Phoenix VA Hospital Admits Secret Waiting Lists

At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.

For six months, CNN has been reporting on extended delays in health care appointments suffered by veterans across the country and who died while waiting for appointments and care. But the new revelations about the Phoenix VA are perhaps the most disturbing and striking to come to light thus far.

Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.

Dr. Sam Foote just retired after spending 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix. The veteran doctor told CNN in an exclusive interview that the Phoenix VA works off two lists for patient appointments:

There's an "official" list that's shared with officials in Washington and shows the VA has been providing timely appointments, which Foote calls a sham list. And then there's the real list that's hidden from outsiders, where wait times can last more than a year.

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Clemson Coach Defends Commitment to Character

In wake of a national conversation following a complaint filed against Clemson University, the football team's head coach has responded to discussion about his faith. Clemson's Dabo Swinney issued a statement Wednesday explaining the rules he expects players to follow and sharing what he believes.

"Players must go to class, they must give a good effort and they must be good citizens. It is as simple as that," Swinney said.

Swinney and the university have come under fire from some who claim they have forced their religion on players. Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint to the South Carolina university citing several "constitutional concerns" regarding the football program.

While part of the letter focused on Swinney's choice and the university's hiring of a Christian team chaplain, the complaint went on to identify other religious issues regarding team buses, an FCA breakfast and team devotionals. Read the full complaint here.

"A call to players and university staff - who are of varying or no faith - to attend church is coercive," said FFRF staff attorney Patrick Elliott in the letter. "This practice coerces players, of varying faiths or none at all, to enter a Christian house of worship, lest they speak up against their superiors, a brave, but unlikely event given the extent to which coach Swinney makes his preference for religious belief clear."

Swinney's statement does not deny his faith but explains his expectations of players - one that focuses on character rather than religion. 

See Swinney's complete statement and full story here.


Report: FBI Uses No Fly List to Seek Informants

Naveed Shinwari hasn’t seen his wife in 26 months. He suspects it’s because he refused to become an informant for the FBI.

In February 2012 Shinwari, who has lived in the US since he was 14, flew to Afghanistan to get married. He says that before he could get home to Omaha, Nebraska, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents who wanted to know if he knew anything about national security threats. A third FBI visit followed when he got home.

The following month, after Shinwari bought another plane ticket for a temporary job in Connecticut, he couldn’t get a boarding pass. Police told him he had been placed on the US no-fly list, although he had never in his life been accused of breaking any law. Another FBI visit soon followed, with agents wanting to know about the “local Omaha community, did I know anyone who’s a threat”, he says.

“I’m just very frustrated, [and I said] what can I do to clear my name?” recalls Shinwari, 30. “And that’s where it was mentioned to me: you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money.”

Shinwari is one of four American Muslims in a new lawsuit who accuse the FBI of placing them on the no-fly list, either to intimidate them into becoming informants or to retaliate against them for declining.

Filed on Tuesday night in the US district court for the southern district of New York, the case accuses the US attorney general, Eric Holder, the FBI director, James Comey, the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, and two dozen FBI agents of creating an atmosphere in which Muslims who are not accused of wrongdoing are forbidden from flying, apparently as leverage to get them snitching on their communities.

Their lawsuit seeks not only the plaintiffs’ removal from the no-fly list but also the establishment of a more robust legal mechanism to contest placement upon it.

“This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect overpolicing in Muslim-American communities,” said Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers for the four plaintiffs.

In recent years Muslim community leaders in the US have stated that they feel law enforcement at times considers them a target, particularly thanks to mosque infiltrations and other surveillance practices. Material demonizing Muslims and Islam has been present in FBI counter-terrorism training, which the bureau has conceded was inappropriate. The New York police department recently shut down a unit tasked with spying on Muslim businesses, mosques and community centers in New York and New Jersey.

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Jobless Can Access Benefits With New Phone App

South Carolina's unemployment agency has launched a free app that allows jobless residents to seek weekly benefits through their iPhones. The Department of Employment and Workforce unveiled Wednesday what it says is the nation's first such app for smartphones. The U.S. Department of Labor did not immediately respond to voice and email messages.
State agency spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell says the mobile application offers a convenience while also helping the agency reduce fraud. The offering is an extension of the agency's move toward automation. People still must fill out initial applications for benefits either online or by phone. In-person help with unemployment claims ended last June.
Fairwell says the app became available for iPhones on Wednesday. The agency hopes to have it available for Android devices later this year.


Veterans Lobby for Benefits at Statehouse

Dozens of South Carolina veterans gathered at the Statehouse on Wednesday to press lawmakers to boost benefits for those who served in the military and their families.

"We salute you and welcome you here, and hope you can convince our legislators to do more for our veterans," retired Army Col. David Lobb, of the state Military Officers Associated for America, told the gathering at the Statehouse steps.

More than a half-dozen representatives of military groups in the state addressed the group, many seated under sunny skies and amid colorful flags from their varied associations. Several elderly veterans were in wheelchairs and many wore the red, blue, or green caps and shirts of their respective organizations.

Representatives of the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the Military Officers Association of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Vietnam Veterans of America attended. So did members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Retired Enlisted Association, and the South Carolina Associated of County Veterans Affairs Officers.

Lobb pointed to two bills before lawmakers that he said would benefit veterans and their families. One would allow in-state tuition at state colleges for veterans who indicate they would live in South Carolina, while the other allows increased tax exemptions for military retirement pay.

Both measures have passed the House. One senator has placed a hold in the Senate on the education benefits, while the tax exemption bill is awaiting a hearing before a subcommittee.


S.C. Lawyers Denounce Haley TV Ad

An ad attacking Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen's work as a defense attorney has prompted the South Carolina Bar Association to fight back against what it calls an unfair smear of the legal profession that should have no place in the governor's race.

The bar launched a website counteracting a Republican Governors Association ad, which began airing statewide Monday, that condemns Sheheen as protecting criminals. It's an unprecedented move for a nonpolitical organization to which every South Carolina attorney must belong, with more than 15,000 members statewide.

RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said the ad is about Sheheen choosing in the past to represent a sex offender and several men accused of abusing women, as he's trying to woo women voters.

Association President Alice Paylor said campaigns should be about issues, not bashing lawyers for providing people their constitutional right to legal representation.

"That's a basic tenet of the Constitution," she said Wednesday. "What they're attacking is the whole basis for the U.S. and the U.S. Constitution. According to them, I guess everyone accused of something is automatically guilty."

The association does not take sides in a political campaign and generally doesn't get involved. It has previously provided publishable letters opposing "lawyer-bashing ads," but the website is a first, Paylor said.

It doesn't support Sheheen, but rather defends lawyers in general and opposes the notion that someone who has represented criminal defendants is unworthy of being governor, she said.

"Lawyers have a professional duty to ensure that justice is not rationed but is available to everyone," the website reads. "It is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to ensure his or her client has a fair trial, not to defend the crime."

Sheheen and Gov. Nikki Haley, both 42, are in a rematch this November. Neither has a primary opponent.


Obama Readies for Non-Violent Clemency Push

Efforts to free non-violent drug offenders jailed for decades under outdated sentencing rules took what appeared to be a major step forward on Wednesday as the Obama administration removed a senior official blamed for slowing attempts at commutations.

After announcing the departure of Ron Rodgers as United States Pardon Attorney, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said some prisoners “simply because of the operation of sentencing laws on the books at the time, received substantial sentences that are disproportionate to what they would receive today”.

Speaking at a press conference, he added: “Even the sentencing judges in many of these cases expressed regret at the time at having to impose such harsh sentences … Correcting these sentences is simply a matter of fairness that is fundamental to our principles at the department.”

Though Cole paid tribute to Rodgers, who was appointed under president George W Bush and is said to have requested the move to another role, his departure follows White House comments suggesting dissatisfaction with the way such cases were being reviewed.

“There is a process in place that ensures – or that hopefully will ensure – that everyone has a fair shot under the system,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday after an announcement of a new clemency initiative.

Campaigners against mandatory sentencing rules welcomed the DOJ shuffle, which coincided with the unveiling of details of criteria it will use to assess commutation requests under the initiative.

“The doors of the Office of the Pardon Attorney have been closed to petitioners for too long. This announcement signals a truly welcome change; the culture of “no” that has dominated that office is being transformed,” said Mary Price, general counsel at Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Rodgers will be replaced by Deborah Leff, the DOJ's Acting Senior Counselor for Access to Justice, who has been leading its Clemency Project.

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Anderson County Democrats to Meet Saturday

The Anderson County Democratic Party will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at party headquarters downtown,for a session devoted to voter registration.  The group will work for two hours seeking out people who are not registered to vote and assisting them to register, if they would like. This kind of grassroots effort is aimed at being the start of a campaign for a "COMEBACK" by the Anderson County Democratic Party. 



Study: Monkeys Can Do Math

Monkeys are found able to do math, according to a study in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Wednesday.

Three rhesus macaques were able to add the two symbols and compare that number to a single symbol within four months, according to Margaret, a neurobiologist from Harvard Medical School.

Besides, Livingstone and her colleagues taught these three monkeys numbers zero through nine and letters with values zero through 25.

They also found monkeys had trouble understanding the symbols when the numbers were close in value, thus in needs further research to determine how monkeys estimate the value of numbers.


Push for Off-Shore Drilling on S.C. Coast Gains Momentum

The push to start drilling in the Atlantic Ocean is gaining momentum and dividing people along the grand coast of South Carolina, where some local leaders fear what it could mean for tourism.

“If we had an event like they had in the Gulf it would be devastating for us,” said Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin, referring to the April 2010 drilling rig explosion that killed 11 and gushed 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. “Our beach and our environment are our signatures. Our entire economy is built on hospitality.”

The Interior Department recently endorsed seismic testing to find out how much oil and gas lies off the coast of the Carolinas and other Atlantic states, a key move toward allowing drilling for the first time in decades. Not content to wait, members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation have introduced bills demanding that the drilling be approved.

“Safe, responsible energy production has the ability to transform our economy, creating thousands of new jobs in communities across the nation,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott said this month as he announced his new Southern Energy Access Jobs Act.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., also has a bill to open the waters for drilling. So does South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who used to oppose drilling the Atlantic off his state’s coastline but switched positions, saying he believes the oil and natural gas can help American energy independence.

South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, has become a leading voice calling for the Obama administration to allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

Drilling boosters point to the potential for jobs and economic development. The American Petroleum Institute, the main lobbying group for the oil industry, maintains there could be 11,000 direct jobs in South Carolina by 2035 from offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the Atlantic, as well as a contribution of more than $2.7 billion to the state’s economy.

There are questions, though, about just how much potential South Carolina has for energy development. Mitchell Colgan, chairman of the geology department at the College of Charleston, says there is not much oil off the coast of South Carolina, and that the economics of harvesting Atlantic natural gas are questionable given that the nation is already awash in the stuff from fracking onshore.



Report: IRS Agents in Trouble Over Personal Tax Issues

The IRS was in damage control mode Tuesday after an audit revealed that it paid bonuses to employees who were in trouble over tax issues themselves.

More than $2.8 million, plus thousands of hours of paid time-off, were doled out over two years to employees who had recently been disciplined for various types of misconduct, according to an audit report. About $1 million of that money was given as bonuses to 1,100 employees who were in trouble over tax related issues.

The tax problems include willful understatement of tax liabilities, late payments and under-reporting of income, according to the report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The report says that providing awards to employees who fail to pay taxes "appears to create a conflict with the IRS's charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration."

Although federal regulations do not require the IRS to consider tax compliance of employees when issuing bonuses, the agency says it will change the policy, as per the audit's suggestion.


FDA Prepares to Regulate E-Cigarettes

Smokers are increasingly turning to battery-powered electronic cigarettes to get their nicotine fix. They're about to find out what federal regulators have to say about the popular devices.

The Food and Drug Administration will propose rules for e-cigarettes as early as this month. The rules will have big implications for a fast-growing, largely unregulated industry and its legions of customers.

Regulators aim to answer the burning question posed by Kenneth Warner, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health: "Is this going to be the disruptive technology that finally takes us in the direction of getting rid of cigarettes?"

The FDA faces a balancing act. If the regulations are too strict, they could kill an industry that offers a hope of being safer than cigarettes and potentially helping smokers quit them. But the agency also has to be sure e-cigarettes really are safer and aren't hooking children on an addictive drug.

Members of Congress and several public health groups have raised safety concerns over e-cigarettes, questioned their marketing tactics and called on regulators to address those worries quickly.

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Delvin Choice Advances on NBC's "The Voice"

The votes are in and Delvin Choice will continue to the next round on "The Voice," moving to the top 10.

Host Carson Daly announced on Tuesday night's broadcast that America saved Delvin from elimination.

Delvin, who lives in Greenville and works in Anderson, wowed the crowd and the judges in the live contests Monday night.

Delvin sang the classic hit "Unchained Melody." All the judges said he rose to the challenge of singing such a classic and had such good command of his strong voice.

Last week Delvin sang Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," in the playoff round and moved on to the top 12 for the live shows.

After Choice's performance, coach Adam Levine said, "I know now, it's solidified in my mind, we're the team to beat this year."

Levine has predicted Delvin will be the overall winner.  After Delvin's playoff performance Monday Levine said "Delvin was incredible and surpassed my wildest expectation."

Delvin works at the Starbucks in Anderson and attends church at NewSpring, where he is a worship leader.

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