Friday, May 30, 2014

Congressional Letter - Net Neutrality

I am concerned that the FCC is destroying the Internet in America by ending net neutrality.  The Internet should be tightly regulated as a common carrier, as AT&T (“Ma Bell”) was 50 years ago.  The telephone system then only carried voice; the Internet is much more important since it carries data, music, and video as well as voice.  Nobody watches television broadcast over the airwaves anymore, but the broadcast spectrum is regulated as if it were much more important than the Internet.

Michael Powell decided that the Internet should not be regulated as a common carried when he was the chair of the FCC.  He later went on to reap his financial payoff by becoming president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, where he has continued to argue against regulating the internet as a public utility.

Currently the FCC is proposing an Internet “fast lane” for companies like Netflix, while arguing that this does not violate “net neutrality” because it does not create a “slow lane,” but if there is a fast lane, everybody else is in the slow lane.

Congress can remedy this situation and overrule the FCC by passing legislation strictly regulating the Internet as a public utility or common carrier.  I hope that you will do so.  The recent proposed mergers of Comcast and Time Warner cable and of AT&T and DirecTV show that this field is becoming a monopoly.  Government regulation becomes more important as competition decreases.

Already many countries outrank the US in Internet availability and speed.  I hope that you will take action to prevent American monopolies from destroying this important resource.

Congressional Letter - Keep Shinseki

I am writing to defend General Shinseki from charges that he should resign as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs because of delays in treating veterans in Phoenix, Fort Collins, and other locations.

While I was at Firebase Barbara in Vietnam, in 1970, a few miles away, the US Special Forces base at Mai Loc was overrun by the North Vietnamese.  Then Army Captain Eric Shinseki went to relieve the base.  Although I don’t know him at all, I feel a bond with General Shinseki as an Army veteran who cares about the people who served with him.  The VA faces an overwhelming task; things have improved under Shinseki although they still have a long way to go.

I have heard no one on the news explain well why the veterans in Phoenix died while waiting for care.  Except for veterans wounded or otherwise injured during their service, the VA is a caregiver of last resort.  The fact that these people died in Phoenix means that they had no military Tricare, no private healthcare insurance, no Obama Care, no Medicare, no Medicaid, and their local emergency rooms apparently refused to treat them when their condition became urgent.  It is an indictment of the whole American healthcare system, as well as an indictment of VA care.

One problem with firing Shinseki is replacing him.  Healthcare costs in America have skyrocketed.  To replace Shinseki, you would ideally get a senior administrator of a large, private hospital system, but almost every person in one of these positions makes millions of dollars per year.  They would have to make a significant financial sacrifice to take the VA job.  One example is former Senator Frist; the Frist family in Tennessee is fantastically wealthy because of its hospital chain which was taken over by HCA, in which the Frists remain involved.  If you look at other well-known hospital systems, the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic for example, the senior personnel are extremely well paid.

Although all aspects of the VA could be improved, I think the current scandal mainly involves old veterans like myself.  For veterans who come home wounded in combat, my understanding is that the VA is doing a better job, and once a person is in the VA system, the VA health data (as opposed to service data) is probably automated better than any private hospital’s.  I have looked into somehow getting on the VA’s roles, and frankly have been put off, but I did not make an issue of it because I have private insurance and Medicare.  The VA replied to my letters by saying that because I had these other coverages, I did not qualify for VA care.  I belong to the American Legion mainly because I hope that if something catastrophic happened to me not covered by insurance, the American Legion would help my wife get some kind of VA care for me.  I understand that the VA cannot be the primary healthcare provider to everyone who ever served in the American military.  It is more important that the VA take care of wounded veterans rather than old guys with chronic diseases, although admittedly I might change my tune on this someday.

Meanwhile, I think Shinseki is doing a better job than almost anyone who would replace him.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Veterans Affairs

I am sure the Department of Veterans Affairs needs improving, but I am not sure the latest scandal sheds much light on what needs to be done.  The fact that the scandal occurred in Phoenix, although similar cases have been found in other cities, indicates to me that his is a problem affecting older veterans.  Nice people don’t serve in the military very often these days.  Most volunteers come from rural or inner city areas where jobs are scarce.  American elites talk about being patriotic, but they don’t often do anything about it.  Therefore, I don’t think the people in Phoenix who died waiting for a call from the VA were veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan.  There are a lot of old people in Phoenix; these veterans were most likely from an earlier war or peacetime service.  

This raises the question of what services the VA is supposed to provide.  In many cases, it is the caregiver of last resort for veterans.  It has been criticized for falling down on this job, for example, failing to care for homeless veterans.   Retired career military have a program called Tricare.  If these Phoenix veterans died waiting for VA medical care, it means they had no Tricare, no private health insurance, no Obama Care, no Medicare, no Medicaid, and no local hospital would admit them to the hospital’s emergency room.  That is a sad state of affairs for the veterans, and for the US health care system.  

The VA has an enormous number of programs, covering young vets who have been badly wounded in combat, old wounded vets, young vets who are failing to adapt to civilian life after leaving the military, and old vets who are down on their luck, broke and sick.  I am guessing the Phoenix scandal involves the last category, but the talking heads on TV don’t shed any light on the issue.  They talk as if the VA is your mother, and once you leave the military, the VA will take care of you for the rest of your life, no matter what.  I’m not sure that what the law says.  

Lots of people want Secretary Shinseki to go, but nobody talks about who should replace him.  He is a combat veteran (who served in I Corps in Vietnam while I was there), who cares about the men and women.  As a cabinet secretary, Shinseki makes about $200,000 per year.  Both the head of the Cleveland Clinic and the head of the Mayo clinic make over $2 million per year.  Most heads of hospital systems earn over $1 million, and those systems are all smaller than the VA system.  Most doctors running university medical schools earn well over $500,000.  For almost anyone in the private sector, taking a senior government job means a substantial cut in salary.  So the VA can probably rule out getting a first rate medical administrator.  I would not expect much improvement if Shinseki gets replaced by some political hack, although the people shouting, “Off with his head,” would be appeased for a while.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Jewish Takeover

I have become increasingly concerned about a Jewish takeover of the United States, in which the United States would become the guarantor of Israel’s security, while Israel increasingly becomes an undesirable, immoral country.  Secretary of State Kerry’s characterization of Israel as an “apartheid” country is only the most recent evidence of Israel’s downfall.

I think the main problem is Israel, not Jews in general.  There are many American Jews who are loyal, patriotic Americans.  Ironically, I had more friendships and interactions with Jews, blacks, and other minorities growing up in Alabama than I have had in Colorado, where the most visible minority is Hispanic.  Growing up, the family next door was Jewish, and I never thought of them as anything but American.  The main difference was that we seldom shared meals because they kept kosher.  However, today I am worried by people like Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban, even Senator Charles Schumer, as well as organizations like AIPAC, and Israelis like Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.  How would they come down if they had to choose between Israel and America?

Israel is in a difficult position.  It wants to be a racially pure country, the “Jewish state” that Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to recognize, which unfortunately echoes Hitler’s attempt to make Germany racially pure.  More and more, Israel is a country of Ashkenazi Jews; even Sephardic Jews are second rate citizens, much less other ethnicities.  On the other hand, if Israel does not remain an ethnically pure Jewish state, the Palestinians will in a few years become the majority population of Israel, ending Jewish dominance of the government.

White men, mainly Anglo-Saxons of British ancestry, took North America from the Indians; so, it would be just another page for the history books for the Jews to take North America from the Anglo-Saxons

Of course it is not just the Jews, Asians, including the Indians from South Asia, are also on the ascendant, but they so far are not acquiring the financial and political power that the Jews have.  They are not united in supporting one country outside of the US.  Many of them, except for a few Indian financiers, seem content to remain millionaires, not become billionaires.  They also don’t have the political power that Jews do.  There are relatively few in Congress, compared to the huge caucus of Jews, who make up a much larger percentage of the political elite in Washington, than their proportion of the population at large.  There is also a different attitude toward the country they came from.  Asians left their own country, India, China or Vietnam for example, because they wanted to go somewhere else.  As a result I don’t feel that America is nearly as threatened by Asians as it is by Jews.

Most Jews immigrated to the U.S. before Israel was created.  They never left their “homeland” for political or other reasons.  They left Germany or Russia because things were bad there, but they didn’t leave Israel because things were bad there.  Many Jews slip back and forth between the US and Israel, often having dual citizenship.  Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, chose to serve as a volunteer in the Israeli military rather than the American military.  He apparently served in the IDF in Israel during the first Gulf War in 1991.  It’s possible that he might not have qualified for the American military because he is missing part of a finger.  Also his father emigrated from Israel to the US, not from Europe.  Nevertheless, it is odd to have someone who held one of the most influential positions in the US Government, President Obama’s chief of staff, who served in a foreign army while remaining an American citizen.

Another question for me is Stanley Fischer, the new vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, a job he took after being governor of the Bank of Israel from 2005 to 2013.  He was born in Rhodesia, studied in Israel as a teenager, got undergraduate degrees in England, and got a Ph.D. at MIT, where he also taught.  He became an American citizen in 1976.  Apparently Israel made him take Israeli citizenship to be governor of their central bank, but Israel did not force him to give up his American citizenship; so, he is now a dual national.  I guess I should be happy that he was an American citizen before he was an Israeli citizen and that he didn’t renounce his American citizenship.  Also, at the Fed, Israel’s interests are unlikely to conflict with America’s, but if they do, can he be trusted, especially since his boss, Janet Yellen, is also Jewish, and of course most bankers, especially in New York City are Jewish.  When America was founded, almost everybody in the American government was of British birth or ancestry, but they also fought several wars (the Revolution and 1812) against Britain.  

I am not well connected to any immigrant community, but got some glimpses when I served in the American embassies in Warsaw and Rome. The embassy in Warsaw had a big contingent of Polish-Americans, and the embassy in Rome had a huge contingent of Italian-Americans.  Italian-Americans had a very close, loving relationship with Italy. It was a little different in Warsaw because Warsaw was just coming out of 50 years under Communist rule.  The Polish-Americans had never lived under Communism; in some ways they wanted to do more to help their former countrymen than the Italians did, but in some ways, they were a little more distant, trying to figure out how to handle the remaining Communist influences in Poland.

So, what do American Jews think about Israel being such a racist country?  Clearly some are worried about it, the Jews who support J-Street, for example, but most seem to say, “Israel right or wrong, I love it.”  There are a lot of bad countries in the world that violate human rights more than Israel does, but the United States is not their sugar daddy.  When it wants to, Israel acts like it is a 51st state, insatiably taking, taking, taking all that its Jewish Congressmen and Senators will give it, aided by their born-again, fundamentalist Christian colleagues who also support Israel strongly in Congress.  Israel is the biggest recipient of US assistance, except Afghanistan because of the war, despite the fact that Israel is much richer and more developed than any other recipient of such aid.

Jews curse America for refusing to take in more Jews before and during World War II; yet, Israel declares itself a Jewish state, accepting only Jews.  Why couldn’t America have done like Israel and declared itself a Christian state in the 1940s, refusing to take in any Jews at all?

The New York Times recently reported that Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League conducted a poll that found that 26% of the world population was anti-Semitic.  It turns out that most of those anti-Semites are Arabs and Muslims, especially Palestinians.  However, the article says, “The most widely held stereotype, the survey showed, was an affirmative answer to this statement: “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country/the countries they live in.”  I’m sorry Mr. Foxman, but I worry that this statement is true.  While you may think this says something bad about me, I think it shows that many Jews need to do more to show that they are loyal and patriotic citizens of the United States.