GOP “Let Him Die” Flare-Up Demonstrates Need For Reality Check


This article was originally posted on PolicyMic and was written by Mark Kogan. I felt that his piece on the need for a reality check was a good follow-up to my post about hypocrisy.

Over the course of the last two weeks the Republican nominees for president have had a chance to strut their stuff in two national debates. Just as prominent as the comments of candidates attending the debate, the behavior and reaction of debate audiences has been making headlines nation-wide.

During the MSNBC/Politico debate last week, the audience cheered when debate hosts noted that Rick Perry had overseen a record 234 executions in his term as governor of Texas.

Perhaps more shocking was the audience reaction to a question concerning health care insurance on Monday’s CNN Tea Party debate. In a hypothetical question, debate moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Rep. Ron Paul (R- Texas) whether a 30-year old man who chose not to purchase health insurance should be allowed to die if he cannot secure treatment for a serious accident. Before Paul could answer the question, shouts of “Yes,” cheers, and applause erupted from the audience in response to Blitzer’s morbid outcome.

This reaction was yet another unsettling snapshot of the Tea Party electorate’s worldview. What’s worse, Blitzer’s question was overly friendly to libertarian talking points, ignoring the realities that many in the audience seemed all too quick to forget.

Firstly, Blitzer’s hypothetical insurance buyer was a 30-year old man who could afford insurance but chose not to. This is miles removed from the reality that millions of uninsured people are not uninsured by choice. A 2009 study by the Employment Policies Institute estimated the number of uninsured individuals unable to afford insurance at 22 million Americans. That’s 22 million citizens who don’t have the choice of Blitzer’s hypothetical insurance buyer. Are they left to die in the streets as well?

Second, Blitzer’s uninsured man came to the debate conveniently alone. Being that the average age of marriage in the United States is comfortably below 30 for both men and women, it is safe to assume that reality won’t necessarily reflect Blitzer’s hypothetical. Moreover, with the average number of children hovering around two per family, the audience’s reaction to Blitzer’s question becomes significantly more macabre.

What if we expanded the scenario to a more realistic hypothetical? Imagine that the 30-year old man had invested intelligently and responsibly, putting a down payment on a house he could afford in a reasonable neighborhood for his wife and children. Unfortunately, with the housing market crash, imagine that his mortgage is freshly underwater through absolutely no fault of his own. Now let’s imagine that the wife stays home to take care of the young children (as nearly 25% of married women with children do). If they bear any resemblance to the majority of uninsured families in America (even those earning 400% over poverty level), their total financial assets will be below$4,100. For reference, hospital bills under $10,000 accounted for less than 10% of total care billed to the uninsured.

Finally, let us take another look at Blitzer’s hypothetical. What if this 30-year old married father of two failed to purchase insurance (either through an inability to afford it or through a conscious decision not to)? What would happen if he were left to die in the street? What would happen to his wife? His children?

It is inescapably ironic that an ideological framework that vehemently protests the teachings of Darwin seems to hold Social Darwinism in such high esteem.

Paul’s suggestion of “turning to charity” is the popular talking point in response, but one that suffers from a lack of empirical support. It is worth noting Paul’s home state of Texas suffers from thehighest percentage of uninsured residents in the country.

Total charitable giving in 2010 was just under $300 billion, which included all forms of charitable giving. Of those $300 billion, less than 8% (some $23 billion) went to “health-related organizations.” By comparison, the estimated cost of uninsured health care provided annually is up to $73 billion.

Would usage rates change if individuals were forced to be choosier about seeking health care? Sure. Would individuals donate more money to charity if they paid less in taxes? Maybe. Will the relative increase in charity be enough to cover situations like Blitzer’s hypothetical man? Unlikely.

The danger in playing with ideological hypotheticals is that the platitudes used to answer them often perpetuate the misinformation that causes so many of the problems in our modern political discourse. How else does one square the rage over non-existent government “death panels” with the hand of the market dictating death on those less fortunate? Is the mythical libertarian cure-all of “personal choice” really the answer? What about those who have no choice? What about their children?

While some candidates were quick to distance themselves from the audience’s reaction after the debate, it was telling that no candidate on stage raised their voice to disavow the audience’s reaction.

Now look, I understand that it is primary season and that candidates are going to try harder to appeal to the party fringe in order to secure the candidacy. But, at the end of the day, the chosen candidate will have to explain his or her positions to the general electorate and those explanations will have to be based in fact and reality, not ideology.

Let Him Die


What can we say about ourselves as a society when “Let Him Die” becomes the saying of choice when talking about health care?  Those of who watched the most recent Tea Party express debate will know what I am referencing.  For others, you may be startled at the circumstances surrounding that quote.  That portion of the debate centered around health care.  Since all of the candidates on that side have opposed the health care bill that passes, and don’t believe in quality, affordable health care for everyone, they were being asked to answer how they would handle it. When faced with a scenario of what to do if a middle-aged uninsured man needed care, members of the tea party crowd began to say “Let Him Die”.  While none of the candidates used that response, they stood their ground on the fact that health care is a choice and not a right.  If you choose to not have health care then you run the risk of high bills.  Ron Paul’s own former campaign manager was in this situation.  Yet his stance is still the same.

It saddens me that none of the candidates took time out of their responses to address the crowd, while they have issued statements in the aftermath, none of them took a stand during the debate.  If that is not a message you want your followers to be spreading then take a stand.  But what does this say about us as a society?  Are we now God (or whatever higher power you believe in), that we should decide who lives or dies based on their ability to pay?  It also shows the hypocrisy of some in the tea party.  During the health care debate, one of the big opposition talking points was based upon death panels.  They were falsely claiming that the new health care bill would create these death panels to decide who would live or died when it came to receiving care for the elderly.  This was a false claim, but how would that scenario be different from their stance on letting someone die who cannot afford coverage?

If they really want to lower the cost of insurance and the amount of tax payer dollars going to cover the uninsured, then they should want everyone to have health coverage.  The more people who are insured the less people will choose to use the emergency room for basic health issues that could be covered by a doctor visit.  Increases usage of emergency rooms by people who cannot afford to pay only increases the amount of tax payer dollars going to coverage.  Even if we put policy aside, are we in that bad of a place as a nation? Do we really care so little about the least fortunate among us that we think it is better to offer them no services than have the government offer assistance?  I wonder if these same people will feel the same way, when they lose their job and insurance and are facing a life or death health situation and need assistance?

The fact is, this situation has shown the hypocrisy of the tea party.  Oppose death panels (false claim) when it helps you oppose the president, but support your version of the death panel (true claim) when it proves your position on too much government.  The tea party gets mad when people make claims about their movement and what it stands for, but their own debate audience makes it clearer than ever what they stand for.  When none of their leaders will take an aggressive stand against cries like this, what are we supposed to believe about the tea party?  Their actions and words seem to paint an accurate picture.

 

Whose Money was behind the Resegregation of Wake County Schools?


If you live in North Carolina, no doubt you have heard of the struggle in Wake County over neighborhood schools. In 2009, the Wake County School Board obtained a new majority of Tea Party members backed by the state chapter of  Americans For Prosperity.  This new majority pushed for and won the ending of busing policy in favor of neighborhood schools.  Wake County had a policy of busing students around to avoid racially divided schools.  They wanted to have socio-economic diverse schools by limiting the number of free and reduced lunch students allowed at each school.  Because minorities make up a disproportionate number of students who qualify for this, the policy basically led to a resegregation of schools.

Under the message of saving the school system money, this new majority wanted to end this policy and return to neighborhood schools.  This sparked a bitter fight between the school board and groups like the NC NAACP.  There were protests and arrest, and enough noise made that the national media picked up on the story. There are plenty of issues with all aspects of the story.  There are pros and cons to both sides of the issue.  For me, the biggest issue was voter turnout.  These new members all ran on the message of ending the policy, and returning to neighborhood schools.  Voters simply did not turn out to vote.  The new majority was able to take over with minimal voter participation.  If the same number of people who participated in the protest, had turned out to vote or do get out to vote work, maybe this would not have happened but I digress.

There were other forces at play that may have made this inevitable though.  There have been a number of growing stories about the money the extreme right is dumping into campaigns and where it is coming from.  The names range from the Koch brothers to Art Pope, and they have received both local and national attention for their contributions.  Brave New Films, is doing a series of documentary short films to expose the Koch Brothers and how their money has pushed the agenda of the far right.  The latest installment discuss their role in the Wake County Issue, and exposes the money behind the desegregation of the Wake County Schools.

Race in Politics Not Headed in the Right Direction


There has always been a racial component to politics in this country.  Even after the Civil Rights Movement, this racial dynamic was clearly up for display.  As time wore on though, and more minorities became involved and elected in politics, that dynamic has shifted from obvious to a more underlying position.  Since the election cycle of 2008 that has all changed, and not just in Washington.  Ever since Obama was a candidate, that racial dynamic has once again begun to shift from underlying towards obvious.  During his campaign, it was widely discussed whether a black man could become president.  There were groups of people who would not vote for him simply because he was black.

It continued after the election and still continues with the rise in white supremacy groups.  But it is deeper than that.  As the mission of the republican party has become to not let  him succeed at all cost, the racial dynamic has moved from white supremacy groups to the halls of congress.  Even if they will not come out and say it, there has been a racial component to their strategy.  The questions of his birth certificate, the outright brashness of calling him a liar, interrupting the state of the union, and more recently the use of “tar baby” are unprecedented attacks on a president.  No president in history has faced the same kind of treatment from the halls of congress.  The rise of the tea party has not helped that dynamic either.  The racial atmosphere that appeared at tea party rallies during the health care debate was troubling.  Despite the rise of Herman Cain as a tea party candidate, you cannot deny the racial component to that movement.

Let’s take it one step further.  The attack on both a federal and state level on programs that are designed to help the poor, is also ripe with racism.  A disproportional amount of people who receive government assistance are minorities, and the disregard our elected officials have towards them is disturbing.  It is continues to bleed down to the lower levels of government as well.  The North Carolina State Legislature has been attacking policy like the Racial Justice Act, and early childhood for poor and at risk children.  If we take one step further, we can look at the Wake County School issue.  Regardless of how you feel about busing and socioeconomic diverse schools, the root of why people wanted to policy to change was a new approach to nimbyism.  A certain subset of people no longer wanted poor kids to be sent to the schools in their neighborhood.  Let them go to school where they live is written all over this, whether they want to admit it or not.

Many people wrongfully thought that the election of Obama pushed America into a post racial society. I would argue that it has done the opposite.  That election has had an impact on the racial dynamic of this country, but not for the better.  What it has done is moving racism back to the forefront.

What We Just Avoided With the Debt Deal


This article was written by me, but originally featured on www.policymic.com.

Our leaders in Washington finally came together and did what was right for the country. Even though there will still be some political posturing about who won the debate, the fact is, they finally listened to all the reports of what would happen if a deal were not made. MyPolicyMic colleague, Jordan Wolf, has alreadylaid out what the deal means going forward. Even with our credit rating still at risk, let’s look at what we are avoiding, and whether or not the darkest days truly would have been ahead.

The cost on consumers would have been far reaching. We were warned about what would happenwith our credit rating with no deal, but even the news media around the world still recognize this as a possibility. The impact on world markets could still be felt, making interest rates on mortgages, car loans, and credit cards still rise and impact consumers’ pockets. Access to credit, which was slowly starting to open up, could once again tighten. The housing market could crash again as people qualify for less homes with rates going up, and sellers sit on homes and drop the prices even more. The markets could have crashed, making people’s investment and retirement accounts bottom out. This would have been just the beginning, but some of these could still be felt.

We already know we don’t raise enough revenue to cover our expenses, which is why we are in this position in the first place. The question was about to become, how do we use the money we do have to pay bills that are due? And let’s be clear, this was not just about paying bills, but also about having a functioning government. The Treasury Department could not pick and choose what bills they would pay. They have said they would pay them as they come with what is available. This means, if your paycheck or benefit check were further down the list, you wouldn’t get paid on time or even at all. This was an even worse proposition for the poor and minorities, as welfare and housing assistance were certainly going to take some hits.

The big issue we avoided was the grey area that would have occurred when people’s paychecks didn’t come. Would guards at federal prisons have shown up for work, would our mail have been delivered, would our military readiness have been impacted, and would judges and federal prosecutors have been available? If not, how would this have impacted security and the ability of our nation to function?

The good thing is that we don’t have to answer any of these questions, unless of course we find ourselves in this same position in 2012. Congress finally acted in the best overall interest of the country and made a deal.  Even if you think it is a flawed deal, it allows our country to move forward and deal with our issues like job creation, debt reduction, and tax reform without the threat of default looming over our heads. We avoided what would have been a dark period of uncertainty and that should be a good thing for everyone.

Devil’s Advocate


This post was originally written by Kevin Rogers of NCSJP and Action NC.  It was originally posted on www.actionnc.org.

 

It appears this morning that Congress finally found their collective sanity and averted the financial calamity they themselves created.

Truly, this is democracy at its finest.

While the political pundits analyze the political winners and losers to this debt-ceiling debacle, one thing is clear: they won, and we lost. This should not be surprising.

But more than that, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the Tea Party folks were onto something here – would it really have been so bad if we didn’t raise the debt ceiling? More to the point, who would a government default hurt more – the rich or the poor?

Let’s break it down:

If the government defaults, there isn’t enough money to pay all the bills – someone gets an IOU. And while I would rather get an IOU from Uncle Sam than my Uncle Al, I probably won’t be able to use an IOU to pay my rent, buy groceries, or pay for bus fare, which is exactly what many would have to do if Social Security payments weren’t made on-time. Or so the argument goes.

Just to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, what if, instead of paying our bond creditors first, we paid domestic obligations first (like Social Security and Medicaid) and gave bondholders an IOU for the dividend? I know I’m going out on a limb here, but isn’t an a Treasury Bond essentially a government IOU anyway? Will these investors really run for the hills because they have to wait an extra week or two for their payments? Yes, China and others could reduce their long-term investment in T-bills, but where the heck else would they be guaranteed a safer investment – even with our maxed-out government credit card?

I know it is more complicated than that, and there are many possible (though I would argue improbable) long-term negative consequences of a default, including a credit downgrade (by the same folks who told us junk mortgages were AAA, so why anyone listens to them anymore is yet another baffling question) and increased costs for consumer borrowing.  But are those costs really worse than the long-term cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Social Security that are possible under this deal?

For your average low-income worker or retiree, I would argue not. These folks already pay adisproportionally high amount to access credit, when it’s even available, so it is doubtful that higher rates would really have much effect on them since, in many cases, they are already paying the highest APR allowed by law. Low income Americans are also far less likely to have significant retirement investments that would be negatively impacted by a down-turn in the stock market, and are therefore, ironically, far better protected from short-term swings in financial market conditions.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad Congress was able to come to an agreement that averted a default, because I think we would have paid our creditors before our citizens, and that would have been a double loss for people at the bottom of this financial food-chain. But I can’t help but wonder “what if.”

Rob Emanuel, former Chief of Staff to President Obama and current Chicago mayor, was famously quoted as saying “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Indeed, what if we changed this crisis into an opportunity to actually value our most important responsibilities, rather than cheapening them, and in the process redefine what it means to honor obligations, rather than merely satisfy them.

Leave it to Congress to waste an opportunity.

Were the NFL Lockout Negotiations a Guide for Debt Ceiling Talks?


Alright, so I know the NFL lockout lasted for months and we now have a short window for a debt ceiling deal.  However, there are some lessons that can be learned.  The main lesson is to keep the focus on what is important.  The owners and players realized that the most important thing was to not miss any games.  They realized that missing any games would put them at odds with their fans who make them the billion dollar industry that they are.  They also realized that everyone cannot be happy with every aspect of a deal.  There has to be give and take from both sides.  They focused on what they could agree on as the framework of the deal and built the tougher issues around that.  This gave them a basic structure for what an agreement should look like.

It took a few months, but now they have a deal that brings peace for 10 years.  Neither side is completely happy with every aspect, but it works because each side both won and loss in the deal.  They met their main objective as well. No regular season game is going to be missed, and while there will be some backlash from fans angry about the lockout.  Football is back and it won’t take much to win fans back.

Transition that to these debt ceiling talks.  Even in the condensed time frame they have left to make a deal the premise still works.  Both sides can agree that the ceiling needs to be raised, to protect our credit rating and financial markets. That is the most important piece of these discussions and should always be at the forefront.  Even though they could just raise the ceiling without tying it to anything else, that is they choice they made so let’s run with it.  Both sides also agree that there does need to be spending cuts on some level.  We know have two things we agree on that like the NFL, should become the frame-work for any deal.

Now that the agreed upon points are the basic structure of the deal, that leaves some room to negotiate on the disagreements to work them into the deal.  What both sides have to remember here is that no one is going to be completely happy with any deal that is struck, which is why there has to be give and take from both sides.  Even with the tough points find places for agreement. Instead of going after both tax increases and closing loopholes, why not settle in the middle and agree to close tax loopholes.  Instead of severe cuts to entitlement programs, why not meet in the middle and agree to eliminate the waste that does exist in them?  Seems me those are the two big holdup in all of this.  Everything else can be left out to deal with later and now we have a deal that everyone can support (except the tea party folks who can’t see why we should raise it at all).

Like the NFL, everyone will not like every aspect of this deal, but the main objective would be solved. Our credit rating would be saved, the financial markets would not decline again, and people could get back to focusing on creating jobs ad getting our country back to work.  Also like the NFL, the fans or taxpayers in this case, will have some backlash because they won’t like every aspect.  But, they would be able to appreciate that the larger goal was met, and that there was give and take on both sides.  Just like football is back, our nation can continue to go forward.