Sunday, May 25, 2014

Our veterans need a New Deal, not hypocrisy, not free market fantasies, and not tax evasion

 (Seal of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

On Friday, May 23rd, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "The Scandal That Shadows Memorial Day: The government has failed in its responsibility to veterans. Where is the administration's sense of urgency?"

Republican McCain writes about the recent deaths of veterans, as they languished on alleged secret wait lists at VA medical facilities: "It is...the height of shame and tragedy that on this Memorial Day the nation is seized with the unfolding scandal of the government's failure to meet its highest responsibility to veterans and wounded warriors...This is more than a government failure. It is a violation of a solemn vow. And the buck stops with the president of the United States."

Free Market Utopian Larry Kudlow--former host of CNBC's The Kudlow Report--goes further, writing "The VA problem is not Shinseki; it's socialism." "Market competition" Kudlow evangelizes, "will control costs and more efficiently distribute services. Profit motive, not run-amok bureaucrats, will discipline the system." Kudlow implores us to "Stop the job-destroying tax and regulatory provisions." Kudlow's piece is a humorous and rich amalgam of right-wing talking points.

 ("Here comes the bogeyman," by Goya. Larry Kudlow, and others, always invoke the bogeyman of "Socialism!" when government falters; and then they try to convince us that the "profit motive" and the billionaire "captains of industry" will save us, if we would only surrender our bodies and minds to them. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

And what about that profit motive? Hmmm, somehow I recall that playing a role in the tidal wave of white-collar crime that gripped the nation. Mortgage & securities fraud, money-laundering for drug cartels, interest rate rigging, insider trading, cooking the books, illegal tax evasion...all brought about by the holy "profit motive." And Kudlow and other Free Market Utopians want us to trust our veterans to that? Wow.

In any event... 

All across the country, Republicans are pointing their fingers at President Obama, "big government," and Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of U.S. Veterans Affairs--a man they are still very angry with because, back in the day, as a Four-Star General, he wouldn't agree with them that the aftermath of the Iraq War would be a cake walk, requiring a minimal number of troops (see an excellent discussion on this by MSNBC political commentator Rachel Maddow here).

So, are the VA's problems the fault of Obama and Shinseki? Well, the scandal is still unfolding, so we don't know the full story. Perhaps Obama and/or Shinseki have made some mistakes. But there is a deeper problem here, which is this: Republicans, while not reluctant to send our troops into battle, are extremely reluctant to help them when they return. Let's look back at the past 10 years or so, to see how Republican lawmakers have treated veterans, with respect to health care and other issues:


(USA Today, 5-27-2004)


(Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2005)


(United States Senate, 3-14-2006)


(Washington Times, Associated Press, 2-12-2007)


(Army Times, 10-7-2008)


(Marine Corps Times, 11-3-2009)


(ThinkProgress, 6-29-2010)


(Tri-City Herald, 3-11-2011)


(CBS News, 9-20-2012)


(Breitbart, 12-22-2013) (Note: This was a budget deal brokered with Democratic Senator Patty Murray. Senator Murray, like other Democrats, has made bad decisions from time-to-time, in an effort to compromise with Republican and Tea Party politicians.)


(Reuters, 2-27-2014)

Meanwhile, as all this has gone on, Republicans have continuously pushed for more tax cuts for the rich (see, e.g., "Paul Ryan's Budget Plan: More Big Tax Cuts for the Rich"). Also, thousands of wealthy Americans have engaged in wide-scale tax evasion, depriving the U.S. government of $300 billion in revenue, annually (see "Tax Evasion: The Real Costs" and "Credit Suisse bank charged in helping (22,000) wealthy Americans avoid taxes"). This money could have been used to improve medical care for our veterans but, instead, was illegally hidden away so that thousands of wealthy Americans could enjoy more luxurious lives. To add insult to injury, wealthy Americans are already enjoying historically low tax rates, as pointed out by former top adviser to Ronald Reagan, Bruce Bartlett ("Are Taxes in the U.S. High or Low?").

What does it say about a society when, on the one hand, thousands of wealthy Americans evade taxes while, on the other hand, the soldiers & veterans who served them in uniform are having problems getting proper medical care due to lack of funding (and for those who say, "It's not a money problem!! It's a management problem!!" I would point to the first whistle-blower of this VA scandal who said that underfunding is the main problem). 

Our national morality is rotting away, fueled by greed, political campaign bribes contributions, and a political movement (the right) that associates the common good with "evil socialism!" and fantasizes about a Free Market Utopia where there are no regulations and people will do the right thing because, well, they just will. (In 2009, Free Market Utopian Alan Greenspan said he was in a "state of shocked disbelief" that the big financial institutions misbehaved and did not self-regulate themselves: "A critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down. I still do not fully understand why it happened." Because, Mr. Greenspan, as James Madison said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." (See "Greenspan admits 'mistake' that helped crisis")  

Amidst all this foolishness, it is clear that we need a new and stronger New Deal. Not only for our soldiers & veterans, but also for our national soul.

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