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My Slow Personal Betrayal Of The Public Education System


This is a very personal story for me, something I don’t often do, but I do think it is instructive for the larger policy debate we are having over education.

Education has long been one of my personal interests.  It must be a family thing, as my sister also has long been enthusiastically involved in different educational ventures.  This eventually led her into becoming a teacher, and later an administrator of a charter school.  Both my sister and I have been involved in starting charities involving advancing educational opportunities.  We have also promoted education overseas, predominantly in India.

I have always believed that a strong public education system is essential to the survival of a democracy.  A democracy without intelligent, thoughtful individuals is more of a dictatorship than a representative government.

The first time I can recall ever having this debate was when I was in the 8th grade.  Our family had recently moved from Ohio to the suburbs of Detroit.  We lived in what was at the time one of the best school districts in the state of Michigan. Yet, my parents seriously considered (at what would have been great financial sacrifice to them) placing me at the Country Day School, one of the elite private schools in Michigan. I refused.

Now, most would think that was because I didn’t want to leave my friends, my classmates, etc.  Actually, that was not the case. As a new student to the area…I had very few friends.  I had, fundamentally, no real emotional connection to anyone. However, even at that age, I understood some of the advantages that public school could potentially provide, even though private school had its own advantages.

My recent transition from a hard-core public school advocate to one looking for wider options happened in a time span of less than a year, and largely occurred because it had a direct effect on my family.  My son was in second grade this past year.  He is a smart, enthusiastic boy (if I do say so myself).  He is very strong in math, and reads a fair amount for his age.  Overall, he was ahead of his class for most of the year.

The breaking point for us was…Common Core.

Now, my reaction to Common Core was not in any way similar to that of many activists you see around the country. Here is the irony: in general, I SUPPORT national standards in education.  I generally supported them with No Child Left Behind, and more recently with Common Core.  I will admit I had issues with both (especially the ham-handedness of both programs in relation to local decision-making), but I have long believed a general national standard could prove to be helpful.

However, as is often the case, these things sound better in theory than in practice. Full Common Core implementation has not occurred in my local district yet, but the pain is already apparent. My son would bring homework that made little or no sense. Many of you have seen such examples on Twitter and blogs all over the internet, as parents struggled to explain these worksheets, and sometimes even had answering the problems themselves. Some of these were intended to be ‘logic problem solving’ endeavors, but actually amounted more to Sphinx-like trick question that nobody could understand. My son, who was quite advanced in math, struggled mightily. Not only did he struggle..at times, he actually regressed.

As a parent, I faced a similar conundrum as my own parents did: at what point do you opt out of the public school system?

The more I delved into my own personal concerns regarding these issues, the more I realized I wasn’t alone.  A recent study showed that states with more aggressive testing standards and more recent implementation of national standards also demonstrated parents that expressed more negative attitudes about their children’s schools and about government in general than public-school parents in states with less extensive testing policies

In general, parents in the United States support public education, but they also resist centralized control of that same system.  A centralized standards system disempowers local districts, teachers, and ultimately, the parents themselves…which echoes much of my own fears and feelings on the subject.

The lack of evidence on which Common Core was actually based on should worry anyone interested in improving public education.  An article in the American Journal of Education last fall shows that the development phase of Common Core centered mostly on identifying the problems in the American education system…and far less time in developing solutions to those problems.  Many of the solutions actually do not appear to be based on data at all, but more on the anecdotal evidence of certain powerful voices in policy debate.  That is quite apparent in the real world interaction that many have seen with the program so far.

Additionally, some of the core beliefs in Common Core appear to not be based necessarily on any scientifically based result at all.  One key example is the virtual dismissal of the role of rote memorization in understanding and confronting complex problems.  Memorization has long been one of the central tenets of education overseas, especially in Asian countries (which many point to for their high test scores these days).   Our educators, for several decades, have moved away from such teaching, fearing that such forced memorization hinders the child’s overall ability to understand complexities of the real world.

However, several studies have shown rote memorization is a vital part of a student learning how to solve complex calculations. In effect, as young math students memorize basic math, their brains slowly start to utilize what their memories already know, and allow them to ‘adapt’ to the more complex nature of the newer, more complex math problems they face.  Common core doesn’t totally ban memorization as a tool, but it largely dismisses the usefulness in learning.  Defenders of Common Core argue that memorization can still be used in their system, but if you look at materials publised by the Department of Education and others, almost none of them use memorization as a major tool.  This appears to be based on shaky science at best.

People who favor centralized standards are well-meaning, but dismiss those with feelings such as mine as ‘fear’ or ‘based on hyperpartisanship.  My conclusion of this was nothing of the sort.  In fact, I would argue my decision was far more evidence based than their claims.  In this decision, I was faced with actual, real life results from the educational progress (or lack thereof) my son made before and after the introduction of Common Core materials.  And once introduced, not only did those materials regress my son’s educational standing…but his emotional well-being as well.

That is what I define as a conclusive behavioral test failure.

I still have a lot of respect for my school district, and the teachers at my son’s school.  They were friendly, approachable, and really understood our complaints.  In fact, at least one teacher secretly admitted that the Common Core material they had been provided by the state was problematic at best. The simple reality is, they had little or no flexibility to deal with my issues.

The more I learn about the real world implementation of Common Core, versus the high-minded philosophy behind it…the more I oppose the program. Centralized standards are still a goal I fully support, because providing a universal basic goal for education, and more important, achieving those goals, should be an important metric to achieve.  However, Common Core, for all its good intent, is unlikely to achieve anything of the sort, because it simply ignores the reality of the real world in lieu of bureaucratic declarations.  Maybe it can overcome its original mistakes, adapt and change direction, but in all honesty how many large Federal programs are ever able to achieve that?

More and more parents that have and do maintain choices in education will use those avenues to give their child better outcomes.  On the other hand, those left behind will have to figure out how to struggle through Common Core’s complicated maze of questionable Federal recommendations. We are once again left with the long existing problem in education: the haves versus the have nots.

My family is one of the lucky ones.  I have the financial means to make choices others cannot.  And thus, last week my son started at an elite private school.  So far, we are ecstatic, and my son has adjusted well.  I am sure he will excel given time.  However, I am still left with regret and guilt that I abandoned a public education system that I have so long tried to be an advocate of.  It is unfortunate, but like so many others around the country, I have now had to face the reality of what our public education system is, not how I wish it to be; and I have found it to be lacking.





Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Review


I’ll be honest: until about two years ago, I barely knew anything about Guardians of the Galaxy.

As a comic book fan in my childhood, I had certainly heard about the characters.  They certainly were in some volumes of comics I read, but they were sort of on the periphery of the storylines I cared about.  They would fly in and out of a few Marvel storylines, almost like cameo appearances, and then as fast as they left, I forgot about them.

Then, my son reintroduced me to the characters on one of his animated shows. And then I heard that they were making a live action movie starring a talking raccoon and a walking tree.

I shrugged my shoulders, and moved along.

Here is a full admission:  I was dead wrong.

Guardians of the Galaxy is possibly the best movie of the summer, or at worst maybe the second best; we can argue if Captain America: Winter Soldier is better or not, but they are so close that it is probably not worth splitting hairs. And no, I am not overstating the case one iota.

Guardians is a throwback to the best era of space westerns, the very same genre that hit its zenith with Star Wars.  It is a far departure from Marvel’s other icons, like Iron Man and even the Avengers. And in many ways…that is what makes this so great.

I mean, how retro is this movie?  Its first key scene with our ‘star’, Peter Quill, being abducted by aliens while playing his “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” mix tape on his…Walkman.  This is so retro, I had to explain to my son what the heck a mix tape and Walkman even was; he has never seen a cassette tape.

After years, Quill (played by Chris Pratt) renames himself ‘Starlord’…and gets quite a bit of grief over the name.  Quill is a treasure seeker of sorts, a borderline thief that is looting for the ‘big prize’ that will earn him his fortune.  Along the way, he meets other trouble makers in the form of Groot and Rocket Raccoon (voiced spectacularly by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, respectively), who if you don’t know already, are the walking tree and talking raccoon I mentioned above.  Yeah, it is that weird.  And yeah…you will fall in love with both characters.

After being joined by the lovely (but green) Gamora played by Zoe Saldana and thug Drax the Destroyer (professional wrestler Dave Bautista), the motley crew runs from a host of bad guys (led by Ronan, an underling of Thanos, who happens to be the next ‘big bad guy’ in the Avengers galaxy), we have an action filled jaunt through the galaxy, as our erstwhile gang of criminals because the galaxy’s heroes. Without giving too much away, our gang of Guardias is somewhat a mix of the crew of Firefly, mixed with a touch of The Usual Suspects, and then throw in the Han Solo Comedic rogue for good measure.

This movie is so unique from other Marvel movies right now, and is such a departure from most of the tradition science fiction fare we get these days, it is really a pleasure to watch.  In every practical way…there is no ‘God-like’ superheroes here. In fact, the only Gods here are the evil villains.

My son loved it, and I am sure I am going to soon get requests for Rocket Raccoon toys in days to come.  And Groot?  Groot is by far Vin Diesel’s best acting role ever (inside joke; see the movie).

Marvel (and their parent company Disney) continue to surprise me.  I never thought they could pull off a movie like this…but they have.  They have probably just launched another money-making movie franchise, all with characters that are generally considered ‘fringe’ in the comic book world.  This is one of the few must see movies of the summer.  This summer has been a drag as far as cinematic entertainment goes…but Guardians of the Galaxy is one shining exception.


'I am Groot'...its the new 'Hodor'.

‘I am Groot’…its the new ‘Hodor’.



Fox News Google Hangout July 31st Edition

My appearance on the Fox News Google Hangout on July 31, 2014 with Bret Baier and Mike Emanuel of Fox News, Kirsten Haglund (Miss America 2008), and Maurice Heller.

Discussions ranged from the Immigration bill debate, the Hous of Representatives lawsuit against President Barack Obama, talk of impeachment, and the 2014 Midterm elections.


Thoughts On Halbig

HALBIG!!!! - Kirk screaming Khan - Meme Generator

There were two major Obamacare rulings scheduled to come out this year…and both ended up coming out within hours of each other on Tuesday.

In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Appeals court ruled that the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act were intended only for exchanges established by states…thus excluding millions of participants in the Federally run exchange. Hours later, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in King v. Burwell, declared virtually the opposite.

The legal arguments have been going on for a long time, and there are a lot of great discussions, some which are linked from Nicholas Bagley, Michael Cannon, Jonathan Adler, and others that will take you through the circuitous legal arguments.  If you are really interested, this podcast with Mr. Bagley and Mr. Adler could be fruitful for your search to understand more about the debate.

But here are my brief takes on the results of both cases:

1. The Halbig decision is a major boost to the momentum of the case of PPACA opponents.

Despite the 4th circuits ruling taking the steam out of the excitement over Halbig, this has to be a major victory for Misters Cannon and Adler, who were two of the earliest proponents for a case attacking the legal justification for subsidies in the Federal exchanges.  Even in the 4th circuit ruling, the court admits the litigants had a fairly reasonable cause to bring the suit, because the text of the law is quite clear that the subsidies are only for state-run exchanges.

This is key for the following reason: it now serves as an impetus for the Supreme Court to take up the case.  Although many liberals and others are arguing that because Halbig is likely to lose in the D.C. court on en banc session it will remove some of the justification for the Supreme Court to take up the case, that doesn’t by itself remove the legal and logical conflict of the case.

This doesn’t insure that the case will be resolved by the highest court in the land…but it increases the probability greatly.  Make note there are two additional cases also working their way through the District courts.  All this from a case where Mr. Adler once remarked he thought the chances of ultimate legal success were very, very low.  Not bad, all things considered.

2. Liberal arguments about ‘activist’ and ‘politicized’ judges are silly and naive.

Liberals howled today when the Halbig ruling was released, calling it a ‘highly politicized ruling by activist conservative judges’.

They yet were silent when the 4th circuit, in a ruling that relied highly on political arguments to make their case, ruled the reverse.

Furthermore, liberals are now relying on the en banc review of the case in the D.C. court, precisely because it is political.  The reason liberals are so confidant there is because of the large Democrat advantage in that court overall.

I think we can go back and forth about politicization of the courts, and which judges are activist or not.  But to rely on that  for your legal understanding of the case is simply naive.  Both sides have legitimate legal arguments, based in long-standing jurisprudence.  This is actually a complicated and difficult case…and to avoid giving credence to either side is being unfair.

3.  The ambiguity in the law weakens the government’s case far more than the litigants.

If you read the two rulings today, what you see is the D.C. court relied highly on the actual text of the PPACA.  Its argument was that the text was quite clear that the state exchanges were supposed to benefit from subsidies, while the Federal exchange would not.

In the 4th Circuit ruling, they rely heavily on what the law implies.  They don’t as much rely on the true text of the law itself.  Also note that the 4th circuit struggled to find a contemporary statement from Congress during the debate that clearly stated they wanted subsidies on all exchanges…which in my mind, greatly weakens the government’s case as well.

This is not to say the 4th circuit was incorrect as far is jurisprudence is concerned. Mr. Bagley makes this argument in a piece from Greg Sargent:

As Bagley explains it to me, the core distinction is whether you are arguing that “Congress didn’t really mean what the statute said,” or whether you are arguing that “what the statute says doesn’t actually mean what you think it means.” The former, Bagley says, is a losing argument. But that is not what proponents of the law are arguing. As noted above, the statute does not clearly say that those on the federal exchange don’t get subsidies. Therefore, the question is not, “what does the statute say” — that is not actually clear — but “what does the statute mean.”

The D.C. court also referred to this ambiguity.  But they made what is (to me, at least) a more sound argument: that although there is some ambiguity, there is absolutely no clarity in what the law implied.  And if the implied intent was uncertain, and the textual intent quite clear…you should rely on the form that is clear.  No?

In fact, if you go back to the discussions during the Obamacare debate…there were a few discussions about limiting the Federal exchange subsidies.  Also recall: Democrats presumed that all states would be forced to expand Medicaid, and almost all states would create exchanges.  The necessity of a Federal exchange was a backstop, and no more.  I think the argument that Congress clearly, indisputably intended for subsidies to be available on all exchanges has dubious factual merits.  But that is moot; 4th circuit agreed with that argument anyway.

Just to close on this point; how tenuous was the government’s argument that the 4th circuit accepted today?  Their ruling states it quite clearly:

“the court is of the opinion that the defendants have the stronger position, although only slightly.”

That is not the statement that one would hold as a bedrock of certainty.

4.  Politically, this causes a problem for both parties. 

For Democrats, this continues the general public opinion that the ACA was written incompetently, had severe problems in implementation, and to this day remains on shaky ground.  Most Americans are not going to dig into the weeds on this; they simply know that courts are ruling both ways, which makes the entire system appear shaky at best.

For Republicans, this is no slam dunk either.  For example, if Halbig becomes the law of the land, won’t that place enormous pressure on Republican governors to establish exchanges?  At least 5 million people will lose Federal subsidies if the court ruling goes into effect.  In this environment, can GOP Governors simply ignore those people?  And remember, even without this onslaught of complaints, GOP governors were already accepting Medicaid expansion in one form or another.  I find it highly unlikely that the GOP could simply ignore the political pressure on this.

5. All of this was caused by the incompetence of Congress.

When Nancy Pelosi said, “We need to pass it to find out what is in it”, THIS is what she meant.  Today, in Halbig…we found out what is, and isn’t, in the Affordable Care Act.

A careful proofreading and understanding of the plan would have resulted in people realizing the contradiction that government was literally, in textual form, preventing the Federal government from providing the same subsidies as the states were allowed to.

Now, liberals are arguing what the intent of the law was.  That is a fair argument, but generally, the safest way to understand what was intended in a law?  Is to clearly state that intent within the law.

That was not done here.

The rush to passage, the inability to allow public comment, and the negligence of Congress in failing to read their own bill led to this.  Simple as that.


Couple points in conclusion.

First off, I respect a lot of people, many named above, that have varied views on the results in this case.  Clearly I am on one side of this as far as the legal argument goes, but I think that most of those on the other side are honest participants in the debate.  I fully stipulate that both sides have legitimate legal and logical arguments for their position.

That, in turn, is what makes cases like these so hard.  There is simply no right answer.  It is thoroughly possible that Congress wrote the bill, in the literal sense, not to provide subsidies to those on the Federal exchange.  It might even be true they intended that result.

What is also possibly true is, at the very same time, they intended for everyone to have access to those very same subsidies.  Simply put, I don’t think those that voted on this bill understood the full extent and connotations of the items they were voting on.

The rest of us should be wary of attacking one set of jurists over the other as well.  These courts were put in this terrible position because of the incompetence of Congress; therein lies the blame.  That these judges now have to play Solomon ultimately is not their fault.

One final point: as a physician, this entire train wreck is horrible for our patients.  Congress committed an act of malpractice by not clarifying these issues before passage.  Even if Halbig is overturned (the result I expect and predict), that doesn’t really truly solve the problem, because the law remains ambiguous on this and numerous other issues.  We really should demand better from our political leaders, and hold them to account when they make such enormous blunders. I doubt that will happen however.


Child Immigrant Surge Shows Fundamental Flaw in Democrat Logic


The recent surge of illegal immigrant children across our southern border is a humanitarian tragedy that is only now being understood.  Almost 50,000 children, without adult supervision, have been captured since October, and most project that number will rise to 90,000 by September.

Note that this is not some small variation; that is a 100% increase over the same period last year.

This surge did not occur in a vacuum.  President Obama has before and after his re-election promised the loosening of immigration rules on deportation, and has widely announced that he wanted to sign executive orders furthering those ideals.  He first signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum in June 2012, which directs US Immigration officials to practice ‘prosecutorial discretion when it comes to illegal undocumented youth immigrants.

These moves, unsurprisingly, have not gone unnoticed south of the border.  In fact, in many countries in Central and South America, there are editorials and TV broadcasts that have touted this change.  This has often been misinterpreted as a true amnesty, and thus many uneducated families have made the decision that if the door has swung wide open for their children, they can’t miss the opportunity to jump through that door.

And that has resulted in a change of behavior across the board.  Unaccompanied minors now are surging the border, in hopes to benefit from Obama’s DACA, even if this is an incorrect understanding of the rules the President signed into force.  But even more so, those children are purposefully being apprehended by immigration officials. This from USA Today:

One key difference the recent arrivals are displaying from their predecessors: They’re not bothering to sneak deeper into Texas, opting instead to turn themselves in and allow U.S. policy toward immigrant youth decide their fate, said Chris Cabrera, a McAllen-based Border Patrol agent and vice president of the local chapter of the National Border Patrol Council.

“We’re seeing record numbers of children coming across,” he said. “We’re dealing with so many of them turning themselves in that it makes it hard for our agents to focus on anything else.”

Legally of course this is not what President Obama intended.  But the logical result of his policies is not surprising whatsoever. Uneducated, non-English speaking people across the world heard what they wanted to hear; a President basically removing the major blockade for their children to enter the United States.  Did Mr. Obama really expect a different result?

This of course puts the President and his Democrat allies into a bind.  Hillary Clinton, who is on her ‘Throw Obama Under the Bus” Book tour, didn’t miss the opportunity to…throw Obama under the bus.

“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are, because there are concerns whether all of them should be sent back,” Clinton said. “But I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their families.”

This is a major quandary for the Obama Administration, who has made the ‘virtual’ DREAM act one of their second term priorities.  Furthermore, there are practical realities: once we allow the children across the border, our laws give them specific protections.  Here from Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, via Greg Sargent:

“It’s easy to say they should all be sent home. But that’s really hard to do. The law requires them to get their day in court, and many will qualify for some form of relief. You have to make sure these kids have an opportunity to present their situation in court, because they are more like refugees than immigrants. Making sure they show up would require holding all these kids in huge detention centers — rather than releasing them to family — and a massive infusion in judges to relieve the backlog of the courts, neither of which is possible under current budgetary and political restraints.”

We all agree with this.  There is a balance between the law and being humane.  The problem here is…Obama shifted the balanc, and therein lies the basic problem with the entire episode.

Democrats have long believed that loosening immigration rules, followed by enforcement of hiring and border protections, would stem the tide of illegal immigration.

This story shows the fundamental flaw in their logic, and why their plan will never work.  Once you loosen the rules on illegal immigrants, foreigners who are desperately poor and have no other choices will make the choice that has now open to them.  In this case, President Obama’s order, unintentionally but still forcefully, shifted the dynamic in such a way to make it worthwhile for hundreds of thousands of parents to send their children unaccompanied across the US border, in hopes that Mr. Obama’s administration would largely keep their promise of not deporting the majority of them, and thus, giving them a backdoor legal status into the United States.

Furthermore, because of the laws already existing, we must give those children due process.  In other words, because of the already existing backlog of cases, many of these minors could spend months, if not years potentially, in holding camps. Is that humane?

Liberals will argue that was never Obama’s intent.  Maybe so, but the results are the same.

This goes to the heart of the matter on comprehensive immigration reform.  I support immigration reform, and even support the DREAM act in theory, but the entire system will fail until you secure the border.  No legalization process or amnesty will long survive the reality that our border is quite open.  If you don’t secure the border…the surge of immigrants is the result.

This entire episode in liberal experimentation with social engineering proves that.


We Are Losing The War On Terror


First, if you think this is going to be a hit piece on Barack Obama…keep reading, because that is precisely not what this.

What this is, fundamentally, is an analysis of where our global fight against existential terror groups stands.

It is not a pretty picture.

Even before this weeks events in Iraq, we have seen a resurgence of Islamists all over the world.

In African, numerous groups have seen a comeback, most famous being that Baku Haram in Nigeria, who kidnapped several hundred young girls, and led to a Twitter phenomenon that so far has failed to find and return those girls safely.

In Libya, the West’s strategy has failed completely, as the majority of the country is now controlled by rebels, and the Capital itself has come under attack several times; Libya is on the verge of being a failed state.

Syria has long been a failed state, as the Civil War rages on. Thousands have died since the West signed a chemical weapons deal with Assad.  The chemical weapons deal is a nice public relations coup, but will not change the killing one iota.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban are apparently biding their time until the US leaves, so they can restart their Jihad against everyone.  And they staged one of their biggest coups in years, by receiving 5 key leaders back from Guantanamo Bay, at the price of one single American Soldier.

And the Taliban, along with the Hiqqani network, staged an underreported attack on Karachi airport in Pakistan, which signals new trouble for that nuclear state.

Iraq’s troubles, with ISIS and other Islamist groups, marching toward Baghdad is just another symptom of the larger problem.

Now, people’s instincts are to do one of two things: blame George W. Bush for everything and do nothing; or blame President Barack Obama for everything, and bomb everyone.

Both are incorrect and illogical.

Let us stipulate, at least in Iraq, that George W. Bush shares a lion’s share of the blame. I don’t want to get into the larger fight about the historical record of the war; but Bush owns this, for all time.

That said, that doesn’t mean Mr. Obama should simply play the tit-for-tat game, point at Bush, and say he wins the game. This is no game. This is not a time for political theater.

Let us put this into perspective, shall we? ISIS is a group that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s titular leader, thought was too extreme for him, and thus he severed ties with that organization. He once thought the group was a liability…the the ‘Al Qaeda brand’.  Think about that for a second.  To allow them to just walk into Baghdad would be a horrible failure of U.S. foreign policy.

Furthermore, let us recall that Osama Bin Laden’s key strategic goal was not to attack the United States. His key goal, all along, was to create a caliphate in the Middle East, that can grow and then present a true threat to the West. ISIS is on the verge of accomplishing just that.

The question now becomes, as we look at this global surge of islamic terror rising, and then see one event in which we could, at the very least, stem that tide in the hopes that more moderate and democratic forces can take charge, should we just ignore it because it is inconvenient?

Obama has only limited tools at his disposal.  Putting troops on the ground is not an option anyone is considering, nor should they.  There is much debate about whether drone or air strikes would do the trick.  That is a military question I cannot answer.

I think the war in Iraq was a mistake. I think we should be far more non-interventionist in our foreign policy as time passes.  But ignoring the threat posed here is foolish as well…9/11 taught us that.

I for one hope the President takes decisive, albeit limited, action here. He has a host of terrible choices, and many if not most of the problems in this specific case were not of his making. However, that should not excuse him from having to make the choice that is needed now, nor should it do so in the future.

Additionally, I hope the country quickly unites and backs the President if he takes quick action. This is a moment for unity, not for politics.  There are real costs to failing here; and people who don’t understand that have learned nothing from the last two decades of foreign policy failures.




What will GOP learn from Cantor’s defeat?


What will GOP learn from Cantor’s defeat?

Likely, not much.

The establishment has a difficult time analyzing and adapting to such ground shifting events. And make no mistake: Eric Cantor’s defeat was earth shattering.  He becomes the first Majority leader ever to lose a primary race.  EVER.  And he is the highest ranking party member to lose a primary race since 1899.

In my lifetime, there is not really an analogous primary result.  People have compared this to then Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle’s Senate election loss, but that was a general election race…a whole different ballgame.

Fundamentally, Cantor was not a bad conservative.  I still believe he is a good man, and a good Republican.  In fact, he had terrific ratings from conservative groups.  He was for lower taxes, smaller government…generally a pretty strong conservative.

What Cantor lost in recent years was any connection to the base…and his own constituents. And ultimately…that matters.  For years, people in his district felt he spent far more time catering to Washington D.C. interests than their own.  Even before this cycle, Cantor was no loved in the district, because…he made no effort TO be loved.

My faith in the Republican Party’s leadership is at an all-time low, and the voters of VA-7 seemed to agree with my assessment.  This is a party that spends an inordinate time worrying about what Democrats, the media, and others say about it…instead of listening it its own members, and actually moving the needle on conservative policies to move the country forward.

If the GOP leadership walks away from this event with only excuses why Cantor lost, it will further deepen the divide in the party, and furthermore, will do nothing to further the conservative cause.  The party doesn’t necessarily need to move right or center to win elections.  More than anything, it needs to listen to the American people, focus on the few issues people care about…and then fight.

I don’t see that happening, because we still require a leadership purge within the party.  There are many things our party must help the country transform on, whether it be the economy, taxes, immigration or health care.  But our current leadership cadre might be out of their depths on those issues. And fundamentally, Cantor’s loss was simply a symptom of that larger problem.



Why Do We Have A Veterans Administration?


Why do we have a Veterans Administration?

Fundamentally, this is the key question we should be grappling with, since it became public that dozens of Veterans died waiting to get health care in the Phoenix VA system.  And this is far from an isolated incident; this is an epidemic that exists in facilities all across the nation.  VAs have long been unresponsive, uncaring, and unwilling to our nation’s military veterans.

President Obama campaigned on this issue in 2007.  In his 2008 platform, he stated the following, among other things:

  • Allow All Veterans Back into the VA: Reverse the 2003 ban on enrolling modest-income veterans, which has denied care to a million veterans.

  • Strengthen VA Care: Make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible. Improve care for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, and women’s health.

Has this been the case?

Of course not.  Although Obama and Democrats have focused on health care reform, they did little to change the fundamental broken system within the Veterans Administration. In fact, if anything, letting the problem largely fester has worsened issues, while blindly increasing funding, likely has led to more morbidity and mortality in some dysfunctional facilities.

The problem with all of Obama’s promises at this point is that none of it accepts a fundamental, basic fact: the VA has long been broken.  These problems existed long before Barack Obama rose to the Presidency.  It is a system whose internal dysfunction cannot simply be fixed by added funding or minor reforms.  And it is highly unlikely that the bureaucrats in this administration are going to fix a long-standing problem without massive changes that other bureaucrats in other administrations failed to accomplish.

I do believe the VA could be fixed.  It would take an extensive, persistent effort to change the management, culture, philosophy, and underlying tenets of warped system.

I fundamentally don’t believe this administration is willing take on that challenge.

Are they willing to accept that public sector unions have been a major source of the dysfunction? Are they willing to accept the payment model breeds inefficiency?  Do they understand that there is layer after layer of administrators in the system whose only job is self survival in the bureaucratic mire that is the VA?

That is why I ask a simple question:  Why do we have a Veterans Administration?  The original cause was to provide health care access to our military heroes, because there was no other easy access.  However, with the Affordable Care Act, we now have another method to provide that care, do we not?

So then, why do we maintain a duplicate system that, as can easily be demonstrated, not working?

Surely, there are some portions of the VA that will have to be maintained.  Special units that focus on battlefield injuries, as stated in Obama’s platform, which no private hospital would be able to deal with, must be maintained.  I am sure there are other examples.

But for the vast majority of our nation’s Veterans, access to the private sector would be far more responsive and sufficient for their needs.  The VA could simply provide them ample vouchers (on top of the subsidies already available through the ACA) to fund the maximum coverage on the Obamacare exchanges…and allow them to enjoy the fruits of our private sector health care system.

So why do we have a Veterans Administration? I bet this question has never been asked or answered in the West Wing or Oval Office. And that fundamentally is why this administration will never succeed in fixing this problem.


Memorial Day: Freedom is not Free




Time For Radical Changes At The VA


I feel sorry for former General Eric Shinseki.  By all accounts, he was an excellent military man, competent, stalwart, and honest.  And because of that, he was chosen to head the Veterans Administration.

The place where political careers go to die.

Shinseki came to the VA in Obama’s first term with a lot of pomp and circumstance; those days are long gone.  With a myriad of scandals plaguing VA hospitals and medical centers across the country, the Obama Administration is now in full crisis mode, and things are likely to get far worse.

Although Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to make the ridiculous argument that the President only found out about these problems from ‘media reports’, the reality is Senator Obama was quite aware of these problems.  In fact, one of his first attacks on then President Bush as ‘candidate Obama’ was regarding the VA.  Here is Mr. Obama in 2007:

“When a veteran is denied health care, we are all dishonored,” Obama said. “When 400,000 veterans are stuck on a waiting list for claims, we need a new sense of urgency in this country.” He also promised more resources and better management to fix the problems seen at the VA. “As president, I won’t stand for hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for benefits. We’ll hire additional claims workers.”

Well, the utter failure is quite clear.  The waiting lists that Obama referred to 7 years ago have grown, not shrunken.

Funding does not appear to be a issue. Spending has increased all but one year since Obama spoke so eloquently.  Since FY2008, the VA budget has grown by 78 percent in six budget cycles, to $150.6 billion. On than 2012 when spending slightly decreased because of the sequester, the VA budget has averaged a 8% increase yearly.

However, the most recent revelations that started in Phoenix, and have now permeated through out the VA system, cannot be ignored.  In Phoenix alone, 40 deaths are attributed to the long, unresponsive waiting lists.  The number of deaths are sure to grow as we get more evidence and transparency.

I feel bad for Gen. Shinseki.  The VA was a bloated, destructive government bureaucracy long before he walked into the quagmire.  And initially, I was opposed to his firing over this.

That is no longer the case.  His failure, either because of lack of competence or simply because the Herculean task of fixing a fundamentally broken government health care system is an impossible task, is quite clear at this point.  He should step aside in any case.  His retirement would at the very least provide the media attention necessary to force the Administration to act decisively. And possibly, with the right type of reformer, we could see actual productive improvements to the VA.  Hope springs eternal.

It is time for real action at the Veterans Administration.  We have as a country waited too long; and our Veterans are still waiting.

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