Donald Andrew Henson II

Archive for May, 2017|Monthly archive page

Healthcare Hypocrisy

In American Economy, American Society, Current events, The Trump Administration on May 5, 2017 at 11:44 pm
Botticelli's Canto XVIII

Botticelli’s depiction of the 8th circle of Hell – place of punishment for hypocrites

If you are a reader of this blog, and have not been off the grid for some reason, then you already know that the House GOP have finally passed a bill meant to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, aka Obamacare. While it is considered a win for Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and GOP Congressmen, it is unlikely, in its current form, to ever become law. So I’m not going to cry wolf or tell you that the sky is falling just yet, because it isn’t. In a political season of big surprises, it’s best not to make predictions; however, I would be very surprised if anything similar to this bill ever becomes the law of the land.

What I would like to address is the astounding level of hypocrisy that surrounds any discussion of healthcare in the US these days. Even as a person accustomed to Beltway doublespeak, alternative facts, and FOX News hyperbole, I often find myself speechless at the audacity of the claims politicians are willing to make about ACA, AHCA, high-risk pools, deductibles, and anything else having to do with the role and provision of healthcare in America.

Before I address a few of the major hypocrisies (for there is not time enough to address them all), I think it’s important that I share with you my own healthcare status – this site proclaims the importance governing by the most rational course, meaning that pre-conceived ideas, creeds, religion, political viewpoints, etc., should have little bearing on the nature and construct of the laws of our great nation. If I had a heart condition that made me a huge beneficiary of ACA, for example, and would cost me thousands more under AHCA – that would of course color my view of the entire discourse. To be clear, I do not.

I have never benefited from Obamacare in any way, shape, or form. I have lived abroad for 14 of the last 18 years. Many of you may not know this, but Americans working abroad for a non-US entity do not face the same mandatory healthcare requirement that other Americans do – we are NOT required to have healthcare, and there is NO tax penalty for failing to acquire it. In fact, even if I wanted to enroll in Obamacare, I would not be allowed to do so. Assuming that AHCA does not add a requirement for expatriates – and I have seen no language to suggest that it will – whatever healthcare law is in force in the US effects no change in my status whatsoever. Whether I am subject to the healthcare mandates of my current country of residence depends completely on which country I live in.

Therefore, I feel I am in a unique position to look at healthcare objectively; I have no dog in the race, at least while I live abroad. I do, however, hope to return to the US at some point – and I’d certainly like to see something fair and affordable in place there when I return.

Now – on to the loathsome hypocrisy.

Before Obamacare, healthcare hypocrisy was already very much alive. When healthcare costs began increasing exponentially in the 1990s, conservative politicians explained that there was nothing that could be done – market forces. This of course, was BS. Government often steps in to re-direct market forces, subsidizing everything from farm products to big oil – and conservative politicians often vote in favor of these moves. The GOP has said for decades that we can’t afford government-sponsored healthcare, can’t afford to give ‘free stuff’ to everyone. This again is disingenuous. There are dozens of countries poorer than the US – using a variety of measurements of wealth – that provide universal healthcare to their citizens. So, it’s not a matter of whether or not we can afford it so much as it is whether it is a priority. Those countries that do provide healthcare don’t spend money on out-sized military commitments, corporate subsidies, or corporate bailouts. Most of them also have much more progressive individual tax rates – the citizenry of those countries have agreed that the general welfare of the nation is more important than producing or enriching a few more billionaires.

This is the classic conservative hypocritical argument, and it’s used for education, healthcare, climate change – anything that provides no benefit to the super-rich. First, say there’s not a problem. When that becomes untenable, say there’s a problem, but there’s really nothing that can be done about it. When sound solutions are offered, showing that something can indeed be done, claim that it would be wildly expensive, lower salaries, slow job growth – whatever. Finally, if necessary, proclaim that it’s too late, that it’s the new normal, the new status quo – grow up and stop being a snowflake. Repeat ad nauseum on FOX News and other conservative outlets.

Unfortunately, the Demos fought hypocrisy with hypocrisy when they finally got their chance to make what they felt were positive changes to healthcare. (And I do believe, unlike the alt-right, that progressives and liberals are trying to make peoples’ lives better. Agree or disagree with how they go about it, to say the end goal is more government control of our lives is just detached from reality. Do you really think Michelle Obama wants to grab the family-sized bag of Doritos out of your hands and replace it with a kale salad? Your own wife can’t be bothered.) Nancy Pelosi told us we’d have to approve it before we could see it. Barack Obama swore we’d be able to keep the doctors and coverage we had if that’s what we liked. We were told ACA would drive costs down. These were all lies – and if the politicians who told them knew they weren’t true, then they truly belong in the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy – illustrated above.

Yet, the GOP weren’t content to sit on the hypocrisy sidelines from 2008 to 2010. There was talk of ACA bankrupting us, crashing the economy (quite ironic actually), of national debts that would leave us a lackey to the Chinese. There were ‘death panel’ scares, cries of socialism. All of this was hyperbole at best, hypocrisy at worst. The truth is that the entire, top estimate for Obamacare, for a decade, is lower than the bottom estimate for the 2008 bailout.

Let that sink in for a moment. The estimates for the 2008 Wall Street bailout range from 1.7 trillion USD to in excess of 29 trillion USD. A one-time bailout. The total cost of Obamacare – for a decade – ranges from a low of actually saving 143 billion USD, through the Obama administration estimate of costing 940 billion, to a CBO cost estimate of 1.7 trillion.

Do you think your average FOX News-watching, Trump-voting American knows that the highest estimate we have for a decade of ACA healthcare coverage is equal to the lowest estimated cost of the bailout? Which would you choose – giving Wall Street a 2 trillion dollar, one-time Christmas present? Or spending the same amount for a decade of healthcare for everyone?

March 21-23, 2010 was the beginning of the GOP’s 7-year-long healthcare hypocrisy extravaganza – the astounding orgy of partisan posturing, fear-mongering, grand-standing, and outright misrepresentation of the facts that have occurred since ACA was passed is unparalleled in our legislative history. The final reconciliation bill cleared the House on March 21, and then-President Obama signed it into law on March 23. The first GOP push to repeal was March 22. GOP Republicans voted more than 60 times to shut down Obamacare – pure political posturing, as they knew they’d never get the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. At least one smug, equivocating GOP face has appeared on FOX News to spread healthcare misinformation every single day for the past decade.

What is it that Republicans don’t like about it? Well, of course the rich don’t like paying extra taxes to fund it – big surprise. But why do lower and middle class Americans dislike it? Is it the fact that people with existing conditions can get insurance? That poor people are subsidized? The under-25s can stay on their parents’ insurance? No – these are aspects of the plan that a majority of all Americans clearly support.

It seems that the individual mandate bothers the libertarian wing (and I have a few problems with that as well), but for the vast majority of Republicans, what they hate most about Obamacare is – Obama.

Jerry Seinfeld once joked about how we go to a baseball game and cheer for a uniform. We don’t cheer for the individuals on the team, or cheer because our guys are better than the other guys – we cheer for the uniform. If Jose Conseco is wearing a Yankees uniform, I cheer him, because I’m a Yankees fan. If he’s wearing an Oakland uniform, I boo – I hate the A’s. This is a perfect description of American politics today – as it applies to us plebes, at least – the rich always support lower taxes and de-regulation, even if the Clintons are wearing the uniform.

If you are for the current House legislation simply because it’s a win for your team, a loss for the Demos, a slap in the face for Obama – welcome to the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy.

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Theocrats: Forgotten But Not Gone

In American Society, Religion and Government, Secular Humanism on May 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

This week marks five years since I first started this blog. I had lived abroad for over a decade, and returning home to the US, it seemed there were an alarming number of people on television or standing behind pulpits preaching that the cure for all of our ills as a country was more ‘God in government’. This blog was meant to be a way of refuting that argument, looking at religion, American Christianity in particular, from the secular point of view in which the American Constitution was written.

Furthermore, it seemed that many of the things the Religious Right were advocating didn’t necessarily line up with a close reading of the New Testament itself. So, my aim was two-fold: one, writing in defense of a secular government in which all religions have freedom and protection, and two, highlighting the many inconsistencies between this religious political agenda and the ideas put forward by the early Christian writers themselves.

It seemed at the time that turning the US into a ‘Christian Nation’ instead of a secular one (which is what our Constitution calls for) was one of the greatest threats to American democracy as we know it. As I continued to research and write, I decided that the abuses of our economic system, particularly the ascendancy of corporate control of government, poses an equal threat.

And then, along came Donald Trump. Placing such a uniquely unqualified person into the highest office in the land – maybe the  world – suddenly made the theocrats seem a lot less scary by comparison. Will he blunder us into WWIII? Give rise to a new American Fascism? Or simply continue the GOP trend of playing Reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor to give to the rich?

But while we may have temporarily forgotten the theocrats, they are still out there, and their faux-theology still lies at the root of some of the worst ideas bandied about in American political discourse.

One recurring worst idea is the old ‘he who does not work shall not eat’ red herring. Whenever there’s a discussion of money spent on the poor, whether it be welfare, food stamps, healthcare, etc., GOP politicians suddenly become amateur theologians, justifying cuts to such programs by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Representative Jodey Arrington (R-Texas, of course) is the latest to drop that piece of ‘wisdom’ into the debate.

Jodey Arrington

Rep. Jodey Arrington

He’s not the first; back in 2013 GOP lawmakers voted to separate funding for the SNAP program from the Farm Bill (first time since 1973) so that 40 billion US dollars could be cut from giving food to the poor, without having to make proportionate cuts to farm subsidies. As you might expect, none of those lawmakers were receiving food stamps, but thirteen of them were personally receiving millions in farm subsidies. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tennessee), on the receiving end of over 3 million dollars in subsidies over the years, quoted the Thessalonian axiom back then.

So, OK you might say, aside from the hypocrisy of some of the people saying it, isn’t it still a pretty good idea? Shouldn’t people contribute something to society instead of just taking government handouts? What makes it a ‘worst idea’?

Let me start with the red herring part. This ‘don’t work-don’t eat’ argument is meant to give you the impression that tens of thousands of con-artists are out there milking the system, and that handouts discourage people who can work from doing so. But that just simply isn’t true. Since 1996, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) have a very limited time-frame in which they can receive any kind of government assistance – for most states, 90 days in any given 3-year period. Yes, states can extend that time by granting waivers for job training, homelessness, etc. – and many did during the darkest days of the last financial crisis. But truth is, 42 states already have a work requirement for government assistance, and more people receiving food stamps today are working than at any time in the program’s history. In fact, SNAP may be the only thing keeping the working poor from becoming the unable-to-work poor.

So, like Reagan’s Welfare Queen, abuse of the system – either minuscule in scale or mostly imaginary – is used to justify wholesale cuts to what little safety net the poor may still have access to. It’s the most vulnerable in society that really end up taking it on the chin – children, the homeless, veterans, the aged. What’s the real agenda? I would guess freeing up money for more corporate handouts – like the nearly 10 million Fincher’s company has received -and more tax cuts for the rich. Forcing mothers with children and old people to work at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s for the sub-subsistence wages they are willing to pay – I guess that’s just a bonus.

As for why it’s a bad idea – well there are a number of reasons, starting with government officials using any scripture from any religion to support the writing of any secular law. Would you be happy if a congressman referred to the Koran or sharia law when debating on the House floor? I’m thinking you would not. I’m thinking that person would face death threats – probably from the same kind of Christian who would support 2 Thessalonians being written into statute. The laws of our government should not emanate from any religious document – the Bible and the Constitution are not complementary writings.

Even if we wanted to base laws on the New Testament, would we be looking to guys like Arrington, a career government employee, and Fincher, a cotton farmer, to explain to us exactly what the scripture is saying? Who appointed politicians to be the grand poobahs of deciding exactly how the Bible should be interpreted and then written into law? Even as reprehensible as some of the late Jerry Falwell’s religious and political views were, he at least had fake divinity degrees to back them up. From where do these amateur theologians derive their certainty?

But even now, as the GOP concocts a plan to ‘fix’ the Affordable Care Act, this kind of thinking is seeping into the argument about healthcare. Just a week or so ago, Arrington was doubling down on his ‘don’t work-don’t eat’ argument, and somehow using that as a justification for a work requirement for receiving health insurance as well! How can Thessalonians be used to justify a work requirement for healthcare? This is the problem with sloppy, hazy thinking – it leads to lots of conclusions for which there is no evidence whatsoever. This is also, incidentally, one of the main drawbacks of mixing religion and government.

As a nation, we really need to start relying on facts to guide us into the coming decades – not alternative facts, not worn out religious creeds. We need to be preparing for a time in the not so distant future when perhaps half of us won’t be able to have jobs. Moralizing about who ‘deserves’ to eat, who receives healthcare and who doesn’t – this is not the job of government.

I, for one, need no priest nor politician deciding what God thinks is best for my country.