Archive for July, 2014

By IBRAHIM BARZAK and PETER ENAV

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state headed to Cairo on Monday to try to end two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting that has killed at least 508 Palestinians and 20 Israelis and displaced tens of thousands of Gaza residents.

The new cease-fire efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry followed the deadliest day of fighting since the escalation erupted on July 8.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council expressed “serious concern” about Gaza’s rising civilian death toll and demanded an immediate end to the fighting following an emergency session.

As Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Gaza, rescue workers near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis were digging out bodies early Monday from the one-story home of the Abu Jamea family, flattened in one of the strikes overnight, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health ministry official.

Al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll from the two-week offensive stood at 508 as of Monday morning. More than half of those victims — 268 — were killed since an Israeli ground operation in Gaza began late Thursday.

That total included 20 bodies that were found at the site near Khan Younis, where two people were pulled alive from the rubble, Al-Kidra said.

Elsewhere in Gaza, he said, Israeli tanks opened fire on the home of the Siyam family west of Rafah in the southern part of the strip, killing 10 people, including four young children and a 9-month-old baby girl.

“Without any warning at all they began bombarding us at midnight, at 2 a.m., said Dr. Mahmoud Siyam, the head of the family. “We are not related to any military or political activities. We are civilized people (living) in this area of Gaza, what crime have we committed?”

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it foiled a Hamas infiltration attempt on Monday through two tunnels leading from northern Gaza into southern Israel. The military said 10 infiltrators were killed after being detected and targeted by Israeli aircraft.

On Sunday, the first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price, killing 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and forcing thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their devastated Shijaiyah neighborhood, which Israel says is a major source for rocket fire against its civilians.

Palestinian medics tend to a boy who they said was wounded in an Israeli shelling, at a hospital, in …
Large sections of Shijaiyah were pulverized by a barrage of Israeli tank and artillery bombardments and repeated Israeli air strikes that buffeted the densely populated neighborhood for most of Sunday.

Speaking on national television shortly after the military announced the deaths of the 13 Israeli soldiers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Gaza offensive would continue “as long as necessary” to end attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians.

Appearing with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that Israel expected to complete its work neutralizing the Hamas tunnels leading into Israeli territory within several days — a possible hint of a timeframe for the end of the operation.

Still, much work remains if diplomats are to succeed in brokering a sustainable cease-fire. On Sunday, Kerry said the U.S. still supports the Egyptian proposal for a halt to the hostilities that Israel accepted and Hamas rejected last week.

Hamas remains deeply suspicious of the motives of the Egyptian government, which has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that Hamas closely identifies with.

The 13 Israeli soldiers who died in Shijaiyah brought the overall Israeli death toll to 20, including two civilians who died from rocket and mortar fire directed at Israeli towns and villages from different parts of Gaza.

On Sunday evening, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri in Gaza claimed his group had captured an Israeli soldier. An announcement on Gaza TV of the soldier’s capture set off celebration in the streets of West Bank.

But there was no official confirmation of the claim in Israel. Earlier, the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said the Hamas claim was untrue.

For Israelis, a captured soldier would be a nightmare scenario. Hamas-allied militants seized an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid in 2006 and held him captive in Gaza until Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom were involved in grisly killings, for his return in 2011.

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Mr. McDonald,

Congratulations on your nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a good citizen you have agreed to take on one of the most demanding and important jobs in Washington.

As a veteran yourself you can appreciate how shaken veterans and their families are by the scandals and corruption that has been exposed throughout the Veterans Administration. I know you will agree that we owe our veterans the best care and we have failed to deliver.

Given the scale of the challenge, I hope you will not mind if, as someone who has spent nearly five decades in politics and government and has seen scores of cabinet secretaries come and go, I share a few thoughts on the position to which you’ve been nominated.

Should the Senate confirm you to this post, you will take command of the VA at the most troubled time in its history. The reports of corruption, incompetence, and corruption to hide incompetence have drawn the nation’s outrage and caused your predecessor to resign. How might you succeed at reform where so many others before you have failed?

Given your lifetime spent in business, probably you are familiar with W. Edwards Deming’s famous “Red Bead Experiment.” Deming used to carry around a bin full of red beads and white beads mixed together. He would describe to audiences his intention to gather up just the white beads, and then he would blindly plunge a scoop into the bin. To his ostensible frustration, the scoop would always emerge with a mix of both kinds of beads. Feigning disbelief, he would appoint a new person to wield the scoop. Invariably, he or she would fail as well. Then Deming would proceed to the next candidate, and so on.

The point of the Deming demonstration was to illustrate that a systems problem couldn’t be solved with new people, new slogans, and new speeches. When the system is broken, the personalities don’t matter. People will fail one after the next until the system is changed.

The range and scale of the misconduct at the VA shows that the corruption there, like the doomed attempt to isolate white beads, is not just a problem of personalities but more importantly of systems, and it goes to the very core of the bureaucracy. I have attached a map we have developed at Gingrich Productions which shows 55 VA sites with major problems. We are certain this number will grow as more parts of the VA are investigated and audited.

When you have that many places in trouble simultaneously you are not dealing with a few bad apples, a failure of a few leaders, or a need for better inspections. With that many places simultaneously in trouble, you have a system and a culture that have been corrupted and are collapsing.

The agency’s own audit found that 70 percent of VA medical facilities were using improper scheduling practices to hide long wait times by falsifying data. The wait times persist despite (or more likely because of) the fact that VA doctors see less than half as many patients as doctors in the private sector.

This is a department that has 40 percent more employees and costs 90 percent more money than it did in 2006. Operating rooms close at 3:00 pm so the union cleaning staff can leave by 5:00. Officials get bonuses no matter what their performance, apparently (though 100 percent of them were given “fully successful” performance reviews or better last year–a remarkable achievement in light of the agency’s widespread mismanagement).

It takes 175 days to transfer a veteran’s medical records from the Department of Defense to the VA. The DoD and the VA spent $1.3 billion and four years trying to build software to solve this issue before announcing in February that they had given up.

Failure this thorough points to a system–the giant, fossilized bureaucracy–that is hopelessly broken and must be replaced rather than repaired. Unfortunately, the entrenched bureaucrats, the unions, and the President, along with many others in Congress who are ideologically committed to a failed model of delivering health care, all oppose the systemic changes that could actually work.

Mr. McDonald, you are about to become the next guy holding the scoop at the VA. The prison guards of the past might write legislation to give you a bigger scoop, and then they will call the problem solved. Your job, as the new champion of our nation’s veterans, will be to focus the public’s outrage and to marshal support for real change.

Opportunities to force the kind of transformation the VA needs come along once or twice in a generation. It would be a tragic mistake if, after the enormous human pain that led to your appointment, you allowed the moment to pass.

What would systemic change look like? It would begin with enforcing the right metrics, with measuring success not by how well the Department serves the bureaucrats but by how well it serves our veterans. This would mean insisting the VA meet the standards our veterans are accustomed to as consumers in every other aspect of their lives–the world where services work and are increasingly digital, mobile, virtual, and personal.

The VA is a long way from that today, and to get there it will have to become a radically different agency with many fewer bureaucrats operating under a new set of assumptions. The fight to change the VA will be big. But the ramifications could extend well beyond your single department. The whole federal bureaucracy is broken, swollen into an unrestrained fourth branch of government. If you can harness public support to transform the current VA into a system based on choice, accountability, and efficiency, you could be setting the pattern for replacing the entire bureaucratic state with a government for the modern world.

It would be a fitting conclusion to a century plagued by bureaucracy if the renewal of American governance were to begin at the VA, a department which exemplified the system’s worst tendencies from the start. Charles Forbes, the first person to hold the position to which you have been nominated, stole tens of thousands of dollars from the bureau after World War I, as did many of his cronies. The corruption is not new, but nearly 100 years of it is enough.

I hope you will be the Secretary with the courage to demand the fundamental change our veterans need. The American people will be with you, even if many in Washington are not.

Sincerely,

Newt Gingrich

Americans are in a period of amazingly negative thinking about the state of our country. A recent Gallup analysis drove home how deep and how threatening the current mood is.

Gallup asked Americans in early June how much confidence they had in our nation’s institutions. The answer: not much. Only 30% had “a great deal” or “quite a lot of confidence” in the Supreme Court. Just 29% felt that way about the presidency. And an abysmal 7% had faith in the Congress.
Think about what this means. Our most trusted national institution, the unelected Supreme Court, has the confidence of almost (but not quite) one out of every three Americans. The presidency is slightly weaker and the Congress collapses to fewer than 1 in 10 Americans.

Gallup also did some comparative analysis using findings from its World Poll and the trends regarding Americans’ views on government are even more sobering. In the poll, 79% of the American people believe corruption is widespread in government. That is a jump of 20 points since 2006, when 59% of the country thought government was corrupt (a year when the country was dissatisfied enough that the ruling Republicans lost control of both the House and Senate).

The Gallup analysis demonstrates that Americans are more likely to believe their government is corrupt than people in Brazil, Hungary or Tajikistan, to cite just three examples.

In January of this year, Gallup found that more Americans picked bad government and corruption as our biggest problem than picked any other challenge, including the economy and unemployment. These are stunning numbers.

When four out of five Americans believe government is corrupt, something is profoundly wrong. It is a lot bigger than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or for that matter George W. Bush.

Under the weight of this negativity, there has been a dramatic decline in satisfaction with the freedom we have to choose how we live our own lives. The number of people saying they are dissatisfied has jumped from 9% in 2006 to 21% in 2013.

This 12-point jump in dissatisfaction tied the United States for No. 10 among countries suffering the most rapid decline in satisfaction. The other countries that have experienced drops of that scale are seriously troubled places, including Pakistan, Yemen, Cyprus, and Spain (where youth unemployment is approaching 60%).

To put this in context, the Gallup numbers show that in 2006 the United States was one of the top countries in the world when it came to satisfaction with freedom. By 2013 it had dropped out of the top 25% of all countries.
A country in which 4 out of 5 people believe their government is corrupt is a country teetering between a populist uprising and a collapse into cynicism, passivity, and fatalism.

These results suggest we will either renew our commitment to the rule of law, the punishment of corruption and the insistence on honest self-government or we will cease to be America as the land of the free and the land of opportunity.

This Fourth of July weekend, we need to remember what our Founding Fathers did to create the liberty we enjoy and dedicate ourselves to a new burst of freedom and a new wave of political reform that cleans up the corruption and re-establishes the right of every American to dream and to work to fulfill that dream.

‘Merica – home of the free, because of the brave.

– Rob