and indigenous Americans: physical, political, legal, economic and environmental.”

And he fully defines each, with grim examples of the harm they have caused. Then he offers his solutions.

Black Americans know these realities in ways that are starkly personal.

The question is: What must Sanders do to convince black voters that he can and will address them?

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, February 4, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Celebrating The Absurd”: Cruz Sees Border Wall As Solution To Drug Abuse

When Ted Cruz reflected this week on the crisis in Flint – which he inexplicably blamed on local Democratic officials who had no decision-making authority – he wrapped up his thoughts by reflecting on the road ahead for struggling cities like Flint. The solution, Cruz added, is to “go with the policies that work” – such as giving taxpayer money to private schools.

It was a bit jarring. A discussion about poisonous water led the Republican presidential hopeful to think about privatizing education – as if, on some unidentified level, the two unrelated topics were pieces of the same puzzle.

Yesterday, we saw something eerily similar happen at an event in New Hampshire. The Wall Street Journal reported:

Ted Cruz spent 18 minutes telling an emotional, gripping story of his family’s history of drug and alcohol abuse. His older half-sister and later his father, he told an addiction policy forum, got hooked and became addicted. His sister died, his father survived only after becoming religious, Mr. Cruz said in a Baptist church here.

So it was jarring to hear Mr. Cruz then pivot to his policy solution: building a wall along the nation’s southern border to stop illegal immigration and halt the flow of drugs from Mexico.

“If we want to turn around the drug crisis we have got to finally and permanently secure the border,” Mr. Cruz said. “We need to solve this problem; we need to build this wall.”

At a certain level, my expectations have fallen to such a low point, I’m inclined to give Cruz at least some credit for acknowledging an actual, real-world problem. There’s a drug epidemic; it’s destroying lives and families; and policymakers at every level desperately need to take it seriously. While some Republicans have dismissed the addiction crisis as meaningless, it seems like a small step in the right direction for Cruz to recognize, even briefly, that the problem exists.

If only his proposed solution were serious, we might be getting somewhere.

A Huffington Post report added:

After Cruz blamed the drug crisis on an insecure border, he blamed the insecure border on the Democrats, and some “cynical” Republicans, who favor immigration reform. He accused them of having base political motives for not doing more on the issue.

“As a political matter, the Democratic Party does not want to solve this problem. And as a political matter, far too many Republicans don’t either,” he said. “Sadly, stopping the drug traffic gets de-emphasized, because their policy view instead is to open the borders to illegal immigration.”

None of this reflects reality in any way. Border security is up and illegal immigration is down. The facts are not in dispute.

But when given a choice between reality and absurd campaign rhetoric, Cruz finds it easy to ignore the former and celebrate the latter.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Border Wall, Drug Addiction, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Change Happens”: Why Democrats Can’t Seem To Decide Between Clinton And Sanders

If Republicans are engaged in a three-sided civil war, Democrats are having a spirited but rather civilized argument over a very large question: Who has the best theory about how progressive change happens?

On the Republican side, the results in Iowa showed a party torn to pieces. Ted Cruz won because he understood from the start the importance of cornering the market on Christian conservatives who have long dominated Iowa’s unusual process. Message discipline, thy name is Cruz.

Donald Trump has created a new wing of the Republican Party by combining older GOP tendencies — nationalism, nativism, racial backlash — with 21st-century worries about American decline and the crushing of working-class incomes. He appeals to the angriest Republicans but not necessarily the most ideologically pure. A novel constituency proved harder to turn out in Iowa than polls and Trump’s media boosters anticipated.

Marco Rubio was the remainder candidate, pulling together most of the voters who couldn’t stand Trump or Cruz. He was strongest among the best-educated Republicans, a crowd that has less reason to be angry. Almost as conservative as Cruz, Rubio runs verbally against the party establishment even as he is beloved by it.

The main question in New Hampshire next week (besides whether Trump can actually win an election) concerns Rubio’s ability to repeat his consolidation trick — this time against a fully competitive field. Does he get enough bounce out of his third-place finish in Iowa to beat back John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who largely skipped Iowa but have been working hard to find Granite State salvation? It’s politics of a classic sort.

The Democratic contest is far more subtle and, as a result, intellectually interesting. The obvious contours of the race are defined by Hillary Clinton’s identity as a moderate progressive and Bernie Sanders’s embrace of democratic socialism.

But there is less distance between Sanders and Clinton than meets the eye. Their sharpest programmatic differences (other than on Sanders’s mixed gun-control record) are over his sweeping ideas: breaking up the largest banks, establishing a single-payer health-care system and providing universal free college education. These disagreements are closely connected to their competing theories of change.

Clinton believes in change through incremental steps: toughening financial regulation, building on Obamacare, expanding access to scholarships and grants without making college free for everyone. One-step-at-a-time reform is the best way to reach a larger goal, she believes. And proposals that are too big are doomed to fail — politically for sure, and probably substantively as well.

Thus her signature critique of Sanders. “In theory, there’s a lot to like about some of his ideas,” she says, and then the hammer falls: “I’m not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in the real world.”

Sanders, by contrast, has long believed that the current configuration of power needs to be overthrown (peacefully, through the ballot box) to make progressive reform possible. It’s why he focuses so much on breaking the corrupting power of big money in politics. He believes that loosening the Republicans’ grip on working-class voters requires initiatives that will truly shake things up, and that only the mobilization of new voters will change the nature of representation in Washington.

Democrats, he told NPR’s Steve Inskeep in 2014, have “not made it clear that they are prepared to stand with the working-class people of this country [and] take on the big money interests.”

The same year, he told Vox’s Andrew Prokop: “You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grass-roots level in a way that we have never done before.”

Sanders added: “The Republican Party right now in Washington is highly disciplined, very, very well-funded, and adheres to more or less the Koch brother position. You’re not gonna change them in Washington. The only way that they are changed is by educating, organizing, and what I call a political revolution.”

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 3, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, GOP Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ugly Rhetoric Of The GOP Primaries”: The Republican Candidates Are Finding New And Innovative Ways To Alienate Minorities

It’s safe to say that the Republican nominee for president, whoever he ends up being, will not be getting too many votes from Muslim Americans. Or possibly any votes at all.

Donald Trump who claimed falsely that thousands of Muslims celebrated the downing of the Twin Towers, and who wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States, is still leading the polls. The one who said that no Muslim should be allowed to be president isn’t doing so well; Ben Carson just fired much of his staff and his campaign is obviously melting down. But Marco Rubio, who appears to be on the rise, sent a clear message to Muslims on Wednesday, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The point, though, isn’t that the Muslim vote will be critical to the 2016 outcome; Muslims make up only around 1 percent of the U.S. population, and many of them are not yet citizens and so aren’t eligible to vote. But the rancid Islamophobia on display in the Republican primary campaign is more than a threat to Republicans’ showing among Muslim voters, it’s a threat to their prospects among all non-white voters. Combine it with the way Republicans have talked about immigration and the way they’ve talked about President Obama, and you could hardly have assembled a better case to minorities that they should reject the GOP.

Back to what happened this week: President Obama visited a mosque in Baltimore on Wednesday, the first such visit of his presidency. He hit familiar notes in his speech, condemning hate crimes against Muslims and noting the long history of Islam in America. He acknowledged a young woman in the audience, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who will be representing the United States in fencing at this summer’s Olympics — in her hijab. “At a time when others are trying to divide us along lines of religion or sect,” he said, “we have to reaffirm that most fundamental of truths: We are all God’s children.”

For Marco Rubio, that statement of unity was just too much to bear. “I’m tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done,” he told an audience in New Hampshire. “Always pitting people against each other. Always! Look at today: He gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.” Indeed, what could be more divisive than a plea for solidarity and understanding?

Donald Trump also weighed in on the president’s visit to a mosque, saying, “Maybe he feels comfortable there.” Because he might be a secret Muslim, get it? Ha ha!

Think for a moment about how a member of any minority group — African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Muslim, Jew, Pacific Islander — would view everything that has gone on in this primary campaign, and how inclined it might make them feel to vote for whichever candidate the Republicans nominate.

We often assume that the effect of something like Trump’s comments on Muslims or the GOP debate on who hates “amnesty” the most will only affect the opinions of the particular group being targeted at that moment. But everyone else hears those things too. For people who have the experience of being a minority in America, it doesn’t go unnoticed when one party communicates that it’s actively hostile to people who aren’t white and Christian. Even if you’re, say, Asian-American and you haven’t heard a GOP candidate attack people like you specifically, you’ll probably suspect that that’s only because they haven’t gotten around to it yet. In case you were wondering, Asian-Americans gave Barack Obama 73 percent of their votes in 2012, and they’re the fastest-growing minority group in the country.

The other critical fast-growing group is, of course, Hispanics. While we don’t yet know who the GOP nominee will be, we know that he’ll be someone who spent an awful lot of time condemning undocumented immigrants and trying to get to his opponents’ right on “amnesty.” And as multiple demographic analyses (see here or here) have shown, if Republicans don’t dramatically improve their performance among Hispanics, it will be all but mathematically impossible for them to win.

That’s not even to mention African-Americans, the most loyal segment of the Democratic coalition. They were certainly energized by the presence of the first African-American president on the ticket, and do you think they’ll be motivated to vote against the Republicans who attack Barack Obama with such venom?

There is the chance, however, that the GOP could have the first Hispanic major-party nominee in 2016. But it’s impossible to say how much of an impact Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz would have on the Hispanic vote.

Many knowledgeable Hispanic politicos (at least the Democratic ones) argue that it wouldn’t change Hispanic voters’ feelings much, for three reasons: First, Rubio and Cruz are both Cuban-American, and the ties of solidarity between Cubans and people whose heritage is Mexican or Salvadoran or anything else aren’t as strong as some might think (this is even more true for Cruz, who unlike Rubio doesn’t speak fluent Spanish). Second, Hispanic voters are keenly aware of the policy differences between them and the GOP, differences that have been heightened during the campaign. And third, Rubio or Cruz wouldn’t be able to escape the message of hostility their party has sent to Hispanic voters for years, but especially this year.

They’ll have trouble escaping it not only because of the clear record of the primaries — which among other things included Cruz making clear his opposition to birthright citizenship, a bedrock American principle — but because they’ll find themselves assaulted relentlessly by other Hispanics who oppose them. Recently, Jorge Ramos, the most influential Hispanic journalist in America, wrote a scorching column criticizing Rubio and Cruz (among others), in which he said, “There is no greater disloyalty than the children of immigrants forgetting their own roots. That’s a betrayal.” Expect to see a lot more of that in the general election.

You can also expect to see the Republican nominee take a drastically different tone on issues like immigration once the general election rolls around, because he’ll have a different audience and a different set of voters to persuade. He’ll play down the positions he has taken, and talk in more welcoming, inclusive terms. He’ll pull people of all races up on stage with him. The appeals he makes to white resentment will become more subtle and implicit.

In short, whoever that nominee is, he’ll try to make everyone forget the ugly rhetoric of the Republican primaries. But by then it will probably be too late.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | GOP Primaries, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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