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Fix the VA but don't help vets? Euro's demise; Democrats are losing it

Ruminations, May 25, 2014

The VA: outrage or repair?
Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, is “mad as hell” over the VA hospital scandal. President Barack Obama is reportedly “madder than hell” over it. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R, FL), Representative Tammy Duckworth (D, IL) and Senator John McCain (R, AZ) called the situation "unacceptable." The American Legion, among others, has called for Shinseki’s resignation. All of this makes very good theater but none of it gets veterans the health care they need today.

Allegations of VA mismanagement by outsiders are rife but what does the VA itself have to say? Richard J. Griffin, VA acting Inspector General, told a Senate hearing that, “Since the Phoenix [VA] story broke in the national media, we have received additional reports of manipulated waiting times at other VHA facilities either thru the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] Hotline or from members of Congress and the media. In response, we have opened simultaneous reviews … My staff is working diligently to determine … who is accountable.”

That same day, Griffin told the House of Representatives that, in the Columbia South Carolina VA, “thousands of delayed … consults for colon cancer screening and [it was determined] that over 50 veterans had a delayed diagnosis of colon cancer, some of whom died from colon cancer.” (For the full report, see http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/statements/VAOIG-statement-20140515-griffin.pdf.)

Overall, Griffin concludes that there is a “…lack of focus on health care delivery as priority one.” Yet, Griffin seems resolved to continue business as usual as befits the Washington mindset. Washington is in high dudgeon and the OIG is working to affix blame. Is that really what we want to do right now?

The VA has the legal capability of referring patients to private physicians when the VA lacks available staff. In the short term, rather than focusing on assigning blame or fixing the systemic problems, why don’t the VA and Washington focus on getting private care for the veterans who have been waiting? Yes, it will cost more money and, yes, it will strain the resources of private clinics and medical facilities in the short term. According to Griffin’s testimony before the House, the “consult backlog at Columbia [South Carolina] in July 2011 [involved] 2,500 delayed consults, 700 of them deemed ‘critical’ by VA physicians.” Maybe I’m missing something but it seems that 700 critical colorectal cancer patients would benefit more by seeing private physicians than they would by having a VA official fired.

Obama told us in January, “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” If he’s really “madder than hell,” he should use his pen and phone to get help for these veterans before more die.

The sun is setting on the euro
Joachim Jahnke retired head of section in the German Ministry of Economics, in 2013 told Der Spiegel that the euro will break apart in three to five years. And now, as Europe prepares to vote, it appears that Jahnke’s prediction is on track. By some polling estimates, the Wall Street Journal tells us, anti-EU groups could nearly double their representation by taking as many as a quarter of the seats.

The European Monetary Union, which supports the euro, has yet to prove that it can move Europe out of the economic malaise that it has been in for the past six years (growth for the eurozone is forecast at 1.2 percent for next year). Although the overall statistics aren’t too, too bad, they are in specific countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal and now even France. Under the euro, the prospects for the future are more of the same: the have-nots will continue to founder and will be unable to bail themselves out and the haves will continue to pour money into the coffers of the have-nots.

Europe is a region of the world that continues to labor under the pretense that it is smart enough to create a functioning ersatz currency and ignore the drag the currency creates on sovereign European economies -- Support for the euro across the euro zone fell to 52% last fall from 60% in 2008. If the euro were to be slowly withdrawn, then the have-nots could devalue their national currencies and strengthen their economies (because prices would drop and their exports would become more attractive as would their locations as tourism destinations; austerity would become a smaller burden). On the other hand, the haves’ currencies would appreciate, making their exports (especially to the have-nots) more expensive but imports from the have-nots would be cheaper which would increase the standard of living for the haves.

Seems like a no-brainer. But economic disruption always causes problems and one can’t discount the phenomenon of unintended consequences.

More important, we can’t ignore the egos of those who created and support the euro – and those who benefit from it. Abandoning the euro would make trade among the euro-zone nations and other trading partners more difficult and negotiating the trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement with the United States would be even more challenging, especially given the reduced leverage 18 disparate European nations would have (as opposed to speaking with one European voice).

Jahnke’s window is closing. 2018 is getting closer and so is the euro’s demise.

Democrats going crazy
OK. Both political parties do crazy stuff and should have their sanity questioned. But it seems that, at least at this point, the Democrats are a little loonier than the Republicans.

A case in point is Howard Dean, former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Vermont governor and presidential candidate. Speaking in Colorado to a receptive audience, he enthused that Republicans are the “party that has decided they like power so much that they think it’s OK to win by taking away the right to vote. They are not American. They would be more comfortable in the Ukraine, or Russia, but stay away from our country."

And then there is Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D, NV). Reid who infamously said, while we had over one hundred thousand troops in Iraq, “This war is lost,” and, when asked if he would allow a bill to come to a vote that would save a child’s life, “Why, why, why would we want to do that?”

More recently Reid has become obsessed with the Koch brothers, Charles and David. The two brothers have given millions to the Republican Party. This has seemingly pushed Reid over the edge. Reid took to the Senate floor and declared that the Koch brothers were “one of the main causes” of global warming. Checking the numbers, the Washington Post estimated that Koch Industries was responsible for 0.006 of one percent of CO2 emissions. (The Post also notes that, as of May 5, Reid has vilified the Koch brothers 134 times.)

Reid has also claimed that the Koch brothers are subverting electoral politics by their large donations to the Republican Party and is proposing an amendment to the Constitution to keep Koch money out. But, if the Kochs’ money ($18 million) is a threat to democracy, what about the money of the 58 donors who have donated more to politics than the Koch brothers? That’s right. The Koch brothers place 59th on the list of donors; and 6 of the top 10 donors are unions: AFSCME, NEA, IBEW, UAW, Carpenters & Joiners and SEIU) with most of their $278 million going to Democrats.

Republicans have done some pretty insane things, too. But right now, the pendulum seems to have swung to the Democratic side.

Quote without comment
Peter R. Monsoor, former (2007-2008) executive officer to General David Petraeus, writing in his book, Surge, 2013: “At a press conference on April 19, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated, ‘I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and – you have to make your own judgment as to what the president knows – (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday.’ In his memoirs, President George W. Bush writes that Reid’s statement ‘was one of the most irresponsible acts I witnessed in my eight years in Washington.’ To those of us on the ground in Iraq doing our best to ensure the success of the surge, the pronouncement of doom and gloom from one of our nation’s top lawmakers was disheartening. The fact is that when Senator Reid made his comment, the fourth surge brigade had just begun its operations on the ground in Iraq. The final surge units would not be in place until mid-June.”