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Trump unfazed by national security focus

Establishment Republican presidential candidates like Jeb Bush have seized on the sudden focus on national security to boost their credentials and try to knock Donald Trump from the top of the pack. But days after ISIS claimed responsibility for killing more than 120 people in mass shootings and bombings across Paris, Trump’s fans are showing no signs of wavering in their support for the New York real estate mogul. In fact, at his campaign rallies this week, Trump said they were more convinced than ever that he is best qualified to be commander-in-chief and confront ISIS.

“He makes decisive decisions and he doesn’t back down. He doesn’t go around the world apologizing,” said Melissa Gower, a 43-year-old registered nurse from Chicopee attending Trump’s Wednesday rally in Worcester. Tom Berry, a 48-year-old contract from East Windsor, Connecticut, echoed Gower.

“We need a common sense approach to foreign policy as opposed to a politically correct, don’t-want-to-hurt-anybody’s-feelings approach,” Berry said. Here in Worcester and at a rally in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Monday, Trump supporters said they were reassured by Trump’s bombastic confidence on national security and fighting terrorism. And rather than take issue with the candidate’s lack of political and military experience, some even said they preferred Trump’s newcomer status to the political experience of more established candidates like Bush and Marco Rubio.

“Even better,” said Cameron Chafetz, an 18-year-old freshman at Clark University. “He’s not afraid to hurt people’s feelings when it’s necessary.”

A new poll from Bloomberg News that was conducted entirely after the Paris attacks and released Thursday morning shows Trump leading nationally with 24% among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, followed by Ben Carson with 20% and Rubio with 12%. And compared to Ben Carson, respondents believe Trump can “best combat Islamic terrorism” 55% to 29%. (The same poll, however, said voters believe Carson “has the better temperament to be president,” 68% to 25%. Others said the candidate’s success in business and international travels have prepared him to deal with a range of foreign policy concerns.

“I think his attitude will get him through it,” said Gracie Blevins, a Harlan, Kentucky resident attending the Knoxville rally, adding that the U.S. needs a “bold and blunt person” in the White House.

‘Bomb the s–t out of’ ISIS

80 year-old Bobby Phillips, a veteran who served six years in the National Guard, said in Knoxville that he’s simply “through with politicians” and touted Trump’s ability to surround himself with the best advisers.

“I know he don’t know everything, but he’s going to get the right man in there,” Phillips said. “He’s going to have nothing but the best.”

Since Friday’s mass shootings and bombings in Paris that shook the world, the 2016 presidential candidates have turned their focus to national security, pivoting away from domestic issues like immigration and the economy that have dominated the race so far. The GOP hopefuls have leveled biting criticism of what they say is President Barack Obama’s failure to confront the Islamic State’s rise, particularly seizing on the president’s recent claim that ISIS has been “contained.”

Trump, who often describes himself as “the most militaristic person” there ever was, has reacted to the massacre by reiterating his vow to “bomb the s–t out of” ISIS as president. The line has been met with raucous applause from his supporters this week.

On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he would consider putting American troops on the ground in Syria, and that he would be much more aggressive than the current administration when it comes to air strikes aimed at taking out ISIS.

“I would increase the frequency like you wouldn’t believe,” he said. The wealthy businessman is also doubling down on previous calls to reject refugees from the Middle East seeking to enter the United States, warning that terrorists may be posing as people fleeing persecution in countries like Syria.

“This can be the great Trojan horse of all time!” Trump thundered on Wednesday.

Carson’s struggles

If Trump is using the Paris attacks to reinforce his national security views, one other outsider GOP candidate — Carson — has struggled in his response. The retired neurosurgeon has repeatedly failed to give coherent answers to national security questions in recent days, and this week, the New York Times quoted an adviser to the candidate saying Carson is having trouble soaking in even basic foreign policy information.

“When the New York Times says, from his top adviser and a couple of others, he’s essentially incapable of learning foreign policy, I mean that’s pretty sad,” Trump said at a rally Wednesday night.

The stumbles follow several perplexing comments from Carson, including his assertion that the pyramids in Egypt were likely used to store grain. Carson has also asserted that “the Chinese are there” in Syria, a statement interpreted as saying the Chinese military is operating in Syria. Carson’s campaign later said that statement was misinterpreted by the press and that he was referring to the presence of Chinese weapons technology

Michael Rooney, a 47-year-old respiratory therapist from Agawam, said that those remarks raised questions about Carson’s intelligence and readiness to lead the country.

“I think he is a man of good character but I don’t think he is competent to lead,” Rooney said. “His talk about Joseph and the pyramids — he said that in a very serious vein, and I think he doesn’t realize the nature of reality.”

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Auditor: Major problems in Vermont Health Connect procurement process

Editor s note: This article was updated at 4:10 p.m.

Auditor: Major Problems In Vermont Health Connect Procurement Process

State Auditor Doug Hoffer answers lawmakers questions in April on his audit of Vermont Health Connect. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

Two days after Gov. Peter Shumlin celebrated progress in Vermont Health Connect open enrollment[1], the state auditor issued a report raising concerns about software defects, unauthorized contract practices and several unknowns.

State Auditor Doug Hoffer wrote in a 38-page report[2] that supplements his team s April audit that the Department of Vermont Health Access, which oversees the health exchange and Medicaid programs, has been entering into authorization to proceed letters with contractors, a practice that is outside of Vermont s procurement policy. Between July and October, the report says, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health Access signed two such agreements with OptumInsight Inc. and Exeter Group Inc. in anticipation of signing new contracts. A third company worked with sensitive tax information while under no written agreement. Exeter closed up shop the last week of October and left Vermont to perpetually maintain code free of charge that makes up the Vermont Health Connect front-end portal. The company could make up to $305,131 under its authorization to proceed agreement, according to the audit, even though its previous written contract was set to expire in November 2014.

In three separate documents, according to the audit, Vermont agreed to pay up to $485,840 to Optum to remediate the change of circumstance backlog through Oct. 2. The company then worked from Oct. 2 to Oct. 30 on the backlog[3] without an authorization to proceed agreement or an updated contract.

As of Nov. 6, 2015, DVHA had not signed contract amendments pertaining to these agreements, the audit said. In a meeting that day, the department s lawyer told Hoffer s staff the agreements are not contracts and are not binding on the state, and said contractors know they can only be paid for their services if a contract amendment is signed. A third company, Archetype, received approval to work with Internal Revenue Service forms and Medicaid reconciliation in mid-October, according to the audit. On Oct. 26, the company entered into a written authorization to proceed agreement with the Department of Vermont Health Access. Again, there was no new contract signed as of Nov. 6.

Bulletin 3.5 does not authorize or even mention these types of arrangements, and there is no evidence that DVHA sought approval from the Secretary of Administration to use such documents to procure services, the audit said. The use of these (arrangements) has the effect of circumventing the approval requirements in Bulletin 3.5.

The Agency of Human Services provided an official response to Hoffer s team: Although DVHA had a different understanding at the time, the Department is now aware it should seek Secretary of Administration approval for (authorization to proceed agreements) and will seek such approvals going forward. Lawrence Miller, the chief of health care reform for the Shumlin administration, said in an interview Thursday that alternative contracting processes are used mainly because the contracting process is too long. Miller said the administration knew the department was entering into the agreements, the secretary of administration did not sign a waiver.

Functionality assessment

Hoffer said in an interview Thursday that it s important to note the improvements in Vermont Health Connect, such as a partially automated change of circumstance function, but the audit is a mixed bag. Hoffer s team identified 121 security weaknesses with the website, including three high-risk and 63 moderate-risk weaknesses, but declined to say where they are in case someone would attack the website with the information. Miller had said Tuesday the state had hired a new chief information security officer and will always have more work to do in security.

They earned some kudos, but they also find themselves behind the 8-ball again, Hoffer said. Exeter is important. They re not just any contractor. They re the company that created the software. As is always the case, the latest version has to be tested, and it hasn t been tested yet, and inevitably, there will be defects.

The software Exeter wrote code for and then left for Vermont to maintain is called OneGate, and Vermont is the only state that continues to use it. The audit describes the software as fundamental and used for six things: Medicaid eligibility screening, evaluating subsidies, processing applications, selecting plans, maintaining customer accounts and managing cases. The audit says that software has known defects, and it is unknown whether the latest version of this product to be used in the next major software change contains additional defects. Miller said the state s Quality Assurance team is still working on the code. There were 150 defects with the software on Oct. 22, and 47 were Exeter s responsibility.[4]

Many other functions of the exchange have not come to fruition, or are only implemented in part, according to the audit.

Vermont Health Connect s billing process doesn t comply with Medicaid rules. In February, the state hadn t terminated 1,147 delinquent Dr. Dynasaur accounts for non-payment.

Eight change-of-circumstance functions can only be performed by state workers. They include adding a new baby to a plan, reporting a pregnancy, removing a subscriber, and reinstating coverage.

Reconciliations between the exchange, insurance companies, and the premium payment processor, Benaissance, have not been automated.

Medicaid renewals are not fully automated. (The administration says it will renew income-based Medicaid recipients starting in January.)

Vermont Health Connect currently serves about 33,000 individuals who buy commercial insurance. Over time, the state wants 143,000 people on an income-based Medicaid program to join the exchange. They have up to 60,000 people left to transfer.

References

  1. ^ open enrollment (vtdigger.org)
  2. ^ 38-page report (vtdigger.org)
  3. ^ Oct. 2 to Oct. 30 on the backlog (vtdigger.org)
  4. ^ Exeter s responsibility. (vtdigger.org)

A Lesson for Paris Climate Talks: Follow the Activists

A Lesson For Paris Climate Talks: Follow The Activists

Paris is seen as French Police officers stand on guard near the church of Sacre Coeur, on top of the Montmartre hill, in Paris, Wednesday, November 18, 2015. (AP Photo / Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

The United States military strategy has long been predicated on being able to fight two wars at once. Now the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, just weeks before the French capital hosts a landmark international climate-change summit, will test whether the world as a whole can address two crises at once. Massacring innocent civilians is never justified and calls for a range of responses: grief for the victims and their loved ones; solidarity with all who condemn such heinous acts; bringing to justice the immediate perpetrators; and unraveling the deeper causes of such violence. These necessities, however, must not be allowed to distract the world s governments, media, or citizens from the equally urgent task of reversing our collective march toward climate chaos. Ad Policy[1]

Dooming young people and future generations (not to mention other species) to an unlivable planet is no more justified than killing innocent civilians is, and it too demands a range of responses, starting with compassion for the victims. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is correct to link the Syrian refugee crisis to climate change (as US national security officials and scientists have long done). ExxonMobil and other perpetrators of climate denial should be brought to justice. World leaders should agree in Paris to leave most of earth s remaining fossil fuels in the ground, as the latest science dictates. Such a goal requires launching the most rapid possible transition to 100 percent clean energy for all, as activists have urged. Humanity has the tools needed to exit the Carbon Age and build a sustainable future; what s required are dramatically different political and economic choices.

Dooming future generations to an unlivable planet is no more justifiable than killing innocent civilians.

Insisting that the power to fight climate change resides not only in the corridors of global elites but also in ordinary people in the streets, activists had planned a huge march through Paris on November 29 to greet heads of state arriving for the two-week summit, along with sister marches in cities around the world. The terrorist attacks threw plans for that march into question; French authorities worried that large numbers of people streaming through the streets of Paris would be difficult to protect. Representatives of Coalition Climate 21, the international alliance of groups coordinating activism around the Paris summit, insisted the restricting of civil society from expressing itself during a summit covering humanity s future was unacceptable. We can think of few better responses to violence and terror than this movement s push for peace and hope, said Alice Jay, of the group Avaaz, a member of the coalition. In the end, the government prohibited street marches but said demonstrations in closed, more easily protected places would be allowed. The sister marches planned in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Tokyo, New Delhi and scores of other major cities will proceed, with activists saying that attendance there will now be even more important. For his part, Barack Obama heads to Paris as a credible (though hardly perfect) climate leader because he has been pressured by increasingly visible and disruptive activism. Grassroots protests both pushed and created the political space for the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline this month. But the League of Conservation Voters controversial early endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president illustrates that the US climate movement remains divided between a grassroots wing, which has been winning victories such as Keystone by disrupting politics as usual, and the Big Green groups like the LCV, headquartered in Washington, DC, which favor working within the status quo to achieve the best outcome available. Keystone is not the only feather in Obama s climate cap, and the president himself deserves credit for two particular achievements. The diplomatic breakthrough he reached with China last year is genuinely historic. Not only does the agreement commit the world s two climate superpowers to slash heat-trapping emissions and super-accelerate clean-energy development; it also makes possible an international agreement in Paris by breaking the US-China stalemate that doomed previous summits. Obama may also be the only major head of state to publicly affirm that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground, saying in a 2014 interview, We re not going to be able to burn it all.

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But words are one thing, deeds another, and rejecting Keystone was a mighty deed. A head of state has never rejected a major fossil fuel project because of its climate impacts before, wrote Bill McKibben, co-founder of the grassroots group 350.org, of Obama s decision. (In truth, climate change was one of four reasons that Obama gave. The first three were: Keystone would not increase oil supplies, lower gas prices, or create more than a handful of long-term jobs.)

Grassroots activists quickly claimed credit for the victory, and rightly so. Would anyone seriously argue that the White House would have killed Keystone in the absence of mass civil disobedience and the other in-your-face tactics that made it a litmus test for a politician s seriousness about fighting climate change? Would anyone argue the same about the Keystone reversal of Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state said that she was inclined to support the pipeline, and whose State Department issued favorable assessments written by a consultant nominated by the pipeline company itself?

Clearly, most Big Green groups can claim little credit: They disparaged the strategy of growing a grassroots movement by targeting Keystone, and some even joined the inside-the-Beltway political class s dismissal of Keystone as a distraction from the truly important battles. Similar strategic differences underlie the explosive backlash that greeted the LCV s November 9 announcement that it was endorsing Clinton for president. This is either shameless pandering or incredible naivete, complained one of the more than 850 posts to bombard the LCV s Facebook page in the 48 hours after the news broke. A second post ridiculed its description of Clinton as a leader who will stand up to Big Polluters, asking, Did you take this post from [the satirical website] The Onion? More than a few huffed that they would never again donate to the LCV, an organization founded in 1969 that became one of the environmental community s first sources of hard-money campaign contributions. Historically, the LCV has funded mainly Democrats, but also the occasional Republican; in 2012, it backed Obama and spent more than $36 million at the federal, state, and local levels. Speaking on background to maintain their working relationships with the LCV, many leading climate activists echoed the Facebook fury. Why choose Clinton, some asked, over Sanders, who opposed Keystone from day one, as the Vermont senator frequently points out, and advocates for a much faster shift to 100 percent clean energy than Clinton does? But most critics focused their comments on Clinton s record, noting that Big Oil has long been a contributor to her electoral campaigns and is even bundling for her in 2016. (Bundling involves soliciting contributions from like-minded individuals and delivering them en masse, thus signaling the candidate how much a given interest group has donated.) As a senator, Clinton supported off-shore drilling (though she announced her opposition to Arctic drilling in August). She has also long supported fracking, and her State Department worked hard to spread fracking overseas.

In any case, why endorse Clinton so early, before a single primary has been held, and when two rival candidates and grassroots pressure are pushing her toward stronger positions? More than one critic speculated that the endorsement was pushed through by Carol Browner, chair of the LCV board, who served as the Environmental Protection Agency s administrator under Bill Clinton. Asked if LCV expected such harsh criticism, Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV s vice president for government affairs, chuckled, paused, and answered a different question. We feel lucky to have a number of candidates on the Democratic side who have strong records, she told The Nation. LCV s endorsement is not about Bernie Sanders, it s about Hillary Clinton, Sittenfeld continued. When asked, therefore, about Clinton s support for fracking and off-shore drilling and Big Oil s contributions, she neither disputed nor defended these aspects of Clinton s record. She replied that Clinton had a strong voting record in the Senate, did a lot on energy and climate issues as secretary of state, and was in the White House for eight years as first lady. This combination of experience and passion for addressing the climate crisis makes Clinton the best choice both to defeat her eventual Republican opponent, who will inevitably be a climate-change denier, and to hit the ground running on day one in the Oval Office.

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There are a number of exceptional folks at LCV, but it is terribly troubling at this moment in our planetary history to have a group so clearly adhering to a theory of change based on incrementalism and access, responded one senior climate activist. I know our movement needs to play both an inside game [in Washington] and an outside game [at the grassroots]. But if we really do the math, as Bill [McKibben] points out, we all know that we must transcend the current laudable but entirely inadequate policy agenda put forth by our Big Green colleagues and their political allies. We must push for what seems impossible, just as we did with Keystone, when some in our community consistently said that it was the wrong fight to pick. But we pushed and redefined the terms of the debate, and we won. Redefining the terms of the debate is essential to defusing the climate crisis and the terrorist challenge alike. Entrenched forces and beliefs must be confronted; solidarity and the common good must take precedence over prejudice and selfishness; our children s future must matter more than past hatreds. Transcending these two scourges will not be easy, immediate, or assured, but the more people who join the effort, the better our chances. The coming days in Paris, and the years beyond, will reveal how well we have met the challenge.

A Lesson For Paris Climate Talks: Follow The Activists

References

  1. ^ Ad Policy (www.thenation.com)
  2. ^ What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters (www.thenation.com)
  3. ^ The US Military s Best-Kept Secret (www.thenation.com)
  4. ^ There Is Only One Way to Destroy ISIS (www.thenation.com)
  5. ^ The Big Idea That Could Bring Disaffected Voters Back to the Polls (www.thenation.com)
  6. ^ The University of North Carolina s New President Should Scare Anyone Who Cares About Higher Ed (www.thenation.com)