Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Debt, a Society Killer

Borrowing money, by companies, individuals and governments, has been with a very long time, but formalized institutional lending traces its origins back to the Renaissance. “The history of banking begins with the first prototype banks of merchants of the ancient world, which made grain loans to farmers and traders who carried goods between cities. This began around 2000 BC in Assyria and Babylonia. Later, in ancient Greece and during the Roman Empire, lenders based in temples made loans and added two important innovations: they accepted deposits and changed money. Archaeology from this period in ancient China and India also shows evidence of money lending activity.
“Banking, in the modern sense of the word, can be traced to medieval and early Renaissance Italy, to the rich cities in the north such as Florence, Venice and Genoa. The Bardi and Peruzzi families dominated banking in 14th century Florence, establishing branches in many other parts of Europe. Perhaps the most famous Italian bank was the Medici bank, established by Giovanni Medici in 1397. The oldest bank still in existence is Monte dei Paschi di Siena, headquartered in Siena, Italy, which has been operating continuously since 1472.”
Society struggled with debtors prisons, theoretically banned in the United States (although jailing people in lieu of fines smacks of ancient discredited practices), and other mechanisms of debt enforcement.  Bankruptcy notions are available in most countries, but you can still be jailed for non-payment in some nations still today (try ultra-modern Dubai for example). And then there is national debt.
Such debt defines contemporary living, but as Puerto Rico’s governor seeks a new form of bankruptcy for his territory’s debt (PR is part of the U.S.!) and as Greece nudges closer to leaving the Eurozone, markets around the world plunged. “And in China, the precipitous declines in its stock market were also a sobering reminder that stubborn problems lurked in the global economy.
“Stifling debt loads, for instance, continue to weigh on governments around the world. Greece’s government has repeatedly called for relief from some of its debt obligations, and Puerto Rico’s governor said on [June 28th] that its debt was ‘not payable.’ Both borrowers are extreme cases, but high borrowing, either by corporations or governments, is also bogging down the globally significant economies of Brazil, TurkeyItaly and China. And economists say that central banks and their whirring printing presses can do only so much to alleviate the burden.” New York Times, June 29th. We’re part of the problem, not in any dire straits right now, but we have a long history of national debt.
The United States began borrowing from its inception, but at over $18 trillion in national debt outstanding today, the United States is a highly leveraged country. “It all started with $75 million in loans made to the new United States of America during the Revolutionary War, and thus began the first American budget deficit. We managed to pay it back rather quickly and enjoyed several years of budget surpluses but the War of 1812 forced borrowing and once again we were back in debt—big wars tied to big deficits would be a recurring theme over the next 200 years.” SCPR.org. But at least being the world’s largest economy gives creditors some solace that their borrowings are secured. Not so Greece.
It is a nation of shopkeepers, farmers and small businesses… with government jobs and a few big companies along the way. To understand how desperate and backwards this economy truly is, ask yourself how many products made in Greece you have in your home? Even the yoghurt and feta cheese you might have is made here! The underlying economics just aren’t there. To get EU approval to become a Eurozone nation in 2001, Greece hired chi chi investment bankers to cook their books, making it appear that they were more solvent than they were. Greek tycoons have successfully avoided taxes by clever off-short schemes… or… by some accounts… but lying and bribing. And since Greek currency devaluation (the normal plight of over-leveraged nations) is not available in a pan-European currency, salary reductions, firings, pension cuts and other forms of austerity are the ugly substitute. How did this begin?
Greeks became “European” quickly almost a decade and a half ago, mirroring a lifestyle they could not afford with credit cards and other forms of debt. The government followed suit, not pursuing tax cheats while creating new social programs in increasing levels of populist politics. The resulting economic instability was horribly amplified as the recession that slammed the world more than a year later, gripped Greece in 2006 (and things have gotten steadily worse ever since). The European Central Bank, the Commission and the IMF itself came to Greece’s aid, pumping billions of loans in exchange for pledges of a severe program of austerity. A huge bailout was needed. Life in Greece went from horrible to much, much worse.
Greece is in default of billions of loans, and leaving the euro zone is increasingly likely. But still, creditors are demanding more cuts if more aid is to be had, less government spending, more austerity and higher taxes. It’s gotten so bad that even Greece’s traditional enemy, Turkey, has offered to step in to relieve some of the burden.
Life in Greece is truly awful these days, and if they are forced back to their old drachma currency, imports – like gasoline and heating oil/gas – will no longer be affordable. Greeks get to vote Sunday on the new “more austerity” plan offered by the EU, but it is a Hobson’s Choice. Accept more austerity, and things get worse, but at least Greece stays in that single currency that allows easier trade with the world. Reject austerity, ride deeper into default land with a new replacement currency that will hyper-inflate and might not be accepted by the rest of the world and ???
Looking at the daily lives of ordinary Greek citizens today, facing one of the highest unemployment rates (25.6%) in the Western world, life is awful. When they’re not lined up at the ATMs to draw their daily ration of EU60 (until the money runs out), most Greeks face a life filled with pain. Banks and the stock market are closed. The Guardian UK (January 15th) took a quick journey into the real portion of Greek life:
“‘I will drive you to the wound of Greece. It won’t take long.’ Tall, muscular and dark, Antonis is not a man given to hyperbole but he is, by his own admission, very angry. Now, staring into his rear-view mirror… there is no hiding how incensed he is. ‘What has happened to this country is a catastrophe,’ he fumes. ‘Our politicians, Europe, the IMF, they have stopped us having dreams.’
“The journey to the wound of Greece does not take long. For Antonis, a photographer with an eye for the unusual, it is not at the end of the pot-holed road we are driving down.
“It is everywhere: in the mamas and papas scavenging through the rubbish bins, the broken pavements and shuttered shops, the abandoned cars and derelict houses, the new poor who mutter to themselves on graffiti-stained streets. ‘It is the loss of hope,’ he says with a thump of his steering wheel. ‘I see it every day, a wound that will not heal. Please write that I, Antonis, hate this country, I hate everything about it.’
“For the 43-year-old, rage has been shaped by fate, one shared by over 1.3 million Greeks since their debt-stricken nation’s financial meltdown. In 2010, under the punitive effect of austerity – the price of the biggest bailout in western history – the Athenian photographic studio that employed him unexpectedly collapsed.
“Overnight, he found himself out of work, another statistic in the record number of jobless thrown up by a crisis born in Athens that has reverberated through every EU capital since. ‘Unless they are stupid, or rich, no Greek has children anymore,’ snarled Mavros who has been forced into the taxi driving business to make ends meet. ‘My predicament has denied me having the second child I always wanted.’”
So it is within this context – human misery vs. bailout pledges made without the ability to keep them – that Europe and Greece must build their future. And if Greece exits the Eurozone, the first such effort ever, can other nations be far behind? Would that be enough to unravel the imbalance between the Teutonic nations in the north and the less disciplined cultures of the south? Was the dream of a single currency folly from the inception? At 2% of the Eurozone economy, Greece’s impact on their neighbors, while not without serious ramifications, is hardly earth-shattering. But if Greece goes, who’s next? And the Eurozone shatters, trust me, the whole world will suffer greatly. Expect another big global recession.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the choices are hard, and Europe is not in a particularly friendly mood these days.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Enemy of the Big Dollar Influencers: Transparency

Sometimes I think elected officials in the U.S. are bought and sold like shares of stock on a national exchange. The hideous cost of running for office just about anywhere important – particularly when you have federal House seats face reelection every two years and the cost federal presidential elections could finance the budgets of entire countries for a year – is turning out to be the decider in way too many contests. The control of a rich and powerful few over the best interests of the many has a word to describe this system of government: “plutocracy.” Not “democracy.”
With the Citizens United and companion Supreme Court cases, the big influencers hold court to see which candidates will reflect their cares and causes with the most zeal and throw their massive SuperPacs in their direction. Las Vegas casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, want a lid placed against online gaming (his competition), and Marco Rubio seems to be the candidate who is most willing to accept his boss’ mandate. The Koch brothers, with massive fracking operations and powerful benefits from free trade agreements, have their choice selections as well. But lots of these SuperPacs have silent contributors, folks who want to remain anonymous and shielded from the negative publicity such donations would evoke. We call this “dark money,” and its mere existence is horribly anti-American.
But there’s more sneaky action afoot. With the distraction of Charleston, the ISIS war and Iranian nuclear containment negotiations plus the focus on the recent Supreme Court decisions, it’s never been easier to add riders to bills to benefit the rich donors, just as the U.S. government is running out of money and needs some quick appropriations relief.
“The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill [in mid-June] that included little-noticed provisions to hobble executive branch efforts to mandate campaign finance disclosure by federal contractors and other corporations… The bill would also prohibit the IRS from moving ahead with a rule defining political activity for nonprofits.
“The restrictions were tucked into a 157-page financial services funding bill. The vote occurred June 17, as the White House was considering renewed requests from public interest groups and congressional Democrats to issue an executive order mandating contractor disclosure.” The Washington Post, June 25th.
Just as Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, declared that the only litmus test she would demand of her Supreme Court nominees, if she is elected, would be the repeal of Citizens United (which had a narrow 5-4 vote in the Court), the move to exacerbate the ease of moving dark money even more prominently forward into the political process has become a less-than-open effort by the conservative side of the aisle.
As the United States is now a nation in which the “majority” of voters are “minorities,” and with the GOP facing massive losses in the relative power of their core, white traditionalist constituency, their efforts are heavily focused on giving their falling Base more power. Gerrymandering, voter ID registering voting, allowing dark money to flow, giving rich influencers a virtually uncapped ability to buy influence legally, cutting public education budgets (which mainly hurts those who don’t vote GOP), etc., etc. are the tools of allowing the few to dictate to the many.
Not that the Republicans are the only violators of political transparency. “Increasingly, allies of both major political parties have used ‘social welfare organizations,’ formed under Section 501(c) 4 of the tax code, to participate in elections using undisclosed contributions. Groups such as Crossroads GPS on the right, founded in part by Karl Rove, and Patriot Majority on the left, founded by allies of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), have spent huge sums — more than $200 million during the 2014 midterm elections, according to some estimates.” The Post.
But the GOP rider noted above is supposed to get bureaucrats out of politics, according to its supporters, but we all know – wink wink – that is a fast track for dark money. If this is my country, I want it all out in the open. I want a level political playing field, buttressed by strong democratic principles. Who exactly is threatened by these goals? How do you feel about it?
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we don’t keep our democratic ideals intact, we can kiss them… and eventually our country… goodbye.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Way We Work

It’s the old “forest/tree” paradigm, missing the big stuff because of the focus on the here and now. Not to mention the mega-distractions of the presidential campaign, the “Greek problem” in Europe, deteriorating relations with an increasingly aggressive Russian President, Middle East chaos at every turn, Charleston, seminal Supreme Court decisions, etc., etc.
But except for the highest earners in the land, how many of Americans are truly confident about our economic future? How many believe we are going to return to decades of solid economic growth with an even stronger middle class? Who among us is going to predict job stability and the notion of lifetime employment? I don’t know about you, but I am plagued with a very uneasy feeling that the best economic times are behind us, and that global forces are tilting against our once joyous economic hegemony.
That the Supreme Court sustained the ability of people living in states that do not have healthcare exchanges with subsidized premiums to opt into available federal alternatives may have just be a necessary component in the rather obvious changes in the way an increasing number of Americans now make their livings. The Court decision is as much a reinforcement of how Americans work, how they access what used to be company fringe benefits. Getting health insurance would be a huge issue without the Affordable Care Act.
The inflection point in how we work was clearly the 2008 crash and subsequent staggeringly lethargic “recovery.” Private sector unions today have contracted into a very small space in our labor force (6.6% according the Department of Labor). Workers are on their own. What happen to those whose livelihood were impacted by that downturn? Many have found jobs, often at lower pay. Some have started their own little businesses, some succeeding, many not. Others have accepted that “jobs” have morphed into designated “contractor” tasks, with a beginning, a middle… and an end.  
“While freelancing was once considered a temporary option, 67% of the 643 freelancers recently surveyed by Contently, an online resource that provides news and insights on the freelance economy, intend to continue freelancing for 10 years or more. When asked if they would take a full-time job in their field with identical pay plus benefits, only 30.2% said yes, 31.9% would decline, and 37.9% responded with a maybe…
“Today 53 million Americans, or 34% of the U.S. workforce, are considered contingent, temporary, diversified, or freelance employees, and that number is expected to reach 40% by the year 2020.” FastCompany.com, June 26th.
Our legal system regarding labor has been mostly focused on traditional employment structures. Unions used to protect the masses on hands-on workers, and government was mostly relegated to safety and minimum wage issues. But with unions almost gone and with the complexion of the work paradigm changing, we need to adapt our social and legal systems accordingly. Fringe benefits, from vacation to retirement to medical, don’t come with self-employment or freelance status. The new “sharing economy” isn’t providing those old-world benefits, which in turn suggests that the government is going to have some long-term social burdens that it is completely unprepared for.
“Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) made a fortune as an early wireless industry executive. Now, he's on a tear about the tech industry's most disruptive companies and why politicians — especially presidential candidates — aren't talking more about their impact on the labor economy.
“He sees a growing number of sharing-economy companies such as Uber, TaskRabbit and AirBnB transforming employment. About half of all American workers will be freelance or contractual workers by 2020, some economists predict. This trend is upending our notions of what it means to be a worker and what responsibilities a company has to provide benefits like health care and pensions. If unanswered soon, questions about a national social safety net for contractual workers may end up burdening the whole economy, he warns.” Washington Post, June 26th. But old employment models are fading fast in the harsh light of global competition and rather instantaneous access to information.
We are constantly reading stories of mega-companies relocating major operations to foreign shores. As U.S. skills are leveling off, as our commitment to education dwindles dollar-by-dollar under the litany of “fiscally responsible austerity measures,” global competitors are ramping up their skill/educational values at prices Americans are still unable to replicate. That once secure job is now subject to “corporate restructuring” and even bankruptcy. Work is outsourced, fringe benefits are minimized with contract labor and part-time employment, companies are constantly subject to mergers where cost efficiencies inevitably mean layoffs, and automation is replacing human workers by the millions.
So Americans in increasing numbers are accepting this new work world and in many ways learning to embrace it. The only boss they know won’t fire them is… well… themselves. They now have access to more reasonably-priced healthcare, and saving for the future is simply not in their wheelhouse. If they aren’t struggling with student loans, the high cost of housing and rising food prices put off such future planning for most. You can see where that trend is heading as these workers move on in years. For many, these risks are worth being able to set their own schedules or even to work from home.
Still, while working for yourself has its clear plusses, the unpredictability of these work trends isn’t all a bed of roses. For the self-employed, income is a product of how well you run your business and the competitive environment. Long hours and long periods of financial concern. For those who have chosen contract work, there are other issues. “Freelancers are optimistic about the current state of their working conditions, with 65% reporting an increase in job satisfaction in the past year, but there is still reason for concern. Many freelancers still aren't making enough to live on. The median salary of those surveyed by Contently was between $10,001 and $20,000 per year, with just over 19% earning over $50,000 in the past 12 months.” FastCompany.com.
These are reflections of America’s place in a global economy, and change is the only constant. The very definition of a “job” has changed and the expectation of a lifetime commitment to one employer has all but vaporized. It’s time to get our legal system in step with contemporary employment reality. Waiting makes the problems that much more monumental to fix.
I’m Peter Dekom, and human beings are amazingly adaptive to change, but it is usually a good thing to stop and take inventory of those rather deep alterations in our expectations and the way we really live.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rainbows, Reveling and Resistance

The Supreme Court has spoken, and it’s just “marriage” now. Celebrate! Parades and flowers! The law is beginning to treat us equally. Beginning. But lest anyone think that the battle for LGBT equality is anywhere near complete, think again. Among those who fear sexual preferences and marital practices that offend their beliefs also anger their view of God, that global warming and natural disasters are really retribution from God for our seeming immoral practices, the war against LGBT is just beginning.
There are more people who are LGBT in the United States than there are Jews or a host of other minority religions. According to the National Health Interview Survey, in the U.S., “1.8 percent of men self-identify as gay and 0.4 percent as bisexual, and 1.5 percent of women self-identify as lesbian and 0.9 percent as bisexual.” Those numbers come only from those willing to admit their status, still a risk in an overly-judgmental world. And how too many people all over the planet hate the notion of LGBT at any level!
It’s not just about anti-gay statutes in Russia or Uganda, it’s still a big issue here in the good old USA. The Supreme Court itself noted that social struggles among those virulently opposed not just to same-sex marriage but what they perceive as deviant behavior that demand legal limitations continues. The SCOTUSblog notes: “Much of the ongoing debate will focus on claims that same-sex marriage will intrude on the religious rights of those whose faith tells them that the institution should be open only for opposite-sex couples. A number of legislatures already had begun anticipating [these] rulings, passing measures to give businesses and others a legal right not to accommodate same-sex couples.
The overwhelming accumulation of opposition to anything LGBT comes from fundamentalist Christians sitting in judgment of others, casting the first stones and learning to abhor their neighbors. While they aren’t remotely as extreme as ISIS that will execute a LGBT human being on the spot, they would purge what they perceive as a “scourge” on society, people to be suppressed, erased and condemned. They say it’s about protecting our children and adhering to their strict view of the Bible – even the Pope is more open-minded – but the statistics do not support their fears.
While there are Christian militia fomenting domestic terrorism, try and picture a gay militia or a LGBT gang extorting a neighborhood. See my June 26th blog: Racism is Bad; Racism with Guns We Let Them Have… Unforgivable. With an estimated $2.6 billion added to our economy every year by our LGBT fellow citizens, you’d think the business world would be pleased to accept that segment of America purely on a greed-basis alone. But feelings run deep, and there are politicians who owe their tenure in office to opposing anything LGBT. Watch those un-Christian legislatures in purportedly Christian-values states move! But it’s not just such legislatures that define governmental attempts to crush anything LGBT.
“Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
“They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.
“‘Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, issued a directive to state agencies saying that employees should not be penalized for refusing to act in violation of their beliefs. ‘No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage,’ he said in a statement.
“Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a Republican candidate for president, warned that the court decision ‘will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree.’” New York Times, June 26th. Oy! It such a lovely thought of marginalizing a sizeable group of Americans. Not to mention that existing laws already have plenty of remaining traps for our LGBT brothers and sisters.
The ruling also doesn’t explicitly protect gay and lesbian employees who can still be fired for their sexuality in 29 states. Those who are transgender aren’t protected in 32 states. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has languished in Congress for more than 20 years, most recently when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stalled it because he felt it would be ‘the basis for frivolous lawsuits.’ Earlier this year, Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas issued an executive order that removed discrimination protections for state employees.” FastCompany.com, June 27th.
Expect a whole lot more judicial action, justified litigation that would make Speaker Boehner’s fears of “frivolous lawsuits” pale in comparison. Equality needs protection. Discriminate against anyone by reason of status or choices that literally do not impact the daily lives of others and you can discriminate against almost anyone for something that annoys you. Your freedom is also my freedom. It is by no means a battle that has been entirely won or a present status that is now fully acceptable. We’ve extended marital benefits to same sex-marriages across the land. Now let’s get to work to spread true equality to everyone everywhere.
I’m Peter Dekom, and status equality is precious and requires each and every one of us to care about it for all.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Racism is Bad; Racism with Guns We Let Them Have… Unforgivable

We’ve had a slew of cop-on-black killings of late, and very few resulting in much at all in the way of police criminal convictions or even internal discipline, even when the “perpetrator” turned out to be unarmed. It’s just the way it is. A revolving door of black men, somewhere between 25% and 30% of them, convicted felons (easier to plea bargain even for the innocent these days), who can never thereafter really get the kind of jobs they need to avoid turning back to “work” that pays (often leading to recidivism and additional burdens on the state from supporting the children left behind plus the cost of incarceration). Trust me, if a fair shot of life is what you want, access to a decent education, the last place you want to grow up as an African-American is the inner city.
Hey, but all dem white folks being worried about their personal security with all dem black folks out dere wit criminal records looking to make a livin’! So dey needz dem guns! Dey needs to protect dere castle and stand dere ground, ‘cause white folks don’t get convicted too much for killin’ black folks. Now everybody be needin’ guns. Sounds disgusting and condescending, right? Racism across every word.
But guns do permeate our world, militias with white power roots are all over the place, and there are lots of sick people who feel that somehow a person of color, someone with a different sexual orientation or ethnicity, just isn’t worth the same as a traditional white person with strong Evangelical leadings. Sick people like Dylann Roof (pictured above), racist through and through (just visit his website), with unlimited access to all kinds of weapons… and the apparent malice to use these guns against deeply religious people who welcomed him to their worship service. Black people.
So let’s look at this security myth (the ‘self-defense’ cornerstone of the entire NRA philosophy), using precious statistics because the NRA has made it difficult for government agencies to collect homicide gun data. The Violence Policy Center has generated tons of raw data on the fact of guns used from crimes versus guns used for security. It’s all in their June 2015 Firearms Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use report. Here are a few excerpts from this statistically-based study:
In 2012, across the nation there were only 259 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program as detailed in its Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR).
 That same year, there were 8,342 criminal gun homicides tallied in the SHR. In 2012, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 32 criminal homicides. And this ratio, of course, does not take into account the tens of thousands of lives ended in gun suicides or unintentional shootings that year…
For the five-year period 2008 through 2012, there were only 1,108 justifiable homicides involving a gun…
In 2012 for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 32 criminal homicides. For the five-year period 2008 through 2012, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 38 criminal homicides…
In 2012, 35.5 percent (92 of 259) of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 51.4 percent (133) were strangers, and in 13.1 percent (34) the relationship was unknown. For the five-year period 2008 through 2012, 32.9 percent (364 of 1,108) of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 56.0 percent (620) were strangers, and in 11.2 percent (124) the relationship was unknown…
In 2012 there were 20,666 firearm suicide deaths and 548 fatal unintentional shootings. Source: Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WISQARS database.
Does a 32-to-1 or a 38-to-1 ratio of self-defense-to-criminal gun homicide make sense in justifying the right to gun ownership? Really? These numbers totally obliterate any “self-defense” justification for gun-ownership. Instead we get: Mass slayings, serial killers, and tons of murders.
Every time there is a mass killing, and the notion of gun control crops up, guns start selling in record numbers, such that Barack Obama may be the best “gun sales” incentivizing president in history. But why can’t we just take away guns that really have no justification being out there, allow strict licensing for the guns that remain, knowing that the Second Amendment was really just a way to arm our citizen soldiers. “It can never work,” says the NRA, that horrific lobbying group for American gun-makers.
Aussie comic Jim Jeffries (Washington Post, June 19th) puts it in a way perhaps even the most jaded gun owners among us might comprehend: “ ‘In Australia we had guns, right up until 1996. In 1996 Australia had the biggest massacre on earth. Still hasn't been beaten,’ Jeffries says. ‘Now after that they banned guns. Now in the 10 years before Port Arthur, there were 10 massacres. Since the gun ban in 1996, there hasn't been a single massacre since. I don't know how or why this happened. Maybe it was a coincidence.’”
“Jeffries explained that he understands, however, that Australia and America are different places.
I understand that Australia and America are too vastly different cultures with two vastly different people. In Australia we had the biggest massacre on earth and the Australian government went, ‘That's it, no more guns!’ And we all went, ‘Yeah, right, then, that seems fair enough.’
Now in America, you have the Sandy Hook Massacre where tiny little children died and your government went, ‘Maybe, we'll get rid of big guns.’ And 50 percent of you said, ‘[Expletive] you, don't take my guns!’
“Despite all that, Jefferies says in the stand-up routine, the real reason gun owners want guns is just because they like them. That's okay, but it doesn't mean that guns should be legal, he says. Some people like taking drugs or driving at 100 miles an hour, and can be perfectly safe and responsible while doing so, but other irresponsible people have ruined those things for them.” The Post.
Hey, we need guns to fight back those damned terrorists, right? How about the ones that grew up here with lots to hate and lots of locally available weapons:
“In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.
“But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.” New York Times, June 24th. So darn easy to get guns, almost any kind.
 The world stands mouth agape at our gun practices, even more at a political system that is so afraid of a profoundly evil lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, that simple care logic is rejected out-of-hand repeatedly. As I have said so many times before, we love our guns one heck of a lot than we do our own children… too many of whom have died with bullets in their hearts and brains.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we really should be ashamed of ourselves for our worship of the almighty gun.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Another Big Divide between People of Color and Mainstream Whites

Map of US states by life expectancy at birth (years)

On June 25th, the Supreme Court ruled on the big healthcare issue, deciding via a 6-3 opinion with a scathing dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia. “There are about 10.2 million people who had signed up and paid their premiums as of March, and 6.4 million were receiving subsidies in the 34 states that had not set up their own health insurance marketplaces.” Washington Post, June 25th.  Their fate was decided by the court.
In King vs. Burwell, the court upheld the ability of citizens in states without healthcare exchanges, virtually all red states as we shall see, to be able to access subsidized federal exchanges instead. Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. wrote the majority opinion, grappling with statutory words that could have allowed the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) to relegate access only to state exchanges and the residents in those states, excluding states that refused to go along with the ACA.
The gist of Robert’s opinion can be summarized in these words: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.” Stalwarts in the GOP vowed to fight on against the act.
All this amidst some of the worst racially-motivated violence against black Americans we have ever experienced. People of color constitute a group that stood to lose the most if the court had ruled the other way. But there is a strong ocean of anti-poor, even down and dirty racism, among those fighting so hard against what they love to call “Obamacare.”
The great battle over the ACA is as much a fight by conservative white traditionalists against minorities, particularly our black and brown citizens. There is a rather dramatic difference in the quality of healthcare and your actual health, depending on whether you live in one of those Tea Party/GOP strongholds, where opposition the Affordable Care Act is most virulent, or whether you live in a more moderate jurisdiction. And still, the ruling does not change one thing: under an earlier ruling, states maintain the prerogative of expanding Medicaid under the ACA, and the most conservative venues have simply refused to play that game. The above maps tell it all.
The analysis is very simple. I chose life expectancy as a simple metric (top map), but no matter how you look at the data, people are sicker, heavier and less healthy in states where conservative, anti-Affordable Care Act sentiments are strongest (the bottom map shows which states have refused to create healthcare exchanges under the ACA). Those conservative states that have also refused to expand their Medicaid coverage (aimed at low income citizens) – the middle map – also have their biggest healthcare issues among their poorest residents.
The greatest beneficiaries of the ACA have been those high enough in the economic spectrum to afford subsidized healthcare but otherwise not sufficiently income-deprived to qualify for Medicaid, expanded or not. A National Health Interview Survey provides the statistics to support this trend. “The survey… registered a sharp decline in the share of black Americans who were uninsured, which fell by nearly a third to 13.5 percent from 18.9 percent in 2013. That was the largest annual change for any racial or ethnic group since the survey began in 1997…
“The gains were particularly significant for poor Americans in part because a larger share of them lacked health insurance to begin with. But the poor also benefited from the subsidies, and from a vast expansion of Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor. More than 20 states refused to expand the program, and many experts said the gains would have been even larger had they done so.
“While black Americans under the age of 65 made the biggest gains, Hispanics in the same age group also benefited substantially, with the share of uninsured dropping by nearly 17 percent from 2013 to 25.2 percent. The share of whites who were uninsured fell to 9.8 percent, down from 12.1 percent in 2013.
“‘The law has had a more pronounced effect in covering African-Americans than whites,’ said Larry Levitt, a director at the Program for the Study of Health Reform and Private Insurance at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health research organization. He said part of the reason was that blacks were more likely to be poor, and the law specifically targeted poor Americans for help with coverage. ‘If all states were expanding Medicaid, you’d see an even bigger effect.’
“Many of the states that declined to expand Medicaid were those with the highest share of their populations that were uninsured. They were also home to a large proportion of the country’s poor black residents. Low- and middle-income families above the poverty level are eligible for subsidies to pay for private insurance, but those below are not, and in states that did not expand Medicaid, they were left without coverage.” New York Times, June 23rd.
So as the U.S. Supreme Court grappled with a failure in language clarity in the ACA, the undercurrents remain clear: where access to healthcare is open and available, where the ACA has received full state cooperation, vs states that oppose the ACA federal mandate, people are uniformly healthier and live longer. Strange that healthcare unkindness is strongest where Christian values are touted the most.
I’m Peter Dekom, and caring about your fellow neighbors is something that the United States could use a whole lot more of.