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“What The VA Scandal Is Not About”: Conservative’s Desire To Privatize All Health Care

While the media furor over revelations of potentially death-dealing delays in eligibility determinations and care scheduling at the Veterans Administration is leading to all sorts of promiscuous talk by conservatives about the inherent incompetence of government and/or the need to privatize all government health-related services (presumably including the provision of insurance by Medicare), let’s be clear what the scandal is not about, as noted by CBS’ Rebecca Kaplan:

There…doesn’t appear to be a major quality problem among the agency’s doctors and nurses either, even though it appears that not enough veterans can get through the door to see them. Veterans’ advocates who appeared before Congress last week agreed that once veterans get access to care within the VA system, it is high-quality care. The problem is getting access to that care in the first place.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), the nation’s only cross-industry measure of customer satisfaction, ranks VA customer satisfaction among the best in the nation — equal to or better than ratings for private sector hospitals. When asked if they would use a VA medical center the next time they need inpatient or outpatient care, veterans in the 2013 ACSI survey overwhelmingly indicated that they would (96 and 95 percent, respectively).

Backlogs in eligibility determinations would exist whether veterans were being sent to VA hospitals for care, or to private hospitals with a voucher in their hands. And physician shortages and scheduling backlogs are hardly an unfamiliar phenomenon at private health care facilities.

Of course conservatives will try to use the issues at VA to undermine any and all public involvement in health care. But the only way to make absolutely sure veterans aren’t placed at risk by inefficient eligibility or scheduling systems is to deny them care altogether. Replacing public health care bureaucracies with private health care bureaucracies won’t fix the problems, and could make the care itself a lot worse and a lot more expensive.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 23, 2014

May 24, 2014 Posted by | Health Care, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Mislearned Lesson”: McDonald’s Indigestible Excuse For Low Pay

When Henry Ford realized it was good business to pay employees enough to buy the products they built, it was a breakthrough, not only because the idea challenged the reflex to pay as little as possible, but because the product was a car. He was talking real bucks.

McDonald’s has mislearned the lesson.

In response to escalating protests by McDonald’s employees calling for higher wages and the right to form a union without retaliation, McDonald’s chief executive, Don Thompson, defended the company at the annual meeting on Thursday, saying that McDonald’s pays a competitive wage.

But what constitutes “competitive” in the fast-food industry is precisely the problem. Hourly pay averages about $9. The low pay is possible in part because employers rely on taxpayers to subsidize it through public assistance and on non-unionized workforces to swallow it. The competitive fast food wage, in short, is not enough to live on.

Mr. Thompson presumably knows that. But he is paid not to understand what the protestors are demanding because his own pay is based on profits that are derived in part by keeping worker pay low.

Of course, if the political economy were functioning as it is supposed to – with Congress imposing reasonable boundaries on businesses, markets and the economy – workers wouldn’t have to get their bosses to understand what it’s like to live on $9 an hour, because Congress would make sure that no one had to.

The McDonald’s workers are asking for $15 an hour. That sounds like a lot compared to the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and compared to the Democratic proposal to raise the minimum to $10.10. But it’s actually closer to where the minimum wage would be today if it had kept pace over the years with growth in labor productivity.

McDonald’s workers are not asking for too much. Democrats are asking for too little and Republicans won’t even go along with that.

 

By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, The Editors Blog, The New York Times, May 23, 2014

May 24, 2014 Posted by | Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Red Flags In His Closet”: Jindal Repudiates His Communist Past

The shamelessness of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is not a topic I have arbitrarily chosen to emphasize at this blog. It’s just that the man provides so many fresh outrages so often.

It’s old news by now that in the course of this year’s Louisiana legislative session, Jindal has flip-flopped entirely on the Common Core education initiative that he and his state once championed. But rather than quietly checking a box on the subject for his vetting by conservative activists once he formally launches his 2016 presidential campaign, Bobby’s now howling at the moon, per this report from the Times-Pic‘s Julia O’Donoghue:

After weeks of ratcheting up the anti-Common Core rhetoric, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued some of his most blistering remarks on the academic standards yet Wednesday night (May 21).

“We support higher standards and rigor in the classroom, but every day, concern among parents is growing over Common Core. The feds are taking over and rushing this. Let’s face it: centralized planning didn’t work in Russia, it’s not working with our health care system and it won’t work in education. Education is best left to local control,” said Jindal through a written statement.

Russia? Russia?

This is so over the top that even Louisiana Republicans who have long supported Jindal are protesting, like his staunch ally as head of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Chas Roemer:

Common Core backers say Jindal’s remarks about the academic standards have become more about national politics than local education policy. The governor is expected to launch a 2016 presidential campaign and he has his eye on Iowa caucus goers more than Louisiana citizens, said Chas Roemer, president of state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“This is presidential politics,” said Roemer, a Common Core supporter, about the governor’s statement. “This is the politics of our governor, who is running for president.”

Jindal was a Common Core backer as recently as a year ago. Louisiana became one of over 40 states to officially adopt Common Core back in 2010. The academic benchmarks were developed through a collaboration of governors and education officials from states across the country, including Jindal.

So if Common Core is indeed part of a commie plot, Jindal has some red flags in his own closet, along with an exorcism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 23, 2014

May 24, 2014 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Common Core | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP’s New Plutocratic Populism”: A Bizarre Vision Of The Working Class

Fresh off his victory over Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell headed to the American Enterprise Institute Thursday to make himself over as a GOP populist. The party, as you’ve heard, has decided it needs “middle-class outreach” – since it’s given up on outreach to women, Latinos, African-Americans and the LGBT community – and thus some intellectuals and politicians have tried to craft “a middle class agenda.”

While the party should continue to stand for the free market and business interests, McConnell said, it had to face facts: “For most Americans whose daily concerns revolve around aging parents, long commutes, shrinking budgets and obscenely high tuition bills, these hymns to entrepreneurialism are as a practical matter largely irrelevant. And the audience for them is probably a lot smaller than we think.”

That, you’ll recall, was the takeaway from Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, where the plutocrat’s self-satisfied slogan “You built that!” was meant to mock Obama’s declaring that nobody builds a business entirely alone, but seemed to mock anyone who drew a paycheck, which is most of us.

But what is the tangible help McConnell and his friends are now offering to middle-class families? Very little, it turns out. McConnell had the audacity to present his union-busting National Right to Work Act as a pro-middle class reform, ignoring the way the labor movement actually built the middle class from the 1940s through the 1970s. Oh well.

The AEI event also included Sens. Mike Lee and Tim Scott, along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and writers like Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru and Reihan Salam, who contributed to a collection of essays on the new middle-class agenda called “Room to Grow.” They talked about helping single mothers, tackling student debt and ending corporate cronyism. But they offered very few ideas that would make a difference, and their good ideas are strangled by GOP orthodoxy. Lee wants to develop a package of tax cuts and credits for the middle class, for instance, but it adds $2.4 billion to the deficit so he hasn’t worked out his numbers.

The Utah Tea Party favorite also proposes to help the middle class while cracking down on the poor: Since he believes poverty programs create a “disincentive to work,” he wants to cut them and step up work requirements for those who do get help.  “We don’t want people to have to make that kind of awful choice” between welfare and work, Lee told a reporter, so we’ll cut back welfare and make it harder to access. Bless his heart.

Ending corporate cronyism seems like a place the two parties might find common ground, but every time Democrats and a few Republicans put together a proposal for cutting the tax loopholes that make the tax code so unfair, conservatives squash it.

Still, let’s give the folks behind “Room to Grow” credit for trying, again, to buck the prevailing pro-plutocrat direction of their party. In the conservative Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti praised the agenda, but offered a caveat. “I do not doubt for a moment that if the Republican Party adopted Room to Grow as its platform tomorrow, then both the GOP and the country would enjoy a better future,” he wrote. But he remembered a similar reception for Douthat and Salam’s widely praised “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save The American Dream,” and concluded the GOP “is no closer to embracing the ideas of Salam [and] Douthat…than it was when we celebrated the publication of ‘Grand New Party’ at the Watergate in 2008.”

Continetti deserves credit for explaining exactly why that is:

The outreach Republicans make to single women and to minorities inevitably repels the groups that give the party 48 percent of the popular vote—Christians and seniors and men. As has been made abundantly clear, 48 percent of the popular vote does not a presidential victory make. But 48 percent is not quite something to sniff at either. That number can always go down.

So if the GOP can craft an agenda that it can sell to Christian senior men, this middle-class thing is a go. Otherwise, it’s going to have to wait for people with the courage to sacrifice part of that 48 percent to get to 51 percent.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 23, 2014

May 24, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Middle Class, Plutocrats, Populism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Extreme Left Is Harmless”: Government Treating Peaceful Left Activists Like Terrorists, Again

Both liberals and conservatives spend time arguing that the other side contains people who are nutty, highlighting extreme statements in an attempt to convince people that there’s something fundamentally troubling about their opponents. There are many differences between the extreme right and the extreme left, perhaps most importantly that the extreme right has a much closer relationship with powerful Republicans than the extreme left has with powerful Democrats. When you find a crazy thing a liberal said, chances are it’s an obscure professor somewhere, or a blogger with twelve readers, or a random person at a protest. The crazy people on the right, in contrast, are often influential media figures or even members of Congress, people with real influence and power.

There’s another critical difference that doesn’t get as much attention: the extreme left is, generally speaking, harmless. That’s their nature. They’re more likely to meditate and form committees than hurt anyone. It’s been almost half a century since there were any leftists plotting bombings, and other than the occasional eco-vandal keying an SUV, the left isn’t going to be creating much in the way of crime and mayhem.

Extreme conservatives, on the other hand, are much more likely to be armed and dangerous. And we have plenty of examples of right-wing terrorism in our recent history, from the Oklahoma City bombing, to the Atlanta Olympic bombing, to the neo-Nazi who murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, to the murders this April in Kansas at a Jewish community center and retirement home, and dozens more. So you would think that law enforcement authorities would be particularly concerned about violent extremism on the right, while not wasting precious resources monitoring, infiltrating, and harassing leftists who are doing things like protesting U.S. foreign policy or opposing income inequality.

Oh, but you’d be wrong. The latest, from the New York Times, describes how law enforcement officials around the country went on high alert when the Occupy protests began in 2011, passing information between agencies with an urgency suggesting that at least some people thought that people gathering to oppose Wall Street were about to try to overthrow the U.S. government. And we remember how many of those protests ended, with police moving in with force.

The activities the Times article describes are relatively low-level compared to how many agencies approached left activism in the years after September 11, essentially treating any gathering of liberals like it was an al Qaeda cell days away from launching an attack. Anti-war groups were infiltrated with undercover officers posing as protesters, the most innocuous groups imaginable were spied on (you can rest easy knowing the threat from Quaker peace activists was closely monitored by anti-terrorism officials), and wherever a bunch of liberals got together to raise their voices, mass arrests often followed.

If you can’t recall any Tea Party protests in 2009 and 2010 being broken up by baton-wielding, pepper-spraying cops in riot gear, that’s because it didn’t happen. Just like the anti-war protesters of the Bush years, the Tea Partiers were unhappy with the government, and saying so loudly. But for some reason, law enforcement didn’t view them as a threat.

Or even more recently, recall how gingerly law enforcement officials treated Cliven Bundy and his allies. Here was a guy stealing public resources, and his supporters were literally pointing guns at government officials, and the response of the government was, “Let’s everybody stay calm here.” Eventually the authorities just backed off. I guess it’s lucky for the Bundy folks that they never tried forming a drum circle or passing out veggie burritos, because then the hammer would have really come down on them.

This isn’t anything new, of course; the government has a long history of treating liberal groups like a dire threat to the republic. But when we see yet another story like this one, it’s a reminder that the people and agencies charged with public safety have bizarre notions of where terrorism might come from. And that makes all of us less safe.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 23, 2014

May 24, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Liberals, Right Wing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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