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“Caught Red Handed”: The Latest On Efforts To Privatize The VA

A few weeks ago, the Washington Monthly published a story by investigative reporter Alicia Mundy that challenged the whole narrative about 2014 VA “scandal,” the one in which dozens of veterans were said to have died as a result of lengthy wait times to see VA doctors. In fact, Mundy shows, the department’s inspector general, after an exhaustive review of patient records, could not say with any confidence that even one veteran had suffered that fate. There were certainly problems at some VA facilities; the wait list numbers were definitely being gamed by VA personnel who, like Charlie Chaplin’s factory worker, struggled to keep up with unmeetable performance metrics. The “death wait” allegations, however, turn out to be bogus–cooked up by a Koch brothers-funded group, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), working with Hill Republicans, in order to panic Washington lawmakers into passing legislation in 2014 to outsource VA care to private sector providers.

In reaction to our story, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller (R-Tea Party) wrote an intemperate letter attacking the story’s key findings as “completely false,” allegations we rather easily countered. Then Miller appeared before the commission his legislation mandated and made a damned fool of himself. Then a faction of the conservatives on the commission were outed for writing up a secret draft of the commission’s recommendations–in which they call for full privatization of the VA—in possible violation of the Sunshine and Federal Advisory Committee Acts.

The latest news on this is that leaders of eight prominent veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, sent a letter to the commission chair slamming the secret draft and expressing their united opposition to privatizing the VA. This is an important development. As Mundy explains in her piece, a big reason the privatization push has gotten as far as it has is that the traditional veterans groups allowed themselves to be sidelined politically by CVA. Now, finally, those groups are fighting back. And while they don’t have seats on the commission, they do have 5 million members.

So far, this story has gotten virtually no mainstream press coverage–in part, no doubt, because it contradicts the “scandal at the VA” narrative that the press itself originally reported. But I don’t think this hesitancy will last long–the story’s way too juicy. Independent research mandated by that 2014 legislation not only undermines claims about dozens of veterans dying because of wait times, but also shows that the VA provides the same or better quality care than does the private sector. Yet here you have commission members, many of whom represent corporate medical centers that stand to gain billions of dollars in revenue from outsourcing VA care, caught red handed crafting secret recommendations to outsource VA care at the expense of quality care for veterans.

If I had to bet on who’s going to win this policy war, I wouldn’t, at this point, put my money on the outsourcers.

 

By: Paul Glastris, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Republicans, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Day Of Reckoning Is Nigh”: The Democratic Race Has Now Devolved Into Nastiness

The Democratic nominee for president will be running against a political novice who is widely despised, or a senator so unpopular that only two of his colleagues support him, or a governor far too moderate for his party’s hard-line base, or someone else chosen at a bitterly contested convention. For Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, what could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. Begin with the fact that the Clinton-Sanders race has devolved into gratuitous and self-destructive nastiness.

The rhetorical hissing and spitting escalated Wednesday when Sanders charged that Clinton — a former senator, secretary of state and first lady — is not “qualified” to be president. It was a ridiculous thing to say. One thing it’s impossible to claim about Clinton is that she lacks an adequate résumé.

When challenged on the statement, Sanders resorted to the she-hit-me-first defense: “She has been saying lately that she thinks that I am, quote-unquote, not qualified to be president.” The problem is that Clinton never said such a thing. In fact, when pressed repeatedly by “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough on the question, Clinton touted herself as the better choice but refused to say that Sanders is unqualified. (I should note that I often appear on Scarborough’s show.)

Clinton did, in that interview, echo her standard critique of Sanders, which is that his proposals are pie in the sky. She drew attention to his recent meeting with the editorial board of the New York Daily News in which he was asked for details of his plan to break up the big banks. His less-than-complete answers, Clinton said, show that “what he has been saying about the core issue in his whole campaign doesn’t seem to be rooted in an understanding of either the law or the practical ways you get something done.”

Ouch. Sanders wasn’t that bad at the Daily News. And frankly, his questioners seemed more confused about some aspects of financial regulation than Sanders did.

On Thursday, Sanders was still hopping mad. At an appearance in Philadelphia, he told reporters that “if Secretary Clinton thinks that I just come from the small state of Vermont, that we’re not used to this, well, we’ll get used to it fast. I’m not going to get beaten up. I’m not going to get lied about. We will fight back.”

Clinton clearly wanted to be seen as taking the high road. “I don’t know why he’s saying that, but I will take Bernie Sanders over Ted Cruz or Donald Trump any time,” she said.

Does that ring a bell? Does anyone else recall those early debates in which both candidates pledged to forswear personal attacks and stick to the issues? We’re now at the point that it takes days of bitter squabbling before the campaigns can even agree on a time and place for their next debate. It will be in Brooklyn — Sanders’s birthplace and the site of Clinton’s campaign headquarters — on April 14. One assumes the gloves will be off.

It is no mystery why this once-polite contest has become so testy: What may be the day of reckoning is nigh.

Clinton’s lead in delegates is now big enough that Sanders practically has to run the table in the remaining states. He needs decisive wins, starting with the April 19 primary in New York. Conversely, Clinton can effectively put the nomination out of Sanders’s reach with a big victory in the state that elected her to the U.S. Senate.

The Clinton campaign’s view is that Sanders is already so far behind that he’ll never catch up; they should know, because that’s the position Clinton was in vs. Barack Obama in 2008. It is time, the Clintonistas believe, for Sanders to think about dropping out in the interest of party unity.

I have argued that Sanders has every right to stay in and that his many supporters in states yet to vote should have the chance to express their preference. But if it’s not time for Sanders to pull out, it’s also not time for him to scorch the earth in a way that damages Clinton’s prospects in November should she win the nomination.

Democrats begin general election campaigns with a big structural Electoral College advantage. But they forfeit this edge if progressive voters elect to stay home. The party cannot afford to have Sanders supporters — if their candidate loses — licking their wounds and nursing their grievances.

It ought to be hard for the eventual Democratic nominee to lose. More Clinton-Sanders nastiness just might do the trick.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Are You Waiting For, Democrats?”: Voter ID Laws Are Having Their Intended Effect. It’s Time To Do Something

The biggest news out of the Wisconsin primary isn’t about the horse race, which is largely unchanged. It’s about the election itself—about how the voting happened. As soon as polls opened in urban centers like Madison and Milwaukee, there were reports of long, almost intolerable waits. Students at universities around the state faced hourslong lines to cast a ballot. Others waited just as long for a chance to change their registration.

The proximate cause of these long lines in urban, student-heavy areas is the state’s new voter identification law backed by the Republican legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. It implements strict new requirements for valid identification that excludes most student IDs (in response, some Wisconsin schools have begun issuing separate identification cards for students to vote) and requires voters without official identification to go through a cumbersome process even if they’ve voted in the past. Writing for the Nation, Ari Berman describes elderly, longtime voters who were blocked from the polls for want of the right papers. “Others blocked from the polls include a man born in a concentration camp in Germany who lost his birth certificate in a fire; a woman who lost use of her hands but could not use her daughter as power of attorney at the DMV; and a 90-year-old veteran of Iwo Jima who could not vote with his veterans ID.”

But this was more than predictable—it was the point. “I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up,” said one Wisconsin Republican congressman, Rep. Glenn Grothman. “And now we have photo ID and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”

If the urgency of the issue wasn’t obvious, Grothman made it plain. Voter ID laws in Wisconsin and beyond are a direct attack on democracy, an attempt to rig the game by blocking whole groups of Americans from the polls. In what appears to be a strong cycle for their party, Democrats should take what happened in Wisconsin as a siren for action. Restoring democracy and protecting it from these attacks should be at the center of the party’s agenda.

The burden of voter ID laws falls hardest on the marginal members of society, who are predominately nonwhite, elderly, or both. In Wisconsin, 9 percent of registered voters (300,000 people) lack government-issued identification and fall disproportionately under those groups. And while Wisconsin provides voter ID at no cost through its Department of Motor Vehicles, the dirty secret is that this is a difficult and cumbersome process given the extremely limited hours for DMV offices. (Just 31 of Wisconsin’s 92 DMVs hold normal business hours and most are open just twice a week.) And worse, as Berman notes, Republican legislators in the state made no provision for voter education. They also shut down the state board that monitors elections.

Wisconsin isn’t the only place where voting has been hampered by voter identification laws. In Arizona, a similarly strict law—compounded by a Republican-led drive to close voting precincts in heavily populated areas—brought long waits for people who wanted to cast a ballot. As many as 20,000 Americans weren’t able to vote, many of them Latino.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of discrimination to get the federal government’s permission before making any changes in how they run elections. Since then, Republican legislatures like those in Wisconsin and Arizona have adopted draconian identification laws that stand as meaningful barriers to the right to vote. They act as de facto poll taxes, forcing voters to spend time and money in order to exercise their constitutional rights. Thirty-three states will require voters to show identification at the polls this November, and the likely outcome will be long lines and complications for countless voters.

Beyond the sort of educational measures that Wisconsin didn’t bother with, it’s too late to do anything this year about the spread of voter ID and other barriers. But this should be a wake-up call for Democrats. Unless there’s pushback, these restrictions will become part of the firmament of our elections, effectively disenfranchising those on the margins of American life. For Democrats now and in the future, reversing those laws—and enhancing voter access—has to be a priority. On the national level, both Clinton and Bernie Sanders should tout their plans to restore the Voting Rights Act and build more voter protections. Below that, prospective Democratic governors and state lawmakers should place voter access at the top of their agendas, a first item for incoming administrations. Everything, from automatic registration and mail-in balloting to ending felon disenfranchisement, should be on the table.

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If Democrats believe that they benefit from more voters and larger electorates, then they would do well to mimic the Republican approach, but in reverse: Use their power to tilt the playing field toward more access, more participation, and more democracy.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, April 6, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Discrimination, Voter ID | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Gun Debate Reclaims Center Stage In Democratic Race”: Granting Gun Manufacturers Immunity From Lawsuits

The bulk of the attention surrounding Bernie Sanders’ interview with the New York Daily News this week focused on the senator struggling at times with policy details. In response to a variety of questions, the Vermont independent gave responses such as, “It’s something I have not studied”; “I don’t know the answer to that”; and “I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

But another area of contention surrounds a subject Sanders understands perfectly well.

Towards the end of the interview, the Daily News editors noted, “There’s a case currently waiting to be ruled on in Connecticut. The victims of the Sandy Hook massacre are looking to have the right to sue for damages the manufacturers of the weapons. Do you think that that is something that should be expanded?” Sanders, seeking clarification, said, “Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer, is that your question?”

Told that it was the question, he replied, “No, I don’t.”

As Politico reported, this isn’t sitting well with some of the lawsuit’s Democratic supporters.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Gov. Dannel Malloy attacked Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for stating that shooting victims should not be able to sue gun manufacturers, an issue that has dogged the Vermont senator throughout his presidential run.

“I don’t know why our party would nominate someone that’s squishy on the issue of guns, this is a very personal issue for those of us that represent Sandy Hook,” Murphy, who is a supporter of Hillary Clinton, said in an interview with POLITICO. “The idea that Sandy Hook families should be completely barred from court is really backwards and unfair.”

Keep in mind that Connecticut’s Democratic presidential primary is April 26, just a week after New York’s. The state’s governor and both of its U.S. senators have already formally endorsed Clinton.

It’s important to note that, in Monday’s interview, Sanders elaborated on his perspective on this issue. After expressing his opposition to lawsuits targeting gun manufacturers, the senator circled back to add some specificity to his position: “In the same sense that if you’re a gun dealer and you sell me a gun and I go out and I kill him [gestures to someone in room]…. Do I think that that gun dealer should be sued for selling me a legal product that he misused? [Shakes head no.] But I do believe that gun manufacturers and gun dealers should be able to be sued when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people. So if somebody walks in and says, ‘I’d like 10,000 rounds of ammunition,’ you know, well, you might be suspicious about that. So I think there are grounds for those suits, but not if you sell me a legal product.”

In other words, the senator’s position has some nuance, even if it’s one of the few issues in which Sanders faces criticism from the left.

Complicating matters further, Paul Waldman explained yesterday that Sanders’ previous approach to the issue points to some relevant shifts.

It gets complicated because of Sanders’ past opposition to gun laws. He opposed the Brady Law, and supported the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a 2005 law that granted gun manufacturers and sellers sweeping immunity from all kinds of lawsuits (Clinton voted against it). He has justified that vote by saying that he wouldn’t want to see “mom and pop” gun stores sued when a gun they sell gets used in a crime, but the truth is that the bill went way beyond that. […]

And here’s what’s really strange: Sanders continues to defend his vote for the PLCAA, even though he recently signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that would repeal it.

The result is a picture that’s a little murky. As the Democratic race continues, it’s an issue that appears ripe for a real, substantive debate.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Gun Manufacturers, Mass Shootings, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scarier Than His Friend Ted Cruz”: Why Right-Wingers Want Sen. Mike Lee On SCOTUS

The Republican battle to make Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland go away, and the efforts to pin down GOP presidential candidates on pre-vetted lists of potential Supremes, have all led to increased speculation about the next justice. At present, there’s a major boom among conservatives for Senator Mike Lee of Utah.

Today the Washington Post‘s James Hohmann offers a rundown on all the reasons Lee is enjoying this attention. For one thing, the Utah senator has long been considered Ted Cruz’s best friend in the upper chamber, so if Cruz is elected, it’s a bit of a no-brainer if Lee wants a robe. For another, Lee would probably have an easier time getting confirmed by his colleagues in the clubby Senate than some law professor or circuit-court judge, and might even avoid a Democratic filibuster (assuming Republicans haven’t already killed the SCOTUS filibuster via the “nuclear option”).

But one of the two most important reasons for the Lee boom is buried pretty far down in the story:

Lee is just 44. That means he could squeeze four or more decades out of a lifetime appointment.

Yep. If nominated next year for the Scalia seat, Lee would be the youngest nominee since Clarence Thomas, who has now been on the Court for nearly a quarter of a century, with many years of extremism probably still ahead of him. Before Thomas, you have to go all the way back to Bill Richardson’s favorite justice, Whizzer White, in 1962, to find a nominee as young as Lee would be. As you may have noticed, life expectancy has been going up for Americans in recent decades. For conservatives seeking a permanent grip on the Court and on constitutional law, someone Lee’s age is money.

But the second reason Lee would be significant is only hinted at by Hohmann in the praise lavished on the solon by the Heritage Foundation and longtime right-wing legal thinker Senator Jeff Sessions (the two most likely sources for SCOTUS advice for Donald Trump, as it happens). Lee’s not just any old “constitutional conservative”; he’s a leading exponent of what is called the Lochner school of constitutional theory, named after the early-twentieth-century decision that was the basis for SCOTUS invalidation of New Deal legislation until the threat of court-packing and a strategic flip-flop resolved what had become a major constitutional crisis.

Lee has, on occasion, suggested that child labor laws, Social Security, and Medicare are unconstitutional, because they breach the eternal limits on federal power sketched out by the Founders. Like most Lochnerians, he views the constitution and the courts as designed to keep democratic majorities from stepping on the God-given personal and property rights of individuals and corporations alike. So it’s no surprise he’s been a bitter critic of the deferential view towards Congress expressed by Chief Justice Roberts in the decision that saved Obamacare.

In effect, Mike Lee could become a more influential successor to Clarence Thomas — after overlapping with Thomas on the Court for a decade or two. If Democratic senators have a problem with that possibility, they might want to begin making noises about it so that at least the supposition that Lee is pretty easily confirmable may be called into question.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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