We Make Complicated Stuff Clear Sun, 25 Jun 2017 22:38:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 43786300 Gay Pride In The Village Sun, 25 Jun 2017 22:38:33 +0000 Continue reading Gay Pride In The Village]]>  

by Barbara Nevins Taylor

People began celebrating gay pride in the Village early on Sunday. They didn’t wait for the official parade to kick off at 36th Street and Fifth Avenue.

They let the parade come to them as it headed downtown and wound its way through the streets bounded by barricades, police officers and garbage trucks strategically placed for security. 

The route took marchers past the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, the historic heart of the gay liberation movement.

That’s where gay pride first went public.

In the late 1967 Tony Lauria, connected to the Genovese crime family and reportedly working under Matty “The Horse” Ianniello, bought the Stonewall.

He turned it into a gay nightclub that attracted drag queens and young people from the suburbs who came to dance and drink. The club had no liquor license because the New York State Liquor Authority refused to grant licenses to gay bars. So the Mafia stepped in and ran the illegal bars that catered to gay people. The NYPD Morals Squad made regular raids and arrested workers and patrons.

On June 28, 1969, during a raid, police hauled people out of the Stonewall into waiting paddy wagons. About 200 people on the street gathered to watch as young gay men vamped as they went into the vans.  A woman under arrest and forced into one of the vans reportedly yelled to the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?”

The crowd responded. First they threw coins at the police, according to an account by Lucian K. Truscott, IV, then a reporter for  the New York Times. He was drinking at the Lion’s Head nearby and came out when he heard the commotion. He said the crowd then started throwing bottles and escalated to heaving cobblestones through the window of the bar after frightened officers retreated inside to await reinforcements.

The chief of the Morals Squad, Seymour Pine, said that he raided the Stonewall to stop illegal liquor sales and to break up a Mafia blackmail ring that targeted gay Wall Streeters.

Nevertheless, the early morning riot led to six days of protests outside the Stonewall and marked the beginning of the gay civil rights movement. 

In 2016, President Barack Obama named the Stonewall Inn a National Historic Landmark to honor its place in the fight for civil rights for all. 

The Stonewall Inn and the park across the street now attract tourists from around the world.


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Audiobooks For Summer Listening Mon, 19 Jun 2017 22:07:10 +0000 Continue reading Audiobooks For Summer Listening]]>  

by Barbara Nevins Taylor

Every time a great audiobook narration flows through my earbuds and a story unfolds like a movie, I want to tell the world.   

So for June Audiobook Month, I put together a list of the best books I’ve listened to in the past six months. Some are new and others were published and recorded a while ago. But each will make great summer listening. I hope you enjoy. 

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James, narrated by Robertson Dean, Cherise Boothe, Dwight Bacquie, Ryan Anderson, Johnathan McClain, Robert Younis, Thom Rivera

This tour de force won The Man Booker prize in 2015. A great read, I’m sure. But the seven actors who  perform the story take it to another place entirely, and lead you on a mesmerizing trip that starts in Jamaica in the 1970s.

The tough language, patois and raw brutality may put some off. But if you can deal with it, you’ll find yourself starting out in the Kingston ghettoes in 1976, in the middle of a story about Caribbean politics, the consequences of C.I.A. overreach, Cuba, the drug trade and murderers who kill as easily as they breathe.

In vivid street talk, each of the central characters tells his or her story in the first person during alternating chapters. So you get into the heads of  Jamaican gangsters, C.I.A. agents and operatives, a writer-reporter for Rolling Stone, a young Jamaican woman who inadvertently gets involved and a few new characters as the story goes on.

James begins with the re-election campaign of Michael Manley and plans for a reggae concert to ease tensions between political groups. “The singer,” Bob Marley, looms large in the minds of the politicians, the gangsters and the C.I.A. Guess who doesn’t want the concert to occur?

A political plot aimed to unseat Manley leads the gangsters to shoot Marley, his wife Rita and his manager. It doesn’t end there. The characters continue their brutal tale of what follows during the next fifteen years in Jamaica, Miami and New York. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself repelled but in awe of the Jamaican bad men, the performers, the writer Marlon James and wishing the story would go on forever. 



Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout, narrated by Kimberly Farr

Elizabeth Strout’s characters live on a different planet from those who people the Marlon James novel. Her beautifully crafted stories of midwestern angst take you into the lives of people in small towns who slowly discover surprising things about themselves and their neighbors. Anything Is Possible follows the people who made Lucy Barton’s life hell in Strout’s 2016 novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton. It tells the story of a novelist who comes to terms with how growing up in a small town, in an impoverished abusive family, shaped her. In Anything Is Possible we get the flip side of the story, the truth behind the lives of those who made Lucy Barton feel small: the gay father of a friend, the mom who runs off to live with a younger lover in Italy, the aching loneliness of a man seeking sexual fulfillment and more. Kimberly Farr performs the story and characters with pitch perfect accuracy.  Her narration draws you into the people who’ve hidden aching secrets that come bubbling up to the surface in the most unexpected ways.


In the Name of the Family, by Sarah Dunant, narrated by Nicholas Boulton

If you like soapy, well-researched historical novels, Sarah Dunant does it perfectly. Her In the Name of the Family follows the Borgia family during the last years of Papa Borgia’s reign as Pope Alexander VI. She tells the story through the eyes of Lucrezia, Cesare, Pope Alexander VI and Niccolo Machiavelli. The rich cast of characters romps through late 15th century Italy, particularly Rome and Ferrara and the countryside in between. The Pope, to consolidate his political power, sends Lucrezia off to marry the heir to the Duke of Ferrera. She struggles to make the marriage to an indifferent husband work. While Cesare battles enemies and the pox, and Machiavelli, traveling with Cesare representing the rulers of Florence, tries to keep tabs on what the Borgias plan to do next. Whether they go to war against Florence concerns his masters most. Nicholas Boulton makes it all believable, fun and compelling listening. 


Orphan X, by Gregg Hurwitz, narrated by Scott Brick

Gregg Hurwitz writes a thriller that keeps you on the edge as you worry about whether the hero will survive. They all do, don’t they? Yes. But. And the but counts here. Orphan X and the sequel The Nowhere Man really do make you wonder how Evan Smoak will get out of the mess Hurwitz puts him in. Narrator Scott Brick makes you feel for Evan as you join him on a roller coaster of violence that descends into the mundane domestic life of a California bachelor trying to hide his true identity in a high-rise condo filled with nosy neighbors, a single mom and a boy who needs a friend.

Smoak understands loneliness. As a child he was plucked out of an orphanage and trained in a clandestine U.S. program to become a black ops assassin. But his handler veered off script, treated him like a son and provided a humanist, literate education while teaching him to kill. That sets Evan Smoak apart from other orphans trained in the program by less loving tutors.  We meet him after he breaks from the government to work on his own and use his cunning and combat skills to help people in need. 

The Nowhere Man picks up where Orphan X left off and fills in more back story.  Both audiobooks provide your money’s worth of fun, excitement and compulsive listening. 

You can find more audiobooks in Audiobooks for Summer Listening Part 2

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Audiobooks For Summer Listening Part 2 Mon, 19 Jun 2017 22:05:50 +0000 Continue reading Audiobooks For Summer Listening Part 2]]>  

by Barbara Nevins Taylor

From historical romance to action-adventure and literary novels, I like well-written stories with great narrators. And a few of my recent favorites cover a range of genres.

Rather Be The Devil, by Ian Rankin, narrated by Michael Page

You can count on Ian Rankin to deliver a solid police procedural, even when his Detective John Rebus retires. Rebus inserts himself into an investigation to help solve a string of murders in Edinburgh. Of course the new people in charge don’t want him around.  The story gives a great push and pull between Rebus and authority as the entertaining and surprising story unfolds.

Michael Page performs strong characterizations as he and Rankin keep you listening. 

Victoria, by Daisy Goodwin, narrated by Anna Wilson-Jones

Daisy Goodwin tells a vivid, detailed and romantic story about the 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria as she becomes queen and finds her way through the thickets of  political intrigue and love. Goodwin’s research and rich storytelling skills make it fresh and exciting. As you listen to Anna Wilson Jones’ narration, you travel through this coming of age tale cringing and occasionally fearing for this willful young woman and the possibilities that she will make the wrong decisions. 

The audiobook gives you insight into life in the royal quarters during the 19th century, the role of Victoria’s first Prime Minster Lord Melbourne as her political tutor and her reliance on him. Clearly she loves him, at least in this book. But much to her chagrin, he keeps her at an emotional arms length and eventually she moves on to a romance with her cousin Prince Albert. I bet a sequel follows and I will listen. 


 The Dry, by Jane Harper, narrated by Steven Shanahan

In this mystery thriller set in a parched, remote area of Australia, federal agent Aaron Falk returns home to Kiewarra from Melbourne to attend the funeral of a childhood friend. The richly layered and well-written story surprises the listener with one slow and well-timed reveal after another. Jane Harper keeps you listening with the pages turning in your mind. Steven Shanahan’s Australian accent takes a little bit to get used to, but he and the author reward you if you stick with it. And it doesn’t take very long for a listener to warm up to the accent and the story to get rolling.

Falk, we learn, was forced to leave Kiewarra with his dad when he was a teenager. He planned to come back for only eighteen hours, but gets drawn into an investigation of a murder that sent him packing in the first place. He takes a leave of absence and teams up with the town’s only cop and for what happens after that, you just have listen. The town and its people have a lot of secrets.


The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Claire Danes

Yes. Hulu has the series based on the 1986 book by Margaret Atwood. But this audiobook version of Margaret Atwood’s frighteningly realistic dystopian novel compels you to listen, even as you feel repulsed by the repression.

Claire Danes’ quiet narration and her embodiment of Offred, the handmaid who leads us through the horror of an oppressive anti-woman regime, feels just right. 

I didn’t read the book when it was first published because I’m too optimistic and couldn’t buy into the nightmare vision of the world. In our political climate today, it sadly and horribly seems important to listen, read or watch The Handmaid’s Tale

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My Dad The Newsman And Trump Truth Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:21:07 +0000 Continue reading My Dad The Newsman And Trump Truth]]> I can hear the growl in our father’s voice now and picture him leaning back in his chair, his feet in brown suede Gucci loafers propped atop his desk. I see him, hear him, arguing with producers at CBS News in New York as he tries to explain why people in the red state South would still believe Donald Trump, even after former F.B.I. Director James Comey said Trump lied and tried to smear him and the F.B.I.

He wouldn’t like it, but as head of the CBS News Atlanta bureau he would have understood and attempted to interpret why many Southerners would resist what his news colleagues saw as obvious truth: Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia had — and would again — attempt to damage our democracy and that the President had never asked about the Russian meddling.

Our dad, Zeke Segal, grew up in Queens, New York, went to Yale and then the army, gave up dreams of becoming a playwright, worked in radio and then launched a long and great career as a TV news executive at CBS.  Landing in Atlanta as the bureau chief, he was an unlikely interpreter of the Southern psyche. But he listened to people, to the reporters, photographers and producers who worked with him. And he heard the undercurrents and recognized discontent before it bubbled to the surface.

So he probably wouldn’t have found it surprising that Donald Trump, another guy from Jamaica, Queens, appealed to people who felt shut out and disenfranchised by Washington. He would have admired Trump’s raw genius for seizing on the anger and fear of so many Americans, and exploiting their troubles to his advantage.

But he would have hated the lying, the attacks on reporters, the U.S. Constitution and the values that make the United States, as James Comey said, “the shining city on the hill.”

He hated it when the world began to use the term “media” to lump together the disparate groups of people who gather news.

“What does media mean?” he’d ask, his face twisting in disapproval. “You’re a reporter, a producer, an editor, a journalist. What’s that bullshit?” 

You can imagine what he would say about calling the people who appear on news programs, expressly to lie for Trump, surrogates. 

He was a report-only-what-you-know newsman, someone who hated embellishment, and he was more than willing to put the spotlight on people who abused their power.

So my head fills with rants that I hear him muttering from the grave and I don’t try to push them away. I’m right there with him.

 I also know how proud he would feel about the state of journalism in this age of awful Trumpism. 

He would applaud responsible news organizations, their reporters, producers and editors, for digging deep to reveal the truth and pushing back with facts against the falsehoods that come out of this White House.

He’d also love it that 19.5 million Americans, according to Nielsen, tuned in across 10 networks to watch James Comey testify. He’d applaud the surging interest in quality journalism since Trump’s election, with The New York Times, reportedly adding 600,000 digital subscribers and subscriptions significantly increased at other national papers like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Zeke Segal would raise his glass of red wine and use an expletive to say, “That   …….ing Trump made news great again.”


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Dreamers With Deferred Action Safe For Now Fri, 16 Jun 2017 20:25:32 +0000 Continue reading Dreamers With Deferred Action Safe For Now]]> Dreamers who fall under the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program can breathe a sigh of relief. Donald Trump reversed his campaign pledge to end it and deport young immigrants. In a press release, Homeland Security Director John Kelly said, “The June 15, 2012 memorandum (by President Obama) that created the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will remain in effect.

But the good news came at the end of a news release describing a memo rescinding Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Residents (DAPA). That program, created by President Obama on November 20, 2014, gave immigrants whose children have legal status in the U.S. the opportunity to come out of the shadows, get work permits and apply for legal employment.

The Trump administration action officially killed that program. But it never went into effect because legal challenges from 26 states held up its implementation and the Supreme Court allowed a Texas federal judge’s order against it to remain in place.

Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “After months of senseless and cruel threats, the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to maintain DACA is a huge victory for the 800,000 young people who grew up in this country and have legal permission to live here. Now we need a comprehensive and efficient pathway to citizenship for DREAMers free from needless government red tape.”

But Choi also acknowledge the dissolution of the program for parents. He said, “Although the administration has disappointingly abandoned DAPA, this is an important acknowledgement of the values that truly make America great: opportunity and justice for all.”

The bottom line is that with DACA in place, young undocumented immigrants can continue to apply for Deferred Action and get the benefit of a legally sanctioned existence in the U.S.

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Bernie Sanders Condemns Shooting Wed, 14 Jun 2017 17:35:24 +0000 Continue reading Bernie Sanders Condemns Shooting]]> The man who opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers playing softball in Alexandria, Virginia was a rabid Bernie Sanders fan.  Senator Sanders went to the well of the Senate to denounce the shooter and the political anger that apparently motivated the shootings.

66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson featured Sanders on his Facebook page and filled it with angry posts denouncing  Trump, Hilary Clinton, John McCain, the DNC and Republicans. The Facebook page has since been taken down. 

The former construction inspector from Belleville, Illinois was the lone shooter, according to law enforcement officials. He opened fire in a park where Republican members of Congress held a morning baseball practice and wounded five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (LA).

Illinois Representative Rodney Davis was at bat when the shooting started. He told CNN this could be the first rhetorical political attack.

He told Brianna Keilar, “This hatefulness that we see in this country today, over policy differences, has got to stop.” He said, “I believe there is such a hatefulness in what we see in American politics and policy discussions right now. In social media and the 24-hour news cycle.  We can disagree about how to govern. That’s what makes this country great….”  “I think Republicans and Democrats have to use this day to say, ‘Stop.’ We can work together. We have our differences. But let’s not let it lead to such hate.”

Before Hodgkinson’s Facebook page came down, political partisans filled it with diatribes against him and hateful comments about Democrats, Sanders and liberals.





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VA Official Downplays Health Risk Of Agent Orange Wed, 14 Jun 2017 15:55:46 +0000 Continue reading VA Official Downplays Health Risk Of Agent Orange]]> ProPublica and The Virginia Pilot collaborated to report this story about the VA and the chemical herbicide Agent Orange, used in Vietnam, and a government official questioning whether exposure to it caused health problems.  Former Marine First Lieutenant Peter Owen Bannon wrote his personal story for about Vietnam, Agent Orange and the long term consequences. You can read that here

Veterans Affairs Official Downplays Agent Orange Risks, Questions Critics

by Charles Ornstein ProPublica, June 12, 2017, 8 a.m.

A key federal official who helps adjudicate claims by veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange has downplayed the risks of the chemical herbicide and questioned the findings of scientists, journalists and even a federal administrative tribunal that conflict with his views.

Jim Sampsel, a lead analyst within the Department of Veterans Affairs’ compensation service, told a VA advisory committee in March that he believes much of the renewed attention to Agent Orange — used during the Vietnam War to kill brush and deny cover to enemy troops — is the result of media “hype” and “hysteria,” according to a transcript of the meeting released to ProPublica.

“When it comes to Agent Orange, the facts don’t always matter,” said Sampsel, himself a Vietnam veteran who also handles Gulf War-related illness questions. “So we have to deal with the law as written.”

Part of Sampsel’s job entails reviewing evidence to determine whether a veteran or group of veterans came in contact with Agent Orange outside of Vietnam. By law, veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served or stepped foot in Vietnam; they have to prove exposure if they served at sea or in another country during the war. They also must have a disease that the VA ties to exposure to the herbicide.

“From my point of view, I will do anything to help veterans, any legitimate veteran, and I’ve done it plenty of times,” he told the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation, a group that advises the VA. “Unfortunately when it comes to this Agent Orange, we have to have a lot of denials.”

Sampsel also offered a window, for the first time, into ongoing internal deliberations at the VA about adding new diseases to the list of those connected to Agent Orange exposure. He suggested that despite increasing evidence tying the herbicide to hypertension, or high blood pressure, the VA is not going to extend benefits to veterans with that condition.

Reached by phone, Sampsel said, “You’re going to try to frame me, too,” before referring a reporter to the VA’s media relations office. ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot examined the effects of Agent Orange on veterans and their offspring in a series of articles in 2015 and 2016, raising questions about the VA’s handling of the matter.

The VA provided two written statements in response to questions for this article. Initially, a spokesman said that Sampsel was speaking as an individual at the meeting, and not for the VA.

“The objective of a federal advisory committee is to have open and public discussion of the issues for which it is chartered from the experts who understand and bring their own unique perspectives,” the statement said. “The March 2017 meetings were no exception and Mr. Sampsel’s comments did not fully or accurately reflect VA’s position concerning these issues.”

The VA said no decisions have been made about which new diseases to add to its list of those linked to Agent Orange exposure.

Asked whether it continued to support Sampsel, the VA said in a subsequent statement that he “is highly dedicated and respected within and outside of VA for the work he has done to establish many of the present policies that provide veterans, their families and survivors the benefits they are entitled to under the law.” The department also questioned the quotes a reporter asked about from the advisory committee meeting. “Taking quotes out of context without fully understanding the law, science, reasons or intent behind those words is a disservice to the advisory committee and the veteran community at large as well as Mr. Sampsel.” (Read the full transcript.)

Veteran advocates said they were furious to learn a VA official charged with objectively weighing evidence related to Agent Orange had shared controversial personal views.

Rick Weidman, legislative director for Vietnam Veterans of America, said he met with VA Secretary David Shulkin last week and told him, among other things, that Sampsel and others in the Veterans Benefits Administration need to be replaced. “Where they are now is doing active evil,” Weidman said. He added that he doesn’t expect Sampsel and other VA employees to necessarily be advocates “but we do expect them to be neutral and honest arbiters of science — and they are not.”

Although Agent Orange hasn’t been used in more than 40 years, it remains controversial because it contained dioxin, one of the world’s most toxic chemicals. Its effects can take decades to show up. Scientists continue to associate exposure to Agent Orange with diseases, and the VA continues to weigh whether to extend benefits to groups who say they were exposed to it outside of Vietnam.

Members of Congress who are leaders on veterans’ issues said the VA has an obligation to care for vets injured by Agent Orange. “I strongly believe we must do everything in our power to ensure veterans struggling with negative health effects as a result of exposure to Agent Orange receive the care and compensation they deserve; we owe nothing less to these brave men and women who have sacrificed more than enough for our country,” Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement.

Among Sampsel’s statements:

  • He said he believes Agent Orange contained “very, very small amounts” of dioxin, which was quickly destroyed by sunlight and the open air. “That’s not commonly acknowledged by advocates,” he said. Moreover, Sampsel said, U.S. planes did not spray it when American troops were in the area.

    In fact, a report by the Aspen Institute notes that on leaf and soil surfaces, dioxin will last one to three years and that dioxin under the surface could have a half-life of more than 100 years. Moreover, scientists have said that there are numerous ways in which American troops may have been exposed to the herbicide and some disagree that few troops were exposed.

  • Sampsel pushed back against claims that veterans who served outside of Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange. “When we get to outside of Vietnam, there’s a lot of controversy about Agent Orange use. And primarily it’s media hype, in my opinion.”

    In fact, veterans who served in Thailand, near the Korean demilitarized zone, in Okinawa, Japan, and aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam contend they were exposed in a variety of ways. Some have produced memos, photos and testimonials that have been enough to convince the Board of Veterans Appeals, the VA’s tribunal, that there was sufficient evidence to prove exposure and that they were entitled to benefits.

  • Sampsel criticized the Board of Veterans Appeals for its decisions. “BVA is, can do anything they want. I don’t know if everybody understands BVA. BVA has caused a lot of, what I would call misinformation about Agent Orange issues.”

    A member of the advisory panel, Thomas J. Pamperin, responded to Sampsel at the March meeting: “A decision by the Board of Veterans Appeals is the secretary’s final decision. I mean, we can’t distance ourselves from the Board of Veterans Appeals. It is part of the VA.”

    And in its statement, the VA said it, too, respects the BVA. “BVA is the highest appellate authority in VA,” it said. “They are attorneys who review the evidence of record and make decisions.” While the VA may not always agree with a decision, “their decisions are final and are implemented when issued.”

  • Sampsel criticized the prestigious Institute of Medicine, a congressionally chartered research organization hired by the VA, which in 2015 determined that the evidence suggested that a group of Air Force reservists could have been exposed to Agent Orange years after the Vietnam War when they flew aboard the C-123 planes that had been used to spray the herbicide.

    “One scientist from Harvard or somewhere said that dried, solidified TCDD dioxin never stops emanating molecules into the air,” Sampsel said. “Hardly anybody bought that at the time, but the IOM went with it.”

    He added a bit later: “I don’t think the science supports it. Most scientists don’t think the science supports it, but the law is what it is.”

    The Institute of Medicine, now called the National Academy of Medicine, found that the dioxin present on the aircraft could have exposed reservists who flew the planes years later. In its report, it said one contention of the VA and its expert, Alvin Young, was “inaccurate,” another “appears to be conjecture and not evidence-based” and a third was based on a study funded by Dow Chemical Co., one of the herbicide’s makers.

    In its statement, the VA said the Institute of Medicine “provides a valuable service to VA.”

  • Sampsel favorably cited Young, an Air Force officer, federal official and later the government’s go-to consultant, who has guided the stance of the military and the VA on Agent Orange and whether it has harmed service members. “I’m not the scientist,” Sampsel said at one point. “But I know that Dr. Alvin Young and the majority, the vast majority, of scientists don’t think that anybody gets any harmful effects from something that’s in the soil, buried in the soil.”

    But ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot reported last fall that critics say Young’s work is compromised by inaccuracies, inconsistencies or omissions of key facts, and relies heavily on his previous work, some of which was funded by Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co., the makers of Agent Orange. Young also served as an expert for the chemical companies in 2004 when Vietnam vets sued them. In an interview at the time, Young defended his work.

  • Sampsel said Young’s research showed that Agent Orange “never went to the Philippines, never went to Okinawa, never went to Guam,” as some veterans contend.

    A member of the panel interjected because he felt that Sampsel was being overly broad.

    “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Yes, yes. You’re, you’re absolutely correct,” Sampsel said, noting he should have said there was currently no evidence. “And if evidence does show up, we’ll certainly change our policy. … You’re right.”

During his presentation, Sampsel also summarized internal deliberations within the VA about which diseases should be formally linked to Agent Orange. Last year, the Institute of Medicine said there is now evidence to suggest that Agent Orange exposure may be linked to bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. It also confirmed, as previous experts have said, that there is some evidence of an association with hypertension, stroke and various neurological ailments similar to Parkinson’s Disease.

Since then, a VA-led study has found stronger evidence to link hypertension to Agent Orange exposure. The VA has been reviewing the matter since last year to decide whether to cover the diseases.

Sampsel said the Veterans Health Administration had recommended that the VA acknowledge the connection between Agent Orange and hypertension, but that benefits officials at the VA worked to kill that effort and believe they succeeded.

“I believe the secretary, the information I got recently, is not going to go with hypertension. As to the other ones, there’s the likelihood that they’ll become added to the list,” Sampsel said.

The VA, in its statement, said it could not comment on internal discussions “other than to say those deliberations are underway.” But it did note that no recommendations had gone to the secretary for his consideration.

If the VA ultimately decides to add hypertension to its list of covered diseases, it could be costly. Hypertension is the most common ailment among veterans seeking health care at the VA — indeed it is one of the most common ailments among older adults generally.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

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Trump AdministrationTo Gut Consumer Financial Protections Tue, 13 Jun 2017 23:56:20 +0000 Continue reading Trump AdministrationTo Gut Consumer Financial Protections]]>  

While Donald Trump ran as the champion of the working man and woman, his administration appears ready to gut the bureau that protects Americans from financial predators. A report from the Treasury Department says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over-reached and should have its authority reduced.

This is the same agency that in recent days urged retailers to make their credit card policies more transparent. The bureau found that retail store credit card promotions that defer payment often result in consumers paying more because they don’t understand the deadlines and penalties involved.

You may remember that the CFPB also exposed how Wells Fargo employees falsely opened credit card accounts for 1.5 million consumers, and was forced to pay restitution and fines totaling $175 million. 

The bureau also regularly goes after banks like J.P. Morgan Chase for illegal credit card practices, and that brought a $309 million fine. It also took action against Chase for allegedly charging African Americans and Hispanics more for their mortgages. The bank didn’t admit guilt, but paid a fine and restitution of $55 million.  Chase was also fined $50 million for illegal debt collection practices. 

It ordered Citibank to pay $770 million for illegal credit card practices.  It also ordered Citibank to pay $28.8 million for failing to provide clear information to consumers struggling to save their homes from foreclosure, and another $8 million for debt collection fraud.

The list of CFPB action against Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and other big financial institutions goes on.  The bureau came to life as part of the Dodd-Frank reforms after bad banking practices caused the 2008 financial crisis.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren advocated early on for the establishment of a government financial watchdog.  After the Treasury issued its report she called the recommendations to weaken the CFPB “radical” and said, “it would make it easier for big banks to cheat their consumers and spark another financial meltdown.” 

Since its creation, the CFPB has gone after big banks repeatedly for dishonest practices. It has advocated for reform of  student loan and debt collection.  It has tried to stop predatory lending and filed legal action against debt collectors who harass and intimidate consumers even when they don’t owe any money. 

The lengthy catalog of accomplishments, on behalf of American consumers, theoretically should make those who govern feel good about themselves. The bureau’s work retrieved $11.8 billion dollars in fines and payback for more than 29 million consumers.

So why get rid of it?  Well, the big bankers don’t like it. The lobbyists and the people in the Trump Administration, who don’t have consumers’ interests on their agenda, include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Just take a look at his background. The former Goldman Sachs banker bought IndyMac, a failed mortgage lender, during the financial crisis. He changed the name to OneWest and aggressively foreclosed on homeowners in arrears and earned the nickname the “foreclosure king.” 

Now the Treasury report, under his name, oddly says, “The CFPB’s structure renders it unaccountable to the American people.” The report criticizes the CFPB for what it calls “over reaching” and attempting to get auto dealers, college lenders and servicing agencies and others on the fringes of lending and banking to stop predatory practices and help consumers. 

So the Treasury Department wants to put the brakes on the CFPB, restructure it to weaken the power of the director and appoint a commission to oversee its work.

If you disagree with gutting the CFPB, contact your U. S. senator and representative and let them know what you think.

Here’s where to find your representative:

Here’s where to find your senator:







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Checking Your Credit Report Matters But Don’t Pay For Extras Wed, 07 Jun 2017 14:26:06 +0000 Continue reading Checking Your Credit Report Matters But Don’t Pay For Extras]]> Recently, I got my free credit report from and discovered two fraudulent attempts to get credit in my name.  Someone tried to open a Lord & Taylor account, and maybe the same someone tried open a Kohl’s account using my information.  In both cases, the card would come through Capital One and Capital One was making the inquiries.

In the process of getting this straightened out, I discovered how easy it is to fall for marketing pitches from the crediting reporting bureaus that may lead you to spend money needlessly.

Remember, you can get your credit report free, three times a year, from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. But they also try to sell you other things. 

The fraud appeared on my Equifax and Experian credit reports. I called Equifax first to put a fraud alert on my account and found myself listening to offers for “an insight score” and a “risk score.”  The recorded message said you a pay fee of $11.50 and then $7.95 for the score. Even though the disclaimer in the recording said, “Third parties use many different types of credit scores and will not use your Equifax score to assess creditworthiness,”  I was worried about my credit score because of the attempted fraud, so this would have been tempting if I didn’t know that you don’t need these scores. reported that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found “the credit scores Equifax sells to consumers are not the same scores used by lenders or other commercial users for credit decisions . . .”

In fact, the CFPB ordered Equifax to pay $3.6 million in restitution to consumers for deceiving them about the value of buying these scores. As part of the same ruling, TransUnion had to pay a whopping $13.9 million for the bad practices. 

In another action involving marketing of worthless scores, the CFPB fined Experian $3 million.

Oddly enough, I found Experian much easier to deal with than Equifax. When I called, I got through to a polite and helpful human being who placed a fraud alert on my Experian credit report and said the notice would go to the other credit bureaus.

But I didn’t stop there. I also wrote separate letters for each fraudulent inquiry to the credit bureaus, Capital One and the stores involved. I kept copies of everything, just in case.

Yes. This took time. And yes, I didn’t want to do it. But I also didn’t want someone opening a fake account in my name and I didn’t want any negative marks on my credit reports. The mark on your permanent record sounds like a fear from elementary school, and in a way it is.

Every inquiry about opening a credit account can lower your credit score. That’s why it’s important to make sure the information on your credit report accurately reflects your financial history. 

Weeks later I received letters from all of the credit bureaus, Capital One, Kohl’s and Lord & Taylor acknowledging that the applications for credit were frauds and that they would take the inquiries off my credit report.

For now, I consider it case closed. But next year, I will check again.

In the meantime, listen to the Equifax sales pitch: 

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What My Mom Would Say To Donald Trump Sat, 13 May 2017 23:31:09 +0000 Continue reading What My Mom Would Say To Donald Trump]]>  

by Nick Taylor

My mom Clare Taylor taught me that decency and fairness matter. She grew up in the Midwest, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor with a degree in journalism.

Her part of Upper Michigan went red in the last election, but if she were alive today, she’d be appalled by Donald Trump. His campaign of taunts, his flirtation with white nationalists and anti-Semites, his abuse of Mexicans and Muslims and immigrants in general offend everything she believed. His constant lies, his insults, his attacks on journalism and free speech would have sent her to her to desk to tap out indignant letters to the editor on her Royal portable.  

Right out of college she got a job with the Rising Sun, a Muslim newspaper, and moved to Chicago. She learned how to write objectively and cover stories about a new culture. Her own culture was mixed. 

Her father, Isaac Solomon Unger, was Jewish; her mother Mary Parent, a Protestant Christian. After her dad died, the family moved to Detroit and all mention of their Jewishness seem to disappear. Anti-Semitism was always a feature of American life, thanks to figures like Henry Ford, Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh, but Hitler and the Nazis made it worse.

My mother married my dad, an Englishman, and soon moved to North Carolina. Back in Michigan, apparently afraid to face prejudice, her family buried their Jewish background deep. 

My parents raised me in the Episcopal Church. But years later, they both rejoiced at my choice of my Jewish wife and Mom seemed grateful for the opportunity to reclaim her Jewish heritage.

They were Lincoln Republicans and voted that way until the sixties.  They supported the Civil Rights Movement and that wasn’t a stretch for them at all. When we lived in Waynesville, North Carolina, the Mt. Olive Baptist Church served Sunday dinners and we were regulars. I learned early that skin color shouldn’t separate people.

In Fort Myers, Florida, where we moved, my mom worked for the Fort Myers News-Press as the islands correspondent. She had the best job on the paper, even if it paid the least. She visited the marinas and yachts and tourist courts to find interesting stories about people different from her and the other locals. 

Religion, race and nationality didn’t frighten her. She saw these interviews, these conversations and the subsequent stories as an opportunity to introduce new people, new ideas to her community. 

When she retired from the News-Press, she volunteered to teach English to Mexican children whose parents did day labor on the farms outside of town. She loved those children and took pride in their accomplishments. 

It didn’t surprise me when my parents decided to retire to Mexico, or when she began to tutor children in English in the town where they settled.

Everything about my mom’s life showed deep concern for simple human decency. 

So I can imagine her letters to the editor on Trump. She would tell him to stop it, to grow up. She would ask, “Don’t you care about anybody but yourself?” I’m afraid she would be disappointed by the answers, but no less concerned for what is right. 

So today, on Mother’s Day, I share her belief that we should all look past our differences to find the things we share. Thanks, Mom, for giving me that gift.