The McLaughlin Group
Host: John McLaughlin
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist;
Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner;
Rich Lowry, National Review;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report
Taped: Friday, May 23, 2014
Broadcast: Weekend of May 24-25, 2014
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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: VA Damage Control.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) Today I want every veteran to know we are going to fix whatever is wrong. If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The White House went into full damage control this week as the scandal over falsified records of wait times at Veterans Administration hospitals mushroomed.
As the nation heads into the Memorial Day weekend, a time of sacred remembrance of the sacrifices made by our nation's military over the 238 years since the Revolutionary War, the VA scandal spreads nationwide. There are now 26 hospitals, not the 10 hospitals the Obama administration told Congress last week, under investigation for hiding lengthy waiting periods for medical treatment by falsifying computer records.
At the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital alone, veterans waited as long as 400 days to see a doctor. But the records were falsified to show appointments were completed within 12 days. At Phoenix, the VA was doctoring the records, not doctoring the patients. Forty veterans died while awaiting medical treatment.
That number may grow to more than -- brace yourself -- a thousand nationwide if similar patterns are uncovered at the other VA hospitals, now finally under investigation. If so, it will pose a severe test of credibility for President Obama.
Here's the pledge he made to veterans when campaigning seven years ago in a 2007 speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: When I am president, building a 21st century VA to serve our veterans will have an equal priority to building a 21st century military to fight our wars.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why did President Obama wait nearly three weeks to speak out on this scandal? Pat Buchanan.
PAT BUCHANAN: John, I don't know, but his speaking out so far has been pathetic, and this scandal is really going to be a terrible one.
First off, people understand vets being denied medical care and dying, and then people cooking the books. Everybody understands it.
Secondly, it's going to metastasize because more and more of these hospitals, you can bet, are doing the same thing.
Third, in this scandal, John, unlike Benghazi, the mainstream media is really on it, on this case, and they are going to move it.
And fourth, this goes to the heart of American liberalism, which is the idea that big-government programs and government agencies are caring; they're the people that do the job best; they're the ones we ought to entrust with the people of this country and their health and all the rest of it. And this just shoots a hole in the basic argument of American liberalism and the basic premise of the Obama administration.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan.
SUSAN FERRECHIO: One of the most damning things for the Obama administration are the individual stories you're hearing from veterans who are coming forward, or their widows or family members of people who have died coming forward and talking about the frustration of waiting weeks and weeks or having to somehow prove that your injury came from combat or is service-related. I mean, I've heard stories of people just waiting months and months to confirm these facts, these basic facts, after having served combat in Vietnam and other wars.
And I think what it has done is open up a conversation about what this means for the future of our health care, aside from being just atrocious for the veterans. What does it say about the ambitions of, you know, the government in terms of running health care for all, which is where it kind of seems like we're heading with this health care reform law? I think it has people wondering, well, this is happening to our veterans. Do we want the government running our health care? I think that question has certainly been posed.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rich.
RICH LOWRY: In fairness, the VA has been poorly run and had these sort of problems delivering quality, timely care for decades. But this is happening on the president's watch. It's something he talked about before the campaign and has pledged across the years to fix, and he hasn't.
But the fundamental point is one Pat and Susan make, that this is really the left's ideal version of health care -- no insurance companies, no private doctors or hospitals, no real competition. And it has been an ongoing disaster. And unless you have consumer choice and consumer power, the bureaucracy is always going to rule and serve its own interests, which is what we're seeing here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama gave Shinseki a week to get back his findings. Is that sufficient time?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: I'll tell you, if he had more than a week, he'd find that there'd be a lot of findings that he would be even more unhappy with. When he starts off that portion that you had on the screen and he said I want every veteran to know this, and then he said what -- every veteran knows that they're getting and have gotten lousy treatment. And that is not going to go away.
That is a huge black mark, frankly, on this country, because these are people who have put their lives on the line to defend this country. And it is just outrageous that it has gone this way. And there's no excuse for it at this stage of the game. This is so widespread. It's been going on for such a long time. What it tells you is that nobody was paying attention. That is just unacceptable. It's unacceptable on any level, but it's unacceptable when you have people who have put their lives on the line for this country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How does this figure into it? There is a time crunch here. The president is due over in Normandy, France on the 6th of July -- 6th of June.
MR. BUCHANAN: Public relations.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, is he trying to stay ahead of this --
MR. BUCHANAN: No, he's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- or is he --
MR. BUCHANAN: He's behind the curve, and he's trying to catch up with it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does he want to shut it down (somewhat ?)?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, you cannot shut this down.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: Susan's point is well taken. You're going to have one anecdote and one story from one community after another after another after another, because these are things television and press can really relate. It's unlike -- what happened at Benghazi is one episode. And as these things go on and he goes to Normandy, I think he's got just a hellish public-relations problem --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- as we've got a hellish national problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about the D-Day landing in Normandy.
MR. BUCHANAN: June 6th.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It really is a hellish situation.
MR. LOWRY: And there's no quick fix. I mean, this is an endemic, systemic problem that is deeply ingrained to how this institution works. There's no quick turnaround here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who do we (lay that ?) up against, the previous heads of --
MR. LOWRY: It's the design of the VA itself, which really predates modern American medicine and needs to be fundamentally rethought. So, yes, heads should roll throughout the system, starting with Shinseki and every one of these liars at any of these facilities. But you really need to rethink how the VA works in a fundamental way.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it has to be a prolonged, somewhat prolonged and deep probe of the system.
MS. FERRECHIO: It's going to take a long time.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: They are going to have to literally restructure how at least they account for their medical care.
MS. FERRECHIO: They've got to --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: They've got to have some way of establishing whether or not these people are getting cured or getting healthy.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is the worst --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It is a disgrace what's been going on.
MR. BUCHANAN: This could be worse -- politically, this could be worse than "Obamacare" for the administration this coming November, in my judgment. But, you know, it's going to take years if they're going to rebuild, restructure and alter this whole system. I wonder if they are. But they really ought to get both parties involved in it.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: There will be examples that everybody can understand and relate to, when you know somebody who didn't get appropriate medical care, but particularly when they lied about it. I mean, this is just unacceptable. People will understand what was going on, and there will be a huge political price, and deservedly.
MR. BUCHANAN: Everybody's got some member of their family that was in Vietnam or World War II or Korea --
MS. FERRECHIO: (Inaudible.) Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- or Iraq or Afghanistan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did Reagan have any operators from his presidency for a group or a person or a committee, internal committee, to examine upcoming problems that could develop throughout the administration?
MR. BUCHANAN: The only thing we had --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has Obama done anything like that?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, we had Iran-contra, but that wasn't all that pleasant, to be very honest. So they had a bipartisan investigation of that, and we cooperated wholly with it. That's what I think Obama ought to do, though. I would get out front and say, look, this is a real problem. It's an American problem. It's on my watch, and get out in front of this thing. But I think it's going to bleed and bleed and bleed.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And what you get from him is rhetoric. You know, I really was in favor of this.
MR. BUCHANAN: I agree.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: But what happens, there's no execution. There's no implementation of a plan.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's the 70th anniversary of Normandy.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a horrible box to be in.
Issue Two: The Empire Strikes Back.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) This is a terrible situation. Boko Haram, this terrorist organization that's been operating in Nigeria, has been killing people and innocent civilians for a very long time. We've always identified them as one of the worst local or regional terrorist organizations there is out there. But I can only imagine what the parents are going through. So what we've done is we have offered, and it's been accepted, help from our military and law enforcement officials. We're going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama joined with (friends ?) Britain, China and Israel in a multinational search last week for more than 284 teenage Nigerian girls held captive by an Islamic terrorist group known as Boko Haram.
Last month, 276 girls were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in northern Nigeria. This month another eight girls between the ages of 12 and 15 were abducted in a second kidnapping.
The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has said variously that some of the girls have been married to his adherents or that he will sell the girls into slavery or that he is willing to negotiate their return in exchange for the liberation of Boko Haram prisoners held by the Nigerian government.
Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, has ruled out negotiations with the militants. Nor has President Jonathan deigned to meet with the parents of the captive schoolgirls, whose street protests went viral on social media, attracting one particularly influential supporter, First Lady Michelle Obama.
Surveillance drones are among the resources the U.S. is using to find the girls. America is sharing its intelligence with Nigeria, including the sobering news that the girls have been split into multiple groups, spanning the countries of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad to foil any rescue mission.
British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the world must act speedily, before the girls literally disappear across the continent of Africa.
Question: Is a high-risk rescue mission in the offing? And, if so, what are the stakes for President Obama and America's standing in the world? Rich Lowry.
MR. LOWRY: No, I don't believe a high-risk operation is in the cards. I think we're probably doing the most we can reasonably do now. These people are loathsome bastards. There's no doubt about it. But the government is very weak, corrupt and heavy-handed. So we should do what we can to kind of nudge the government towards having better capacities in fighting this fight in a more reasonable way. But in terms of going and finding these girls in that forest, I don't believe it's going to happen.
MR. BUCHANAN: Let me dissent. I'm a noninterventionist, John, but let me dissent here. I do think we ought to do everything we can to help them locate those girls. But if they do locate them and they do find them in a group, there's no group in the world that could do as well as the United States of America, the possibility of an Entebbe-type rescue of these girls. And I -- because the world's attention is focused on it, and because everybody would be behind you, if, in fact, they could do it with some safety and get some of those girls or all of them out, I would support it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this more high-risk than Jimmy Carter's --
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- rescue mission that turned into a debacle?
MR. BUCHANAN: The desert fiasco.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)
MR. BUCHANAN: The desert fiasco. No, our planes and helicopters crashed in the middle of that desert. No, Nigeria, quite frankly, is not Iran. Carter was sending those guys right into downtown Tehran to rescue our hostages. Now, I don't know how they were going to do that with all those people there. But this would not be that risky.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's a lot of rough terrain in Nigeria, and there are a lot of dispersed tribes all over the place.
MS. FERRECHIO: Can you imagine if the United States would endeavor to go and rescue those girls and bring them to their families safely? What an amazing event that would be for the president. His popularity would go through the roof. It's probably the best thing that could happen to him right now if he were to try to carry that out.
MR. BUCHANAN: It'd be good for America and good for the world.
MS. FERRECHIO: Because, I mean, nobody would have -- I can't imagine how anyone would be really opposing that mission.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Look at the obverse of it. Suppose something goes wrong and hundreds of people are killed.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well --
MS. FERRECHIO: Right. There'll be people questioning it.
MR. LOWRY: What's the (underlying ?) principle, though? I mean, you've had 100,000 people killed -- killed dead -- in Syria the last couple of years. We're not lifting a finger. But on this we're going to go in and save these girls?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well --
MR. LOWRY: Everyone wants the girls to be rescued and saved. But why -- there are horrible incidents all around the world all the time --
MR. BUCHANAN: It's because --
MR. LOWRY: -- that we could save the people, but we don't, because there would be no limiting principle on U.S. intervention in that case.
MR. BUCHANAN: Because it can be done. I'd normally agree with you on intervention, but if --
MR. LOWRY: But other things can be done too. If that's the standard, then you're not a noninterventionist. You're the biggest interventionist the world --
MR. BUCHANAN: There are certain things we can --
MR. LOWRY: We can do all sorts of things. We can invade Syria right now --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort -- I want to ask Mort a question. If you were handling this, wouldn't you let Nigeria go in and have supporting nations, including us, underneath them so that, if something did go wrong, it would not be attached to us?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know, I wouldn't do it that way, because I frankly don't think you'd have the -- any kind of reasonable change that you'd be able to save these poor girls, OK. This is something that, as you were saying, the United States is uniquely qualified to do in terms of with the drones, with the intelligence, with the kind of quality of commandos that we have that we could put out --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's a risk, tough.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course there's a risk. But this is the kind of thing -- if America stands for something, it's a humanitarian gesture. It's not based in terms of national interest, political interest, military interest. It's a humanitarian -- that's what we should be standing for.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not a supporting role, say, to the French or the British?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, I would be very happy if we did this on a multinational basis.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, no, no, no. You don't want to get all those guys involved. If you're going to do it, you would do it with the Americans without all this multinational organization, you know.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Cyber-Kleptos.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: (From videotape.) Today we are announcing an indictment against five officers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army for serious cybersecurity breaches. The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response.
The indictment alleges that these PLA officers maintained unauthorized access to victim computers to steal information from these entities that would be useful to their competitors in China, including state-owned enterprises.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement officer, announced this week the grand jury indictment of five Chinese military officers on dozens of criminal charges. This action has no precedent in the U.S. 237-year history.
The five -- Huang Zhenyu, Wen Xinyu, Sun Kailiang, Gu Chunhui and Wang Dong -- are charged with 31 counts, each ranging from conspiracy to economic espionage to theft of U.S. trade secrets. The alleged criminals worked for a secretive unit of the People's Liberation Army known as 61398, housed in a 12-story building in Shanghai.
China denies the charges and has lodged a formal protest with U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus.
The victims were U.S. Steel, Westinghouse Electric, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies and United Steel, a U.S. union.
These targets share in common that they are all strategic industries, so identified in China's five-year 2011 to 2015 economic development plan.
This theft of intellectual property costs America's economy per year $300 billion and the loss of millions of American jobs, according to a blue-ribbon commission co-chaired by former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and Dennis Blair.
The world's leading culprit, Huntsman and Blair say, is China. Of all intellectual property stolen from the United States, China alone steals 80 percent of it.
Question: Is China a giant kleptocracy? If so, is it expecting too much for China to obey the rule of law? Mort Zuckerman.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's not too much to expect them to obey the rule of law. They are now trading with all countries in the world. They expect to be treated fairly, and we expect them to treat us fairly. What they are doing -- and we have to understand what the Chinese culture is like at this stage of the game. You see their enormous wealth accumulated by a very small proportion of that population. The government is hand -- shall we say shaking hands with all of these people. This is an absolute outrage from the point of view of the United States. And I think we are entitled to do what we can, and we will do it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They are plundering intellectual property.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right. It's not only intellectual property. I mean, there's all kinds of --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Trade secrets.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- all kinds of business secrets.
MR. BUCHANAN: They apparently stole --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Military and industrial --
MR. BUCHANAN: John, they apparently stole the secrets of the F- 35 new stealth fighter, apparently which we put something like $1 trillion in, and they swiped all that.
Look, this is a ferociously nationalistic country which is rising, and it sees the United States as its great global adversary. And it's going to push us out of the Pacific and become the dominant nation in the world. And it's utterly amoral in what it does, and you should expect that. And I blame, quite frankly, many of the Republicans and the others who voted for all these trade agreements that built that place up.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are very few American corporations that want to pursue this kind of activity against China.
MR. BUCHANAN: You talk about amoral. Those corporations are right in the front of the line.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: China's cyber-thievery.
MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They don't want to do anything about it, right?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You find very few. Is that true?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, this has been going on on all sides of the world of business, OK? This is going on in many, many other countries. The real problem is it became public, OK? We cannot walk away from China, with all due respect. It's not just a question of what China is doing. It's what China is. They're a huge country. They're unbelievably talented and smart.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know what they say, the corporations?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Do I know --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: China's powerful retaliatory action.
MR. BUCHANAN: What would they do --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. Well, of course (they do ?) retaliate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So what does this all add up to?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: We have to find some way of dealing with the Chinese government on these issues, and frankly, not in this kind of public attack, because we are doing the same thing in different ways all around the world.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the --
MR. BUCHANAN: You're giving them --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the time proximity to the termination of President Obama's trip to that part of the world and not visiting China have anything to do with any of this?
MR. LOWRY: I think he wanted a symbol of doing something. But this is not a legal issue, even though China is engaged in a massive act of theft, because these guys are not going to be extradited. They're not going to come here to stand trial. So you have to deal with it through diplomatic means --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MR. LOWRY: -- also through hardening our defenses and hitting them back.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: In light of these indictments and the sanctions leveled against Russia for annexing Crimea, how would you describe Obama's foreign policy? Is it, A, appeasement; B, legalistic; C, realpolitik; D, zero-sum hardball; or E, none of the above?
MR. BUCHANAN: With regard to China, it is basically appeasement. John, last year China had a $318 billion trade surplus with the United States of America. All that money went over there. What do you call that?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I call that producing very good and very competitive goods, which we cannot do nearly as well as we once did.
MR. BUCHANAN: We can't -- we can't do that anymore?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.)
MS. FERRECHIO: But they also -- they rig their currency too. They have an unfair currency policy.
MR. BUCHANAN: They manipulate their currency, exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Abramson Out.
JILL ABRAMSON (former New York Times executive editor): (From videotape.) And now I'm talking to anyone who's been dumped -- (laughter) -- (you bet ?) -- not gotten the job you really wanted or received those horrible rejection letters from grad school. You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of. Sure, losing a job you love hurts. But the work I revere, journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable, is what makes our democracy so resilient. This is the work I will remain very much a part of.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jill Abramson is the former executive editor of The New York Times. She was fired by the gray lady last week after three years on the job. Abramson was the first woman to head The New York Times. It was Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times, and the chairman of the New York Times Company, who made the decision to terminate Abramson.
Sulzberger told a stunned and shocked Times assemblage that the decision had been made because of a, quote-unquote, "issue with management in the newsroom." Abramson had a relationship with Mr. Sulzberger that was said to be tense.
With Ms. Abramson gone, managing editor Dean Baquet will now lead the paper. The New York Times had full coverage of the termination as though it had occurred at another world-famous, multiple-prize-winning newspaper.
Question: Was Jill Abramson's commencement speech a class act? Susan Ferrechio.
MS. FERRECHIO: Yes, I think her dismissal elevated this conversation about women managers that I thought was really interesting. Susan Glasser at the Politico wrote a really interesting magazine article right after it came out called "Editing While Female." It just talked about the idea of women displaying characteristics that maybe any male manager would display but are tolerated less and harder to stay in control when you're a woman and you're doing those things.
So I think that's the discussion that a lot of people are having. Of course, none of us know what was really going on, what the real reasons were. There's talk about a pay discrepancy and lawyers being involved. But I do think it does raise this question about whether women don't get as fair a shake at the top as men do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why the discord at The New York Times?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, nobody really quite knows.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about the theory that holds that she hired a co-equal managing editor to Dean Baquet without informing or consulting him? One theory is that -- another theory is she became incensed when she found out she was paid less than her predecessor, Bill Keller, who's gone.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Well, let me just put it this way. If you have to find a way to mishandle a situation like this, they brought it to a full fruition. It is really unfortunate. She's a very talented journalist. She did a lot of terrific work before she became the editor. And however this got to where it got -- I don't really know all the details of it -- it just should never have exploded in this way.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: This VA scandal is going to be gigantic by the end of this year, the election time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Susan.
MS. FERRECHIO: Immigration reform is going to happen, not through the Congress, but the president's pen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rich.
MR. LOWRY: Mitch McConnell survived his primary and will win his general election by three points or more.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The astounding visit of the foreign minister of Iran to Saudi Arabia is another illustration of the way we have lost all of our allies in the Middle East.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.
I predict that President Obama will not fire General Shinseki over the VA hospital scandal. Instead he will keep Shinseki on board to serve as a lightning rod for any further future criticism.
Monday is Memorial Day, when the nation salutes our U.S. members of the armed forces who died in the protection of our beloved country -- 1,144,657 veterans -- so that the rest of us could be more secure. May they rest in peace.
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