Saturday, May 17, 2014

Outrage Over the VA

Reading about the spreading outrage over the VA systems failures and the coverup of said failures ought to make us think.

It sounds a lot like the school systems where test cheating was going on. Wrong, yes. But might it also be a logical response to impossible standards, huge demands and reduced budgets? The VA and our vets have both been victimized by the budget cutting mania. So have all parts of the public sphere, schools, roads, regulatory bodies like the IRS and FDA and SEC and EPA, all have been put on a crash diet. But their jobs have gotten bigger.

It's illogical to raise standards and reduce budgets at the same time, but this kind of magical thinking is far too common these days. It's part of our national love affair with businessthink. It's always about getting more for less, an impractical idea to begin with. Running engines without oil isn’t good for those engines, but it saves money in the short run. There are consequences. We shouldn’t be surprised when it ends in catastrophe..

We had an unfunded, off-budget, poorly audited, unnecessary war, waged with insufficient manpower and poor planning. It sent men and women with insufficient body armor and inadequate equipment into a catastrophe that should have been foreseen and might have been avoided. (The pre-planning was more about the oil than about the people.) The whole disaster was then covered up, the consequences ignored and denied, the human damage hidden and the liabilities passed on to the taxpayer or onto the veterans who were permanently harmed, and onto the next president. The costs were not fully disclosed until Bush had left office, and then the payment of those costs was blocked by the Republican side of Congress who had helped him launch the war.

This is a fiasco but we shouldn’t be surprised by it any more than we ought to be surprised by an unrepaired bridge falling down or an unprepared student failing an unreasonably rigorous examination.

The VA is as full of flaws and insufficiencies as our infrastructure. Of course we blame the infrastructure. We should blame the jerks who shifted the necessary dollars into tax cuts to billionaires for the past fifteen years.

It is a religious dogma among Republicans that no problem exists unless it costs money. So if you ignore a problem it doesn’t exist. Ignore the VA’s need for funding and there’s no problem. Road repair spending is the problem, not the holes in the roads or the fallen bridges. Healthcare spending is the problem, not the poor health of Americans. Poverty programs are the problem, not poverty. Paying people a living wage is a problem, so cut their pay and there’s no problem. If poor people could just hide themselves we would have no poverty at all. If maimed veterans could suffer quietly in a dark room the consequences of this stupid war would stop embarrassing all of us, but more importantly it would stop costing taxpayers money, especially the wealthy taxpayers who complain to their Republican proxies. They are the ones we most need to take care of, aren't they?

After a war we should expect a rising cost in veterans’ care, but damned if Republicans will agree to pay for that care. Costs are the problem, not the lack of a leg or the serious unending repercussions of brain injuries caused when a soldier was blown up in an insufficiently armored vehicle. So they cut the costs; problem solved. That is the contradiction faced by many government departments. It’s not wasteful to give enormous tax cuts to billionaires so they can own a dozen luxury homes, but it is apparently wasteful to fund the VA sufficiently.

It’s false economy to calculate efficiencies with a bias against the people who do the work, but that is the new religion in this country. Whatever saves billionaires a dime is efficient. Whatever supplies necessary care or service or pay to someone at the other end of the income scale is automatically inefficient because it subtracts from the billionaire’s tax savings. Hell, most of those billionaires evade taxes already. We pay for them.

Americans are angry at the wrong people. It isn’t the first time.

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