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Michelle Malkin - VA reform: mission not accomplished

Eight months ago, President Obama put on a grand show for the troops. Surrounded by new Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald, assorted politicians, military leaders and a bevy of TV cameras, the commander in chief signed the "Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act." He's good at inking things.

Obama condemned the "inexcusable conduct" at VA hospitals across the country (and under his own watch). He vowed to "do right by all who served under our proud flag." He promised America's veterans new "reform", "resources", "timely care" and an end to the disgraceful disability backlog.

The bill he signed, in case you'd forgotten, included $10 billion in emergency funding to pay for veterans to go outside the chronically dysfunctional VA system if they are facing long wait times or live 40 miles or more from a VA facility, plus another $6.3 billion to set up 27 new clinics and hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

So, how's it all working out? About as well as every other "success story" Obama has signed his name to: abysmally, ineffectually and incompetently.

Take Obama's hyped plan to expand health care access to those who live far from a VA facility. Obtuse federal bureaucrats interpreted "40 miles" in the narrowest way possible, applied an "as the crow flies" distance rule inconsistently, and excluded untold numbers of vets. It took more than a year — and concerted pressure from veterans groups and GOP lawmakers — for the administration to "clarify" its confused eligibility standards just two weeks ago.

What about "accountability"? Obama bragged last August that "we've already taken the first steps to change the way the VA does business. We've held people accountable for misconduct. ... We should have zero tolerance for that." Looks like the VA bosses in Shreveport, La., didn't get the memo. As Tori Richards of Watchdog.org reported last month, a mental health services worker who exposed use of a secret appointment waiting list there was ignored for a year. Instead of accountability for the wrongdoers, the VA employee who blew the whistle, Army vet Shea Wilkes, became the subject of a criminal investigation.
And how's that new facility construction campaign going? The VA's atrocious complex has been a problem for decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Nothing's changed under the era of hope and change.

Here in Colorado, the new Aurora VA hospital has become another in a long line of government spending cesspools. The $600-million 184-bed facility is now estimated to cost at least $1.7 billion after a reckless parade of design changes, cost overruns and mismanagement — and may not be ready until 2017. "Accountability"? Pfffft. The head of the VA's Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction responsible for the waste was allowed to resign with a full federal pension and retention of nearly $60,000 in bonuses earned during the fiasco.

In Colorado Springs, a sparkling new "cutting edge" VA outpatient clinic opened last year on the promise of reducing wait times. But according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, "11.5 percent of veteran appointments for care in Colorado Springs are delayed by 30 days or more," which is "up from 7 percent" before the $10-million facility opened.

What's next? You know the drill: more congressional hearings, more grandstanding, another "reform" campaign, more posturing in front of cameras, and more screwed-over vets.

Throwing more money and platitudes at the VA to cover up its deadly scandals is a bipartisan Beltway recipe for failure. Recently retired Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the few to object to last year's kabuki "VA reform", was right. "The culture is one of looking good, protecting those in the VA and not protecting our veterans," he said at the time. "You have to have a bill that fixes that. I don't believe this is going to do it."

Mission not accomplished.

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 April 2015 08:08

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Froma Harrop - Good people sometimes back bad laws

A law in Indiana and a bill in Arkansas making life harder for their gay neighbors have lost their wheels in a surprising smashup. Business interests, usually associated with the conservative cause, lowered the boom on "religious freedom" legislation supported by social conservatives.
But we are not here to discuss the Republican rift between economic and religious conservatives. Today's mission is to narrow the far wider gap between liberals and social conservatives. It's to urge liberals holding the fervent belief in the right to same-sex marriage to give the other side a little space to evolve.
Condemning these traditionalists as base bigots is unproductive. Liberals might borrow the sentiment religious conservatives have often applied to homosexuality: Hate the sin, but love the sinner.
Such laws are indeed discriminatory, and nastiness may propel some of their supporters. But many of the backers, though they regard homosexuality as immoral, are not especially hostile toward gay people. Some have been genuinely shocked to hear that they would be considered unkind, unfriendly and bigoted.
There's a tendency in our culture to cluster in communities of like-minded people and throw lightning bolts of disapproval over the walls into other like-minded communities. But where possible, persuasion beats condemnation every time.
The train to legalized gay marriage is unstoppable, so let it continue rolling at a comfortable pace. When Massachusetts first permitted same-sex marriage in 2004, pollsters asked that state's residents whether they defined marriage as something between a man and a woman. A majority said yes.
Most of the respondents' answers in 2004 reflected not an animosity toward gay people but rather a traditional view of marriage. A poll asking the same question today would undoubtedly find a majority in Massachusetts saying "not necessarily".
To my gay friends who regard the ability to marry another of the same sex as a basic human right, I hear you. But you must concede that the path for widespread legalization of same-sex marriage — starting in liberal places, such as Massachusetts, and then expanding one state at a time as more Americans became comfortable with the idea — has been quite effective.
To my liberal friends of whatever sexual orientation, you and social conservatives share a few areas of common interest. This is territory you can meet on if you don't employ a scorched-earth policy every time you disagree.
The environment is one example. The Christian Coalition of America has fought efforts by fossil fuel interests and utilities to slap taxes on solar panels. In explaining its position, the coalition's president wrote, "We recognize the biblical mandate to care for God's creation and protect our children's future." Whatever the hearer's spiritual bent, those words are among the most beautiful statements of the environmentalist creed ever made.
White evangelicals may be more conservative on other issues than the population at large, but 64 percent told pollsters for LifeWay Research that they favor comprehensive immigration reform. Some of their church leaders have been among the most vocal proponents of a humanitarian approach to fixing the immigration laws.
The battle against casinos seems a lost cause, but Christian conservatives have led the good fight. Gambling as a means to raise government revenues is immoral, they say, and one reason is that it fleeces the most economically vulnerable members of the community.
What liberals and religious conservatives share is a belief that many of our most important values can't be measured in dollars. One can't paper over these groups' divergent worldviews. But while their advocates might not expect to embrace very often, they should preserve enough common ground to hold hands once in a while.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 April 2015 10:06

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Pat Buchanan - Diversity or meritocracy?

A voracious and eclectic reader, President Nixon instructed me to send him every few weeks 10 articles he would not normally see that were on interesting or important issues.

In 1971, I sent him an essay from The Atlantic, with reviews by Time and Newsweek, by Dr. Richard Herrnstein. My summary read: "Basically, (Herrnstein) demonstrates that heredity, rather than environment, determines intelligence — and that the more we proceed to provide everyone with a 'good environment' the more heredity will become the dominant factor ... in their success and social standing."

In a 1994 obituary, The New York Times wrote that Herrnstein, though he "was often harassed ... and his classes at Harvard were disrupted," never recanted his heresy. He wrote "I.Q. and Meritocracy" in 1973, and in 1994 co-authored with Charles Murray the hugely controversial "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life."

What brought this back was a piece buried in the "B" section of The Washington Post about the incoming class at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia.

TJ High is an elite magnet school that admits students based on their academic aptitude and achievement and offers "courses in differential equations, artificial intelligence and neuroscience."

According to the Post, 70 percent of the incoming freshmen are Asians, the highest percentage ever for a school already 60 percent Asian. Ten years ago, the student body was 32 percent Asian.

White students make up 29 percent of the school today, but are only 22 percent of the entering class. The class of 2019 will have 346 Asians and 102 whites, but only 12 Hispanics and 8 blacks.

Of the 2,841 applicants for 2015, one in four Asians was admitted and one in eight whites, but only one in 16 Hispanics and one in 25 black students. Of low-income students, only one in 33 applicants got in.

What do these numbers tell us?

Thomas Jefferson High is a meritocracy where the ideological dictates of "diversity" do not apply. Second, Asian students, based either on nature or nurture, heredity or environment, or both, are, as of today, superior in the hard sciences to other ethnic groups.

These numbers suggest that as Asian Americans rise from 5 percent of the U.S. population to 15, they are going to dominate the elite high schools and colleges devoted to STEM studies: science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

And in the professions built around expertise in science and technology, to which private and public capital will be directed, the social standing of Asian Americans is going to rise, leaving black, Hispanic, low-income and poor Americans further behind.

In the Post article, there is no breakdown of which Asian minorities excelled. In international competitions among high school students, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are the top scorers, above Filipinos, Vietnamese and Indonesians.
Two years ago, an activist group filed a complaint against Fairfax County with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights alleging that the admissions process at TJ High discriminates against blacks, Hispanics and the poor.

But as the white share of the student body at TJ High is falling fastest, if there is discrimination, the admissions process must be giving an unfair break to Asians. For it is Asians who are the biggest beneficiaries of what is going on at the school.

Why are Asian kids succeeding spectacularly? Is it because they are naturally talented at STEM studies? Is it because they have a better work ethic? Is it because their parents demand they get their homework done and monitor their grades? Is it because far fewer Asians come from broken homes?

It cannot be that Asians have been more privileged. Chinese laborers in the Old West were terribly treated. Japanese were excluded and put into camps during World War II. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos and Vietnamese here are largely from families that endured the hell of the Asian wars of the 20th century.

And while Fairfax County generously supports its school, it does not spend what D.C. does. And how are D.C. schools doing?

The Post reported yesterday: "Only 58 percent of D.C. students graduate high school within four years, and only about half of students are proficient in reading and math."

So how is TJ High responding to its Asian problem?

Jeremy Shughart, admissions director at TJ, has a committee "reviewing the application process to improve diversity at the school." Says Shughart, "The committee is looking at a variety of admissions components and making recommendations for possible adjustments to future admissions cycles. ... (We) will continue to work on increasing diversity at TJHSST and will continue to pursue outreach efforts to ensure talented underrepresented populations of students with a passion for math and science consider, apply to, and attend... Fairfax County Public Schools believes in the value of diversity."

That is bureaucratic gobbledygook for saying they are going to start looking closer at the race and ethnicity of student applicants and begin using this criteria to bring in some — and to reject others.

Race discrimination, against Asians, is coming to Fairfax County.

(Syndicated columnist Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book "The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.")

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 April 2015 07:29

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Cracraft - My ignorance is as good as your knowledge

When this writer was going through U.S. Army basic training, the drill sergeant said to the platoon: "I need four people with a college degree or at least two years of college to volunteer for a detail with brains." Your writer was a military brat so even though he had two years of college at the time, he knew the age-old adage in the service: "never volunteer for anything." But some other guys fell for it and after the drill sergeant asked about their degrees, they were sent to clean the latrine.
Of course, like all his comrades, he thought it was funny at the time, being the 19 year-old he was. Funny and harmless perhaps, but, such humor reflects a tragic, dangerous anti-intellectualism, that permeates American culture. It comes in the form of smart and "nerdy" kids being bullied in school. It is reflected in such clichés as "must be one of them college boys." Or, "I didn't graduate from high school but I know more than them guys with a fancy degree." One of the most offensive bumper stickers this writer has seen reads: "my kid beat up your honor student."
It is also reflected in the current war on science and public education. It also accounts for the amount of "junk" science and the number of "big lies" believed by people in the most literate country in the world.
Actually, this attitude is firmly rooted in our traditions. Since we believe that "all men are created equal", many Americans seem to think that it follows that "all ideas are created equal" and that even the wackiest should given "equal time". This attitude can best be summed up as "my ignorance is just as valid as your knowledge."
Also, we have tradition of self-educated people. An example would be Ben Franklin, who had only two years of formal education. At the same time, Ben was pro-science and did not promote a lot of wacky theories. He was a rational man, very different than some people who educate themselves on questionable science.
While everyone in America is free to express an opinion. It does not mean all opinions are equally valid. There is a lot of "junk" science and "junk" knowledge in general. For instance, many American believe that crystals can heal. There are numerous people who believe the extraterrestrials regularly visit our planet.
Or, consider the "Birthers" who have convinced at least a quarter of Americans that Obama is not a citizen in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Do such people deserve the same respect and attention as those who disagree with them? Or what about the "death panels" which have been proven to be false?
Of course, when an academic objects, he or she is open to criticism by the right about "radical" academics and why they should not be teaching. Apparently, teachers do not have a right to an opinion! These people claim they know more about this stuff than any "college boy." The same people often blame teachers for everything that is wrong with the USA.
Many think that Climate Change is hoax made up radical environmentalists in spite of the findings of 99 percent of climatologists. This is not just ordinary ignorance which can be corrected with information. This is WILLFUL ignorance that is dangerous.
Then, there are the conservative Christians who demand that creation "science" be taught as a legitimate scientific "theory" in classrooms. In this area, there are those who think Copernicus was wrong. Christianity is not the only religion that promotes bad science. There are Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia who believe the earth is flat.
Nor are science conspiracy theories confined to conservatives; a large proportion of those in the anti-vaccination movement for example, are college-educated, suburban, liberal "soccer moms." Many opponents of GMOs are on the left. There is nothing inherently evil about GMOs themselves. In fact, genetically altered seeds may the answer to feeding the world's population.
In America we claim we value education, science, and an empirical search for truth but actions often speak louder than words.
(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford).

Last Updated on Monday, 06 April 2015 08:05

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Sen. Jeanie Forrester - Cash assistance reform

Last week Senate Bill 169, relative to the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis. This is the same bill that I sponsored last session that the Senate also passed on a bipartisan basis but the bill ultimately failed in the House. SB-169 directs those who receive benefits for food and other essentials, to make responsible choices in how they spend taxpayer dollars. It prohibits spending benefit dollars on alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, firearms, adult entertainment and tattoos.

What prompted the legislation to begin with was a September 2013 Legislative Budget Office performance audit on the use of Electronic Benefits Cards in New Hampshire. The audit showed most EBT spending goes towards necessary living expenses, like rent, food, and health care. But it also found that 78 percent of funds were withdrawn as cash at ATMs, with no accounting of how those funds are spent.

The audit made 10 recommendations to the Division of Family Assistance (DFA), the agency that administers the EBT program. Two of the recommendations required legislative action. The first recommendation was to clearly outline the goals of cash assistance in statute and direct the DFA to adopt administrative rules for restrictions on the use of cash assistance and align them with state law. The second recommendation was to consider whether there should be further restrictions on the use of cash assistance.

As background, the DFA is responsible for administering several cash assistance programs that are available to low income individuals and families. To administer these programs, DFA has several options on how to disperse the benefits, one of which is through the EBT card. If a cash assistance recipient also receives food stamps (a federal benefit that may also be provided to low income individuals and families), these benefits are put onto the same card. Unlike food stamps which are subject to significant federal restrictions, there is no state law defining restrictions nor does the DFA clearly define the objectives of the cash assistance programs or the specific types of items for which the assistance is intended to be used.

If Senate Bill 169 becomes law, it will prohibit the purchase of tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, firearms, or adult entertainment with EBT funds. Further the EBT card could not be used at business establishments primarily engaged in the practice of body piercing, branding, or tattooing. EBT cards could still be used at gas stations, grocery stores, and anywhere that accepts debit and credit cards.

The bill also directs the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services to report to the Fiscal Committee on the adoption and implementation of restrictions on the use of cash assistance. The report would include an outline of the goals of cash assistance, review applicable state and federal regulations governing restrictions on the use of cash assistance, summarize the department's finding regarding enforcement, and make recommendations relative to the regulation of cash assistance programs. The report would also include an education plan for recipients regarding the permissible and prohibited use of cash assistance.

For some legislators, this bill does not go far enough; for others, they believe it goes too far. Some believe that the state should not be telling recipients of state cash assistance how to spend this benefit nor restrict its use. One legislator testified that by allowing recipients to use the funds for gambling or the purchase of alcohol, that we would be generating revenue for the state. Other legislators believe that there should be photo ID on the card and a total elimination of being able to withdraw cash.

Most folks don't abuse these state benefits that are made possible by taxpayer funding. But when 78 percent of EBT funds are withdrawn in cash with no accounting of how the funds are spent, it is the legislature's responsibility to assure state funds are being used in a responsible fashion. Currently our state law does not clearly address where those cash benefits could or could not be used. By aligning our state laws with federal laws on restricted use and informing recipients about those restrictions, we take a step in the right direction in assuring limited resources are used correctly.

(Meredith Republican Jeanie Forrester represents district 2 in the New Hampshire Senate.)

Last Updated on Friday, 03 April 2015 08:57

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