The conventional mid-term narrative is that the party in the sixth year of an administration will take a beating at the polls, Egberto Willies noted at DailyKos.com (5/25). “In other words, Democrats will lose the Senate, some House seats and some governorships, leaving an impotent president. Red state Democratic Senators are supposed to take a beating because their constituents hate President Obama and his poll numbers are in the toilet (well, near the toilet, they imply),” Willies wrote.
“Activists, however, know that Americans are not dumb. Generally many are just misinformed. Eventually however, truth becomes the disinfectant that cleans up many messes. ...”
Among the facts underreported by the traditional media, Willies noted, is the conservative Rasmussen daily tracking poll that has President Obama with a 50% approval rating. Gallup’s daily tracking poll currently pegs Obama’s approval rating at 45%, and he has been skirting 50% at times. And the five supposedly endangered red-state Southern Democratic senators are virtually even or leading in every race.
“Did you know that the governor’s race in Georgia is very competitive? Did you know that the failure of the Republican governor to accept the Medicaid expansion to Obamacare could cost him that race?,” Willies asked.
“The narrative is that Democratic voters fall off more than Republican voters in the midterms. Should it not have been news that the virtually uncontested Democratic Senate race in Kentucky drew more voters than the contested Republican Senate race (402,421 vs 355,132)?
“The traditional media narrative on Republican governors gives the impression that their governance would propel them to the heights of being president. How many know that states in which these governors have been able to institute their policies substantially, they have decimated their states’ coffers?
“How many know that Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is robbing the pensions of those from whom he extracted concessions? He tries to blame others while refusing to implement any increase in revenues.
“Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) instituted standard Republican policies—he cut taxes, cut education budgets and turned down the Medicaid expansion to Obamacare. He preached the same trickle-down nonsense that has never worked in the past. His state’s revenue has dropped dramatically. How many know that he is now in a dead heat with his potential Democratic rival, Rep. Paul Davis (D-KS)?
“Did you know that media darling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) 7-point lead in the poll has vanished? He is now tied with his Democratic challenger, Mary Burke (D-WI).”
The traditional media has laid out a narrative. To most of them, reality does not matter— everything fits into a pre-conceived narrative, Willies wrote. “They ignore what does not fit. The problem is that this behavior can promote self-fulfilling prophecies. If one believe the outcome is already baked in, then why vote?”
Martin Longman, at WashingtonMonthly.com (5/25), professes optimism about the Senate races, seeing only one Democratic seat as irretrievably lost — retiring Sen. Tim Johnson’s seat in South Dakota. “Rick Weiland (D) is a good candidate, but he’s far behind in the few polls that have been taken and former Governor Mike Rounds (R) just seems like he’s too popular to lose.”
Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) is expected to have a tough time fending off Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT). “We just saw Jon Tester win a second term even while sharing a ballot column with Barack Obama, and Montana has a Democratic governor. So, we know that this race is winnable, but Walsh has to build up his name recognition and earn some trust.”
In West Virginia, the polls are similarly discouraging, but it’s early. Natalie Tennant is a strong candidate who outpolled Barack Obama in 2012 by 160,000 votes during her reelection bid as Secretary of State. She actually won by a slightly higher percentage (62.4) than did Mitt Romney (62.3), Longman noted. “West Virginia is certainly trending Republican, but they have almost no track record of electing Republicans to statewide office. Nonetheless, I have to put this race in the Republicans’ column for now.”
So, there are three races where the GOP has a clear advantage, he said. “But that’s it. I am concerned about the reelection prospects of Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, but I’d put my money on both of them if you forced me to make a choice. Mark Pryor of Arkansas has opened up a double-digit lead in the polls, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana had a 24% lead in the April New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll.
“We obviously have to keep our eyes on races in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire, but things look positive in all four states right now.
“And that leaves the races in Kentucky and Georgia, where recent polls have shown both Alison Lundergan Grimes and Michelle Nunn up narrowly within the margin of error. If the polls are right, the Democrats are poised to lose three seats and gain two. And I think that is roughly what will happen. If Hagan and Begich lose, control of the Senate could get dicey, but I think there is a little padding to keep us from going down as low as 49 seats.”
GOP SENATE CANDIDATES SUPPORT EXTREMELY HARSH BUDGET CUTS. Democrats are shining a spotlight on what a handful of Republican candidates for the Senate — Rep. Tom Cotton (AR), Rep. Cory Gardner (CO), Rep. Jack Kingston (GA), and Rep. Bill Cassidy (LA) — have done in the House, exposing just how extreme they are, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (5/27). The Senate candidates were among 104 House Republicans who voted for the draconian budgets that the far-right Republican Study Committee released as a 2013 alternative to the Ryan budgets, which only proposed to balance the budget in 10 years with harsh budget cuts. The RSC proposed to balance the budget in 4 years with extreme cuts, with everybody but the wealthy and defense contractors suffering.
Some of the highlights of the RSC proposal included cutting Social Security cost-of-living increases; raising the retirement age for Social Security to 70; privatizing Medicare; raising the eligibility age for Medicare to 70; freezing Medicaid spending at 2014 levels to prevent more people from enrolling in the future; repealing Obamacare and kicking people off health insurance; restoring tax breaks for the wealthy; restoring defense budgets to pre-sequestration levels; and making up the money to restore defense spending while balancing the budget in four years through domestic spending cuts. They propose to cut more than $100 bln from Pell Grants, abolish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Universal Service Fund and the National Labor Relations Board. And they would sell off public lands.
“It’s sort of hard to believe that there is a more extreme Republican vision for America than Paul Ryan’s, but there is and it is the RSC’s vision, McCarter wrote. “The RSC has been described as an extremist cabal that took over the Republican House. Now they’re trying to take over the Senate, too.”
MITCH M’CONNELL STUMBLES ON O’CARE DOUBLESPEAK. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), who already faced a tough general election challenge from Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes (D), surprised many when he claimed that repealing Obamacare wouldn’t impact Kynect, Kentucky’s popular health exchange that delivers coverage to 421,000 Kentuckians.
The Lexington Herald-Leader blasted McConnell in an editorial (5/28): “What in the world did he mean last week when he told reporters that repeal of the Affordable Care Act — ‘root and branch,’ as he has demanded many times — is ‘unconnected’ to the future of Kynect, Kentucky’s health insurance exchange?
“Asked specifically if Kynect should be dismantled, McConnell said: ‘I think that’s unconnected to my comments about the overall question.’ ... We asked the McConnell campaign for a clarification and were sent the usual talking points and a statement saying, ‘If Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky should decide for itself whether to keep Kynect or set up a different marketplace,’ a suggestion that is unconnected to reality.
“Kentuckians are waiting to learn if their five-term senator understands — or cares — how much is at stake.”
Grimes’ campaign also called out McConnell for not knowing the difference between fact and fiction.
“Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction,” said Grimes’ campaign manager, Jonathan Hurst, in a statement to LEO Weekly in Louisville (5/28). “McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect – and he has said he will do it again. In the US Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians.”
TEA STILL STRONG IN TEXAS. Teabaggers showed their clout is undiminished in the Texas GOP primary runoff (5/27) as Dan Patrick, a state senator and talk show host from Houston (unrelated to the nationally known sportscaster of the same name), who said one of his priorities as president of the state Senate would be to oppose President Obama’s attempts to change the weather, soundly defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in his bid for re-election, 65% to 35%.
“Pity poor David Dewhurst,” Charles Pierce wrote at Esquire.com (5/28). “In 2012, he was the clear favorite to be the next US senator from Texas, but he got outflanked and outnumbered on his right by the voices in the head of Ted Cruz. ... for two years now, Dewhurst nearly has broken his ankles shuffling and pandering to the voters who voted for Cruz instead of for him, and that listened to Patrick’s radio program, and that, last night, voted for Patrick instead of for him. The invaluable Burnt Orange Report (BurntOrangeReport.com) has a lot of background on Patrick, who claims to be an education candidate, but who is apparently as nutty on that issue as he is on climate change.”
Patrick has supported privatizing public education and has proposed Arizona-style anti-immigrant legislation, which could cause some Latino Republicans to support Democratic nominee Leticia Van de Putte, a Latina state senator from San Antonio.
Texas Republican voters overlooked reports leaked the week before the election about Patrick’s mental instability in the 1980s, when Patrick spent time in psychiatric hospitals after bouts of fatigue and depression and a suicide attempt in 1984. GOP voters also nominated Ken Paxton for Texas attorney general despite his citation (5/2) by the State Securities Board for failing to register as an investment adviser. Paxton was fined $1,000.
MORE INSURERS JOINING HEALTH EXCHANGES. Several insurance companies who had refrained from participating in statewide health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act say they will sell policies on the exchanges in the coming year, and others plan to expand their offerings to more states, Reed Abelson reported in the New York Times (5/26).
“Insurers continue to see this as a good business opportunity,” said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “They see it as an attractive market, with enrollment expected to ramp up in the second year.” Eight mln people have signed up for coverage in 2014, and estimates put next year’s enrollment around 13 mln.
In New Hampshire, where Anthem Blue Cross is the only insurer offering individual coverage on the state exchange, two other plans, both from Massachusetts, say they intend to offer policies next year. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a nonprofit insurer with 1.2 mln members, said it expected to participate in the exchanges in both New Hampshire and Maine for the first time and to add Connecticut to the mix in 2016.
UnitedHealth Group and Cigna, which were notable in their caution about the exchanges last year, are expected to enter more markets this year. In Washington State, United is among four new insurers that have told state regulators they are interested in offering plans in 2015.
Cigna’s chief executive, David Cordani, told the Times the company’s “bias” was to expand beyond the five states where it now offers coverage on the exchanges. But he cautioned that the company, which sells plans mainly through large employers, would be selective about picking new markets. “We don’t see it as a land-grab opportunity,” he said.
Premiums varied widely in many markets during the last enrollment period, which ended in March. But as a handful of states have released insurers’ proposed premiums for 2015, the difference appears to be narrowing, said Brett Graham, a senior executive for Leavitt Partners, a consulting firm, and he has not seen any insurers leave the market.
Early filings in Washington and Virginia show potential rate increases for next year in the single digits.
LIB TALKERS WALK AWAY FROM RADIO. Randi Rhodes ended her progressive talk show (5/16) and Ed Schultz switched his three-hour daily talk show, which had been aired on many of the same radio stations as Rhodes’ show, to a 1-hour show available live and as a podcast at his website (WeGotEd.com). He’ll continue hosting his one-hour MSNBC show on weekday at 4 p.m. CT.
Karl Frisch noted in a Facebook post (5/22): “Progressive radio as we know it is dying (conservative radio is too but more slowly). It won’t completely go away but we won’t be able to get it on the radio much longer. Randi Rhodes is gone and now Ed Schultz is on his way out. Sad. Hopefully those remaining learn to adapt to the times with robust online offerings etc.”
Remaining nationally syndicated progressive talkers include Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, Leslie Marshall, Norman Goldman, Mike Malloy, Allan Colmes and Democracy Now!, but there are only about 40 stations that still carry liberal talk. (More than 600 stations carry Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talkers.)
If you don’t live in a city with a progressive talk radio station, you can listen to progressive talkers over the Internet with an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or comparable Android smartphones or tablets with the TuneIn app (spring for the 99-cent pro version so you can record the shows). Also, many progressive shows are available online at FreeSpeech.org and on Sirius/XM satellite. If you don’t have Internet access at home, you could get a tablet and download podcasts of many of these programs at your public library or any place that has “wi-fi” available, such as most McDonalds restaurants or coffee shops.
Thom Hartmann, who formerly followed Schultz on most stations, took over Schultz’s time slot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Central time. He is one of the most effective in pioneering new, multi-media platforms and bridging the business gap between commercial and public broadcasting, said Michael Harrison of Talkers magazine, which is honoring Hartmann with the Gene Burns Memorial Award for Freedom of Speech. Hartmann is syndicated by WestwoodOne, Pacifica, and CRN Digital Talk. He’s heard nationally on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, American Forces Radio, and his program is televised on the Free Speech TV network – which airs on both Direct TV and the Dish satellite TV systems, several hundred cable systems, Progressive Voices on the TuneIn app, NetRootsRadio, and its own YouTube and LiveStream channels. Hartmann also hosts “The Big Picture” TV show, which airs live nationwide on cable and satellite TV at 6 pm CT and 9 pm CT in an estimated 60 mln-plus US households via Free Speech TV and in 107 countries in more than 600 mln homes around the world via his licensing agreement with RT TV.
US CORPORATIONS WILDLY INFLATE PROFITS OFFSHORE. US corporations report to the IRS that 54% of their offshore profits are earned in 12 tax haven countries that, combined, only account for 4% of economic output among all countries where US corporations do business, Citizens for Tax Justice reported (5/27).
“If this sounds confusing and impossible, that’s because it is,” said CTJ Director Robert McIntyre.
For example, US companies reported subsidiary profits in Bermuda of $94 bln, but that county’s annual GDP (total output of goods and services) is just $6 bln. Similarly, American companies reported $51 bln in Cayman Island profits even though that country’s GDP is just $3 bln. The 10 other countries with impossible corporate profits v. GDP are the Bahamas, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Netherland Antilles, Singapore and Switzerland.
Clearly, US companies are using accounting gimmicks to make it appear as though they are earning profits in tax haven countries to avoid US taxes, and this is happening on a large scale, CTJ reported.
“Companies obviously cannot earn profits in Bermuda or any country that exceed the country’s output of goods and services,” McIntyre said. “The data these multinational corporations report to the IRS further confirm what we already know about tax havens and corporate tax avoidance. It’s appalling that corporations get away with cooking the books without consequence.”
To view the report, “American Corporations Tell the IRS the Majority of Their Offshore Profits Are in 12 Tax Havens,” go to <ctj.org/pdf/corporateoffshoreprofitsirs.pdf>.
TWO YEARS OF KOREA ‘FREE TRADE’ THROWS COLD WATER ON TPP. US government trade data covering the first two years of the US-Korea “free trade” agreement (FTA) further chills the prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Fast Track trade authority, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch reported (5/9). The US International Trade Commission (USITC) data show falling US exports to Korea and a ballooning US trade deficit under the Korea FTA, which served as the US template for the TPP.
US goods exports to Korea have dropped 5% under the Korea FTA’s first two years, compared to the two years before FTA implementation, in contrast to the Obama administration’s promise that the Korea FTA would mean “more exports, more jobs” and recent claims that the agreement has shown “strong results.” Imports into the US from Korea have climbed 8% under the FTA (an increase of $4.7 bln per year).
From the year before the FTA took effect to its second year of implementation, the US goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 50% (a $7.6 bln increase). In 23 out of 24 months since the Korea FTA took effect, the US goods trade deficit with Korea has exceeded the average monthly level seen in the two years before the deal. The trade deficit increase under the FTA indicates the loss of more than 50,000 US jobs, according the trade-jobs ratio that the Obama administration used to project gains from the deal.
WIND ENERGY REDUCED POLLUTION EQUAL TO 20M CARS. Wind energy reduced power sector emissions by more than 5% last year, saving the same amount of CO2 as taking 20 mln cars off the road, according to a new report by the American Wind Energy Association. It found that wind energy production in 2013 resulted in carbon emissions reductions of 126.8 mln tons. Some states achieved larger reductions than the national average, with 11 states reducing carbon emissions by 10% compared to 2011 levels through wind energy. Texas — a state which broke its record for highest wind generation ever in March — had the highest volume of carbon reductions, followed by Illinois, California, and Colorado.
Sulfur dioxide emissions also dropped by almost 347 mln pounds per year as a result of wind energy production, and nitrous oxide emissions were reduced by 214 mln pounds per year, These reductions improve air and water quality. The cost of wind energy has also been falling over the last few years — costs have dropped by 43% in four years, according to AWEA, due to improvements in technology.
That decrease in cost has helped wind energy expand across much of the US — in 2003, wind energy made up just 0.3% of the country’s power generation mix, but by 2008, had grown to make up 1.3%. So far, almost all of the country’s wind projects have been on land, but the U.S. is also exploring offshore wind as a potential for further energy generation — Oregon could be the site of the West Coast’s first offshore wind farm.
US solar capacity grew by 418% over the last four years according to data released in April by the Energy Information Association.
So far in 2014, America has added 5,600 renewable energy jobs, with the largest growth coming from the solar industry. That number is a drop from the 12,000 new clean energy jobs reported in the first quarter of 2013, partly because Congress has failed to renew the Production Tax Credit for wind energy — a $13 bln tax break to help wind compete with established fossil-fuel power companies. (Katie Valentine, ThinkProgress.org, 5/27)
POLL: AMERICANS MORE WORRIED ABOUT ‘GLOBAL WARMING’ THAN ‘CLIMATE CHANGE’. New polling by the Climate Change Communication efforts of Yale and George Mason universities found that “global warming” is the winner — across the board:
“We found that the term global warming is associated with greater public understanding, emotional engagement, and support for personal and national action than the term climate change. … the use of the term climate change appears to actually reduce issue engagement by Democrats, Independents, liberals, and moderates, as well as a variety of subgroups within American society, including men, women, minorities, different generations, and across political and partisan lines.”
Joe Romm of ThinkProgress.org noted “an even more amazing finding”: “Within the Weather category, global warming generates a higher percentage of associations to ‘extreme weather’ than does climate change, which generates more associations to general weather patterns.”
Romm noted that Republican spinmaster Frank Luntz in 2003 urged conservatives to switch from “global warming” to “climate change ... ‘Climate change is less frightening than ‘global warming’,” Luntz wrote, citing focus group results.
COLOMBIA LABOR RIGHTS NOT IMPROVED BY ‘FREE TRADE’. Obama administration officials are in Vietnam negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact that would place US workers in direct competition with their Vietnamese counterparts even after protesting Vietnamese workers burnt foreign-owned factories to the ground, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch reported (5/19).
While politics provided the spark for Vietnam’s recent worker riots, the country’s notorious working conditions fanned the flames, Global Trade Watch reported. According to the US government, the International Labour Organization and workers’ rights groups, those conditions include “children working nine to 12 hours per day for low pay in hazardous working conditions,” forced labor, discrimination against pregnant women, blocked fire exits, prohibition of independent unions, and minimum wages dwarfed by those paid in China.
Members of Congress, US labor unions and human rights groups have made clear that the US government should not be contemplating a pact with a country where workers’ rights are systematically violated.
That same argument motivated widespread opposition to the US-Colombia “free trade” agreement (FTA), which took effect two years ago in May.
The Obama administration helped push the FTA through Congress over Democratic opposition with promises that gross workers’ rights violations in Colombia would wane under the FTA. The administration declared that a Labor Action Plan (LAP) signed with Colombia in 2011 would “lead to greatly enhanced labor rights in Colombia.”
After two years of FTA implementation, that promise rings hollow as Colombia’s unionists face persistent murders, death threats, and repression.
Colombia’s National Union School, recognized by the LAP as an authoritative source of monitoring data, reports that:
• In the three years since the LAP was unveiled, 73 Colombian unionists have been murdered. There were four more unionist murders in 2013 than in 2012.
• Colombia’s union workers have endured 31 murder attempts and 953 death threats since the LAP was announced. These crimes have not resulted in any captures, trials or convictions.
• More than 3,000 unionists have been murdered in Colombia since 1977. The overall impunity rate for these murders is 87%.
• Since 1977, Colombian unionists have received 6,262 recorded death threats. Only 4 of these threats have been punished, meaning that impunity for anti-union death threats stands at 99.9%.
Undeterred by the ongoing repression of Colombian workers, US trade negotiators are in Vietnam in an attempt to negotiate via the TPP an expansion of the FTA model to Vietnam, despite the country’s widespread labor abuses.
US LABOR RIGHTS RANK NEAR BOTTOM. Southeast Asia is a lousy place to work, the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index reports. According to the *Wall Street Journal* (5/26), several countries in the region score a 5 (the worst) on a 1-5 index based on measures of worker rights, ability to organize and ability to strike. These nations include Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos and the Philippines.
That’s not a surprise, Ed Sills noted at the Texas AFL-CIO (5/27), “and it has to be noted that Southeast Asia is probably an even worse place to be out of work than to be working.
“What may come as a shock to some people, at least those outside the labor movement, is that the United States rates a ‘4’ on the scale, right alongside several other notorious sweatshop states: Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar,” which indicates “systematic violations,” with governments or companies engaged “in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers, putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.”
The report’s authors said the US’ “4” ranking illustrated that a country’s level of economic development does not necessarily indicate its respect for rights that include decent working conditions or collective bargaining.
The top country in the world for workers’ rights is Denmark, according to the report. Denmark actually scored a perfect “0” by meeting all 97 indicators. Several European countries, including Germany and Norway, scored “1”.
WTO: EUROPE CAN’T PROTECT BABY SEALS. The World Trade Organization has ruled that a European ban on products from inhumane seal harvests violates trade rules. “The WTO today added fuzzy white baby seals clubbed to death on bloody ice floes to dolphins and sea turtles as animals that the WTO has declared cannot be protected by domestic laws because they violate ‘trade’ rules, which will just fuel public and policymaker skepticism about these so-called trade deals,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (5/22).
“As a technical matter, today’s ruling confirms the uselessness of the WTO exceptions, allegedly designed to protect countries’ domestic public interest laws, that are now being touted as the way to safeguard environmental, health and safety policies in proposed pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is the 39th time out of 40 attempted uses that the exception has been rejected by WTO tribunals when raised to safeguard a domestic public interest law.”
In this final ruling, the WTO Appellate Body acknowledged that the European Union’s ban on the importation and sale of seal products resulted from concerns about “inhumane” hunts with “inherent animal welfare risks,” but it concluded the EU failed to satisfy the litany of conditions required to defend public interest policies under the WTO’s “general exception” provisions. Specifically, the Appellate Body ruled against use of the WTO exception for policies “necessary” to protect public morals. Only one out of 40 government attempts to use the the WTO General Exceptions, found in Article XX of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and Article XIV of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), has ever succeeded.
The ruling follows a string of WTO rulings against popular US environmental and consumer policies. In May 2012, for example, the WTO ruled against voluntary “dolphin-safe” tuna labels that, by allowing consumers to choose to buy tuna caught without dolphin-killing fishing practices, have helped to dramatically reduce dolphin deaths.
CO2 TOPS 400PPM THROUGHOUT NORTHERN HEMISPHERE. Carbon dioxide levels throughout the northern hemisphere hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history in April, an ominous threshold for climate change, the World Meteorological Organization said (5/26), according to Reuters. The 400 ppm level in the atmosphere is up 40% since wide use of fossil fuels began with the Industrial Revolution. It is rapidly spreading southwards and the WMO expects the global annual average carbon dioxide concentration to be above 400 ppm in 2015 or 2016. Rising concentrations of the heat-trapping gas raise risks of more heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels. “Time is running out,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement.
VETS STILL LOVE THE VA. Controversy is swirling around wait times for medical appointments at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), where some veterans may have died waiting for health services on secret lists that clinics maintained to hide long delays. The revelations sparked bipartisan outrage, embarrassed the White House, and have led some lawmakers to argue that the government can never effectively deliver health care services, Igor Volsky noted at ThinkProgress.org (5/23).
But while veterans have struggled to gain adequate access to care since the Kennedy administration, plagued by staffing shortages, delays and funding shortfalls, the health services they do receive are the best in the nation. That dynamic has pushed many veterans into a love-hate relationship with the organization they depend on.
“Most veterans are very pleased with the care they receive, but when it comes to standing in line, they do and should rightfully expect to be seen as quickly as possible, especially if the wound, illness or injury could worsen,” Joe Davis, Public Affairs Director for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), said.
He pointed to the annual Independent Budget, a dream budget published by four leading veteran organizations. It has consistently found that the VA serves as “a model health-care provider that has led the way in various areas of medical research, specialized services, and health-care technology.” It provides “quality and expertise on veterans’ health care” that “cannot be adequately duplicated in the private sector” and has become “the most efficient and cost-effective health-care system in the nation,” the document notes. A 2005 survey from the RAND Corporation similarly found that “VA patients were more likely to receive recommended care” and “received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow up.” The VA also outperforms the nation’s health care system in delivering chronic and preventive care, treating diabetes.
A 2013 survey released by the US Department of Veterans Affairs found that 93% of veterans who use the VA health care system have a favorable impression of it. A forthcoming independent survey of veterans scheduled to be released next month by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will echo that sense, a spokesperson for the organization confirmed to ThinkProgress.
Ultimately, the problem is one of access, not care — and it’s been plaguing the agency for decades.
“This is not a new problem, this is a decades old problem,” Lauren Augustine, an Iraq War vet and Legislative Associate with IAVA, said. “And yet it hasn’t been adequately addressed because it keeps happening. There’s a lot of problems with access,” she admitted. “The VA has very outdated technology that it uses to not only work with veterans, but schedule appointments with veterans.”
The agency did not fully implement digital processing of claims nationwide until 2013 and, Augustine noted, uses a “trying process” to employ new staff, contributing to the lack of providers. Davis, of the VFW pointed to crumbling and underfunded facilities, arguing that the provider shortage at the VA is no different than the doctor and nursing shortages plaguing the rest of the health care system.
In March, the nation’s leading veterans organizations — the authors of the Independent Budget — expressed alarm that Congress and the Obama administration are underfunding the VA’s construction accounts, raising concerns that “the serious lack of commitment to infrastructure funding to support the system will undermine the VA’s ability to deliver those services.” President Obama’s overall budget request for VA for FY 2015 is approximately $4.5 bln less than what the groups recommended for overall discretionary spending, though the administration has increased the VA budget by 58% since 2009. During the same time, as the administration made it easier for veterans to receive compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure to Agent Orange, and brought troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan, claims soared.
The tension between poor access and quality care is all too familiar to Patrick Murphy, a former Pennsylvania Congressman who is active on veterans issue and is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Murphy was at the VA in Philadelphia just last week and noted that the facilities “truly have some of the best doctors and nurses around.” But he’s also all too familiar with the struggles some face in receiving treatment.
As a result, Murphy is calling on Obama to use his executive powers to temporarily expand the Patient-Centered Community Care (PCCC) initiative, which allows VA medical centers to purchase non-VA medical care for Veterans through contracted medical providers when VA care is not readily available. That, along with structural reforms to address staff shortages that inspire doctors to see the VA as a public service, could go a long way toward ensuring that all veterans have access to some of the best medical care in the world.
MICHIGAN OFFERS MINIMUM WAGE COMPROMISE. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed a bill (5/27) that will raise the state minimum wage to $9.25 over the next four years from its current level of $7.40 and set it to grow automatically with inflation beginning in 2019. It also raises the tipped wage to 38% of the broader wage floor, bringing it up from $2.65 to $3.52.
The bill was passed earlier 5/27 by the state House and Senate, which are led by Republicans, making it the first state with Republican majorities to pass a wage increase this year. About half of the Republicans in the legislature and most Democrats voted for it.
Seven other states have increased their minimum wages this year: Delaware and West Virginia raised theirs above $8 an hour, Minnesota raised its wage to $9.50, and three states, Hawaii, Maryland, and Connecticut, set theirs at the $10.10 level being sought by Congressional Democrats and President Obama. Vermont has gone further, increasing its wage to $10.50 an hour.
Despite the passage of a higher wage in Michigan, labor and community organizers in the state are pushing for the $10.10 level and on 5/28 they planned to submit hundreds of thousands of signatures for a petition to put a measure on the ballot. But the bill Snyder signed into law could block that measure from appearing on the ballot “by repealing the portions of the Michigan minimum wage law that the initiative would amend, and recodifying them elsewhere in the state code,” according to a press release from the National Employment Law Project.”
Federal-level Republicans haven’t joined the call for a higher wage. In April, Senate Republicans blocked an increase to $10.10 an hour. Yet many of them voted for an increase under President George W. Bush. (Bryce Covert, ThinkProgress.org, 5/28)
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2014
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