Iowa Senator Says of VA Officials in Hospital Scandal: “Throw the Bums Out!”

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Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following comment on the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki over medical care wait times at veterans facilities.  Grassley has co-sponsored legislation that would make it easier to fire senior employees at the department for poor performance.  He also urged the Veterans Affairs secretary not to allow employees to be assigned to long periods of paid leave as a result of the scandal that, in effect, result in extended paid vacations.  When the allegations were first reported about the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, he called upon the inspector general to conduct a thorough nationwide review of the Veterans Affairs health care network.

“When problems in a department are widespread, the top leadership bears ultimate responsibility for the management shortcomings that let it happen.   But this can’t be the end of the story.  The problems will still be there after this resignation, and they need to be fixed.  Everyone in the department who was responsible should go.   The Senate should take up the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act that the House passed last week to help make that possible.   That legislation makes it easier to fire senior Veterans Affairs employees over poor performance.  I’m co-sponsoring the Senate companion bill.  Too often, a resignation at the top becomes an excuse for a president to abandon reforms and escape accountability.  This resignation doesn’t change anything.  It doesn’t give President Obama a free pass to move on.”

Our National Economy to Grow Dimmer!

Say good-bye to Reddy.
Say good-bye to Reddy.

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi Delivers Weekly Republican Address

‘If [the Obama Administration] succeeds in death by regulation, we’ll all be paying a lot more money for electricity – if we can get it. Our pocketbook will be lighter, but our country will be darker.’

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the eve of next week’s expected announcement regarding President Obama’s proposed national energy tax, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming says the Administration has set out to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs.     

 

“President Obama and those who control the Senate have been doing a lot of polling and focus groups and have come up with a proposal to take money from those they define as rich and give it to a few college graduates within a group who have student loan debt.

 

“The left is masterful at buying votes with other people’s money, but knocking a few dollars off the average monthly college loan payment does not make up for the policies they have enacted that make it harder for businesses to create jobs and Americans to make a living.

 

“There are better ways to help graduates and other Americans who want a better life. We need to rapidly expand the job market.

 

“Republicans know Americans deserve better from Washington. Republicans have proposals to help employers create more jobs and help students access a good education. We know when you give Americans new opportunities, they achieve far more than anyone could imagine.

 

“From what I’ve seen of the early versions of the Democratic student loan plan, it would not make college more affordable, it would not reduce the amount of money students will have to borrow, or do anything about the lack of jobs grads face in the Obama economy. The proposal would increase the federal debt (it’s already $17 trillion) it would increase it by $400 billion more. The only way to claim it wouldn’t is to use more phony accounting.

 

“The proposal would also set a dangerous precedent by making private debt into public debt, not to mention that it would enact a job-destroying tax that the Senate’s already rejected.

 

“Republicans have introduced bills designed to enable more high school students to attend a college of their choice while creating jobs, while eliminating regulations that don’t make a difference and forms required just for the sake of curiosity.

 

“The more involved the federal government becomes in something, the more it seems to cost. Health care is an example.

 

“In the early days of selling his health care plan, the President said it was going to bring health care prices down. I warned then that we would see massive increases in not only what patients pay, but also what the federal government has to pay.

 

”Now many people’s premiums are up and continuing to climb. The IRS prepares to collect heavy health care taxes. This may be the most expensive free lunch in our nation’s history.

 

“There are better ways to ensure more people have improved, affordable health care. GOP senators have introduced measures that would repair the damage. We would protect take-home pay by restoring the 40-hour work week. We would encourage businesses to hire more people without penalty.

 

“I want to repeal the ‘Unaffordable’ Health Care Act and replace it with common-sense, patient-centered reforms that let you keep your doctor, that let you choose your hospital, that reduces health care costs and increases access to affordable, high-quality care that you and your doctor agree on.

 

“We’ve introduced plans that would do that. The Administration and Senate majority favor costly government-centered mandates and regulations. They’re building a system that, as one health insurance executive puts it, would ‘break people away from the choice habit’ and ‘fixation on open access.’

 

“America was built on citizens having the freedom to make choices that best fit them as individuals. That’s what Republican education, Republican health care, and other proposals do.

 

“Energy is another key area where we need policy changes.

 

“The Administration has set out to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs. If it succeeds in death by regulation, we’ll all be paying a lot more money for electricity – if we can get it. Our pocketbook will be lighter, but our country will be darker.

 

“The Administration also slow walks approval of domestic oil and gas production. It’s death by delay for the Keystone XL Pipeline. We all want clean air and clean water. We don’t want costly regulations that make little or no difference, that are making things less affordable. Republicans want electricity and gas when you need it, at a price you can afford.

 

“Students, recent graduates and all of us don’t have to let ourselves be ruled by executive orders without basis in law, for agency mandates that cost without benefit and policies where only the federal government is smart enough to make your decisions.

 

“America works best when Americans are making their own choices.

 

“Americans are inventive. Let’s free our students with policies that provide opportunity. Don’t handcuff them with ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ That kind of help will only hold them back.

 

“Quit holding Americans, particularly students, hostage to government gifts for which they will ultimately have to pay a high price.

 

The Isaan Diet.

 

William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft

In America you can’t catch a break if you’re fat.  Chairs start to break under you, or you get stuck on a low sofa and need help getting up out of it.  You have to ask for a seat belt extension when you fly.  Red Lobster will not supersize anything.  And DI never has your pants size.

At the risk of sounding misogynistic, I will simply state that fat men don’t get to date super models.  America was once a country where a whale like William Howard Taft could become president and have a special bathtub installed in the White House to accommodate his girth; but today if you have a double chin you’re treated like a pariah.

So be it; I grew tired of fighting such prejudice and went back to my old missionary haunts in Thailand. The Thais like fat people, and I immediately found Joom, a lovely Thai woman, my age, who was delighted to be squired around by a chubby “farang” (foreigner).  She rubbed my ample tummy for good luck prior to buying national lottery tickets.  She rejoiced in cooking me thick and fiery coconut milk curries that took my breath away.  She affectionately compared me to the full moon, I was so round and mellow.

I asked her to marry me.  Immediately I noticed a sea change.  The lovely, creamy curries disappeared.  She didn’t rub my tummy any more, since lottery tickets were strictly for flighty single women.  Now she insisted I go on an Isaan diet to lose weight.  Isaan is the northeastern part of Thailand, cheek by jowl with Cambodia.  Joom came from Isaan.  I meekly obeyed.  She fed me somtum; green papaya salad prepared with a mortar and pestle.  I ate dried squid, grilled Cajun-style until it was black and as chewable as a vinyl raincoat.  There were mounds of laab, a piquant minced pork dish that is traditionally served raw – one look of horror from me and Joom took pity and fried it for my benefit.  All the sticky rice I wanted and plenty of fresh rambutan and raw Thai eggplant. The only condiment she allowed me was homemade fermented fish sauce; it is not pleasant to recall how it was made.  That is the Isaan diet, and I actually lost weight.  My pants had to be taken in . . . several times!  I began emailing all my pals back home about the upcoming nuptials.

Then Joom left.  She returned to a far corner of Isaan to take care of her elderly, ailing mother.  I couldn’t leave my teaching job to accompany her. The buses did not run to her tiny hamlet.  She said she’d come back some day – but that was six years ago.  Eventually I moved back to the States. And tried to forget both Joom and her Isaan diet.

Hey, pass me another Ding Dong, will ya?

Sudan Reveals the Brutal Face of Religious Intolerance.

Of the Spanish Inquisition.
Of the Spanish Inquisition.

FROM DESERET NEWS CORPORATION.

WASHINGTON — Sudan’s embassy has issued a defiant statement claiming the pending execution of a 28-year-old woman accused of apostasy “remains a legal issue and not a religious or a political one.”

The woman, described in a BBC news report as Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag, but referred to by the embassy as “Mariam Ibrahim Yahia,” gained worldwide attention when it was revealed the then-pregnant doctor was under a death sentence for having refused to renounce Christianity.

Ibrahim reportedly was born to a Muslim father and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, although the embassy statement declares both parents are Muslims, and that “her family” filed a charge of apostasy against her after a 2011 marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian who holds dual U.S. and Sudanese citizenship. The couple also has a 20-month-old son, Martin, who is imprisoned with Ibrahim in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.

According to a news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “Her father left the family when she was six years old and she was subsequently brought up as a Christian by her mother. … Morning Star news reported that Mrs. Ibrahim testified before the court on March 4 that she is a life-long Christian, producing her marriage certificate, where she is classified as Christian, as evidence.”

Ibrahim faces 100 lashes and then execution after she gives birth. Her newborn daughter arrived early Tuesday morning in the Khartoum prison, the Guardianreported. She is also charged with adultery for marrying a non-Muslim, the penalty for which is lashing.

“The charges against her are a violation of her right to freedom of religion or belief, guaranteed under Sudan’s interim constitution and in the covenants to which Sudan is party,” said Mervyn Thomas, CSW chief executive.

CSW has launched a social media action campaign, #SaveMeriam, to seek her release. Christianity Todaymagazine reports more than 1 million people have signaled their support for Ibrahim: “(M)ore than 620,000 actions have been taken via Amnesty International to appeal Ibrahim’s death sentence. A Change.org petition has gathered more than 414,000signatures, while the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has gathered more than 236,000 signatures.”

London’s Daily Mail newspaper, however, suggests a more crass motive for the apostasy charges, an effort to cash in on a business Ibrahim started.

Ibrahim’s “half brother and half sister — who had not seen her for decades — tracked her down so they could get rid of her and take over her successful general store, Meriam’s lawyers alleged,” the Mail reported.

On May 16, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, and Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, wrote Secretary of State John F. Kerry urging him to give “immediate action and full diplomatic engagement to offer Meriam political asylum and to secure her and her son’s safe release.” Presumably, the request would now also cover the newborn child.

The Door-to-Door Salesman. Remember Him?

 

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Long before telemarketers invaded our privacy, husky young men rang the doorbell constantly during good weather, asking the lady of the house, with a grin as insincere as a political endorsement, “is your mother home, missy?”  Door-to-Door salesmen infested my childhood neighborhood, where they were abused, misunderstood, and ignored.  It was a tough way to make a living, but tens of thousands of young men, and some not so young, made a living at it.
Who now remembers the Fuller Brush man? These pesky invaders liked to show up during my mother’s favorite soap opera in the afternoons. Usually banished outside to play for the day, I often watched the progress of these footloose hucksters as they went from one door to the next until they reached our door. They never got anywhere with old Benny on the corner – he was a crusty bachelor. Then there was Mrs. Henderson, who let everybody in but never bought anything; she was just a lonely widow who lusted for company. Then the Antons; he had a railroad pension and never left the house for fear his wife would spend a dime on something he hadn’t pre-approved – he always brought a BB gun to the door. Then the Matsuuras. They had a little brass plate displayed over their doorbell: NO SOLICITING. That didn’t stop the Fuller Brush Man. Mrs. Matsuura played possum, not answering the doorbell, but the Fuller Brush Man was persistent, if nothing else. Finally she would come to the door, glare at him through the screen, and wind up buying some toothbrushes.
Then it was our turn. I liked listening to his spiel, especially the part about the brushes being made out of 100% boar bristles. I used to dream about boar bristles, about how brave men had to hunt down the ravening boars in some bamboo grove in Borneo, and then pluck the bristles out by hand, one by one. My mother always gave the Fuller Brush Man the bum’s rush, but I promised myself I’d get me a boar’s bristle brush someday. I finally did, as a teenager, to comb my luxurious hippie locks – until my mother made me get a crew cut.
Ladies came to our door, too. They sold Stanley Home Products – mostly cleaners and detergents. Mom had her own opinions about how to keep the house clean, and they didn’t include Stanley Home Products. The Avon Lady, however, was a different kettle of fish. First of all, she was always a local; in our neighborhood it was Mrs. Satterlee, who not only lived just two blocks from us but was also my third grade teacher. Her credentials were unimpeachable. Mom got all her lipstick and eyeliner from the Avon Lady. And for my tenth birthday the crummy Avon Lady convinced her to get me soap on a rope, curse her entrepreneurial spirit!
The Watkins man parked his truck in the middle of the block; he didn’t have to go door-to-door – all the housewives flocked to him for their almond flavoring and peppercorns.  Mr. Anton, the railroad pensioner, also patronized the Watkins man – buying several bottles of pure vanilla extract at a time. Mrs. Anton was no hand at baking or cooking; it was whispered that he drank the stuff straight from the bottle, since it was heavily alcoholic.
There was an old Ukrainian lady, dressed in gypsy kerchief and a dozen petticoats, who hobbled from door to door, selling wooden nested dolls, hand-carved by her invalid husband and painted by herself. She appeared around Easter. Everyone bought a doll from her. My dad said she rode around in a Cadillac, and the dolls were all made in Japan.
Life insurance was sold door-to-door. The Encyclopedia Britannica. Competing dairy companies sent their milkmen door-to-door to drum up business, promising free butter and eggs for a week if we switched from Ewald’s to Land O Lakes. Magazines. Cookies. Candy. Driveway repair services. Sewing machines. Vacuum cleaners.
Some summer days my poor mother opened the door to half a dozen door-to-door peddlers between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Then, to top it all off, the paperboy would show up right at dinner time for his subscription money. She told my dad we were moving to Lower Slobovia if one more salesman showed up.
But door to door sales now seems about as lively as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I have only ever seen one door-to-door salesperson in the last ten years, and he was selling home security systems – O tempora! O mores!

Veterans Are Dying to Get Into VA Hospitals — Literally!

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Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today made the following comment on the interim report from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general on medical care wait times at veterans facilities.  Grassley has co-sponsored legislation that would make it easier to fire senior employees at the department for poor performance.  He also urged the Veterans Affairs secretary not to allow employees to be assigned to long periods of paid leave as a result of the scandal that, in effect, result in extended paid vacations.  When the allegations were first reported about the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, he called upon the inspector general to conduct a thorough nationwide review of the Veterans Affairs health care network.

The report is available here.

“Today’s report shows false wait times aren’t isolated.  The false wait times are systemic.  By any measure of common sense and human decency, putting the health and welfare of those injured while serving their country at risk by manipulating appointment records is unconscionable and unpatriotic.  The inspector general’s continued work is critical to learning whether the delays for treatment led to preventable deaths. When the inspector general completes his work, all responsible employees have to be held accountable for their actions at all levels of the VA.  The stakes are too high for anyone to duck accountability.”

How Safe is the Poultry We Eat?

Washington—The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it will draft new safety standards for Campylobacter in poultry, in addition to the previously-announced timeline on Salmonella. These standards are expected to be ready by the end of September.

The letter announcing the actions can be found here. The Department took this step in response to an April letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that expressed concern over food safety standards and urged the Department of Agriculture to develop better standards that would significantly reduce the levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry.

“Simply put, the levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken are too high,” said Feinstein. “Secretary Vilsack made the right decision to accelerate the creation of strong standards for both pathogens. These pathogens have been on the rise, illnesses and deaths are up and action is clearly needed. Now it is critical that the Department sets meaningful standards that are actually effective in reducing the number of illnesses and deaths.”

“I am pleased to hear that the USDA is taking proactive steps to address the risk of foodborne illness by establishing strong performance standards for poultry products, including poultry parts,” said Durbin. “I look forward to continuing work with USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and my Senate colleagues to ensure that the food American families find on store shelves and put on their dinner tables is safe.”

“I am pleased that USDA has now moved forward to develop performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter,” said Gillibrand “The U.S. has made little progress in reducing the rate of foodborne illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter over the past 10 years, and it is time to turn that track record around. I will continue to work with Secretary Vilsack and my colleagues in the Senate to improve food safety for American families.”

State Department Issues Travel Alert for Thailand Until End of August.

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The U.S. Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens reconsider any non-essential travel to Thailand, particularly Bangkok, due to ongoing political and social unrest and restrictions on internal movements, including an indefinite nighttime curfew throughout Thailand. The Department of State has advised official U.S. government travelers to defer all non-essential travel to Thailand until further notice. This Travel Alert supersedes the Travel Alert issued on May 16, 2014, and will expire on August 21, 2014.

On May 22, the Royal Thai Army announced it had seized control of the administration of the country and imposed a nationwide daily curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. until further notice, a ban on political gatherings, and restrictions on the media. More restrictions may follow. As a result, U.S. citizens may encounter a heightened military presence throughout Thailand, particularly in Bangkok, as well as disruptions to traffic. Allow extra time for journeys, including to and from Bangkok airports. Public transportation and business operating hours may be curtailed without notice. Authorities have advised that the curfew does not apply to those travelling to or from the airports, but departing or arriving travelers should be prepared to present their passports and tickets or airline itineraries to authorities upon request. U.S. citizens are advised to stay alert, exercise caution, and monitor international and Thai media. Avoid areas where there are protest events, large gatherings, or security operations and follow the instructions of Thai authorities. Although many protest activities have been peaceful, violent incidents involving guns and explosive devices have occurred at or near protest sites. Some have resulted in injury or death.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid protest sites, demonstrations, and large gatherings. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media reports. You should allow extra time when travelling throughout the city or to/from airports. Consider using public transportation.

U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Thailand are strongly advised to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) https://step.state.gov/step/. U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. By enrolling, you make it easier for the U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in case of an emergency.

Fifty Years Ago . . . A Brief Boyhood Elegy.

elevator

Fifty years ago civilization ended six blocks from my doorstep in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Or so my mother, and my friend’s mothers, told us.  To the northeast of our cozy neighborhood there stretched a subfusc waste of swamp, drainage ditches, patches of gnarled northern pin oak and ancient cottonwoods, railroad tracks, Quonset hut warehouses, and towering grain elevators forever swathed in clouds of hungry, defecating pigeons.  It was home to the dreaded tramp – not the genial Freddie the Freeloader of comedian Red Skelton, but a murderous outcast that inhabited empty boxcars and would pounce on disobedient children who didn’t listen to their mothers.

Naturally my friends and I took every opportunity to visit this forbidden landscape.  We never went alone, but three or four of us would cruise the washboard gravel roads on our Schwinns, pretty sure we were a match for any old tramp that wanted to fillet us.

Fifty years ago American children didn’t need adult escorts or transportation.  In the summer we were kicked out of the house immediately after breakfast and told not to show up again until lunchtime.  We ranged like a pack of wild animals over the red fescue lawns of the neighbors, until we came to the portal of that tantalizing wasteland – a gutted glass factory.  It had burned down years ago and, in those lackadaisical days, had never been rebuilt, torn down or cordoned off.  To be sure there were DO NOT TRESPASS signs festooned everywhere, but to an 8-year-old boy that translated as: COME RIGHT IN!  Globs of melted glass, with a smoky opaqueness, littered the ground.  We picked up a few and shied them through the remaining windows, much edified by the resounding crash and resulting melodious tinkle as the shards cascaded down onto the factory floor.  There was a rickety footbridge to cross over a drainage canal filled with dead, black water that occasionally belched up enormous bubbles of evil-smelling gas.  And then we were officially in Mordor.

The leaves of the cottonwoods hissed at us in the breeze as we headed for the nearest bank of cattails.  Gingerly side stepping broken bottles and rusted cans, we each gathered a bouquet for a round of cattail fighting.  The rules were simple and direct; you whomped each other with the soft brown cattail heads until the fluff began choking you.  It was considered bad form to use a hard green cattail head.

A huge storm drain beckoned further on, where we could pursue turtles, salamanders and water snakes.  A rusted railroad siding with an abandoned flatcar on it provided a platform for epic discussions on Could Dracula Beat the Wolfman, and Why Are Girls So Useless?

And we never did see a tramp.

My dad scoffed at the idea of tramps.

“Anyone can get a good-paying job in America” he declared, “even a bum!”

But that was fifty years ago . . .

freeloader

Sunday School Lesson: Book of Judges, Chapter 4 — Deborah and Sisera.

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The Hebrews once again neglected all the Law of Moses,

So Sisera did make their life unlike a bed of roses.

He, and Jabin, king of Canaan, oppressed them unto tears,

And ruled with iron chariots for nigh on twenty years.

Now Deborah was a prophetess beneath a tall palm tree –

She called on Barak to help her to save their poor country.

He said “I’ll go and do it, with ten thousand men of God”

“But you must come along with me to be my iron rod.”

Deborah said she’d come along, and be Barak’s cheerleader,

And watch as God made Jabin’s army stumble and then teeter.

At the River Kishon Sisera found that the Lord

Could pierce his mighty army like a flimsy, cheap dartboard.

Sisera took to his heels, while his soldiers weep and wail –

For he had an appointment with a woman and her nail!