The Shadow Rulers of the VA

Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service “concierge” medical care.

…He is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump’s. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.

….hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell …of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views.

…“Everything needs to be run by them,” the first former official said, recalling the process. “They view themselves as making the decisions.”

The Mar-a-Lago Crowd bombarded VA officials with demands, many of them inapt or unhelpful. 

…Besides advocating for friends’ interests, some of the Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s interventions served their own purposes.

…They proposed inviting private health care executives to tell the VA which services they should outsource to private providers like themselves. It was precisely the kind of fox-in-the-henhouse scenario that the VA’s defenders had warned against for years.

…But it wasn’t just Shulkin — all the officials that the Leinenkugel memo singled out for removal are now gone, replaced with allies of Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz. The memo suggested that Sandoval take charge of the Office of Information and Technology, overseeing the implementation of the Cerner contract; he got the job in April. The memo proposed removing Deputy Secretary Tom Bowman; he left in June, and the post hasn’t been filled. The memo floated Richard Stone for under secretary for health; he got the job on an acting basis in July. Leinenkugel himself took charge of a commission on mental health (the same topic Moskowitz had emailed O’Rourke about). O’Rourke, having hit it off with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd, became acting secretary in May.

The Shadow Rulers of the VA — ProPublica

Sigh….

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Human Rights Watch: Israeli Army Demolishing West Bank Schools

 Israel has repeatedly denied Palestinians permits to build schools in the West Bank and demolished schools built without permits, making it more difficult or impossible for thousands of children to get an education, Human Rights Watch said today. 

…The Israeli military refuses to permit most new Palestinian construction in the 60 percent of the West Bank where it has exclusive control over planning and building, even as the military facilitates settler construction. 

…The Israeli military refuses to permit most new Palestinian construction in the 60 percent of the West Bank where it has exclusive control over planning and building, even as the military facilitates settler construction. 

…Most West Bank schools at risk of demolition fall within Area C. Israel justifies its demolition of schools and other Palestinian property there not on security grounds, but rather on the grounds that they were built without permits from the military. However, the military refuses the vast majority of Palestinian building requests, and has zoned only 1 percent of Area C for Palestinian building, even as construction proceeds with few constraints in nearby Jewish settlements.

…The three communities are among 46 Palestinian communities that the UN considers at “high risk of forcible transfer” due to an Israeli “relocation” plan that would forcibly evict the entire communities.

…Israel’s destruction of Palestinian schools, and its failure to replace them, violates its obligation as an occupying power to “facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children,” and violates the prohibition on interfering with the activities of educational institutions or requisitioning their property. International law prohibits an occupying power from destroying property, including schools, unless “absolutely necessary” for “military operations.” The Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prohibit widespread, unlawful destruction of property as a war crime.

The intentional forcible transfer of civilians within an occupied territory – the movement of people under duress to a place not of their choosing – is also a grave breach of the laws of war. The Rome Statute states that forcible transfer can occur “directly or indirectly,” through coercive circumstances as well as direct force. Israel’s demolitions of schools are part of a policy that has forced Palestinians to leave their communities.

Israel: Army Demolishing West Bank Schools | Human Rights Watch

hmmm

US Army quietly discharging immigrant recruits

Some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged, the Associated Press has learned.

…The AP was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment program have been booted from the Army, but immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable, jeopardizing their futures.

 …Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged. Others who pressed for answers said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

…Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S., such as a student visa, before enlisting. More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. Most go the Army, but some also go to the other military branches.

To become citizens, the service members need an honorable service designation, which can come after even just a few days at boot camp. But the recently discharged service members have had their basic training delayed, so they can’t be naturalized.

Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said she’s been inundated over the past several days by recruits who have been abruptly discharged.

All had signed enlistment contracts and taken an Army oath, Stock said. Many were reservists who had been attending unit drills, receiving pay and undergoing training, while others had been in a “delayed entry” program, she said.

“Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775,” Stock said. “We wouldn’t have won the revolution without immigrants. And we’re not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants.”

…The AP interviewed Calixto and recruits from Pakistan and Iran, all of whom said they were devastated by their unexpected discharges.

“Now the great feeling I had when I enlisted is going down the drain,” said Calixto, 28. “I don’t understand why this is happening.”

In hopes of undoing the discharge, he filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., last week alleging the Defense Department hadn’t given him a chance to defend himself or appeal. He said he was given no specific grounds other than “personnel security.”

Calixto, who lives in Massachusetts and came to the U.S. when he was 12, said in an email interview arranged through his attorney that he joined the Army out of patriotism.

In the suit, Calixto said he learned he was being kicked out soon after he was promoted to private second class.

The Pakistani service member who spoke to the AP said he learned in a phone call a few weeks ago that his military career was over.

“There were so many tears in my eyes that my hands couldn’t move fast enough to wipe them away,” he said. “I was devastated, because I love the U.S. and was so honored to be able to serve this great country.”

He asked that his name be withheld because he fears he might be forced to return to Pakistan, where he could face danger as a former U.S. Army enlistee.

Portions of the 22-year-old’s military file reviewed by the AP said he was so deeply loyal to the U.S. that his relationships with his family and fiancee in Pakistan would not make him a security threat. Nonetheless, the documents show the Army cited those foreign ties as a concern.

…Non-U.S. citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, when Continental soldiers included Irish, French and Germans. The U.S. recruited Filipino nationals to serve in the Navy in the 1940s, and worked to enlist Eastern Europeans in the military over the next decade, according to the Defense Department.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the U.S. military, according to the Defense Department.

Many service members recruited through the program have proven to be exemplary. In 2012, then-Sgt. Saral K. Shrestha, originally from Nepal, was named U.S. Army Soldier of the Year.

In general, the immigrant recruits have been more cost-effective, outperforming their fellow soldiers in the areas of attrition, performance, education and promotions, according to a recently released review by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution.

AP NewsBreak: US Army quietly discharging immigrant recruits

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr

National Guard soldiers Trump sent to border are shoveling manure, changing flat tires

The National Guard troops that President Trump sent to the U.S.–Mexico border in April are performing menial tasks to assist U.S. Border Patrol.

A soldier told Politico on Thursday that they have been feeding Border Patrol’s horses and shoveling manure.

Sgt. Jonathan Sanchez, a cook, told the outlet that he often does maintenance on Border Patrol’s vehicles.

…Other tasks include clearing out vegetation, repairing Border Patrol facilities, working as office clerks or operating a complex network of security and remote camera systems.

…In order to keep them safe, National Guard troops are not permitted to patrol or participate in detainment operations for migrants crossing the border, officials told the outlet.

Late last month, the president of the labor union representing Border Patrol agents criticized Trump’s deployment, calling it a “colossal waste of resources.”

Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said last month that they have “seen no benefit” from the National Guard presence.

National Guard soldiers Trump sent to border are shoveling manure, changing flat tires: report | TheHill

Of course.