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After the massive scandal at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Congress reportedly reached an agreement on how to the fix the nation’s publicly run health-care system for veterans — despite at times appearing like both sides of the debate would fail to set a deal.

Negotiations between Senate Democrats and House Republicans seemingly broke down on Thursday, July 24, as both sides held dueling press conferences accusing each other of bad faith.

The negotiations appeared to be on much better ground as of the weekend, with staffers from both sides resuming discussions. House VA Chair Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Senate VA Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also agreed to fly back to Washington, DC, if it would push the negotiations forward.


On Sunday, congressional staffers confirmed they had reached a deal. Neither side disclosed details on what, exactly, the final compromise will look like. A joint press conference scheduled for Monday will presumably lay out the details of the plan.

"I can say that an agreement has been reached to deal with both the short-term and long-term needs of the VA," said Michael Briggs, a spokesperson for Sanders.

The debate centered around how Congress should fix a VA health-care system that simply doesn’t have enough doctors and staff for the number of patients it sees every year. The lack of capacity is one of the reasons schedulers and administrators in Phoenix and at other VA hospitals around the country manipulated records. The falsified reports made it look like VA hospitals were still hitting goals, which were linked to bonus payments, for seeing patients in a timely manner.

Before Congress reached a deal, they had to work through one remaining hurdle: funding.

The debate focused on money


Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at the VA conference committee. (Win McNamee / Getty Images News)

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill passed by the Senate would cost $35 billion. The final cost will likely change in the final bill, but the high CBO estimate gives a rough idea of just how much money was being debated — and why a highly budget-conscious Congress had so much trouble reaching an agreement.

On Thursday, Miller released what he framed as a compromise between the original House and Senate proposals. The bill would, among other changes, fund a $10 billion, two-year pilot program that would let veterans get private care outside the VA system, allow the VA to hire more doctors, and establish more accountability measures.

But the bill didn’t include the full $17.6 billion in funding requested by the VA. The VA said the funds would help expand its infrastructure and hire new staff, including doctors, to get ahead of a surge of veterans coming home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Sanders spokesperson Briggs said the senator doesn’t necessarily want the final compromise to include all of the VA’s requested funding, but he would like to see at least some of it in a compromise.

House Republicans, a staffer said, would prefer to see the additional funding requested by the VA dealt with in separate discussions about broader budget bills. Republicans haven’t decided whether the request is too much, but they would like more time to work through the issue in separate budget negotiations to see what justifies such a big increase in funds and how the money should be appropriated.

Miller put it more candidly in a recent statement: “I am committed to giving VA the resources it needs to provide our veterans with the care and benefits they have earned. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that we can’t trust VA’s numbers. That includes the $17.6 billion in additional funding Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson asked for today.”

No one expected to be completely happy with the final bill


A military veteran walks after having his prosthetic leg serviced at a VA hospital. (John Moore / Getty Images News)

Prior to reaching a deal, both sides said they would each need to ultimately give something up if they were to reach a deal in time for the August recess.

"We’re trying to reach a middle-ground that probably nobody will be completely happy with," Briggs said, "but it will do a lot of good for the VA and for veterans."

Some veterans advocates, meanwhile, don’t like the idea of putting veterans into private care. As they see it, veterans are multifaceted patients with all sorts of injuries, both mental and physical, that need a comprehensive, specialized approach that the VA is built to take on. The private system, on the other hand, is structured more for an everyday patient that might deal with fewer physical and mental health problems.

"I’m not sure that our members would benefit greatly from this legislation," Carl Blake of Paralyzed Veterans of America said. From Blake’s perspective, veterans with major disabilities, like those his organization represents, are never going to find the kind of care they need at a private hospital.


A major concern for veterans groups is that Congress will enact the two-year pilot program for private care, assume the VA’s problems have been fixed, and leave the system to deteriorate after the pilot program ends. That, veterans advocates argued, would leave the VA worse off than it is today, because the pilot program would expire at a time more veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will be entering the system.

Joe Violante, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, said adding more funding to the system, as veterans advocates have recommended for years in independent budget proposals, is key to a successful bill that will leave the VA in better shape. He argued, “If they’re not going to ensure that there’s funding available for the VA to expand during these two years, I’d rather see them do nothing at this point.”

Congressional staffers confirmed on Sunday that Congress will do something, although the details of the deal weren’t disclosed. As they see it, the final compromise might not satisfy everyone, but it could help alleviate a system that’s been clearly strained by too many patients, too few doctors, and misguided regulations for years.

Update: This article was updated to reflect the announcement of a deal on Sunday.

Source: German Lopez for Vox

a person’s a person no matter how small
Dr. Seuss, a pro-choice advocate who publicly donated to Planned Parenthood and actively sued pro-life organizations for using this as a slogan. Stop using this to justify your bullshit pro-life ideals. Not even the original author of the phrase agrees with you.  (via celestialfucker)

(via pro-choice-or-no-voice)

h/t: Zoe Greenburg at RH Reality Check


Ohio State Fires Marching Band Director For Tolerating Culture Of Harassment

Jonathan Waters, the now-former director of the Ohio State University Marching Band, speaking at the 2013 Leading Through Excellence Summit. (Courtesy FisherCOE's Flickr feed)

Jonathan Waters, the now-former director of the Ohio State University Marching Band, speaking at the 2013 Leading Through Excellence Summit. (Courtesy FisherCOE’s Flickr feed)

The Ohio State University dropped a bombshell late Thursday afternoon when it announced it had fired the director of the world-famous Ohio State University Marching Band, Jonathan Waters, for tolerating of harassing and…

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The most authoritative paper in the United States has put its weight behind the federal legalization of marijuana, a momentous endorsement in the prolonged fight to end to the criminalization of marijuana that has been in place since 1937.

Debuting what is to be a six-part seriesThe New York Times editorial board called for an end to the “prohibition” of marijuana, saying the current ban “[inflicts] great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.” The interactive series is to run from July 26 to August 5, beginning with Saturday’s editorial, “High Time: An Editorial Series on Marijuana Legalization.” An accompanying blog post by editor Andrew Rosenthal stated the decision to back legalizing marijuana was “long in the making,” and “as more and more states liberalized their marijuana laws in open defiance of the federal ban, it became clear to us that there had to be a national approach to the issue.”

The board argues that after weighing the pros and cons of legalization, the scale tips in favor of ending the ban. The Times acknowledges that there are concerns about certain forms of marijuana use, including that by minors. Thus, the board advocates for restricting sales of marijuana to those under the age of 21. Addressing other health, social and legal concerns, the board writes that “there are no perfect answers but neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol.” But as the Times argues, the concerns are outweighed by the “vast” social costs of marijuana laws.

From the Times editors:

There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

As Politico notes, the “The Times is the biggest U.S. newspaper to endorse the legalization of marijuana.” Adding to the significance is the Times’ history of being conservative when it comes to legalization. In 2013, an article stressed the dangers of more potent forms of marijuana as well as use of the drug by teenagers. Following Colorado’s legalization of marijuana in January 2014, a Times article sounded alarm over having more users of the drug behind the wheel. The article was accompanied by a photo of Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin in the film “Up in Smoke,” lighting up in a vehicle. Fears over food laced with marijuana being more accessible to children were sparked by tales of a rise in youth being taken to the emergency room after consuming snacks with the drug. As Washington state moved to join Colorado in legalizing recreational marijuana, the Times wrote on the manyhurdles that medical marijuana providers would encounter. In June, the Times hosted an op-ed column where the writer said “Marijuana is more dangerous than many of us once thought,” pointing to a link between marijuana use and schizophrenia. And of course, there was New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s “bad trip,” where she detailed being “curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours,” after trying a marijuana candy bar while on assignment.

Given the Times influence, it could be that the endorsement of federal legalization of marijuana could spur politicians, organizations and publications to do in kind. The Times’ endorsement is strengthened by the paper’s history on issues concerning marijuana and strong language, likening the ban on marijuana to the prohibition of alcohol. Set beside an interactive American flag where stars transform to marijuana leaves as readers scroll, the editorial opens:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The Times editors close with certainty, “It is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.”

President Barack Obama said in 2012 that prosecuting pot users in states that have legalized it would not be a top priority for his administration, telling ABC News’ Barbara Walters, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” The New York Times editorial board endorsement of legalizing marijuana counts as another key voice sounding for a change in how the U.S. approaches marijuana.

CORRECTION: 10:30 p.m. ET — This article previously stated that marijuana had been banned in the United States for 40 years. As Frontline notes, the Marijuana Tax Act effectively criminalized marijuana in the U.S. in 1937.


Ohio State University marching band director Jonathan Waters was abruptly fired this week, following a two-month investigation of the band’s rumored hazing rituals that found he witnessed and silently approved of the deeply offensive, disgusting and blatantly homophobic conduct happening among its members.

According to the report, obtained and published by Deadspin, band members kept a physical booklet that included the lyrics to the vulgar parody “fight songs” they wrote. While many of the songs are directly inspired by the fight songs of rival schools (“Come blow us, Michigan, Our cocks are waiting for you”), some of the most vulgar songs are totally out of left field.

Take, for instance, this one called “Proud to be a Homosexual”. Set to the tune of “God Bless the USA”, the chorus reads:

And I”m proud to be a homosexual,
Where at least I can run free.
And I won’t forget the fags with AIDS,
Who gave that right to me.
And I’ll gladly bend over,and spread my cheeks,
So you may sodomize me.


The lovely “Pieces of Baritone Shit” is even more shocking:

Bite my ass and lick my balls you mother fucking queers,
Get on your knees and tell me how the megaphone fits up your mother-fucking ass YOU GAY FAGS!
Lick my balls and lube up your ass,
Anal sex gives you nasty gas.
Fuck you, you big gay fags.
You pieces of Baritone shit!


Another song, titled “Brigham Young is a Goddamn Queer”, is…well…here:


The report also reveals the disgusting nicknames given to underclassmen, almost all inspired directly by sexual acts. A female student “pretending to be a vibrating sex toy” was named “E Row Vibrator”; a male student “conducting a full-body demonstration of a flaccid penis becoming erect” was “Jizzy.”

Other names given to students included “Jewoobs,” “Squirt,” “Testicles,” “Twat Thumper,” and “Twinkle Dick.”

As expected, the news has led to media hunt in search of Waters’ all-time lows. Early this morning, Ohio State University released an audio clip of Waters “disciplining” a band member:

The public, understandably, is outraged:

This Illini fan HATES Ohio State, and this is yet more reason I HATE them. 


“I knew that day that a lot of us would get sick,” one retired FDNY captain told theNew York Post.

Last year, 1,140 cases of cancer were reported among Ground Zero responders and rescuers, but now the number has grown to over 2,500, the New York Post reports.

The World Trade Center Health Program at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital has a record of 1,655 responders with cancer among the total of 37,000 9/11 workers in its program, including police officers, sanitation workers, and city employees.

When firefighters and EMTs are added, the number of cancer cases rises to 2,518.

On Friday, the FDNY said that 863 of its members have been certified to receive 9/11-related treatment.

Crews with heavy equipment work at the ground zero site of the World Trade Center on Oct. 12, 2001. Reuters Photographer / Reuter / Reuters

World Trade Center epidemiologists report that 9/11 workers suffer from cancers at a much greater rate than seen in the general population, specifically lung cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, leukemia and multiple myeloma.

One retired FDNY captain, now 63, suffers from lung disease and inoperable pancreatic cancer. He worked at Ground Zero for a week following the attacks of September 11, and recently received $1.5 million from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

Th captain, who was not named, took control of a city bus and managed to close the Brooklyn Bridge after the terrorist attack so that he and his crew could rush to Ground Zero and join in the search for victims. He is one of hundreds who was forced to retire due to lung damage and other ailments.

The former fireman reportedly brought the Victim Compensation Fund Special Master Sheila Birnbaum to tears after he testified at a hearing in May and spoke on how much he loves his grandchildren and his wife of 40 years.

“I’m hoping they rush more cases like mine, where we’re not expected to last long,” he told the Post. “I knew that day that a lot of us would get sick.”

In this Oct. 11, 2001 file photo, firefighters make their way over the ruins of the World Trade Center AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool, File

So far, the VCF has awarded 115 cancer patients with a total of $50.5 million, in sums ranging from $400,000 to $4.1 million.

Many more 9/11 responders or their next-of-kin are likely to file claimants by the Oct. 14 deadline.

Source: Alison Vingiano for Buzzfeed

h/t: Bill Barrow and Christina A. Cassidy at AP, via HuffPost Politics

h/t: Igor Volsky at Think Progress

h/t: John Prager at AATTP

On Friday’s edition of The Young Turks, host Cenk Uygur let fly with a scathing critique of Fox News host Sean Hannity, who made waves this week by coming unglued and shouting down a Palestinian guest on his show.

Uygur noted after playing some of the Hannity segment that “if you support Palestinians or are worried about civilian deaths in Gaza” on Fox News, you are “sympathizing with the terrorists.”

He went on to charge that Hannity intentionally cut off, interrupted and contradicted guest Yousef Munayyer, so that when he got a rise out of Munayyer, he could point to him and say, “See? Angry Muslims. That’s how they are, they’re full of rage.”

Uygur said that Hannity is “a big blockhead. I mean, it’s, he has no logic, he has no rationality, it’s super-easy to dismiss him.”

When asked if he would ever appear on Hannity’s show, Uygur said, “I’m not gonna ask to be on his show. If he wants to have me on, great, I’ll kick his ass all day long.”

“If he doesn’t have the power to cut your mic,” he went on, “you think that pussy could ever dare to get in a real debate where he doesn’t control the mic?”

From the 07.25.2014 edition of TYT Network’s The Young Turks:

h/t: David Ferguson at The Raw Story


Keith Olbermann offered up a searing monologue that highlights how women are treated generally by misogynistic fools and then linked it to the disgrace that is the NFL. Roger Goodell’s arrogant two game suspension of Ray Rice for “allegedly” punching the lights out of his girlfriend has set the intertubes a blaze. Some people became heroes like Michelle Beadle, and others became villains like Stephen A. Smith, but in the end it’s the NFL that comes out looking like the real knuckledraggers of this story.


Keith Olbermann’s segment on Ray Rice was strong, indignant TV, resonant with everyone who believes a two-game suspension for punching out a woman is a clear signal that the NFL doesn’t consider domestic violence meaningful violence.

"The message to the women who the league claims constitute 50 percent of its fan base: The NFL wants your money. It will do nothing else for you. It will tolerate those who abuse you verbally and those who abuse you physically."

read more


Boehner's Lawsuit Turning Into Messaging Goldmine For Dems

Now this is more like it. House Democrats aren’t sitting idly by while John Boehner tries to assuage his angry right wing with a lawsuit instead of impeachment. No, they’re making Republicans pay for their folly by forcing votes that make them look like rubes and fools.

Steve Benen:

Democrats asked for a provision that would require Republicans to regularly disclose how much this lawsuit was costing American taxpayers. Republicans said no.

Democrats asked for a conflict-of-interest measure that would prevent lawmakers from hiring lawyers for this case who lobby Congress. Republicans said no.

Democrats asked for a separate conflict-of-interest amendment that would stop Congress from hiring a law firm for this case that has a financial stake in the implementation of the ACA. Republicans said no.

Democrats asked for a disclosure requirement that said congressional contracts with outside counsel would be disclosed before they’re approved. Republicans said no.

Democrats asked for a measure that would require Republicans to explain where the public funds will come from that will pay for the lawsuit. Republicans said no.

There were 11 proposed improvements in all, Each were defeated with zero Republican votes.

read more

h/t: Amanda Marcotte at AlterNet


UPDATE — 3:30 p.m. ET

While addressing the recent suspension of NFL running back Ray Rice, ESPN Commentator Stephen A. Smith made several off-putting comments about women provoking attackers.

Rice was suspended for two games after being arrested for allegedly knocking out his then-girlfriend, which led Smith to warn women not to “provoke wrong actions”:

We keep talking about the guys. We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman. I don’t know how many times I got to reiterate that.

But as a man who was raised by women, see I know what I’m going to do if somebody touches a female member of my family. I know what I’m going to do, I know what my boys are going to do. I know what, I’m going to have to remind myself that I work for the Worldwide Leader, I’m going to have to get law enforcement officials involved because of what I’m going to be tempted to do.

But what I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family, some of who you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this what, I’ve done this all my life, let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you.

Smith’s colleague and ESPN reporter Michelle Beadle did not take kindly to the rant and responded on Twitter.

So I was just forced to watch this morning’s First Take. A) I’ll never feel clean again B) I’m now aware that I can provoke my own beating.

I’m thinking about wearing a miniskirt this weekendI’d hate to think what I’d be asking for by doing so @stephenasmith#dontprovoke

I was in an abusive relationship once. I’m aware that men & women can both be the abuser. To spread a message that we not ‘provoke’ is wrong

Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. It’s the abuser’s. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.

Smith responded to the criticism himself on Friday afternoon with a lengthy series of tweets. He apologized to Beadle, but also repeated his point about women and provoking attackers.

This will be a long tweeted message, folks. So please stay with me and let me finish my complete thought before respondingb/c i'm ANNOYED

In discussing the Ray Rice ruling earlier today on @ESPN_FirstTake, me and @RealSkipBayless ventured into discussing domestic violence.

Upon hearing what I had to say, although admitting I could’ve been more articulate on the matter, let me be clear: I don’t understand how on

earth someone could interpret that I somehow was saying women are to blame for domestic violence. And when I saw @MichelleDBeadle — a

colleague I have profound respect for — tweet what she tweeted, enough is enough. Something needs to be said right now. REPEATEDLY i said:

There is absolutely no excuse to put your hands on a women. REPEATEDLY, I said dudes who do that need to be dealt with. REPEATEDLY, I echoed

when confronted by it in the past — when someone was stupid enough to touch a loved one of this man, raised by 4 older sisters, a mom and

numerous female relatives and loved ones, that man was dealt with. From that point, I simply asked: now what about the other side.

If a man is pathetic and stupid enough to put his hands on a woman — which I have NEVER DONE, btw — of course he needs to pay the price.

Who on earth is denying that? But what about addressing women on how they can help prevent the obvious wrong being done upon them?

there’s only but so much that can be done after the fact….once the damage is already done. Nothing more. My apologies to@MichelleDBeadle

And any woman out there who misconstrued what I said. I have always — and will always — find violence against a women every bit as

horrific as women, themselves, find it. Always have. Always will, which my personal behavior exemplifies. I’ll strive to be more articulate

in the future. But be clear, I wasn’t BLAMING women for anything. I was simply saying to take all things into consideration for preventative

Beadle has responded on Twitter.

In a week in which LGBT & domestic abuse issues have been primarily discussed in one-sided formats, I stand by my words.#communicatebetter

UPDATE: Smith issued another statement on Twitter saying he “sincerely” apologizes for poorly articulating his thoughts.

My series of tweets a short time ago is not an adequate way to capture my thoughts so I am using a single tweet via Twitlonger to more appropriately and effectively clarify my remarks from earlier today about the Ray Rice situation. I completely recognize the sensitivity of the issues and the confusion and disgust that my comments caused. First off, as I said earlier and I want to reiterate strongly, it is never OK to put your hands on a women. Ever. I understand why that important point was lost in my other comments, which did not come out as I intended. I want to state very clearly. I do NOT believe a woman provokes the horrible domestic abuses that are sadly such a major problem in our society. I wasn’t trying to say that or even imply it when I was discussing my own personal upbringing and the important role the women in my family have played in my life. I understand why my comments could be taken another way. I should have done a better job articulating my thoughts and I sincerely apologize.

Source: Mike Hayes for Buzzfeed