Other opinions

Vet wait times too long

Most Americans would agree with this statement: Our nation’s veterans deserve better treatment than they are currently receiving at VA medical centers across the United States.

An Associated Press investigation into the wait times veterans still face – one year after Americans learned that many sick men and women who have served our country were stuck on waiting lists hoping to someday receive treatment – showed that the Department of Veterans Affairs has made zero progress in fixing the problem.

That’s right, the same number of patients are facing long waits for treatment today as one year ago. No improvement at all.

This, despite major reforms instituted by the VA months ago and an additional $16.3 billion from Congress to take steps to reduce the wait time, such as hiring more doctors and opening new centers. …

A bright spot for the Mid-Michigan area is the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, which also operates a number of community based outpatient clinics. The medical center is performing much better than facilities nationwide, where an average of 2.78 percent of veterans have to wait more than 31 days to receive care. At the Aleda E. Lutz center, the percentage is 1.55 percent, well below the national average and facility wait times in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.

Still, with all that money from Congress and the reforms introduced to address the waiting list problem, Americans have a right to expect that some progress is occurring. As stated earlier, our nation’s veterans deserve better than this.

– The Midland Daily News

Lift ban on energy exports

Now that U.S. oil and gas production is booming, there’s little justification for maintaining the ban on liquefied natural gas exports. Removing the 1970s ban would stimulate domestic energy production, keep the fracking-induced job boom going and increase national economic output.

Domestic crude oil production recently reached its highest level since 1972, hitting 9.1 million barrels per day. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States is now the world’s largest oil and gas producer, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Hydraulic fracturing and other technologies have opened up production, especially in Texas and North Dakota, which produced almost half the nation’s oil in April 2014, according to the Energy Information Agency.

Yet only one export permit has been approved since 2010 to provide natural gas to a country with which the U.S. doesn’t have a Free Trade Agreement. Last year the Obama administration approved exporting a lighter crude oil, a condensate, that’s passed through distillation towers and is therefore considered a petroleum byproduct. That gave two Texas companies the green light to export the condensate.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Fred Upton, has persistently pushed for Congress and the Obama administration to move on bipartisan legislation that would lift the ban. This year and last, the House passed bills to expedite the approval process for natural gas exports. The Senate is considering similar measures, and President Barack Obama has acknowledged advantages to opening up exports.

Those opposed to exports fear global competition will hike domestic gas prices. Manufacturing and chemical companies in particular have been fighting efforts to lift the ban, including Dow Chemical of Midland. …

The U.S. economy could add up to 300,000 or 400,000 jobs over the next several decades by expanding exports, and could reduce the trade deficit by $22 billion. A Brookings Institute study found crude exports could add between $600 billion and $1.8 trillion to GDP by 2039.

The perceived oil scarcity that led to the LNG export ban is no longer an issue for the United States.

Energy policy is critical to the country’s economic growth, and it’s time this outdated ban is lifted.

– The Detroit News

Snyder was right to not sign RFRA legislation

We were happy to hear Gov. Rick Snyder say he would veto any sort of Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation should it appear on his desk.

With all the outrage surrounding Indiana, it’s not hard to see why Snyder, normally business-minded and apathetic to social change, would nix the idea while it’s still being debated in the state Senate.

Snyder has worked hard to bring Michigan out of the recession, adding more jobs to the state’s economy than any other governor in the Midwest. He recently boasted about adding 400,000 private sector jobs since being elected in 2010 and the state’s unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 14 years at 5.9 percent.

When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed RFRA legislation into law, backlash was immediate and fierce. And it wasn’t just the bleeding-heart liberals.

Nine CEOs – including the three top public companies according to the Indianapolis Business Journal – signed a letter asking Pence to make changes to the law. Angie’s List, a publicly traded website containing crowd-sourced reviews of local businesses, announced it would put on hold a $40 million expansion of its headquarters in Indianapolis. The move would have added 1,000 jobs over five years.

Critics of the bill say it opens the possibility of discrimination against those who identify as LGBT. Supporters say it does no such thing and protects the religious liberties of business owners.

We’re not sure why business owners need such protections when the First Amendment does plenty to ensure religious liberty for all. However, we do know that promoting an open, inclusive business environment for the state of Michigan is important not just to Gov. Snyder, but all Michiganders. …

Signing such legislation without also expanding the state’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing and hiring, to the LGBT community would send the wrong message and create the same public relations nightmare we’re seeing in Indiana.

The Sentinel editorial board wrote in this space (“Balancing LGBT, religious rights is our next challenge,” March 22) that “the governor of Utah signed into law a bill supported by both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mormon Church that protects LGBT individuals from discrimination in employment and housing while protecting religious speech and providing exemptions for clergy and religious institutions” and “if Utah can reach such an agreement, so can Michigan.”

Since Indiana’s governor signed the RFRA legislation, similar bills in Georgia and Nevada have died before reaching their governor’s approval. Both instances cited backlash from the business community. Gov. Snyder must be hearing the same outcry from the Michigan business community.

“We hope (legislators) are paying attention to the impact that Indiana’s decision is having on their state and really take that into consideration and listen to us when we talk about the impact of their decisions,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce in an April 3 article in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. “I think for the general business community, it does not want to be one that is discriminating against people in our community or looking to be one that is viewed as discriminating.”

Indiana and Arkansas have both made changes to their recent RFRA legislation (Arkansas at the behest of retail giant Wal-Mart), but Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle, who is a self-proclaimed Republican, said “this ‘fix’ is insufficient.”

“Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning,” Oesterle said in an April 3 article in the Indianapolis Star. “That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state.”

Michigan and Gov. Snyder don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. There is now overwhelming support for gay marriage – 63 percent of Americans support it in the latest CNN/ORC polling – and a Supreme Court decision looms large over the state this year.

However, Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, said he still intends to pursue Senate Bill No. 4 and give Snyder the chance to veto the RFRA legislation.

As good of a businessman Snyder is, he knows not to dive into a public relations mess.

– The Holland Sentinel

Other opinions

Examine what went wrong in Yemen

In January, President Barack Obama referred to U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in Yemen as a “model” for avoiding massive deployments of American troops.

Last week, U.S. personnel were being evacuated from Yemen. The country had become too dangerous because of an Iranian-backed insurgency involving forces linked to al-Qaida.

What went wrong? How could U.S. officials have been so mistaken in their assessment of whether Washington’s policies were successful?

Not all those in government, or outside of it in positions to know, were optimistic, it turns out.

Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen who now directs the Institute for Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, told the Associated Press “economic and governance issues” encouraging an insurgency were downplayed in Washington.

More needs to be known about why U.S. efforts in Yemen were such a dismal failure – to determine whether similar disasters with serious, long-lived consequences lie ahead in other key countries.

– The Alpena News

Our government has

become too secretive

Early in his presidency, Barack Obama pledged it would “usher in a new era of open government.” His administration has done just the opposite.

Government is more secretive than ever. The policy is pursued even when officials know they are breaking the law.

Federal law requires that government agencies make records, including both paper and electronic documents, available to the public.

There are a few exceptions, such as those involving national security.

Last year, 714,231 requests for information were submitted to 100 federal agencies, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

In about one-third of the cases, government officials rejected requests for documents or censored parts of them even though, upon being challenged, they acknowledged they were wrong under the law, according to the AP.

Officials responding to tens of thousands of requests claimed they could not find the records being sought.

In more than 67,000 situations, the government never replied to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Nearly two of every five requests were rejected outright or were fulfilled with censored documents.

Displaying monumental arrogance, a White House spokesman told the AP the Obama administration has “a lot to brag about” in terms of open government.

Hardly. Obama’s regime has set new records for telling the American people that government business is none of our business.

– The Escanaba Daily Press

Government’s battery plant might pay off

XALT Energy’s announcement that it has secured a $1 billion contract and is hiring employees in Midland is encouraging news.

XALT, a developer and manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, announced last week that it has signed an agreement with Hybrid Kinetic Group of China for the supply of lithium titanate batteries for all-electric buses in China.

Production is expected to begin during the third quarter of 2015. The multi-year contract will create 300 new jobs in Midland this year, with 80 positions expected to be filled this month, the company said. It said more than $600 million has been invested in the facility in Midland and the company currently employs 130 people.

The facility has received support from the U.S. Department of Energy, City of Midland and the state of Michigan (including the Legislature, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the Michigan Department of Treasury and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality).

XALT said it will continue to work with these agencies on various programs as it moves forward to bring high-quality jobs to Michigan.

The XALT brand was created in November 2013 when The Dow Chemical Co. sold its interest in Dow Kokam to MBP Investors, an affiliate of Townsend Ventures. At the time, many in the community wondered what would happen to the Midland facility.

Now we have a clearer picture, and it looks promising. The high-tech and manufacturing jobs XALT will create are a welcome addition to Midland. It is good to see that a facility touted by the government as a symbol of economic recovery will now ramp up production and could boost the local economy.

The promise of a clean energy business – and the local jobs it will create – appears to finally be taking hold. We hope XALT’s new contract is a sign of more good news to come for the company, and for Midland.

– The Midland Daily News

Bacon-wrapped cholestrol bomb pizza dead ahead

Let me say one word to you: Bacon.

Not only is it delicious, it’s practically irresistible – I even know vegans who sneak bites of the stuff.

And these days, it’s hard to avoid the pork strip. It’s in snack foods, on school lunch trays, and in bars, breakfast joints, food trailers, and fine dining establishments. Full-blown bacon festivals are the latest thing.

Whether you call it bacon, pancetta, pork belly, or whatever, it’s everywhere – and it’s big. Sales now top $4 billion a year, and they’re still growing.

Unfortunately, bacon is also growing us, feeding the continuing expansion of America’s midriffs – and with it diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.

Please don’t get me started on the vile corporate hog factories, where most of the brand-name bacon comes from.

But a little discretion and moderation can be a bacon eater’s friend. You don’t have to buy the industrialized brands. Nor do you have to eat a pound a day, or even a week.

Which brings me to the latest offering by the Little Caesars fast food chain: the “Bacon-Wrapped Crust Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza.” Yes, the official name really includes those exclamation points.

One word of advice: Don’t.

It’s a cholesterol bomb, thick with fatty “cheese” gooeyness and wrapped on all sides with strips of bacon. Lots of bacon, actually – a whopping three-and-a-half feet per pizza.

But this porker of a pizza doesn’t stop at mere excess. Little Caesars crowns the monster with pepperoni and crumbled bacon.

The price is $12, but that’s not the real cost. Each slice doses you with 450 calories, 23 grams of fat, 830 milligrams of salt, and 40 milligrams of cholesterol.

David Scrivano, the chain’s CEO is unapologetic. “This is a more indulgent offering for a demographic that craves premium quality,” he said.

Fastidious eaters can always get a veggie pizza, he added.

Excuse me, sir, but quantity isn’t quality. They should name this thing “The Emergency Room.”

– Jim Hightower

Radio commentator,

writer, speaker