Your Virtual Front Page, Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sorry I haven’t given you anything new today. Been busy. Of course, there are some posts from yesterday with no comments, so I don’t feel too bad. I mean, ya gotta meet me halfway, people. I need positive reinforcement.

Anyway, here’s your first VFP in a while:

  1. Russia’s $400B gas deal with China, dulls sanctions’ impact (WashPost) — Nobody else is leading with this right now, but I think they’re wrong. This looks to be the most significant thing happening out there, in strategic terms.
  2. Solar shining after dark ages ( — Were this The State and not my blog, this would likely be the lead. The SC House unanimously passed a bill designed to boost solar power in our state. A victory for SC environmentalists (and maybe for consumers), and a defeat for the out-of-state solar industry people who fought it.
  3. U.S. Sends Troops to Help in Hunt for Nigerian Girls (NYT) — It’s only 80 Air Force people, not anybody who might go toe-to-toe with the terrorists, but maybe it will help. Meanwhile, Boko Haram is believed to have killed 48 people in three villages.
  4. At VA,‘if there is misconduct it will be punished’ (WashPost) — That’s POTUS speaking.
  5. Justices weigh Missouri execution (The Guardian) — I continue to be fascinated by the Brits’ fascination with our increasingly peculiar institution, the death penalty. I learn about developments on that front from reading British publications, when U.S. papers are basically ignoring them, or downplaying them.
  6. Newberry Sheriff’s Office issues BOLO for missing horse ( — Are we in a western here, or what? What’s the sheriff gonna do once he runs down the thieving, rustling varmint?



39 thoughts on “Your Virtual Front Page, Wednesday, May 21, 2014

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    I think it’s great someone cares enough to help reunite a horse and its owner. From the looks of the horse, he should be hard to conceal.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Sure. I just can’t stop picturing a forlorn cowboy, standing around in the sheriff’s office spinning sad little circles with his lariat, passing the time waiting for news…

  2. bud

    The energy market is global so if you deny access to one market supply will eventually find demand. That’s one reason, although not the main one, why all this talk of shipping US gas to Europe is such a non-starter. The main reason this won’t work is simply that we don’t have excess capacity. We pretty much use all that we produce and that will be the case for the foreseeable future.

  3. bud

    The VA situation is probably the first bona-fide scandal of the Obama administration. I’m sure Darrell Issa is licking his chops at the prospect.

    1. Silence

      Well, the VA situation and Benghazi, and killing Americans without due process via military airstrikes, and lying about being able to keep your insurance, and your doctor, etc….

  4. Doug Ross

    Has there ever been a political screw up at the Federal level where a President came out and said something like “You know what, the problem at the VA may not be the direct fault of Secretary Shinseki, but it happened on his watch. He’s gone.”

    No, instead we get a month of fact finding (apparently all the fact finding done by the media isn’t evidence enough). Some low ranking bureaucrat will take early retirement and then the Democrats will say “Move on.. that was a month ago… it’s old news.”

    Zero accountability. And BONUSES being paid to government employees for doing their jobs! I can’t think of any situation where a government employee should get a bonus. When there are metrics involved in a bonus, the natural tendency is to manage to those metrics even if it means lying or cheating — same thing happened with high stakes testing.

    Fire Shinseki… eliminate a couple billion dollar bombers and missiles from the defense budget and shift that money to treating wounded warriors right.

    1. Doug Ross

      “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Obama’s comments “wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems” plaguing the VA health-care system.

      “We need answers, leadership and accountability, none of which we’ve seen from the Obama Administration to date,” McCain said in a statement.”

    2. Doug Ross

      What we are seeing are the typical scandals that plague second term Presidents. Obama is going to be battered between now and November. Republicans will possibly win control of both houses (and Democrats will blame the Koch brothers). Obama’s “Hope and Change” of 2008 will be a distant memory come next January. By then, he’ll be a lame duck with zero political capital to barter.

    3. Bryan Caskey

      You know, Obama claims to have an extraordinary level of anger about each new scandal, and yet then orders the bureaucracy to engage in ordinary CYA procedures in response to each.

      Is not extraordinary interest usually matched by extraordinary actions?

      The thing is, bureaucracies respond to pressure. They respond to pressure in the form of criticism, angry phone calls, press inquiries and public scrutiny. Left alone, out of the spotlight, bureaucracies do what any guild will do – focus on its own interests and not much on the public interest. The priorities of any bureaucracy are:

      1. Protect the phoney-baloney jobs. (Survival) I don’t really blame them for this. It’s the natural instinct of any organism to survive. But, this means protecting the worst employees.

      2. Do as little work as possible. Now again, this is natural. You could call it conserving energy, or allocating resources. The point is, when left alone, any bureaucracy will (while following Rule #1) do as little actual work as possible.

      3. Expand power and turf. Now this seems to contradict Rule #2, but every system wants to grow. The higher up and more important you are, the harder you are to fire. If you mess up as a janitor, you can be fired. If you mess up as the head of the department, you get more staff. It’s natural. Budgets must be consumed, or they’ll be reduced. That’s why bonuses are paid to the employees. It’s in the budget…so it has to be done.

      My point is, for bureaucracies to do anything other than serve their self-interests, there has to be an outside force. Something external has to push on them. Now, it’s obvious that Obama isn’t interested in applying pressure. He’s supportive of the bureaucratic system. But normally, when the President won’t apply the pressure himself, the press steps in to apply pressure. The press would either apply pressure to the President himself, and he would apply pressure (to protect his job) or the press would apply pressure directly to the agency.

      But today’s press won’t do this. Yeah, there’s a few paragraphs about the VA, but there’s no real action. Nothing is happening. There’s a commission to study the previous studies. Oh yeah, that will put the fear of God into everyone. They’re going to investigate themselves! I wonder what the results will be.

      Hey, the folks in the press like a large government. I get that. That’s fine, but by loving the government too much, the press is essentially causing the government to fail. By wishing it to succeed too much — and covering up all its manifest failures — they have caused it to fail misbehave even more spectacularly.

      It’s like the girlfriend who keeps covering for her abusive boyfriend. By covering for him over and over, she enables him. She’s signaling to him that it’s fine to behave poorly, and maybe, even if she hopes that he’s going to start cleaning up around the house, or stop staying out all night drinking, he’s going to continue doing what he wants. Ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.

      All of the above is why I am in favor of bureaucracies that are as small as possible and only have as much power as is absolutely necessary.

  5. Doug Ross

    What the VA fiasco has also exposed is the reality of single payer healthcare. Long wait times and rationing of care will be the side effect of any single payer plan as will systemic coverups within the bureaucracy to make things appear better than they are. We would see two healthcare systems in single payer – one for those who can only afford the minimally adequate “free” care and one for those who can pay for better service.

    1. Doug Ross

      From Andrew Sullivan:

      “Likewise, once famously social democratic Sweden has seen a rise in private health coverage in parallel to the state system because of long delays to receive care. “It’s quicker to get a colleague back to work if you have an operation in two weeks’ time rather than having to wait for a year,” privately insured Anna Norlander told Sveriges Radio[.] An article in The Local noted that “visitors are sometimes surprised to learn about year-long waiting times for cancer patients.””

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Sure, if you can afford it, private is better. Everybody gets health care in Sweden eventually, though

        1. Doug Ross

          So does everyone in the VA system. Sometimes “eventually” means you see the coroner instead of the oncologist.

            1. Bryan Caskey

              Why do we segregate the veterans, anyway? Why not just fold them into the standard federal employee system that we have now? You’d have to tweak that system a little, but you’d get rid of the redundancy of the VA.

              Why does the VA have to have it’s own hospitals? It administers the GI Bill, and the VA doesn’t own a whole string of colleges – why hospitals?

              You want to get veterans better treatment? Timely treatment? It’s really very simple.

              1) Figure out the highest, private-market insurance reimbursement rate for a given procedure.

              2) Give all vets federal health insurance where the reimbursement rate is 10% higher than the above highest rate. This would make vets the most profitable group to serve and thus they would go to the front of any line.

      2. bud

        Seriously Doug, you’re actually suggesting the American system is superior to Sweden’s???? Wow. Given the poor outcomes and by far the most expensive cost of our system, which by the way is slowly improving thanks to the ACA, it is laughable to suggest the Swedes are worse off than we are. A poor Swede is far better off than a poor South Carolinian. That’s no even a close call.

          1. bud

            The Swedes laugh at the absurdity of the American system. I’m sure if a poll were to be conducted the Swedes would prefer their system over ours by 100-1.

    2. bud

      No, what the VA fiasco exposes is the failure of libertarian-esc defunding of healthcare systems like the VA. Of course folks are dying in droves in states that have refused the Medicaid money because the folks in the donut hole cannot get proper treatment. But does that ever rise to the level of scandal? NOOOO. Because Fox News won’t cover the many failures of the GOP-led states who rejected the money. And unless Fox News covers something it won’t get into the echo chamber and thus will not become an issue. In the meantime the rich get richer off the sweat of the exploited working-class and the poor die.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I was going to comment that you were thinking a Whiter Shade of Pale, but given the seriousness of the Boko Nuts, it felt a bit like my dad’s “one liners” about Al Qaeda after 9/11

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Look who’s talking. But seriously, folks… I actually was thinking, “Nights in White Satin,” because I get those songs confused, but YouTube straightened me out.

        I’m not making a joke when I say that “Boko Haram” makes me think of “boko maru” every time I see it. How could it not?

  6. Doug Ross

    These are the types of people who make organized religion a laughingstock:–andrew-elementary-school-catholic-church-174036424.html

    “The principal at a Pennsylvania Catholic school has issued a heartfelt apology for using a photo of daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres on an invitation to an Oscar-themed graduation dance, because DeGeneres is a “poor role model,” according to a school email forwarded to
    DeGeneres has been openly gay since 1997 when she came out on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and has been married to actress Portia de Rossi since 2008. The invite for the June 8 dance features a photo of DeGeneres holding an Academy Award with text that reads, “Live from the red carpet. The 2014 Eighth Grade Graduation Dance.”

    But that’s not all. Principal Nancy Matteo of Saint Andrew Catholic Elementary School in the Philadelphia suburb of Newtown wants parents to know it was “completely wrong” to use the photo because DeGeneres “lives her life outside the teachings of the Catholic Church. the email, Matteo admitted that she was “obviously NOT thinking” when she allowed the invitations to be distributed. “Perhaps I was distracted by the Oscar,” she confessed. “A role model, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is a person who is unusually effective or inspiring in some social role, job, position, etc. This does not describe her at all. We work so hard to be good role models and then I go and do something stupid!”

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    On the VA controversy…

    That’s one of those stories that kind of snuck up on me. That’s because the first few times I saw a reference to it, I failed to differentiate it from the fact that people are ALWAYS complaining about the VA. It was ever thus.

    By the time I realized that this was something bigger than the usual negativity about VA, I had missed what started all this, so I need to catch up. I’m hunting for an “in case you just joined us” kind of story, and I’m finding things like this, but I still haven’t found the spark that lit the current blowup. Was there a report, or a particularly riveting anecdote, or what? What put this on the front burner?

    Probably everybody but me knows the answer, which is why I’m asking…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      OK, here’s the earliest thing I find in the NYT:

      Employees at a veterans medical clinic in Fort Collins were instructed to falsify records to make it appear that patients were getting appointments close to the day requested, according to investigators from the Department of Veterans Affairs medical branch. Workers at the clinic were told to make their records show that veterans got appointments within 14 days of the day requested, whether or not it was true, according to the investigation, first reported by USA Today. The department is already under fire over allegations that up to 40 patients may have died while awaiting care at a veterans hospital in Phoenix. The problems prompted the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to describe the tenure of the Veterans Affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, as “a stunning period of dysfunction.” The American Legion and several Republican lawmakers, including Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, called for Mr. Shinseki’s resignation.

      And this snippet from a later story helps me see the pattern a little better:

      The increasing reports of misconduct at numerous veterans hospitals other than Phoenix in recent weeks have prompted outrage among members of both parties demanding swift action….

      But in the end, trust an editorial board to take the step back that you need to see what’s happening:

      The allegations that veterans’ hospitals around the country manipulated data or created secret waiting lists to hide long delays are disgraceful. Those concerns initially focused on veterans’ medical facilities in Phoenix, but now involve 26 facilities in several states, including Colorado, Texas and Wyoming.

      Richard Griffin, the acting inspector general of veterans affairs, is now working with federal prosecutors to determine if criminal acts occurred in Phoenix. There have been allegations that as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting care and that the delays may have contributed to their deaths. None of the charges have been verified; Mr. Griffin’s report is expected in August.

      The department runs the largest health care group in the country, overseeing 1,700 hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other facilities. Critics say it is an entrenched, sclerotic bureaucracy that suffers from a lack of innovation and a structure in which the health care and disability divisions are often working at cross purposes.

      Those problems have been compounded by the flow of service members returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as policy changes affecting victims of Agent Orange, which brought thousands more veterans into the system.

      By the way, that’s one of the consistently valuable things about editorials, something a lot of people miss. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with an editorial’s conclusions or not — you still get value from reading it, because it steps away from the story and provides an overview of an issue, a perspective you don’t get often enough from news stories.

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    And why am I looking primarily at the NYT for answers? Because their “Times Topics” feature is usually really helpful when I want to get my bearings on how a story has developed. But it wasn’t as helpful this time as usual…

    That’s because I’m looking at the “Veterans” page, which is overly broad. Apparently, no editor has yet decided that there needs to be a separate “VA Hospitals Scandal of 2014” page, or whatever they choose to call it…


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