The worst creeps in Congress want to privatize the VA — Vets are pissed!

Some members of the commission established by Congress to evaluate the Department of Veterans Health Administration have proposed drastically reducing the size of the VHA by closing its health facilities and transferring the care of the nation’s millions of military veterans to the private sector. But in a letter sent to the chair of the Commission on Care, leaders of eight of the country’s most prominent veterans’ advocacy organizations blasted the proposal.

“We are greatly alarmed by the content of [the proposal] that was developed and drafted outside the open Commission process by seven of the Commission’s fifteen members — without the input or even knowledge of the other Commissioners,” they wrote in a letter signed by senior leaders of the Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The plan — known as the “Strawman Document” — was floated in March by seven members of the 15-member Commission on Care…the report, which echoes VA privatization efforts that have been backed by the Koch brothers, says “bold transformation” is needed for the VA to address the needs of its enrolled veterans, and that the system is “seriously broken” with “no efficient path to repair it.” The plan calls for closing many “obsolete” VA facilities and moving toward a model where veterans can seek taxpayer-funded care at private health care facilities. A process similar to the Base Realignment and Closure system — used by the military since the end of the Cold War to decide which bases to close — would be used to evaluate which VA medical facilities would close. Under the plan, there would be no new facilities or major renovations of the existing VA facilities.

The plan also called for private doctors to be reimbursed at 5 to 10 percent higher than the Medicare rate, so they would have a greater incentive to participate…

Those who opposed the plan agree the VA needs to be improved, but they argue that essentially privatizing it would force veterans to search for care at private facilities that might not be trained or equipped to serve veterans suffering from the long-range effects of combat, such as spinal cord injuries “and the Polytrauma System of Care.” The authors add that the proposal ignores recent research, some commissioned by Congress itself, that found that VA care is often better than care in the private sector…

…Suzanne Gordon notes that…the supporters and drafters of the “strawman” proposal include conservatives and several hospital executives “who stand to benefit financially from [VA medical] privatization.”

That, of course, is a general rule of all privatization attempts by Republicans and other right-wing profiteers who want an end to real public service.

At the simplest level of theft these clowns increase administrative costs from the less-than-3% average of systems like Medicare and Social Security up to numbers ranging from 16-25% that corporate insurance barons tout as necessary. Necessary, perhaps, to pay country club dues – they haven’t a damned thing to do with providing consistent quality care to American citizens, veterans or otherwise.

Then you can add in inflated paybacks to Big Pharma – the most corrupt profit-based pharmaceutical industry on this silly old planet.

Charter schools are a Gravy Train for the unscrupulous

The policy framework for U.S. charter schools encourages “privatization and profiteering,” a research institute said in a report released Thursday.

Charter schools are able to siphon off large quantities of public money for private gain — and only substantial changes to state policies regarding charter schools can stop this, according to the authors of the report…

Many education reform advocates argue that the charter school model — under which publicly funded schools are administered by bodies other than the school board, such as private Education Management Organizations (EMOs) — promotes experimentation and newer, fresher teaching methods. But the same permissive charter regulations intended to boost innovation can also help EMOs pocket cash better spent elsewhere…

“What we found is that there are a host of real estate and tax laws that were not put in place with charter schools in mind, but that the owners of charter school enterprises are using in order to profit,” NEPC Director Kevin Welner said. “I think that understanding the nature of the charter school gravy train, as I call it, is extremely important for the public and policymakers.”

For example, charter schools are sometimes able to purchase publicly owned real estate for their school facilities through a private, third-party entity. The report highlights how charter operators can make these purchases with taxpayer money, thus acquiring formerly public property at public expense. The third-party purchaser pockets overhead costs associated with arranging the sale…

The report also contends that labor costs at charter schools tend to be unusually top-heavy, as EMO executives conserve funds by hiring young, relatively inexpensive staff — and then add the savings to their own salaries.

“Early studies of charter schools in Pennsylvania found charter teacher annual salaries to be on average $18,000 lower than teacher salaries in district schools,” the report said. In contrast, top EMO heads can draw comfortable six-figure salaries, the report said. Eva Moskowitz, a high-profile New York charter advocate and CEO of the city’s Success Academy network of charter schools, was found in the report to earn more than $475,000 annually…

The NEPC report suggests that state authorities impose stricter financial disclosure rules on charter schools, and that school districts should “maintain control over public lands and facilities,” among other policy recommendations.

With conservative politicians from both of the two old parties ready and willing to privatize anything that moves – transparency in fiscal policies anywhere is at risk. Turn the weasels loose in the public education chickenhouse and you jeopardize the future of our children. Turning that money back into good teachers in public schools can make all the difference in the world.

The Republicans’ urban problem

The turnout in Paul Ryan’s Milwaukee – for President Obama

In a post-election interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, said “the president should get credit for achieving record-breaking turnout numbers from urban areas for the most part, and that did win the election for him.” Ryan’s critics noted that President Barack Obama also fared well in states like Iowa, where the urban vote is relatively small. Some even suggested that Ryan’s remarks were a kind of racial code, in which “urban areas” served as a stand-in for black and Latino voters. Yet Ryan’s observation speaks to a deeper truth that should trouble Republicans.

Although rural regions dominate the map of the contiguous United States, an overwhelming majority of Americans live in urban and suburban areas. Democrats have long dominated dense urban cores. But Democrats increasingly dominate dense inner suburbs—as opposed to sprawling outer suburbs, where Republicans still hold their own—as well, and the share of the population concentrated in dense suburban counties is steadily increasing. This is true not only among Latino, black, and Asian voters living in these communities, but of white voters as well…

Rather than fixate on ethnicity, conservatives would do well to think more about urbanity. What is it about life in America’s densest, most productive, and most economically stratified metropolitan areas that persuades voters to back Democrats? When this phenomenon was limited to the populous coastal metropolitan areas, it could reasonably be explained away as a product of regional political polarization. But the leftward trend in urban areas is chipping away at the GOP’s advantage in the South and the Mountain West as well.

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Government outsourcing to private contractors increases costs

Despite a widespread belief that contracting out services to the private sector saves the federal government money, a new study suggests just the opposite — that the government actually pays more when it farms out work.Do you know anyone who believed that outside of some Republican robot?

The study found that in 33 of 35 occupations, the government actually paid billions of dollars more to hire contractors than it would have cost government employees to perform comparable services. On average, the study found that contractors charged the federal government more than twice the amount it pays federal workers.

The study was conducted by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit Washington group. The federal government spends about $320 billion a year on contracts for services. The POGO study looked at a subset of those contracts.

The study comes after months of criticism, mostly by Republicans, about what they see as the high cost of salaries and benefits for federal workers. The House earlier this year passed a Republican budget plan that would freeze pay grade levels and eliminate raises for five years, and cut the government’s work force by 10 percent. Last year, President Obama announced a two-year salary freeze for federal workers, which Republicans said did not go far enough…

But POGO said its study did not just compare the salaries of the two sectors; instead it focused on what the government actually pays contractors to perform services versus how much it would cost to have that work done by in-house staff members.

“That’s a big difference,” said Scott Amey, POGO’s general counsel. “We compared the full compensation paid to federal government and private sector employees to the billable rates in federal service contracts. Across the board you see that it cost government more to pay for contractors…”

Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University who has studied the contractor work force, said he found the POGO study interesting. “Contracting out to the private sector is often oversold as the answer to better services, better performance and better cost,” Mr. Light said. “But doing this type of analysis shows that it’s not the case.”

Studies contracted with ideological hacks on Republican payrolls are like fundamentalist research on evolution. They start with a premise and then look for information which can be tailored to prove their point. Kind of like weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And the “willing” who accept those studies are no less culpable than the craftsmen of sophistry producing them.

Republicans hope to end civil service and privatize federal work with firms owned by their contributors. Gee – I wonder how well Halliburton would run the Food and Drug Administration?

Republicans want to turn Medicare over to the insurance companies. They’ve been so kind and helpful to us all.

Republicans have always hated Medicare, but most Americans have always loved it. Now, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republicans are trying to kill it once and for all.

When JFK and LBJ proposed and passed it, Ronald Reagan called Medicare socialism and warned that it would lead to the end of freedom. If Medicare passed, the Gipper said, “… one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

A half-century after Reagan’s dire warning, I suspect most Americans see Medicare — the single-payer health system that covers seniors — as an essential element of our freedom. But not Congressman Ryan, nor many other Republicans. Ryan would end Medicare as we know it, replacing it with a voucher that seniors would take to insurance companies, upon whose tender mercies their lives and health would then depend…

There is no doubt that Mr. Ryan is bright. He is also engaging and charming. But forgive me if I fail to see the courage in a young and privileged man harming the most vulnerable while rewarding the most wealthy. Born to a family whose 125-year-old corporation boasts that it is “one of the nation’s largest site-work contractors,” Mr. Ryan won the genetic lottery. There is no doubt that his great-grandfather worked hard to build that company. But a century and a quarter later, young Mr. Ryan — who estimates his net worth at up to $2.4 million — has no calluses on his hands. Just on his heart.

The question for Republicans is, will they follow Ryan’s plan? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that under Ryan’s plan, “most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would under the current Medicare system.”

A lot more. In fact, under Medicare, a 65-year-old would pay just 25% of the total cost of her or his health care coverage.

Under the Ryan Republican plan, that jumps to 68%. (Individuals currently 55 or older would not be affected by the changes.)

If Republicans follow Ryan like lemmings, they should not be surprised when they find they’ve taken a firm step into thin air. Back in 1995, Newt Gingrich virtually assured President Bill Clinton’s re-election by proposing $270 billion in cuts to Medicare…

Clinton’s defense of Medicare was so central to his re-election that the word “Medicare” appears 49 times in his two debates with Sen. Bob Dole…

Medicare – like Social Security – is a single payer system that is run by our federal government at an efficiency rate about 4 times better than the average corporation. The cost of management for either socially-beneficial plan is less than 4% of the operating budget. American corporations think they’re mean and lean if they get down to 16%. Insurance companies? Well, they don’t even pretend to be mean and lean.

Funding either mandate is already covered a decade or so out into the future – if we can keep Republicans from screwing it up. And all any revision need do to guarantee more solvency – is require every American to pay their fair share. No loopholes. No break for the wealthy. A fair share for all and no subsidy for insurance companies.

They don’t need it anymore than do the oil companies.

Republican “Young Guns” tell the Tea Party truth

Reps. Eric Cantor (R-VA; 47 years old), Paul Ryan (R-WI; 40 years old), and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA; 45 years old) have authored a self-aggrandizing new book set to be released next month titled “Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders.”

The book’s marketing campaign comes with a comical ad trailer, featuring a lofty soundtrack and soaring accolades (“They are ready to make history. Together, they are ‘The YOUNG GUNS!’ Innovative, energetic, forging new solutions.”)

All the egotistical self-praise from the “young guns” was too much for former Republican congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. He and his crew incessantly mocked the new marketing campaign, debating whether it was a “parody.” “Never make up your own nickname,” cautioned co-host Willie Geist. Scarborough joked that the three congressmen “were” the future of the Party until their latest ego trip. Calling the ad “awful,” Scarbrough said it was “the worst idea ever.”

Hotline reports that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) receives only 3 mentions in 191 pages. Former President George W. Bush “earns just 4 references, the same number as TN 08 candidate Stephen Fincher (R)…”

Recall, Ryan’s “roadmap” includes privatizing Social Security and Medicare, while at the same time repealing the estate and corporate taxes. The Ryan roadmap would lose $2 trillion over a decade, while requiring 90 percent of taxpayers to pay more, according to an analysis by the Citizens for Tax Justice.

This is the truth of Tea Party politics. It just happens to be a sect within the Republican Party for a change. But, the lemmings who try to run and hide in the 19th Century – or earlier – are perfectly willing to screw retirees, working people, students and families to save their idols in corporate America from paying their share of taxes.

Along the way, if they can manage to diminish any opportunities for minorities – as defined by skin color, religion or sexual preference – all the better.