I spoke on a panel on Friday in Santa Monica at a conference on “The Next World: How Should the United States Respond to Rising Powers?” Steve Coll of The New America Foundation and The New Yorker was also there and he, unlike me, took the time to do a cogent writeup of what was being said.
Bush’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), however, doesn’t seem too happy about the increased work these new benefits will create and plans to outsource it all. Last month, VA Secretary James Peake wrote to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union announcing the plan. From Peake’s letter, obtained by ThinkProgress:
The challenges of creating the procedures and systems to support a new program and ensuring accurate and timely benefit payments under this new program effective August 1, 2009, will tax VA’s resources. … Therefore, the decision has been made to seek private-sector support to implement this new program.
The government wants to automate all GI Bill requests and is looking to hire a private contractor to set up such a system. AFGE is condemning this decision, which would dump the expertise of 850 government employees who are able to process a veteran’s request for GI benefits within 20 days.
The VA is arguing that with this new outsourcing plan, benefits could be processed in minutes. Veterans advocates point to the Bush administration’s abysmal record in hiring contractors who have no expertise in the area they’re hired to work:
Marty Conatser, American Legion: “Our newest generation of veterans deserve the benefits administered by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, not outside contractors. Patients, critics and most media all cite the outstanding job the VA is doing. Outsourcing is not the answer.”
Rick Weidman, Vietnam Veterans of America: “If anything goes wrong, I’ll tell you what’ll happen, and it’s what always happens in these instances, is they’ll say, ‘Well, it’s not our job, it’s the VA’s.’ And the VA will say, ‘We can’t do anything, it’s contracted out. It’s the contractor’s job.’ And that is baloney. The problem isn’t the troops; the problem is the leadership.”
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ): “I just cannot believe that we’d ever allow this to happen. The level of service won’t be the same.”
So far, the Bush administration has treated this contracting process like it has so many others — with secrecy. As NPR reported today, the VA has so far “handpicked only a small number of companies to compete for the contract, and so far, officials won’t even reveal the companies’ names.”
Perhaps this move by the Bush administration is intended to take the agency one step closer to McCain’s dream of privatized veterans health care?
In an answer to a questionnaire about health care policy, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) condemned “one-size-fits-all” health care reform:
I believe that all Americans should have access to quality and affordable health care of their choice, including keeping their current coverage. We can build a health care system that is more responsive to our needs and is delivered to more people at lower cost and higher quality. The “solution” isn’t a one-size-fits-all-big government takeover of health care.
We “can build a health care system that is more responsive to our needs” — but McCain’s health care plan doesn’t even come close. Under McCain’s proposal, the sick and the not-yet sick, the poor and the wealthy would all receive a one-size-fits-all tax credit, regardless of their health history or income status.
Warren Buffet would collect the same $5,000 as his secretary. A chronically ill older patient, who requires more care or more expensive care, would obtain the same amount for health care as a younger and healthier American.
In fact, senior McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin regularly brags about the “equalizing effects” of McCain’s reforms:
This is actually not a plan that relies on the individual market, it relies on the traditional source of health insurance, which is employers. And it would buttress that by taking the traditional subsidy, that exclusion from tax, for private health insurance and spreading it more fairly. Instead of only getting it in the employer market, you would get it regardless of your source of insurance. And you get the same amount whether you’re rich or poor, $5,000 for every working family.
Only a real maverick can get away with both condemning and promoting “one-size-fits-all” reforms.
Last month, House conservatives engaged in a political stunt in the Capitol, demanding a vote on oil drilling while Congress was adjourned for recess. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), however, was absent for part of the protest, squeezing in a couple of rounds of golf in Ohio while his colleagues were in Washington. Speaking today on the floor, Boehner claimed he was there “each and every day”:
Well, Mr. Speaker, let me say welcome to my Democratic colleagues. Welcome to the House. … While you all were out, I and my Republican colleagues were here each and every day with the lights dimmed, the microphones off, no one in the chair, the cameras off, talking to visitors who were coming through the Capitol about our plan to produce all of the above.
Marginal Revolution reader Peter Risager says:
A Danish chain of gyms is now offering membership free of charge, with the only caveat that you have to show up, in order for the membership to be free. If you fail to show up once per week you will be billed the normal monthly membership fee for that month. This should solve the problem with incentives that gym-membership normally carries – there is suddenly a very large (membership is around 85$ per month) incentive to show up each week.
I have my doubts that they’ve nailed the structure just right here. But the general shape of the solution seems right. And we should all hope entrepreneur or other cracks the code and manages to make something like this work. In the domain of personal health habits, we have a lot of instances of akrasia and these are exacerbated by the fact that the business world has done a much better job of finding ways to make money by taking advantage of our akrasia than they have of finding ways to help us overcome it. If you could actually find a workable business model that’s built around getting people into the gym — rather than just buying a membership to the gym — you’d wind up doing a lot of good for the world.
Denial lives on in the Land o’ Lakes. My brother’s amazing interview of Minneapolis GOP congressional candidate Barb “global warming is a scam … Let’s push it on Africa” White finally got a response from the candidate, sort of. Scienceblogs’ Sheril R. Kirshenbaum reprinted the interview (here), and White’s media/communications director, Don Allen, replied there, three times.
[Existential question of the day: Should I be happy or sad that the PR person for a global warming denier doesn't read my blog.]
Allen’s first reply was, in its entirety:
Well, game, set, and match to Barb White and Don Allen. And if that’s his idea of “open minded,” I’d hate to see what he’s close minded about. Sheril was equally snarky:
I didn’t want to mention that I had a dream about Sarah Palin (she was driving a piece of farm equipment back and forth on the football field of the high school catty-corner to my house, laughing maniacally and I was trying desperately to install some kind of codec on my laptop so they could capture it on video) because it just seemed to weird and creepy. But according to David Plotz, Palin-related dreams are a growing national trend and he’s taking submissions.
By choosing Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has tried to reinvigorate the perception that he is a “maverick.” Last week in their respective speeches to the Republican National Convention, McCain and Palin underscored this point by branding themselves as the “maverick” ticket:
– PALIN: That is only one more reason to take the maverick of the Senate and put him in the White House.
– McCAIN: You know, I’ve been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment and sometimes it’s not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.
On Fox News yesterday, the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes observed that this re-branding effort is something that “the media has bought.” Barnes is right. Since the convention last week, the media appear to be more than happy to comply with McCain’s effort to put the “maverick” brand back into his campaign — hook, line and sinker. Watch a compilation:
In fact, there is nothing about any of McCain’s policy proposals that could in any way justify calling him a “maverick.” His economic, energy, health care and national security policies are all either in line with President Bush’s or in some cases further to the right.
Indeed, CNN’s Paul Begala noted last week, “If McCain is a maverick reformer, then I’m a Hasidic diamond merchant.”
Just after the RNC, CNN’s Campbell Brown asked, “can he make the maverick label stick?” Of course, McCain has always been the media’s “maverick,” but unfortunately, the answer to Brown’s question is, it appears so.
Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein both have some good comments on this Newsweek interview with McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Schuenemann, whose shady history as a registered foreign agent, cog in the neoconservative
war liberation machine, and shill for long cons has been covered in some depth on this blog. But there are a couple further comments that I want to highlight.
Scheunemann states that John McCain “recognizes there are certain people in the world who send children off to be suicide bombers or repress their citizens viciously whom you can’t use any word other than evil to describe.” That’s all fine, we know how conservatives get a huge charge out of calling various classes of people evil, but the point is, at least as regards McCain’s Iraq views, such people are only considered evil up until the moment when they decide to switch sides and ally with us against other evil people, at which point people like John McCain will, without batting an eye, stridently advocate giving our no longer-evil new allies millions of dollars to fight their still-evil former allies.
This is isn’t to suggest that paying one’s former enemies to fight one’s current enemies can’t be a wise tactical choice, it often is, just that when one was condemning one’s new allies as “evil terrorists” about five minutes ago, it tends to reveal one’s appeal to “moral clarity” as a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.
Speaking on McCain’s views on political progress in Iraq, Scheunemann says that McCain “has a realistic understanding of how you make peace“:
When you try to push parties that are unwilling to get together, you’re not going to have success. He’s said it’s important to keep moving forward, but we have to be realistic about the prospects.
Oops, sorry. Those are actually McCain’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, where he believes we must be “realistic about the prospects” for reconciliation, while doing all we can to prevent a Palestinian government dominated by Islamic extremists like Hamas.
Whereas in Iraq, McCain believes it’s important to be wildly optimistic about the prospects of reconciliation, while insisting that a government dominated by Islamic extremists like Da’wa and ISCI represents American victory.
One should observe that while increased drilling can’t provide any immediate relief, increased transit funding can. Building a new rail line, obviously, is a long-term endeavor. But the existing supply of buses and rail networks could operate more frequently and on more extended hours very quickly simply by offering more overtime and hiring more staff. That would provide economic stimulus by creating jobs directly, while also decreasing the costs (either financial or in terms of time) of commuting to work, and by shifting some cars off the road would decrease congestion problems for the highest-value trips. Obviously, it would go against everything America stands for to respond to economic problems by enhancing bus service, but it’s still a good idea.
Meanwhile, relatively cheap transit enhancements such buying more buses, equipping them with fancier GPS and signal priority gadgets, and upgrading bus shelters works as stimulus as well and will give us even better service in the medium-term. And then there’s new rail construction. Like new drilling, that won’t help anyone’s transportation problems in the short run. But it will provide some construction jobs in the near-term. And unlike new drilling it’ll make the environment cleaner rather than dirtier.