Posts Tagged ‘Health care reform’

There is a lot of misinformation out there. I actually teach this stuff and know what the facts are. You can google my points below:
1. The flow of undocumented workers has been from and not to the U.S. since 2005. Thus, building or making the border more ‘secure,’ something that is impossible anyway, would actually keep the undocumented from leaving the U.S.
2. Obama has deported more undocumented than any other president. That is why Latinos call him the “Deporter in Chief”
3. Yes undocumented get some health benefits. But this happens because of actions at the local level rather than by federal policy. See the article below.
4. Why do cities and counties provide such services? First, because it is cheaper to do preventive care than pay for undocumented using hospital emergency rooms. Second, because the undocumented provide essential cheap labor for many local industries, from restaurants to crop harvesting to house cleaning to construction. Local economies need their labor. Trump has used undocumented Polish labor at some of his construction projects. And documented labor will not do those jobs at those wages. Third, undocumented labor contribute enormous amounts of tax revenue, often using other people’s Social Security numbers, but do not collect any unemployment, housing, disability, public housing, or retirement benefits. In fact, the revenue they contribute to social security has kept that program afloat financially and makes possible the retirement of documented Americans. This is a fact. Finally, the U.S. Offers very few immigration opportunities to Latin American countries as opposed to European countries. Thus, the economic demand for cheap labor, the destruction of economies in Latin America by American companies investing there, produce pressures which result in people having to come here without papers. It is a complex process where the U.S. is just as responsible for what is happening as the people sneaking in. http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/personalfinance/illegal-immigrants-get-public-health-care-despite-federal-policy/ar-BBqT8Xo?ocid=fbmsnmoney

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Most Tea Party members would have us believe that the TPs are simply opposed to Obama’s economic policies and not to Obama.  The data, however, suggest otherwise.  First, the Tea Party movement got started before Obama had a chance to announce, let alone, implement most of his economic policies.  The first signs of the TP movement occured in early 2009, after the stimulus bill was passed but before health care reform and other initiatives were passed.  In one survey, 76% of Tea Party members joined before May 2009.  Indeed, some conservative leaders trace the TP movement to discontent under Bush to his budget busting fiscal and political policies.  The behind the scenes Tea Party organizer, Richard Armey, calls the TP movement the first in a succession of conservative political waves in the United States that is “borne out of fear and despair.”  Armey claims that this discontent is aimed at the fiscal policies of the federal government, both under Obama and Bush.  I believe that this political discontent, though visibly public, masks a deeper, unacknowledged economic despair and fear.  Obama’s election was the spark that got the fire going in a sector of this society that has seen their priviledge, wealth, and job security eroded by a decades-long economic process.  Tea Party members don’t have to agree with this explanation for it to be true.  It is my analysis of the conditions that I think have given rise to a surprisingly vibrant movement.  That analysis is based on a number of patterns.

One pattern is the demographic.  Tea Party members tend to be white, male, and middle class.  There are very few blacks and Latinos or poor people in the TPs. The research that shows this to be true includes the New York Times poll, the Sam Adams Alliance study, the CNN poll, the Frum survey, the Wiser study, and the Quinnipiac study.  This TP demographic are exactly the group in this society that have been most affected, through personal experience or personal fear, by the decline of manufacturing and mid-skill white collar jobs and middle level incomes.

Aside from who are TP members, the research also shows that the attitudes of TP members point to an underlying fear of their economic future.  In the 2010 Frum study, 75% of TP members stated that their personal economic situation was deteriorating compared to two years ago and compared to minorities.  In the Wiser study,

large proportions of TP supporters claimed that Blacks would be a lot better off if they just tried harder and that immigrants took jobs from Americans.  In the New York Times survey, 52% or TP members believed that “too much had been made of the problems facing black people.”  In comparison, only 28% of non-TP members believed that.  In that same Times study, 42% of TP members compared to 23 non-members believed that the economy was getting worse.

A Pew Research Center study provides even more complelling evidence of the economic foundations for TP rage.  The Pew study showed that a majority of the middle class believes that they have either not moved forward economically or have fallen backward since 1964.  The recent trends are unmistakable.  In the last two year, as the figure below makes clear, the middle classes are a lot more pessimistic about their ability to advance.  More believe that they are worse off than in the past and fewer believe that the present, for them, is better than the past.

That most TP members don’t see their own reasons for joining the movement as a reaction to economic decline of the white middle classes is interesting but not a compelling argument against this analysis.  Afterall, TP members have been known to exaggerate their complaints (Obama is a socialist), falsify charges against government (death squads), and demonstrate ignorance about the very thing they claim to oppose (Government, keep your hands off my medicaid).  One telling example was a TP member who claimed taxes were raised on everyone under Obama when, in fact, she had received a $400 tax rebate.  They are just not reliable observers of their own condition.

The Tea Party movement is full of people who don’t like the fiscal policies of both Democrats and Republicans, reject deficit spending (today rather than during Bush), revere the Constitution, love their country, fear for their future, and resent what they believe are freeloaders who receive government handouts (both Wall Street types and minorities like African Americans and Latinos).  I agree with many of these complaints.  There is often little that separates the two political parties when it comes to supporting capitalism, for instance.  On other matters, I just don’t agree.  It is the sum total of their political values and vision, however, that I find truly offensive, mistaken, and foolish.

It is becoming clear that the Tea Parties, for all of their diversity and seemingly lack of coordination, do have an underlying ideology.  They are opposed to what some commentators have christened “the culture of dependence.”  The poor and the educated classes that support Obama, according to the Tea Party faithful, are those who are either dependent on government assistance or in a position to administer that assistance to the poor.  The poor and minorities are presumably mostly in the first category.  This cynical and materialistic view of political opponents provides all the justification the Tea Parties need to demand an end to unemployment benefits, a rejection of federal assistance to states, a repeal of the health insurance reform bill, and more.  They aren’t particularly wrong  about the idea that the founding fathers mostly sought to institute a government based on “negative liberty.”  The founders political philosophy was forged around John Locke’s idea that rights are given by God and are, thus, inalienable.  Much of this recent intellectual enlightenment, however, can be attributed to orchestrations of TV performer  Glenn Beck and other advocates on the right who have offered a spirited and polemical articulation of this connection.

Lately, for instance, the Tea Parties have begun to call for a “restoration” of “honor” and for a return to values of the past.  This turn to a more positive politics (as opposed to the mostly obstructionist and isolationist Tea Party delusions of the very recent past based on accusations that Obama is a secret Muslim or not a citizen) represents a complex sore that serves as motivation for their discontnent.  The Tea Parties have both a deep resentment of the excessive benefits they believe minorities and the poor receive from the federal government and a passionate interest in reclaiming a personal independence they believe existed in the past and that had been outlined for them by the founders in the Constitution.  At the risk of accomplishing absolutely nothing in debating the TP’s mostly emotional position (a passionate brew, btw, that the founding fathers saw as a threat to democracy and that they tried to restrain in the system of checks and balances in the Constitution), let me try to explain the folly in the Tea Party faithful’s empty ideological re-positioning.

Where Tea Party members once truly independent?  Are they now?  Who is truly independent in this country?  Are white, middle class men in the U.S. facing severe obstructions in what they desire today compared to the past? Were those obstructions to their individual liberty primarily caused by government?  Has government generally helped them achieve what they need and desire?  By most accounts, the answer is surely that no group or institution in this country can do much without the participation and assistance of government – even the billionaires who finance the Tea Party movement.  Of all the groups that comprise this great country, white middle class men have benefitted considerably more than the poor and minorities from government programs and policies.  Yes, it is true that wages and wealth have not increased as much as they have for those at the very top in the last 30 years. But for that we have to thank Republicans for the rising inequality that has resulted from cutting taxes on the rich and by transferring so much more wealth to the top 1 %.   Capitalist logic is also responsible as the push for profit led corporations to cast off jobs and make those that remained more tenuous by increasing automation in production and by relocating industrial jobs to cheap wage locations around the world like China.

Tea Party membership is mostly located in the red states, in the places that have gained the most from government assistance.  Let me give a few examples.

Most research shows that Tea Party members are male, older than 45, in the middle income range (between $50 and $100, 000 a year), white, and living in the southern and western parts of the U.S.  The chart below reveals that it is precisely the southern and western parts of the country that receive more federal dollars than they contribute in taxes to the federal government – a dollar and eight cents more than they contribute in taxes to be exact.

Per Capita Tax Burden and Return of Federal Tax Dollar:  2005

Northeast 0.89, Midwest 0.91

Northeast and Midwest 0.90

South 1.19, West 0.95

South and West 1.08

U.S. Total 1.00

Most of that extra federal spending in the southern and western states is not due to direct payments to retired persons or to revenue sharing with states.  A great deal of that spending represents contracts, mostly for defense, as well as for other purposes.  Figure 1 shows this.

Figure 1

Some Tea Party members might argue that they would like to end extravagant federal spending, even for defense and for agribusiness.  Even if that were possible, and I have great doubts, it would not change how much Tea Party members have already gained in the past from the unequal contribution of federal programs to them in the form of mortgage tax subsidies, the GI Bill, legal and political rights, better quality education, and lower mortgage lending rates. Figure 2 shows the disparity in wealth that exists in this country between  white, black, and Latino households.

Figure 2

Thus, though wages have been stagnant in this country for everyone except the super rich since 1980, wealth continues to grow for white households.  As a result, one study claims “A long-standing cleft in our society is becoming more obvious: the racial wealth gap. For every dollar owned by the median white family in the United States, the typical Latino family has twelve cents, and the typical African American family has a dime.”

Tea Party members want to restore an honor and freedom that is hard to prove they have ever lost.  Not only have they not faced many obstacles in their lives that have kept them from making decisions to advance themselves, they have actually benefitted from government largess and policies.  Tea Party members today decry the expansion of government and reject stimulus money and health care reform.  They argue that Tea Party “Americans today prefer independence to dependence on government, just as they did 200 years ago.” The problem is that they were never as independent as they assume themselves to be.  They did not pull themselves up from their own bootstraps.  They got considerable help from the federal government.  What they face today is a continued dependence on a government that can no longer guarantee them either increasing wages or assets, especially in residential property.  They may also be dimly aware that the demographic tint of both the population and voters in this country is skewing towards black and brown.  Perhaps, it is that reality more than any economic one that really scares the Tea Party?  Imagine being dependent on a government that cannot guarantee special economic or political privileges to white, middle class men!  What all of this looks to them is not that they are becoming equal in wages, occupation and class status to the poor and minority groups in this country. Rather than providing equality of treatment to all groups, they seem to think that Obama, as some have said at Tea Party rallies, is trying to push them into white slavery!

I have no problems with Blacks and Latinos wanting to reduce the power the of the state over our lives. There is, after all, something to be said for the anarchist vision of a state-less society. My problems are with the here and now. Since so many minorities are poor, marginalized, and oppressed we have to think twice before we push aside the power of the state as a potential partner against greedy landlords, abusive profit-first employers, companies that produce toxic environments in which we live and work, and political leaders who are more interested in listening to the very powerful and rich. Whatever intrusions by the state into my life pales in comparison to the intrusions of publicly unaccountable corporations into how I live and what I can do. In short, it is shortsighted and self-destructive to surrender the power of the state to the very rich and powerful simply because of unfounded fears that the state is “too much in our lives.” If anyone is manipulating the Tea Party Movement, I suspect it is those with power and wealth who are afraid that too many of us without power or wealth will turn to the state to try to equalize the playing field.

The way I see it, the State is a monster.  Always has been and always will be.  It has the right to take a person’s life, liberty, or property. Hobbes called it a Leviathan for that reason.  However, it is a monster that, ultimately, the people create by giving it legitimacy. Now that we have this monster running around, taking and intruding, protecting and assaulting, there is really only one question.  Do we want it to do these things to benefit those who already have power and wealth? Or, is there a way to make use of the monstrous power of the state to benefit the average citizen? The latter is usually what democracy is supposed to accomplish.

I think the founders wanted both. They wanted to create a monster (the state) to do things that are hard to do with the private power of individuals alone as well as to incapacitate the state, limit it, so that it doesn’t abuse its powers. That is the unspoken contract behind the founding of this country. It is for that reason that Tea Party complaints about government intrusions, especially with the health care reforms are wrong. If the state does not put its hands on the health care system, we will be left with a market-based system that is twice as expensive as what almost every advance country already has and for far less health care benefit (we have a lower life expectancy than any other advance and some not so advanced countries).  Latinos and African Americans have the most to fear from an unregulated health insurance market.  More than 47 percent of all Latinos  and 33 percent of African Americans are uninsured at any given part of the year.

There are some things best left to the market (restaurants cuisine, music players, car design, etc.) and some things that only the state can do (health care, national defense, mail delivery, public education, etc.). Where was the Tea Party movement when President Bush violated constitutional rights to privacy, habeas corpus, truth, etc.?

One telling example of the power of corporations in the private life of citizens was the recent decision by Walgreens Inc. in Washington State to stop accepting new Medicaid pharmacy patients because, it claimed, that it could not “break even” with the current reimbursement  rates established by the government for the vast majority of drugs.  Washington State expects to save $10 million dollars a year as a result of their new lower drug reimbursement rate.  Walgreens response to these changes is expected.  They complained that they are losing money and may go out of business.  They threatened to pull the plug on new Medicaid patients.  All of this demonstrates how a private corporation can have significant, unaccountable, and, sometimes, disastrous impact on citizens.  Patients can always take their business to another pharmacy.  That is the beauty of capitalism.  What if there are few other pharmacies because the large chain pharmacies have squeezed out the smaller competition?

The bigger problem is that it is very difficult for a consumer to know how to protect themselves and retain benefits.  Walgreens says nothing about how inflated drug prices are in this country because of the policies of the pharmaceutical industry.  It says nothing about how wholesale drug prices are established by private companies like McKesson Inc. and FirstDataBank that artificially inflated the benchmark prices used by insurance companies to reimburse consumers for their medication.  Those companies settled a federal lawsuit in 2009 by handing over $350 million in penalties.  They had set artificially high drug prices of 20 to 25 percent over actual cost.  How in heavens are average and rational consumers ever going to be able to remain informed enough to ward off the predatory actions of so many corporations intent on eliminating competitors and squeezing as much profit from the public as they can?  Even if information was readily available and up to date, consumers often have little choice but to depend on and make use of company services and products that often have no interest in protecting the public welfare.  The top ten drug store companies now account for 66 percent of all drug sales.

Last year’s collapse of Wall Street firms shows that the pharmaceutical industry is not the only market sector we should be wary.  The market place’s openness and private control make efficiencies, innovation, and wealth possible.  They also permit behind the scenes anti-competitive schemes, deceptive accounting practices, or purposely impenetrable financial instruments create a very dense veil behind which hide market actors hide their profitable yet predatory, destructive, and costly practices.  In their rage against the state and government’s “over reach” into our lives, the Tea Party Movement seems determined to expose all of us to the ravishes of the private market place.  Not only would they do away with the federal income tax, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they would also abolish the Federal Reserve, and encourage states to “nullify” most federal laws and regulations.  The push has already begun with states that have passed or intend to pass legislation to prevent the mandated purchase of health insurance within their territory.  The Tea Party Movement would have us shed whatever defenses we have acquired over the years to protect ourselves from the irrationality and abuses of the marketplace.  As President Obama said at the meeting he held with Republican lawmakers,

We could set up a system where food was cheaper than it is right now if we just eliminated meat inspectors, and we eliminated any regulations on how food is distributed and how it’s stored. I’ll bet in terms of drug prices we would definitely reduce prescription drug prices if we didn’t have a drug administration that makes sure that we test the drugs so that they don’t kill us, but we don’t do that.

We could have cheaper food if we eliminated government meat inspectors, but how many of us would want to live with the illnesses and death that a totally unregulated market is likely to deliver?