Why Is The VA Underfunded? — Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation wants to know.
Though Republicans might not understand, it takes a lot more than bumper stickers to support the troops who fight their wars. It should be a no-brainer, but it seems like those who have determined to politicize the situation at the VA have forgotten the primary reason so many veterans are in such dire need of care to begin with, and why the scandalously cash-strapped department has been so hard pressed to provide it. As I said on Face the Nation this week, without considering the historical context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—namely, that they were both unnecessary and prosecuted with a stunning degree of ineptitude—and without considering Congress’s history of underfunding veterans healthcare, it’s irresponsible to dive-bomb the White House with finger-pointing and grandstanding speeches about who needs to resign, and when.
There’s plenty of blame to go around concerning the massive failures of the healthcare system in the Veterans Administration. Both the media and politicians are focusing on administrative failures at the top and are calling for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general who heads the federal agency, as if such a high-profile decapitation will fix the problem.
But members of both parties agree: It will not. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told Politico, “It shouldn’t be about a political scalp. It should be: How are we going to improve care for veterans?” And Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) belittled his colleagues’ knee-jerk demand for a cabinet-level resignation: “I’ve never seen [the tactic] work yet…. I’ve only been around twenty years.” Even Bob Dole has dismissed the notion that Shinseki should be forced out. Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, wrote in a Politico op-ed, “As a disabled veteran myself, there is no one I would rather have heading up the VA now, in this turbulent time, than Eric Shinseki. In my experience, he is the best there is.” Cleland should know; in addition to being, like Dole, a genuine war hero, he also served under President Carter as administrator of veterans affairs (the predecessor position to Shinseki’s) from 1977 to 1981.
Obviously, the creation of secret waiting lists at VA facilities is horrible. There is no excuse for such dereliction of duty, especially when it again puts the lives of our brave veterans in danger after they’ve already been made to face enough. Simply put, those who are responsible for making these lists should be fired. And if their actions are determined to have been illegal, then they should be prosecuted for criminal activity.
But just as obviously, we need to recognize that those actions were not ordered by Shinseki, himself a veteran twice awarded the purple heart (and, as you might recall, the Army Chief of Staff who—presciently—dared contest the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz notion that postwar Iraq could be reconstructed with a mere 100,000 troops). Moreover, under Shinseki’s watch, the VA has cut the backlog of veterans-benefits claims by more than half. Veteran homelessness has dropped by twenty-four percent since Shinseki made it a priority in 2010.
It cannot be repeated often enough that, none of these politicians who involved us in the reckless and unjustified wars of the 2000s has ever been held adequately responsible for the massive damage they have done to our finances, international standing, military readiness, and health of our veterans. It might be convenient to pin all of the hawks’ failings (and they are legion) on Eric Shinseki’s shoulders, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggests, but it would be morally, historically and economically bankrupt to do so. It would suggest that we, as a nation, do not actually value the lives and health of our soldiers over the political and financial imperatives of our ruling class. It would suggest that we consider our troops to be nothing more than rent-a-cops, called in to do security for the big event, then forgotten the next morning.
Today’s lesson is quite simple: after conflicts are over, we need to fully fund the healthcare and medical needs of our veterans. Forever. Even if that means making the political and economic elite pay more in taxes. Even if that means taking politics out of the VA and focusing instead on the welfare of our veterans. That we have politicians and members of the media who need to be reminded of this is a disgrace.
Conservative Comedy and Other Myths — Frank Rich looks at why right-wing humor struggles to find an audience.
The right, like the left, has a habit of overplaying the victim card. Given that there are many out A-list Republicans in Hollywood, from Rupert Murdoch to Clint Eastwood to David Mamet to Adam Sandler, it would seem that all the paranoia about left-wing McCarthyism is unfounded. If anything, the history of networks’ canceling liberal comics, whether the Smothers Brothers in 1969 (CBS) or Bill Maher in 2002 (ABC), is more pronounced. Still, the hysteria of the anti-Colbert claque made me look at the right’s case again.
And at first glance, there is something to it. Conservative comedy is hard to find on television once you get past the most often cited specimen, Dennis Miller. But is this shortfall the fault of a left-wing conspiracy to banish brilliant dissident talent from pop culture’s center stage? As a conservative Christian stand-up, Brad Stine, has argued, people think “the left is funnier than the right” solely because the right hasn’t been “given the same options.” Or are conservative comedians languishing in obscurity because they just don’t have the comic chops to compete with Colbert, Jon Stewart, and their many brethren? What do conservatives find funny, anyway? Is the very notion of a conservative comedian an oxymoron, given that comedy by definition is often the revenge of underdogs against the privileged? If the powerful pick on the less powerful, or worse, the powerless, are the jokes doomed to come off as bratty, if not just plain mean?
Anger is a mighty source of humor, but it takes talent to refine a crude gusher of rage into comic fuel. Eric Golub, a fringe comic so far right he actually glories in the label conservative, has figured this out. “To blame Hollywood liberalism—which does exist—is an excuse,” he told Politico last year. “Maybe some of the conservatives that are trying are just not that talented.” To see Golub’s point, sample the comic stylings of one vocal complainer about Hollywood’s suppression of non-liberal humor, Evan Sayet, a former Maher writer who turned right after 9/11. His stand-up may have killed at the Republican Jewish Coalition banquet in Santa Monica, but it’s not remotely ready for prime time except as a vanity presentation on public-access cable.
Good Luck, Grads; You’re Gonna Need It — Thomas Frank on the woes of commencing life with a degree and debt. (PS: The only people worse off than you are your teachers.)
Welcome to the wide world, Class of 2014. You have by now noticed the tremendous consignment of debt that the authorities at your college have spent the last four years loading on your shoulders. It may interest you to know that the average student-loan borrower among you is now $33,000 in debt, the largest of any graduating class ever. According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, carrying that kind of debt will have certain predictable effects. It will impede your ability to accumulate wealth, for example. You will also borrow more for other things than people without debt, and naturally you will find your debt level growing, not shrinking, as the years pass.
As you probably know, neither your parents nor your grandparents were required to take on this kind of burden in order to go to college. Neither are the people of your own generation in France and Germany and Argentina and Mexico.
But in our country, as your commencement speaker will no doubt tell you, the universities are “excellent.” They are “world-class.” Indeed, they are all that stands between us and economic defeat by the savagely competitive peoples of Europe and Asia. So a word of thanks is in order, Class of 2014: By borrowing those colossal amounts and turning the proceeds over to the people who run our higher ed system, you have done your part to maintain American exceptionalism, to keep our competitive advantage alive.
Here’s a question I bet you won’t hear broached on the commencement stage: Why must college be so expensive? The obvious answer, which I’m sure has been suggested to you a thousand times, is because college is so good. A 2014 Cadillac costs more than did a 1980 Cadillac, adjusting for inflation, because it is a better car. And because you paid attention in economics class, you know the same thing must be true of education. When tuition goes up and up every year, far outpacing inflation, this indicates that the quality of education in this country is also, constantly, going up and up. You know that the only way education can cost more is if it is worth more.
In sum, you paid nearly sixty grand a year to attend some place with a classy WASP name and ivy growing on its fake medieval walls. You paid for the best, and now you are the best, an honorary classy WASP entitled to all the privileges of the club. That education your parents got, even if it was at the same school as yours, cost them far less and was thus not as good as yours. That’s the way progress works, right?
Actually, the opposite is closer to the truth: college costs more and more even as it gets objectively worse and worse. Yes, I know, universities today offer luxuries unimaginable in the 1960s: fine gymnasiums, gourmet dining halls, disturbing architecture. But when it comes to generating and communicating knowledge—the essential business of higher ed—they are, almost all of them, in a frantic race to the bottom.
According to the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty, only about 30 percent of the teachers at American colleges these days are tenured or tenure-track, which means that fewer than a third of your profs actually enjoy the security and benefits and intellectual freedom that we associate with the academic lifestyle. In 1969, traditional professors like these made up almost 80 percent of the American faculty. Today, however, it is part-time workers without any kind of job security who are the majority of the instructors on campus, and in general these adjuncts are paid poorly and receive few benefits. That is who does the work of knowledge-transmission at the ever-so costly, ever-so excellent American university: Freelancers. Contract laborers.
Doonesbury — Labor pains.