Saturday, May 31, 2014

Issa backs down

Typical of his nasty nature, Darrell Issa couldn't admit defeat, couldn't even refrain from snide and sarcastic attacks in his own defeat.   But at least he had to back down.

This concerns his obsession with investigating "Benghazi," ad infinitum.    Even Republicans had been saying that he was "going rogue," when he issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify, even after eight other investigations of Benghazi, and even after the Select Committee of the House was formed to do a complete investigation.

Because he quotes John Boehner in his statement, I'm guessing that Boehner finally stepped in and told him to stop and let the Select Committee take over.   At any rate, Issa has released Kerry from the forced appearance before the Oversight Committee . . .  but, oh, so ungraciously !

Kerry made a very smart tactical move last week.    He released a statement saying that he would testify for the Oversight Committee, answering all questions, which would then make it unnecessary for him to testify again for the Select Committee.

This forced Issa into the position of overt competition with the Select Committee, and I'm guessing at that point Boehner stepped in to tell Issa to back off.

But Issa didn't go quietly.   Here's part of his statement:

“Seeing Secretary Kerry and others, who have worked to obstruct critical oversight of Congress’ investigations into Benghazi, attempt to use the upcoming June 12 hearing as a shield against the Select Committee tells me it’s time to reassess. It’s been disappointing to watch a long serving former Senator, like Secretary Kerry, squirm his way to what I’m doing today – releasing him from the upcoming hearing commitment he made only after we issued him a subpoena. . . .

“No matter how long the investigation of a terrorist attack that killed four Americans takes, getting the full truth is what matters. . . .  While Speaker Boehner and I had both originally concluded that Secretary Kerry needed to promptly testify and explain why his Department had withheld subpoenaed documents, neither of us immediately recognized how opponents of congressional oversight would use this as an opportunity to distract from the Select Committee’s effort."
Understand that Kerry is not being excused from testifying -- just shifting it out of Issa's control and to the Select Committee.   But of course that is the problem for Issa.  He lost this chance to exercise his sadism and make the Secretary of State grovel as his feet.
There are many reasons to wish that the Democrats could take back control of the house.   Not the least of them would be to get rid of the despicable Darrell Issa as chair of the Oversight Committee.   His meanness goes over into abuse of power in some instances.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Republican deficit hypocrits

Just three days ago (5/27), I wrote about the Republicans' filibuster that killed the veterans benefits bill in February.   One of the reasons given by one Republican senator was:  "This is not a time to spend money we don't have."

Yet yesterday, the Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee advanced a bill of tax breaks that would add $304 billion to the deficit over 10 years.   This was in addition to the $310 billion in tax loopholes they voted for last month.

Republicans thus want to add $614 billion dollars in tax breaks to the deficit -- but can't find the $24 billion to take care of our veterans.   And then they blame the Obama administration for not taking better care of our veterans.

Despicable hypocrisy !!


NC worse than GA

Here in Georgia, in our Republican dominated state government, we have things like the governor's refusal to expand Medicaid, expanding "carry everywhere" gun laws, ethics shenanigans, manipulation of the process to amend the constitution to let the politicians and corporate interests control charter schools.   And a few other bad things.

But in North Carolina, here's what they've just done.    According to a state legislator interviewed last night by Chris Hayes on msnbc, within a 10 day time frame -- and without any public notice or hearings -- Republicans rushed through a bill that (1) legalizes fracking in NC, where it had not be allowed before;  and (2) makes it illegal, punishable by jail time, to disclose the contents of the fracking fluid.

Reportedly, the governor has said he will sign the bill.   In both houses, committees held no public hearings and didn't even include the issue on their official agendas;  it bypassed the environment committee altogether;  and they seem to be letting the fracking industry write the regulations.

This is clearly an outrage, and the Moral Mondays protest group has been staging sit-ins in the offices of House Speaker/Republican candidate for U. S. Senate, Tom Tillis, who is trying to unseat Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC).    Not only is the railroading process an outrage, Chris raised the question if the criminalization of disclosure even violates the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

When I was growing up in Georgia (and college/med school in North Carolina), we used to say "thank God for Mississippi -- meaning that we weren't the worst of the backward states.   NC always seemed the most liberal of southern states, and I didn't realize how fragile that progressive slant was until Republicans gained control of the state government.

The ray of hope here is that the process of railroading this fracking bill is so outrageous that maybe it will backfire and energize the Democrats to defeat Tom Tillis and re-elect Kay Hagan.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) -- an extraordinary human being

Poet, memoirist, novelist, role model for a generation of black women writers, wise and eloquent advocate for freedom and dignity for all, "warrior for equality, tolerance and peace" -- and so much more -- Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86.

I heard her speak at the 2000 annual Human Rights Campaign dinner in Atlanta.   Her life journey, her hard-earned wisdom, and the way she melded the visionary and the practical, were beautiful.  I felt I had been in the presence of a great soul, more memorable even than the incomparable Bishop Desmond Tutu who had spoken the year before.

Angelou grew up in poverty in the South, was raped as a child, became a single mother as a teenager.   And yet much of the strength of her story lies in the resilience and courage that propelled her out of that potential quagmire, to become a cherished national icon who was invited to the White House to deliver the inaugural poem for one president (Clinton) and to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from another (Obama).  

In awarding that medal to Ms. Angelou, President Obama revealed that his own mother had been so impressed by her that she had named his sister, Maya, for her.

Few people have lived lives of such breadth nor have gone so far.   By the time she was 41 and the author of the 1969 landmark best seller, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou had worked as a streetcar conductor, a cook, managed a brothel, been an interpreter at the United Nations, danced with Alvin Ailey, appeared on Broadway in a two-character play with Geraldine Page, and been a Calypso singer in the movies.   

She had also been a magazine editor in Cairo, an administrative assistant in Ghana, worked in civil rights organizations in the U.S., been a friend to Martin Luther King, Jr. and to Malcolm X., and had a featured role in "Roots," the TV series about slavery.  Nominated for a Tony as a stage actress, and for a Pulitzer Prize for one of her books, she became a friend of Oprah and of Nelson Mandela.

Even more than her life, though, it was her words that made such an indelible impression.   Or perhaps it was the way she used words to evoke the emotional understanding that she had gleaned from her life.   Author of several volumes of autobiographical fiction and several collections of essays, Angelou did not have a college education;  but she has been awarded numerous honorary doctorate degrees and was a long-term, chaired professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Maya Angelou wrote:  "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you;"  and "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, but because it has a song."

And it was that song, that story, that voice, that life well lived, that has graced our world and made it better.   Thank you;   and may you rest in peace, Maya.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Carter vs Deal for governor of Georgia

A new Rasmussen poll of 750 likely voters in Georgia, taken just after the recent primary races, shows challenger Jason Carter leading incumbent Nathan Deal by 48% to 41%.  It's only one poll, and it came before Deal fully pivoted from his primary opponents to focus on his opponent for the general election.

Deal cites his winning 72% of the vote for the Republican nomination as evidence of his popularity.   Carter responds by pointing out that one in four Republican voters chose someone else other than their sitting governor, which isn't very good.

I think Nathan Deal has reason to be worried.   

He's also not being very smart to talk about changing the whistle blower laws -- when a jury has recently awarded $700,000 to the former executive director of the ethics committee that was investigating him and charged that she was forced out of her job for doing just that.

Being experienced at manipulating governmental systems to his advantage, Deal has undoubtedly covered his tracks very well, so that the dirty work can't be traced directly to him.    But the people aren't going to ask: "is he technically clear."   They're going to ask:  "How did he manage to cover up his dirty work?"


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

VA medical care problems #4: "J' accuse"

At the risk of losing readers who are not interested in the "other side" of the current VA medical care "scandal," I'm going to do one more day's blog on this subject.   I haven't quite had my say yet, my J'accuse.

I am not exonerating Democrats or the Obama administration.    Why has this not been making headline news for months?  Even if the basic problem was lack of funding to increase capacity, why did they not do something to get the attention needed?

I will concede that President Obama has had a few too many crisis issues to deal with;  perhaps the Secretary of Veterans Affairs tried to get his attention, and there just wasn't time in the day.

Or, is it perhaps the case that Secretary Shinseki and President Obama were relying on the comprehensive funding bill working its way through the senate as the answer to the needs that they were well aware of?   After all, it was just three months ago that Republicans defeated it.

Whatever blame lies with Democrats and Obama's administration, blame also lies with Republicans in congress.   The same people, who were not troubled in the least that we started two wars and didn't bother to pay for them, now claim that we just can't afford to increase the deficit by paying for the medical care of the soldiers who came home wounded from those wars.

These are the Republicans, the same people who claim to be the true patriots, the same people who started these wars, who opposed ending them, who now want us to get involved in every other troubled spot in the world that comes along where we might swagger in and act tough.   They never seem to worry enough about the cost of that part of it.

What's behind my tirade?    An article by journalist H. A. Goodman, reprinted in the Huffington Post, reminding us of what happened when the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 came to the senate for a vote just last February.

The bill had the backing of all the veterans organizations, the strong support of the Senate Veterans Committee, chaired by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT),   It would have done many things, among them a major reduction in the long waits that have erupted as a "scandal" of the Obama administration's "ineptness."

So what happened?    All the Democrats voted for it, plus four Republicans;   41 Republicans voted against it.  But the resulting 54-41 did not reach the 60 vote threshold to advance it for a yes/no vote.   In other words, the Republicans used the filibuster to kill it.  

Their reasons?    (1)  "This is not a time to spend money we don't have."   (2)  The bill did not include sanctions for Iran that Republicans had demanded be included.

And now these same Republicans turn around and say that our veterans are not getting the care they need because of Democrats' incompetence of management.    In fact, they must be managing pretty well to handle a 50% increase in patient load with only a 9% increase in doctors employed full time.

Republicans, "J'accuse !"    Shame on you for failing to support our veterans;  and shame on you for then blaming the president for not doing his job of taking care of our veterans.


Monday, May 26, 2014

VA medical care problems #3

This information comes from a CREDO petition to senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) demanding that he stop blocking increased funding for veterans benefits, including medical care.

"In February, Senator McConnell blocked the Omnibus Veterans Spending bill from receiving an up-or-down vote in the U.S. Senate, preventing veterans from receiving expanded healthcare benefits, educational opportunities and access to job training programs. His excuse for blocking the bill was that it didn’t include unnecessary sanctions on Iran, which are totally unrelated to veterans’ benefits. . . .

"On Fox News last week, Senator McConnell attacked President Obama over the problems at the Department of Veterans affairs, saying he needs to “step up to the plate” and take responsibility. But he didn’t take any responsibility for his own role in blocking funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and denying healthcare to our veterans.

"The veterans’ spending bill Senator McConnell blocked in February would have improved health and dental care services and allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs to open 27 new clinics and medical facilities. Let’s make sure Senator McConnell knows that blocking veterans from receiving the health care services they deserve is unacceptable."
Sounds like another good issue for McConnell's opponent in the upcoming re-election.   Allison Lundergren Grimes should paint the picture for Kentucky voters:   McConnell deprives veterans of health care and wants to deprive civilians as well in his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.


VA medical care problems #2

At least one news anchor is asking congress about their responsibility in the shameful deficiencies in the VA medical system.    Candy Crowley in her CNN interview with Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairs of the House and Senate committees on veterans affairs, noted that the two committees have held a total of 90 hearings since January 2013, and she asked Miller and Sanders:   Is there not some failure of oversight from your committees?

Let me interject here that in recent years the VA medical system has consistently received high marks from outside observers and from veterans themselves.   It is generally rated higher in quality of care -- for those in the system -- than the private sector.   The current problem is access for new patients getting into the system.

This problem clearly is related to the tremendous upsurge in new patients needing VA care -- a problem that should have been obvious as soon as Bush-Cheney started two wars.  But, like everything else, they did not plan for what happened after their glorious invasion.

As reported in the Huffington Post, Rep. Miller responded:  "Sure, everybody is probably culpable in this.  "We're doing what we've been asked to do. That is to find out the information."

Sen. Sanders pointed out that 2 million new veterans have flooded an already crowded health care system and that extra funding is needed to handle the increase.  "They're treating 6.5 million people a year, 230,000 people every single day. Is there waste in the system? Absolutely.   But at the end of the day, when you have 2 million new veterans coming into the system, some with very difficult and complicated problems, I do think we have to take a hard look and see if we have the resources."

We now know that President Obama has repeatedly asked congress for more money for the discretionary funds the include VA medical services.   Veterans groups have strongly urged separate, dedicated appropriations for VA Health Care so that it does not have to compete with other, politically hot requests from the discretionary fund, as it is done now.   And we now know that Republicans have voted down both requests.

Doesn't this make it clear that Republicans bear some of the responsibility for the debacle in health care for new veterans?    It's not only a problem of numbers, but that seems to be a big part of what led to other problems.  Which means that it should not be used as a political weapon.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another mass shooting . . . as we continue to gut our gun control laws even more

Another shooting massacre, where a mentally disturbed young man took out his vengeance on society.  After it was over, police found 400 rounds of ammunition in his car.   It was in California -- one of our most progressive states -- so Georgia's recent legislative madness of the "guns everywhere" law had nothing to do with it.

Or did it?   Our state borders are very porous, and our cultural mentality knows no boundaries.   We live in an insane gun culture, where the NRA fans the flames of "freedom" and "2nd amendment rights," -- bought and paid for by the the gun manufacturers.  

A large majority of the NRA members, responsible hunters and other gun owners, support some sensible gun control.   The NRA (gun manufacturers) wants to eliminate all regulations.  And  money comes first in this country, no doubt about it.

On the one hand, the NRA tells us that we would be better off with more guns, while many liberals have just given up trying to oppose them and their powerful lobby.  The gun lobby even got the House to pass a law forbidding the CDC to do research on, or even talk about, gun violence as a public health issue.   How is it not a public health issue when these mass, public shootings continue?

But something could be done.   Australia did.

In 1996, there was an awful rampage where 35 people were killed.   And the conservative Australian government did something about it.    Quoting here from a 2012 article in the U.K. edition of Time magazine:
"The then months-old government of conservative Prime Minister John Howard . . . initiated a sweeping set of reforms, even in the face of opposition from allies in Australia’s right wing. The new measures banned the sale and possession of all automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. Moreover, the government instituted a mandatory buyback scheme that compensated owners of newly illegal weapons. Between 1996 and ’98, some 700,000 guns were retrieved by the government and destroyed

"The results have been tangible: A widely cited 2010 study in the American Journal of Law and Economics showed that gun-related homicides in Australia dropped 59% between 1995 and 2006. The firearm-suicide rate dropped 65%. There has been no mass shooting in Australia since the [1996] Port Arthur attack. 

"Americans often argue that their country’s unique political culture and ubiquity of gun ownership make similar anti-gun measures unthinkable. . . .  Yet while the scale is vastly different, the politics ought not be. Like the U.S., Australia is a frontier society built on a rugged, pioneering individualism. . . .  The rhetoric of freedom and liberty is as often voiced by an Australian politico as it is by an American one."
Well . . .   What do you say to this, NRA?   What do you elected officials say?

Australia did it;   we could do it.   The big difference is the power the NRA has over our politicians -- and the relative apathy of the discouraged populace, who feels 'what's the use?'