So Secretary Eric Shinseki is now ex-secretary Shinseki, and cleaning up the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care mess will now be someone else’s job. But there’s a good chance that no matter who is in charge, the cleanup will be, basically, impossible. That’s because the VA is government health care.
Not all that long ago, some people were boosting the VA’s government-run nature as a plus. Writing in the Washington Post during the debate over Obamacare, Ezra Klein suggested that we should expand VA coverage to non-veterans, because the government just does health care better than the private sector: “Medicare is single-payer, but VA is actually socialized medicine, where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors… If you ordered America’s different health systems (from) worst-functioning to best, it would look like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration.”
A couple of years later, in 2011, Klein hailed the VA health system as an example of “when socialism works in America“: “The thing about the Veteran’s (Affairs’) health-care system? It’s socialized. Not single-payer. Not heavily centralized. Socialized. As in, it employs the doctors and nurses. Owns the hospitals… If I could choose my health-care reform, I don’t think I’d go as far towards government control as the VA does. But the program is one of the most remarkable success stories in American public policy, and it needs to be grappled with.”
Now that the VA has erupted in scandals involving phony wait lists, and people dying because of treatment delays, an audit reveals a “systemic lack of integrity” in the system. According to the auditors, “Information indicates that in some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable.”
In other words, they cooked the books. And what’s more, they did it to ensure bigger “performance bonuses.” The performance may have been fake, but the bonuses were real. (One whistle-blower compared the operation to a “crime syndicate.”)
And that captures an important point. People sometimes think that government or “nonprofit” operations will be run more honestly than for-profit businesses because the businesses operate on the basis of “greed.” But, in fact, greed is a human characteristic that is present in any organization made up of humans. It’s all about incentives.
And, ironically, a for-profit medical system might actually offer employees less room for greed than a government system. That’s because VA patients were stuck with the VA. If wait times were long, they just had to wait, or do without care. In a free-market system, a provider whose wait times were too long would lose business, and even if the employees faked up the wait-time numbers, that loss of business would show up on the bottom line. That would lead top managers to act, or lose their jobs.
In the VA system, however, the losses didn’t show up on the bottom line because, well, there isn’t one. Instead, the losses were diffused among the many patients who went without care — visible to them, but not to the people who ran the agency, who relied on the cooked-books numbers from their bonus-seeking underlings.
And, contrary to what Klein suggests, that’s the problem with socialism. The absence of a bottom line doesn’t reduce greed and self-dealing – it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.
BLM has been up to some questionable land transactions and the familiar Reid family name is involved in some of them. Rusty Hill, a former BLM volunteer and Nevada land broker, is interviewed by Gary Franchi and exposes the curious connections.
Hill became involved with land development in Clark County, through the Summa Corporation of Howard Hughes.
When the first reports of trouble came out at the Bundy Ranch, Hill knew it was nothing to do with the desert tortoise.
He talks about a freeway-style interchange west of Bunkerville that has no apparent reason to be there. Hill believes there are other interests at work, both in the acquisition of property, which he details, as well as curious pricing and other factors.
He offers his thoughts as one who is intimately familiar with the entire area as to what might be the impetus behind the determination of the BLM to clear this land of all human activity.
It’s a little long, but intriguing and it provides an interesting perspective that supports the premise that there are some big money, powerful interests at work behind the scenes. Now, they may be forced out into the open.
Another day, another slipup by the Internal Revenue Service.
The incident involves the unwitting exposure of “tens of thousands” of Social Security numbers, according to a recent audit by the independent transparency and public-domain group Public.Resource.org. The identifying numbers were on the Internet for less than 24 hours after being discovered, but the damage was done. And unfortunately, the data-breach concerns some of the most sensitive types of transactions: Those made by nonprofit political groups known as 527s.
Every so often, 527s have to file tax forms to the IRS, which then get added to a database. The database itself is hardly a secret; the IRS has been sending updated records routinely to Public.Resource.org and other public-interest groups, and it’s a favorite among political reporters. But when the IRS told the group’s founder, Carl Malamud, to disregard the Form 990-Ts included in the agency’s January release, he took a closer look at the files in question.
After analyzing the breach, Malamud wrote a letter to the IRS pointing out 10 instances where a social security number was accidentally revealed on the government’s website – just a small sample of the larger breach.
Just the day before, Malamud had filed another letter to the agency describing a problem with the 990-Ts. Of over 3,000 tax returns contained in the January update, 319 contained sensitive data the agency should have scrubbed, Malamud wrote in the July 1 report that he filed to the inspector general’s office. In that mixup, some 2,319 social security numbers – perhaps more – were revealed.
To determine the extent of the exposure, we’ve analyzed our logs and have also analyzed the data received from the IRS. We maintain a privacy registry based on any clicks made on the privacy cover sheet on the top of each return. That registry indicates that 8 clicks were made from 4 unique IP addresses. However, none of those resulted in privacy complaints and could have been made by an automated process.
In addition, we examined our FTP and HTTP logs. We only maintain a 7-day window for HTTP logs and did not see any HTTP-based access that was not from a search engine crawler. For the FTP logs (which indicates bulk download activity), we did not see extensive activity for the January directory, but it was clear that at least one copy of the DVD ISO image (the image of the original DVD) had been transferred.
Public.Resource.org took down its copy of the compromised 990-Ts and replaced them with a clean version that the IRS had sent. But it was another day before “senior White House officials” the IRS removed the files from public view on their end, on July 3.
Calling the IRS’s efforts at data security “unprofessional and amateur,” Public.Resource.org is requesting that the IRS shut down the entire 527 database to prevent further lapses. In an email, Malamud told me that the IRS has, in fact, shut down the database – but that it should also reopen it as soon as possible in the interest of transparency.
In May, the IRS drew fire for singling out conservative political groups for greater scrutiny, leading to the resignation of the agency’s acting director and sparking a slew of congressional hearings.
I’ve called the IRS for comment, and I’ll update if I hear anything.
Update: An earlier version of this post didn’t make sufficiently clear the distinction between the 990-Ts and the 527 database, which are each the source of separate, if similar, problems. Both the tax documents and the database revealed social security numbers; the IRS sent Public.Resource.org a clean copy of the first but didn’t fix the second until Malamud contacted the agency.
In this video, N.Y. Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin is asked to keep quiet a proposal by Democrats to confiscate guns:
On his Facebook page, McLaughlin went ahead and released the list:
“Here it is. This is the video where I was asked to keep the Democrat proposals for the N.Y. SAFE Act away from the public. This list was given to me by a colleague and it is not confidential.
This bill was an attack on the 2nd amendment and the Democrats clearly wanted to dismantle the work of the Founding Fathers. None of these amendments were included in the final bill thanks to us fighting back. I will not stand silent while these unpatriotic proposals are pathetically thrown at us a 11 o’clock at night:
1. Confiscation of “assault weapons”
2. Confiscation o ten round clips
3. Statewide database for ALL Guns
4. Continue to allow pistol permit holder’s information to be replaced to the public
5. Label semiautomatic shotguns with more than 5 rounds or pistol grips as “assault weapons”
6. Limit the number of rounds in a magazine to 5 and confiscation and forfeiture of banned magazines
7. Limit possession to no more than two (2) magazines
8. Limit purchase of guns to one gun per person per month
9. Require re-licensing of all pistol permit owners
10. Require renewal of all pistol permits every five years
11. State issued pistol permits
12. Micro-stamping of all guns in New York State
13. Require licensing of all gun ammo dealers
14. Mandatory locking of guns at home
15. Fee for licensing, registering weapons”
And people scoff at conservatives like Rush who have been saying for years that Democrats want to confiscate weapons.