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We begin today's roundup with a focus on the USA Freedom Act, a bill that seeks to reform the National Security Agency's data collection methods. The New York Times editorial board writes about how the bill falls short:
Because of last-minute pressure from a recalcitrant Obama administration, the bill contains loopholes that dilute the strong restrictions in an earlier version, potentially allowing the spy agencies to continue much of their phone-data collection.

Still, the bill finally begins to reverse the trend of reducing civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, as embodied in various versions of the Patriot Act. And if the Senate fixes its flaws, it could start to rebuild confidence that Washington will get the balance right [...] Several leading senators have said they want a stronger bill, and may do a better job of resisting the administration. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wants a strong advocate for civil liberties to argue in the surveillance court (as opposed to simply filing briefs, as the current bill allows) along with other reforms. There is still time for Congress to show that it is serious about reining in the nation’s runaway spies.

Andrea Peterson at The Washington Post explains why 76 House members voted against their own bill:
On Thursday the House passed a bill aimed at reforming the National Security Agency's bulk collection of domestic phone records in a 303-to-121 vote. But the version of that bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, was different from the one that was recently approved by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. The new version from the House Rules Committee, privacy advocates say, significantly weakened the reform and included loopholes that could potentially allow bulk data collection on U.S. citizens to continue.

Privacy advocates weren't the only ones upset about the changes. Many co-sponsors of the original version were also concerned. In fact, a Washington Post analysis of the votes shows that 76 of the 152 co-sponsors of the earlier version voted against passage of the altered version on the House floor Thursday. So, half of the co-sponsors ended up voting against what was supposed to be their own NSA reform bill.

Much more on the day's top stories below the fold.

Over at Masahable, Brian Ries has a roundup of reactions to the bill:

A surveillance bill aiming to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans' phone records passed the House on Thursday, despite privacy advocates calling it “weak,” “watered-down" and "dangerously broad."
Switching topics to the other big story of the day, the Veteran's Administration's handing of patient care, Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal Constitution urges the administration to just fix the problem, whatever it takes, and swats down Republican attempts to take advantage of the scandal in the process:
There are few government obligations more sacred than its obligation to those who have helped to defend this country through military service. Recent revelations that veterans have faced long waits for access to medical care, and that bureaucrats in some veterans' hospitals have tried to cover up the system's failure to perform adequately, are simply unacceptable.

Find the problem. Fix the problem. If people broke the law, prosecute them. If they were incompetent, fire them. [...]

In the meantime, those with larger political agendas have tried to hijack the controversy and twist it to suit their own needs.  Rich Lowry, writing in Politico, claims the VA system is "socialist" and calls it an "indictment of the liberal vision." Sen. John McCain wants to give vouchers to veterans so they can seek care in the private system. John Fund says the problems are "a warning sign of what could happen as the pressure to ration, inherent in all government-managed health care, is applied to the general population."

This is utter nonsense [...]

Meanwhile, Colin Moore, writing at The Washington Post, explains how previous VA scandals have led to real reforms at the VA:
The recent revelations that the Phoenix Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) medical center may have used a secret list to hide its patient waiting times is unfortunate news for an agency that, sadly, is no stranger to scandal. But rather than add my own voice to the chorus of (deserved) criticism, I’d like to look back at a few past VA scandals and the reforms that followed. Throughout its history, the VA’s very public failures have shaped its development as profoundly as its successes. If there is any silver lining to our current outrage, it is that in the past, acts of negligence or corruption have led to dramatic improvements in the care veterans receive.
The Boston Globe correctly highlights the context of the VA's problems over the years:
While politicians of each party have chided the other for neglecting veterans, what’s been lacking is a sustained commitment to design a functional system to care for today’s veterans’ needs. President George W. Bush’s administration, which underestimated the number of troops it would deploy in Iraq and Afghanistan, also underestimated the cost and difficulty of caring for veterans of those wars. President Obama, who promised as a candidate to address a backlog of claims at the VA, sought and received more funding for the agency; yet he also made it easier for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions to come forward — a justifiable policy change that nevertheless added substantially to the VA’s workload.
Switching topics, Robert Reich presents "the 4 biggest right-wing lies about income inequality":
Lie No. 1: The rich and CEOs are America's job creators. So we dare not tax them.

The truth is, the middle class and poor are the job creators through their purchases of goods and services. If they don't have enough purchasing power because they're not paid enough, companies won't create more jobs and the economy won't grow.

On a final note, Eugene Robinson writes about the Tea Party and the Republican establishment:
What’s happening in the Republican primaries is less a defeat for the tea party than a surrender by the GOP establishment, which is winning key races by accepting the tea party’s radical anti-government philosophy. Anyone who hopes the party has finally come to its senses will be disappointed. Republicans have pragmatically decided not to concede Senate elections by nominating eccentrics and crackpots. But in persuading the party’s activist base to come along, establishment leaders have pledged fealty to eccentric, crackpot ideas.


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Comment Preferences

  •  68 (9+ / 0-)

    The number has an especial meaning for me today, as I explain in this post to which I invite your attention.


    "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

    by teacherken on Fri May 23, 2014 at 04:45:24 AM PDT

  •  Sigh. (5+ / 0-)
    Because of last-minute pressure from a recalcitrant Obama administration . . .
    Just another day in the Imperial States of America.

    (And presumably, unless you are wearing a hoodie and they think you look suspicious, you probably won’t get shot dead by mistake.) -- Heather Digby Parton, in an aside.

    by Rikon Snow on Fri May 23, 2014 at 04:47:57 AM PDT

  •  Racism = Supporting Unions? (23+ / 0-)

    On Morning Jerk, Scarborough was debating Eugene Robinson (regulars like Robinson are why I watch the program) and in trying to make the case that there is only racism on the right among a small number of “fringe freaks” was equating right-wing racism with” freaks on the left” who support unions. Hating people due to the color of their skin is the same as promoting unionization of workers? Talk about freaks, Joe!  

    "Inequality is the root of social evil." ― Pope Francis

    by GoodGod on Fri May 23, 2014 at 04:48:40 AM PDT

  •  Robert Reich's documentary film (19+ / 0-)

    Inequality For All effectively takes apart the "trickle down" type myths the GOP has pushed for so many years. Reich does an outstanding job in the film explaining the income gap, comparing it to the depression years and debunking all those nasty right wing talking points.  It is available on netflix.

    As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. John F. Kennedy

    by JaxDem on Fri May 23, 2014 at 04:55:13 AM PDT

    •  Reich is on a mission (6+ / 0-)

      Reich does as good a job as anyone (although Krugman is another) in raising awareness about the causes and consequences of income inequality. And it's not just the 47%, not even the 99% that need to be impassioned about this issue. The majority of the upper 1% are treading water and seeing their democracy taken over by the upper 0.1%.

      "Inequality is the root of social evil." ― Pope Francis

      by GoodGod on Fri May 23, 2014 at 05:03:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Did the doc make it to Cannes? (0+ / 0-)

      I only ask because that seems to be the litmus test for documentaries these days.  Heck, even O'Keefe crawled out from under his rock with a new doc at Cannes:

      •  I have to ask? (0+ / 0-)

        Is he being laughed out of Cannes over his little documentary.

        Although I suppose it'll get some Winger astroturfing on Social Media as this "bold expose" and some Winger Welfare through bulk DVD sales.

        "If this Studebaker had anymore Atomic Space-Age Style, you'd have to be an astronaut with a geiger counter!"

        by Stude Dude on Fri May 23, 2014 at 06:12:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  he punked one set of documentary makers (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Stude Dude, Bernie68

          but the other smelled James, I mean a rat, and demanded full disclosure of all potential donors before he would agree to a meeting.

          O'Keefe has two problems: CA law says both parties have to agree to be taped unless there is no expectation of privacy.  Since this was in a closed hotel room, it seems privacy would be expected.
          Second problem was he "edited" the Fox response so he has been caught once again, falsifying his documentaries.

          Here is all I can find beyond the RW gloating:

          I guess this was why O'Keefe was not available to sneak into the SNF to take those pics of Cochran's wife.  Both stunts are on about the same level

  •  Sacrifice - Accountability (9+ / 0-)


    President Obama: “Every single day, there are people working in the VA who do outstanding work and put everything they’ve got into making sure that our Veterans get the care, benefits, and services that they need.”
    Who are under constant attack by, especially conservative lawmakers, the Representatives of the people who hired them, and those people like that, in hearings, in the press and the press, high paid taking heads love them tax cuts that came with these wars, continues the attacks, in the conservative veterans ranks and established, reactive never proactive, veterans organizations, conservative leaderships, as well, instead of doing their jobs, it's easier. Long time under funded as wars are cheered on with flags waving patriotism. Long ignored issues, way way too many and now being addressed finally under this present VA, by Veterans especially after returning from our wars, because it costs Sacrifice from the great majority served so their reps don't demand that Sacrifice, they like it that way. Free wars, these two present ones have yet to be paid for, and condemnation of Veterans, slackers and free loaders and more, when they seek the help promised by the Country. Decades long under funded agency, people served responsibility, that causes costly problems, in more ways then just from the treasury, thousands die while waiting for the promises, with the dedicated, no politics or self enrichment from most, brought to their dedication to the tasks they perform and are easy targets as well for those seeking to privatize government for corporate profits from the treasury and added fee's joining the numerous problems and greed found in that private sector!

    "If military action is worth our troops' blood, it should be worth our treasure, too; not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American." -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

    by jimstaro on Fri May 23, 2014 at 04:56:29 AM PDT

  •  Mission Accomplished.....the parasite has taken (3+ / 0-)
  •  I note, having visited several sites in the last (4+ / 0-)

    day or so and it appears "tea" is replacing "kool-aid" as the metaphor to blind slavish obedience to the party line, no matter how ludicrous.  It appears the TP had a rout in the primaries and have very few candidates up for the GE.  However, they may have still accomplished their purpose as a good many GOP candidates, wary of the TP Noise Machine, tacked to a hard right in their platforms

  •  re: Reich: (8+ / 0-)

    I live under the bridge to the 21st Century.

    by Crashing Vor on Fri May 23, 2014 at 05:36:48 AM PDT

  •  It's time to shut down the VA (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rb608, rl en france, Amber6541

    hospital/clinic system.

    While it may have made sense 50 or 75 years ago, there is absolutely no reason the government should be running a health care system exclusively for vets.

    Vets travel hours for an appointment that in some cases they have waited months for.  And that is simply for an evaluation.  If treatment is recommended, they often will have to travel hours again to another facility.  It is insanity to ask a vet with cancer, for instance, to travel hours for a chemo or radiation treatment on a weekly or monthly basis.  Insanity.

    A hospitalized vet is often many hours away from family.  There are very large groups of volunteers devoted to visiting these hospitalized vets for this very reason.


    Shut it down.

    Vets should be enrolled in one of the government worker health care systems.  Their deductibles should be low or non-existent.  Drug formularies should match exactly what they get now.

    Keep the special research/treatment facilities, perhaps, for amputees, etc.

    But let's close down this inefficient dinosaur and pay for vet's treatment where they live - without the waits.

    •  This would make half a bit of sense (8+ / 0-)

      if other government health systems had the same cost pooling/bulk buying power that the VA does. However, they, by policy, do not (Congress specifically took bulk buying out of Medicare D proposals).

      Disband the VA and dump veterans into other programs and watch costs balloon. Then what do you suppose happens to those vets?

      I live under the bridge to the 21st Century.

      by Crashing Vor on Fri May 23, 2014 at 05:57:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You offer no evidence that (0+ / 0-)

        costs will balloon.

        As I said, something better than Part D or current private insurance formularies would have to be written into the law.    We could even keep the VA's drug program and deliver by mail.

        The drug savings for vets, according to some studies, accounts for almost half the cost differential.  And, yes, the VA provides care more cheaply.  But the limited availability and rationing that plays a part in the lower costs are exactly why I propose we get vets into some other plan.

        You can't use cost alone to argue for or against the VA's future existence.

        But.. most of the proposals I have heard over the last few days or so have called for pouring more money into this system.  So, where's the savings?

        •  Only every study (0+ / 0-)

          done of the VA that shows it keeps costs down and that vets in bulk prefer it.

          but by all means let's privatize it, it worked so well for keep the costs down in prisons, schools, savings and loan regulations, oil drilling.... oh. wait. no.

          It is better to be making the news than taking it; to be an actor rather than a critic. - WSC

          by Solarian on Fri May 23, 2014 at 07:58:13 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  And a bit of sense ONLY for "ordinary civilian" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        I love OCD, tobendaro

        ailments. There are too many conditions related to military service that ordinary civilian providers rarely if ever see or know well to "shut down the VA" or even reduce its presence. Perhaps some of the load—a direct result of that "cakewalk" and "greeted as liberators" that was not and underfunding at the time—could be taken off if a veteran suffering from illnesses common among non veteran neighbors could use benefits just like an insurance card. Cut yourself and get an infection or catch the flu then perhaps a visit to a civilian doctor makes sense.

        Have a complex of problems related to chemical exposure in several of our recent and not so recent wars and visit the local clinic or hospital? There is enough bouncing from specialist to specialist with slightly exotic civilian ailments so I'd hate to see the result for the veteran. Overloaded or not, VA knows something about agent orange related problems and some of the more recent weird syndromes from the deserts. They regularly see patients with oddball injuries caused by ordinance and routinely see patients with mental images of things the civilian population hardly ever see—outside perhaps places like Sandy Hook Elementary School.

        Your point is also an issue. Congress, for a couple of decades protector of monied interests over citizens, explicitly prohibited the big civilian programs from playing the normal free market game of using buying clout to drive best terms. VA has some of that. A voucher system would expose the veteran to cost in the already broken private medical billing schemes.

        If a change is made to accommodate some use of the civilian system then perhaps a VA contracted set of hospital and medical providers, particularly in areas remote from VA facilities, would be a better option.

        A rational Congress and Executive could make reasonable modifications to improve the care for veterans. A bunch of irrational ideologues? SNAFU, FUBAR and all the more modern acronyms come to mind.

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

        by pelagicray on Fri May 23, 2014 at 06:47:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Fasten your seatbelts NC....your Betters are about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to take a dump.....

  •  An interesting problem in cultures. China's PLA (0+ / 0-)

    hackers and our indictments in "Indictment of PLA hackers is part of broad U.S. strategy to curb Chinese cyberspying" with:

    The disclosures “made the foreign policy aspect of talking about cyber and cyber-operations much more difficult,” a senior defense official said. “Because when we complain about military organizations hacking into our private-sector companies, they would say, ‘Well, the United States is actually the king of all hacking. So who are you to talk to us about illegal hacking?’”

    Officials from Obama on down consistently draw a line between spying for national security and foreign intelligence purposes, and spying on companies to give a competitive advantage to one’s own businesses. The Chinese do not see the difference and point out that the U.S. definition of national security includes securing advantage in trade negotiations and on other international economic issues.

    Sort of like the Indian diplomat spat in which we saw a "rule of law" incident and they saw a diplomatic insult and began applying strict "rule of law" to our national representatives. When you add in a rather aggressive stance such as China's claims to territory in the region there comes the "war by other means" flavor.

    Now, in international affairs where there is no good will agreement on a basis for "rule of law" it is up to a nation to protect itself. My question is also related to NSA.

    Why the hell are private U.S. businesses dragging their feet and resisting for bottom line reasons implementing NSA recommended cybersecurity best practices (with Snowdon one wonders if NSA was following best practices!) citing expense? It all reminds me of Lenin's fairly astute evaluation of a capitalist tendency:

    Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.
    With a world full of bad actors, from Russian oligarchs to PLA hackers to "Dear beloved . . . I need your help in freeing $1,500,000" do not rely on the U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure your trade and other secrets! Lock them up yourself—as effectively as possible.

    The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

    by pelagicray on Fri May 23, 2014 at 07:08:18 AM PDT

  •  With single-payer, we wouldn't need a VA. n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rl en france, tobendaro, Amber6541

    Marx was an optimist.

    by psnyder on Fri May 23, 2014 at 07:27:41 AM PDT

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