Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

Personal Responsibility

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Matt 25:31-40

For Christians, I don’t know how the message could be any clearer.  This is about salvation.  In my reading, those that provide for the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the sick, and those in prison will be welcomed into heaven.

It is also instructive that Jesus directed this advice specifically at those he called “the righteous”.  These are the people who aspire to perfection, go to church, and keep the commandments.

During Jesus time, many pious Jews thought that bad things happened to bad people.  So they felt no compassion for those that Jesus described.  Instead most blamed the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, and those in prison for their plight.  The self-righteous Jews figured that these people were being punished by God for something.  And clearly who are they to question God.

Jesus was very clear in what he said.  He didn’t qualify those in need in any way.  Instead he said that their NEED is the only relevant qualification.  It doesn’t matter why someone was hungry or sick or homeless or in jail.  Our response is all that is important.  That response will determine how we are judged in the afterlife.

We find ourselves in a very similar situation today when we attempt to have a conversation about race, poverty, and crime.

First a few facts.

According to the Census Bureau, fully 38% of African-American children under 18 now live in poverty.

67% of African-American children live in single parent households, and nearly all of those doing the actual parenting are women.  The courts, according to HHS, have awarded child support to 45% of these African-American mothers, but less than half actually get any money.   Doing the math, that means that 80% of those custodial mothers get no funds from the fathers of those children.  About half of white women actually receive the support the courts have awarded.

This raises the obvious question of where the African-American men are.

A million of them are in prison.  That’s 43% of our prison population even though they represent only 13% of the population.  One out six African American men have at some time been incarcerated.  Even that is a decrease from the past decade.

Maybe because they commit more crimes?

Not exactly.

African-American defendants are more likely to be given jail or prison time for the same or similar offenses for which white folks are given probation. African-American men also receive longer sentences than white men sentenced for the same or similar offenses.

This is, in part, the sorry legacy of our failed war on drugs.  In the 80’s, “ghetto” drugs like crack cocaine carried penalties up to 100 times more severe than a similar offense for a similar amount of the “yuppie” powder version of cocaine.  When these drug laws were originally passed in 1986, the thought was that crack was more potent and addictive.  Studies have since disproven that claim.  The U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled the sentencing disparities unconstitutional.

On the employment front, only 52% of African-American students graduate from high school and the rate for African-American boys is even worse according to the Department of Education. The economic consequences of that lack of formal education are well known – lousy jobs with lousier pay and a downward economic spiral from which there is no escape.  The economic consequences of an arrest record are also severe.  70% of employers run criminal background checks and 50% won’t hire those with a criminal record.

New research also suggests that children raised in poverty actually suffer physician damage to their brains which impair their cognitive abilities as adults.  Testing has already discovered that rich kids perform better than poor kids at a number of standardized cognitive tests.  Researchers have now discovered at least one cause.  During the first couple of years of life, our brains “wire” themselves based in part on the stimulation that we receive from our environment.  Stressful environments inhibit the full development of this wiring.  Even the tone, language, and vocabulary that a young child experiences during the first weeks and months of life can have a profound effect on later academic success.

It’s a statistical avalanche of negativity – grinding poverty, early developmental deficits, poor educational opportunities, failing schools, few jobs, and way too much interaction with the criminal justice system.

We cannot and should not ignore that some of this is self-inflicted even while we acknowledge the historical and socio-economic hurdles faced by African-Americans. Whether or not you respect the women trying to raise you and the young women around you, or if you stay in school, or take responsibility for your own children are all choices that can be made regardless of external pressures.

But it most certainly is not all self-inflicted.

There has to be some other reason why, for example, if a white man and African-American man with the same educational credentials apply for the same job the white man is twice as likely to get the job. Or why, when both African-American and white little girls were given a choice between a white doll or one of color, even the African-American girls preferred the white doll. Or why we still have such a profound ignorance of Africa and African-American history.

There also has to be a reason why race and poverty have become so politicized.  Why African American voters, for example, voted in higher rates than whites in the last two elections.  One opinion is encapsulated in a Romney quote that became a pivotal moment in the 2012 election.

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Romney was correct in suggesting that 47% of those who file income tax forms pay no net income tax, though that doesn’t mean that they aren’t tax payers.  Two thirds of those paying no income tax did pay payroll taxes (FICA and Medicaid) and virtually everyone pays some state and local taxes/fees.   He was also wrong in suggesting that this cohort votes primarily democratic.  55% of the “47%” are elderly.  They voted 56% to 44% for Romney.  Roughly 60% of the “47%” had incomes above $50,000 a year.  They supported Romney 52% to 46% and those with incomes above $90K supported Romney 54% to 44%. 

So what segments are left that voted for the president no matter what?

The voter segment that gave Obama the largest margin of victory was African Americans (93% – 6%).

Even though Obama won two elections, this open issue has not been resolved.  It remains the most difficult one that I think our democracy faces.  One only need look at the range of responses to the Treyvon Martin killing to understand the depth of the division.

What do we do as a country to deal with the stark realities of institutional poverty, crime, and violence in the African American community?

One choice is to blame African Americans for their condition.

This view was summarized by Ted Nugent in his comment about problems of crime and violence in the African American community.  He said African Americans could “fix the black problem tonight,” if they would put their “heart and soul into being honest, law-abiding, [and] delivering excellence at every move in your life.”

And

“racism against blacks was gone by the time I started touring the nation in the late [19]60s” and by the 1970s, “nothing of consequence existed to deter or compromise a black American’s dream if they got an alarm clock, if they set it, if they took good care of themselves, they remained clean and sober, if they spoke clearly, and they demanded excellence of themselves and provided excellence to their employers.”

There is great risk, at least for Christians, in this choice as Jesus explained.

The other choice is to follow Jesus recommendations.  Feed the hungry.  Help the stranger.  Clothe and shelter the homeless.  Heal the sick. Care for those that are in prison.

That’s not to say that these aren’t complex issues.  They are.

This is also not to say that all people need to develop individual responsibility.  They do.

But Jesus said clearly that the individual responsibility He is concerned about is that of the righteous.  THAT responsibility is to care for the less fortunate regardless of how they got there.

Jesus never said this would be easy.  But he did promise that the reward for those willing to take on this task would be great.

He provided every righteous Christian a choice.

Just like any other issue of personal responsibility, how you respond is up to you.

Clown Politics

Monday, August 12th, 2013

This past weekend, a rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair wore a mask to mock President Obama.  Apparently the performance went well over the line between the sort of slapstick humor typical of rodeo clowns and mean spirited racism.

 

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Here’s a description from one of the members of the audience.

“It was the usual until the very end at bull riding,” he said. “As they were bringing the bulls into the chute and prepping them … they bring out what looks like a dummy. The announcer says ‘Here’s our Obama dummy, or our dummy of Obama.

“They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times. It was sickening,” Beam said. “It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you’d see on TV.”

Unfortunately, this Missouri rodeo clown is part of a vocal minority who feel that the man who has won two national elections fair and square somehow doesn’t deserve the office that he occupies.

This is driven by an unprecedented assault on both the man and the office by the Republican Party.

Paul Ryan recently responded to Obama’s latest proposal for a corporate tax cut.  Obama was offering to work with Congress to overhaul business taxes in exchange for a guarantee that the revenue gains be used create new jobs through spending on roads and infrastructure.

“The president claims his economic agenda is for the middle class. But it’s actually for the well-connected…There’s no doubt that it works well for them. But for the rest of us, it’s not working at all.”

Ryan further protested that Obama is “interested in tax reform for corporations — but not for families or small business.” He also accused Obama of implementing health care and regulatory policies that favor big businesses and big banks.

Paul Ryan struck a different tone during the 2012 Presidential campaign.  He accused Obama of “sowing social unrest and class resentment,” of supporting “a government-run economy” and of “denigrating people who are successful.” He has charged the president with leading the nation toward “a cradle-to-grave, European-style social welfare state.”

So which is it?  Is Obama a class-baiting socialist or a corporate sellout?

Boehner, asked at a news conference about Obama’s series of speeches on the economy, replied: “If I had poll numbers as low as his, I’d probably be out doing the same thing if I were him.” Obama’s job-approval rating is 46 percent. Boehner’s is half that.

Mitt Romney called Obama a “weak president,” and Newt Gingrich, during the 2012 campaign, called Obama “so weak that he makes Jimmy Carter look strong.”

Yet in January Boehner said that Obama planned to annihilate the Republican party, ““[G]iven what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me and should be clear to all of you that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me tell you, I do believe that is their goal. To just shove us in the dustbin of history.”

Rep. Issa said Obama is guilty of “imperial behavior” and “abuse of power.” Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, asserts Obama is “someone who wants to act like a king or a monarch.” And Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Texas, says Obama is “a tyrannical despot.”

So which is it?  Is Obama a weakling or a tyrant?

During the intervention in Libya, Gingrich demanded in early March 2011 that the United States should “exercise a no-fly zone this evening.” Two weeks later, after Obama took the action that would bring down Moammar Gaddafi, Gingrich said, “I would not have intervened.”

After the Benghazi attacks, Republicans lined up to criticize the President for not having enough security at the embassy in Benghazi and ignoring the mounting tensions Ambassador Stevens was documenting.

Fast forward to this month when the administration closed embassies across the Middle East in response to an intercepted al Qaeda communication.  “Terrorism works — because we’re closing all of our embassies and consulates on one day,” said Rep. Ted Poe, the chairman of the House’s terrorism and nonproliferation panel.  “Our embassies cannot operate with a bunker mentality in foreign countries,” he said. “Our embassies are there to interact with the people of that country. I hope we don’t get into this bunker mentality mode.”

So which is it? Is Obama a tone deaf risk taker or a terrified bunker dweller?

I could continue for quite a while, but the picture is clear.

The only consistent message coming from Republicans is that Obama is always wrong.  He is wrong if he acts.  He is wrong if he doesn’t act.  His ideas are always wrong even when he borrows them from Republicans (Obamacare, corporate tax cuts, and no fly zones).

Republicans may feel that tearing down the President is an effective strategy to get them back into the White House.  The problem is that if they demonstrate that this is an effective strategy, it will be used on them too.  And if they do ever return to the White House, they may not recognize the smoldering ruin they had to create to get there.

Big Lies from Ted Cruz

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Ted Cruz is the new tea party backed Senator from Texas.  He is a lawyer with a strict constructionist view.  Unfortunately, he appears to less strict about telling the truth.

He recently released a white paper entitled, “The Legal Limit: The Obama Administration’s Attempts to Expand Federal Power”

From the intro to that document.

The Obama Administration, through its Department of Justice, has repeatedly advocated a radical theory of sweeping federal power.  The Administration’s view of federal power is so extreme that, since January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously rejected DOJ’s arguments for more federal power six times.

Notably, four Justices who were nominated by Democratic presidents denied the Obama Administration’s overreaches— President Obama picked two of them himself. As Ilya Shapiro noted in The Wall Street Journal on June 5, 2012, “When the administration can’t get even a single one of the liberal justices to agree with it in these unrelated areas of law, that’s a sign there’s something wrong its constitutional vision.”

You’d think that if the Supreme Court has been regularly rejecting the Obama administration over the past six months that it would be front page news.  When you search this particular release, however,  the only “news” sites that are reporting on this white paper are the same sources that questioned Obama’s birth, claimed he is a socialist, and suggest that Obama and UN have a plan to take over the country.

We’ll get into the why at the end, but let’s look at the how.

The quote that he provided from a year old Wall Street Journal article tends to lend credence to his assertion that the administration through the Department of Justice is engaged in a reckless power grab that even his own supreme court appointees oppose.

It turns out that this wasn’t a news article.  It was an opinion piece written by the head of the libertarian Cato Institute in the days leading up to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.  That article referenced only three of the six cases that the Cruz listed.  It also covered other cases which were subsequently decided in the governments favor (Obamacare, voter ID, and immigration) as further evidence of potential government over reach.

Media Matters responded the WSJ op-ed next day (6/8/2012).

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro uses three recent unanimous Supreme Court decisions to attack the Obama Administration for “increasingly extreme claims on behalf of unlimited federal power.” There’s just one problem with this analysis: in each case, the Obama administration was defending government actions that took place during the Bush administration. The Solicitor General, who is the government’s top lawyer, has, in almost all cases, an obligation to defend government actions and federal laws, including those actions undertaken by previous administrations. That is what the Obama administration was doing in the three cases Shapiro highlights. But if Shapiro noted that fact, it would undermine his narrative about the administration’s supposed “constitutional vision.”

Here are the details on the cases cited in the WSJ opinion piece and replicated in the Cruz white paper.

  1. United States v. Jones – Unanimous decision saying that a GPS device does constitute a search, but did not rule on whether it was a violation of the 4th Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches.  Instead the court issued a very narrow 5-4 decision that the FBI action of planting a GPS device on a car represents government  trespass on private property which violates an individuals “reasonable expectation of privacy”. The original incident with the FBI happened in 2004 during an investigation launched by the Bush administration.
  2. Sackett v. EPA the court ruled that the EPA has to provide an appeals process for rulings under the Clean Water Act.  The Sackett’s complained when the Bush administration issued an order to stop building a house and filling in wetlands that were covered under the Clean Water act.  The Clean Water act was originally signed by Richard Nixon in 1972.
  3. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC was the case where a teacher at a private religious school fell ill and was fired when she returned.  The court ruled that that because she also taught some religion classes, she could be considered a minister and upheld the firing.  The illegal firing action was filed by the EEOC during the Bush administration.

Here are details about the other three examples of Supreme Court rejection that Cruz cited.

  1. Arizona v. United States – The court UPHELD the federal government’s authority to regulate and enforce immigration laws.   The ruling effectively gutted the Arizona immigration law.  Obama appointee Elena Kagan recused herself because of her involvement in this case while Solicitor General.  The court did uphold one provision of the Arizona immigration law which allows Arizona state police to investigate the immigration status of individuals detained for other reasons, but with the warning that if there was evidence that this was used in a discriminatory way, the courts would strike this provision down too.
  2. Gabelli v. SEC – The court ruled that when the government is bringing civil actions the statute of limitations clock starts when the illegal behavior begins rather than when it ends.  In this case the action did not begin decades ago, as Senator Cruz claimed.  The fraud began in 1999 and ended in 2002.
  3. Arkansas Fish & Game Commission v. United States – this case held that government induced flooding between 1993 and 2000 by the Corp of Engineers constituted “taking” property.  The Corp was responding to requests by Arkansas farmers for more irrigation water.  That water flooded state timber land during growing season and Arkansas sued for compensation.  Bill Clinton was President.

Now let’s compare these facts to the statements made in the Cruz white paper.

  1. United States v. Jones  – “The Supreme Court unanimously overruled DOJ’s Orwellian position— all nine Justices agreed that a search occurs when police attach a GPS to a car and monitor its movements. “  What he doesn’t say is that this “Orwellian position” was authorized by the Bush administration FBI.  The Obama DOJ was simply required to defend it.  What he also doesn’t say is that while the justices agreed that this was a search, the court DID NOT decide that it was an ILLEGAL search.  They could only muster a narrow 5-4 decision that it was a trespass.  Clearly NOT the resounding repudiation Cruz claimed.
  1. Sackett v. EPA – “If DOJ had won its case, the EPA would be able to extort settlements from Americans who don’t have the ability to challenge these orders while they face fines of up to $75,000 per day.Thankfully, the Court stopped DOJ in its tracks.”  What he didn’t say is that this overturned a process that has been in place for 40 years and that this particular action against the Sackett’s was taken by the Bush administration not the Obama administration.  The Obama DOJ was simply in the position of defending EPA which it is obligated to do.  What he also didn’t say is that the court DID NOT rule on the property rights of the Sackett’s.  They simply said that the EPA had to provide the Sackett’s the opportunity to appeal the original EPA ruling and remanded the case back to the EPA for an appeal hearing.
  2. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC – Cruz claimed this case rejected the Obama administrations attempts to “Interfere with a church’s selection of its own ministers.”  What he didn’t say is that this was not brought by the Obama administration.  It was brought by the Bush administration.  He also misrepresented the court’s decision.  It was NOT about how churches select their ministers.  It was about who can be CONSIDERED a minister under the law.  The court decided that the term “minister” includes any teacher at a religious school who teaches a religion class.
  3. Arizona v. United States – In the body of his document Cruz says, “Even though the Court did hold that federal law preempted three out of four of Arizona’s immigration laws at issue in the case, no Justice accepted DOJ’s theory that mere federal enforcement priorities — as opposed to federal statutes passed by Congress or regulations enacted by federal agencies after public participation — trumped state law”  The summary, however, only says, “Override state law whenever the President desires.”  This is just more evidence of Cruz’s hyperbole.  The court decision was simple and direct.  The federal government has the responsibility to enforce the borders and in this particular area federal law supersedes state law.  The court did disagree with some of the arguments that the DOJ made, but the agreed with the others on which they based their decision.   This was widely recognized as a victory for the Obama administration, not the defeat that Cruz characterized.
  4. Gabelli v. SEC – Cruz said that court denied the DOJ the right to, “Dramatically extend statutes of limitations to impose penalties for acts committed decades ago.”  This is simply not true.  The statute of limitations for the government to take civil action regarding a financial fraud that Gabelli committed beginning in 1999 and ending in 2002 expired in 2004 before the government could take action.  They were trying to build a case that they could use a different clock which would have allowed the statute of limitations to be calculated from the end of the offense (2002) rather than the beginning (1999).  If the DOJ had prevailed, it would have allowed the case to move forward.  How you get from here to “impose penalties for acts committed decades ago”, I can’t figure out.
  5. Arkansas Fish & Game Commission v. United States – Cruz said that court prevented the administration from gaining the right to, “Destroy private property without paying just compensation.”  The truth is that this happened under the Clinton administration.  It was a case of greater good.  The Army Corp of Engineers decided that providing Arkansas farmers more water to raise their crops was a great good than the known damage the controlled floods caused to timber farms owned by the state of Arkansas.  The ONLY thing the court decided was that the “takings” statue of the Fifth Amendment did not exempt the federal government when it came to controlled floods.  The court remanded the case to lower courts to decide whether the federal government is actually liable for damage caused by flood control programs and if so that the extent of that damage is.

Hopefully if you’ve made this far down in to this article, you have already discovered why no legit news source even covered this Ted Cruz white paper.

That leaves the question of why a U.S. Senator would so badly warp the truth?

Zombie Politics

Ted Cruz is a rising star in the Republican Party BECAUSE of his Tea Party views.

He believes that government is the great evil and the Obama administration in particular is the worst example of big government.

This was one of the major Romney campaign positions.  Remember “gutting welfare reform”, “send auto jobs to China”, “you didn’t build that”, “dependency”, “amnesty”, “government takeovers”, and “job-killing” attacks directed at the Obama administration during the last election?  This is the same stuff.

Fortunately fair minded voters rejected these arguments and rewarded Obama with a second term.

That doesn’t deter ambitious politicians like Ted Cruz from continuing to practice Big Lie politics.  It doesn’t matter that the Obama administration had significant Supreme Court wins on Obamacare, immigration, and voting rights.

It doesn’t matter that the current proposed Republican budget includes those same “job killing” taxes Republicans campaigned against.

Cruz is going to continue to twist the facts to support his particular point of view.

That’s what conservatives do.

Fatherless

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

There is a fierce political messaging war going on right now because of the looming sequester cuts.  It ultimately raises the question of how the President should behave when faced with a partner who refuses to compromise.

Let’s work through the various positions of each of the players.

The sequester was put in place by both parties to force a compromise.

The Democrats, contrary to Republican messaging, HAVE put forward several alternatives.  They all involve some degree of tax increase in addition to spending cuts.  Republicans have said that they will not accept any proposals which include tax increases.  The Republican did pass an alternative spending proposal in the House last year that shifted the spending burden from defense to domestic discretionary spending.  Neither the Senate nor the House has passed any bills in the new Congress to provide alternatives to sequestration.

The summary is that Republicans have said that they are unwilling to discuss any of the Democratic proposals.  The only available “compromise” appears to be one where Democrats make 100% of the concessions.

How is this being portrayed in the press and across the pundit spectrum?

  1. Some pretend that Democrats haven’t proposed any alternatives.  That’s clearly not true.
  2. Some now admit that Democrats have proposed alternatives, but claim that those alternatives haven’t gone far enough toward some middle ground.  As a result both sides are to blame for the impasse.   The problem with this claim is that there is NO MIDDLE GROUND.  Republicans have said that the only solutions they are willing to accept are some form of their own proposals.
  3. A few now admit that Republicans are unwilling to compromise, but assert that it is the President’s responsibility to either force them to change their position or “lead” them to some other magic place where a deal came be made.

An example of this third philosophy is the most recent column from David Brooks.  This column was a “make good” for a previous column where he blamed everyone for the problem.  In this new column he admits that Republicans are unwilling to compromise and then lays out his wishful strategy for President Obama.

My dream Obama wouldn’t be just one gladiator in the zero-sum budget wars. He’d transform the sequester fight by changing the categories that undergird it. He’d possess the primary ingredient of political greatness: imagination. The great presidents, like Teddy Roosevelt, see situations differently. They ask different questions. History pivots around their terms.

I share David Brooks desire to see a resolution, but ultimately this, like many wishes, is fantasy.

The only leverage that the President has in this situation is public opinion and he has been widely criticized by Republicans for his “campaigning” on this topic.

The Brooks’ position really begs the fundamental question because it assumes that there is some magic phrase or spell that will cause Republicans to look at this problem from a different perspective.  Greg Sargent of the Wash Post summarized it best.

What if there is nothing whatsoever that can be done by the president or anyone else to break the GOP out of its no-compromising stance?  This isn’t an unreasonable reading of the situation; it’s what Republicans themselves have confirmed, publicly and on the record — they will not concede a penny in new revenues, no matter what. And if this is the case — if the fundamental problem is that Republicans really do prefer the sequester to any compromise — isn’t it incumbent on commentators to explain this clearly and forthrightly to their readers?

The characterization of the President is that he is supposed to become the adult in this situation.  He is somehow supposed to discipline his problem children and make them behave.  As all parents know, however, sometimes the only way to teach responsibility is to make sure those who act badly are held fully accountable for the repercussions of their actions.  Their crashed car does not get fixed.  They are not able to re-join the team until their grades improve.  They have to repay the damage they have done out of their own pocket and will spend all their free time volunteering at the soup kitchen until the bill is repaid.

Those in the press who continue to cling to the presumption of balance in their attempts to represent both sides are to some degree CONTRIBUTING to the problem.  They have become accustomed to rational responsible Democrats jumping in at the last minute to resolve the latest crisis created by Republicans.  When they don’t see that opportunity developing in this crisis, they criticize the President for his failure to “exercise leadership” and in effect pay the “ransom”.

The Press had no problem labeling the recent Alabama survivalist kidnapper as crazy.  Why are they reluctant to use the same label for Republicans who are demanding the sequester take effect?

The sequester cuts are real.  People are going to lose their jobs.  Businesses, communities, and our economy will suffer NEEDLESSLY.  Anyone who helps deflect blame from Republicans — in the full knowledge that they are the primary obstacle to the compromise we need to prevent serious damage from being done to the country — is unwittingly helping to enable their intransigence.

Moral Intuitionism

Friday, February 8th, 2013

This is a psychology theory that has been promoted by John Haidt from the University of Virginia.  What it says is that, at least for some of us, our opinions are more heavily influenced by our emotions than our reason.  What it means is that when confronted by facts that may call one of our core beliefs into question, our immediate reaction is to question the fact rather than question the belief.

A new study by some UC Irvine psychologists measured how this particular behavior manifested itself across the political spectrum.

They did this by selecting four politically divisive issues.  The first two, the death penalty and waterboarding, are generally regarded by liberals as morally unacceptable regardless of the potential benefit to society.  The other two, sex education (specifically how to use condoms) and embryonic stem cell research elicit the same response from conservatives.

1500 randomly selected subjects were asked first about their moral beliefs regarding these issues.  For example, is the death penalty morally wrong even if it can be proved that it reduces crime? Or, is stem cell research morally wrong even if it can cure diseases like Parkinson’s?  Then they were asked factual questions like does capital punish reduce crime, or do condoms prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease.

What the researchers found is that everyone tended to discount the social benefits of the practices they found morally objectionable.   Some, however, were much more susceptible to this behavior than others.  There were three risk factors which determined the DEGREE to which individuals were willing to contort the facts to fit their beliefs.

The first risk factor is the strength of your sense of morality about the subject.  The second is how much you know about the subject.  In this case the MORE you know, the more you are likely to distort the facts.  The third is how politically conservative you are.

Yup, that’s right.

Conservatives tilted their views of the facts to favor their moral convictions more than liberals did on every single issue.   Even those issues that were hot buttons for LIBERALS were still shaded more strongly by conservatives than liberals.

Why?

For that answer and we get another phrase – cognitive closure.  That is the need for certainty in your life and the degree to which uncertainty causes discomfort.  The UC Irvine researchers discovered the conservatives scored much higher in the scale for the need for cognitive closure than liberals.  Rather than accept that the world is often ambiguous, conservatives are most comfortable with the concept that their moral systems and the facts about the world are in perfect alignment.  Liberals, on the other hand are much more willing to accept ambiguity both in their beliefs and the data.  They may, for example, still hold tight to the belief that stem cell research is morally acceptable, but are also willing to admit that facts don’t yet confirm that stem cell treatment consistently delivers improved clinical outcomes.

The net result is something called ideological asymmetry.  This is the idea that one side of the political spectrum, more than the other, shows a form of biased or motivated assessment of facts.  There is a lot of debate about this, but the results of this most recent study suggest strongly that ideological asymmetry DOES exist.

This whole area of study raises an interesting question.

If it’s true, those conservatives reading this article are likely to discount it because it challenges their core beliefs.  Liberals on the other hand are going to just nod their head and agree that this explains a lot of their personal interactions with conservatives.

In the next post, let’s examine how that affects some of the issues we are currently debating.

Open Letter to Obama Critics

Monday, December 17th, 2012

This is an open letter to all those who have criticized President Obama’s visit to Newtown, CT.

Some characterized it as a publicity stunt. Some suggested that it was evidence that he was a poor leader shirking his Washington DC duties. Some felt it was hypocritical to express such sorrow over the deaths of these innocents while supporting things like abortion or drone strikes. Some have even suggested that this is part of a larger government conspiracy to take away our guns and leave us vulnerable to invasion by the UN.

If you have entertained or expressed any of these opinions, this is not day for them. Pick another day in another week. But not this day, not this week.

Are you REALLY that cynical and heartless? Have you become so twisted by your hatred of this one man that you are blind to the purpose of his visit?

It isn’t always about you and your issues, and it isn’t always about politics.

This was a NATIONAL tragedy. It tore at the fabric of our society by suggesting that we can’t protect those that we cherish most, those that are most vulnerable.

President Obama was there carrying out his highest duty, which is representing us.

He carried our collective sorrow with him to CT. He was there to represent the empathy that we all feel for those who are grieving. He was there to offer help to those that survived, but now have to learn to live with loss. He was there to give voice to the questions we all have about what can be done to bring an end to these massacres.

This event demands more than a few days of headlines and news reports. It requires more than a moment of silence. In fact silence on the underlying issues of violence and mental illness and easy access to weapons designed to quickly kill large numbers of people lulled all of us into a false sense of security.

He was there to promise that we aren’t going to let this incident fade from our memory as so many others have. He was there to express our collective outrage that this is enough. We are better than this. We are more responsible than this. We are not going to allow our country to deteriorate into armed enclaves and raise a generation of kids who are afraid to set foot outside their door. We have to have a higher concept of freedom than the mutually assured destruction of the wild west or the false security of a police state.

Yet for you, this was just another opportunity to express some petty partisan political snipe.

Shame on you!

 

 

Shady All the Time

Friday, September 14th, 2012

I had the good fortune to count the late Steve Goodman among my circle of friends. Part of the lyric of his song “Looking for Trouble” fits this particular post.

The first time you shade the truth
You want to run and hide
Your tongue gets tied
Your throat gets dry
And you start thinkin’ that maybe no one knows you lied
And now you’re shady all the time

Truth has taken a beating in this election. What’s worse, there are many who suggest that this should not only be expected, but it is the new normal. Candidates are providing voters exactly what they have asked for.

One of the telling admissions of this political cycle that supports this view came from Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse. In response to criticism that a series of deceitful Romney ads about welfare received, Newhouse said, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

This raises the basic question of how important facts are in a political campaign.

One opinion is echoed by Jack Shafer of Reuters who wrote , “I suppose fact-checking would matter more to voters if they expected honesty from their politicians, but most don’t. … Voters crave rhetoric that stirs their unfact-checked hearts. As long as the deception is honest, pointing in the direction they want to go, they’re all right with it.”

This goes along with the studies of a phenomenon called “motivated reasoning”. That says that because we as humans have a built-in bias to form groups, we also develop biases which discount information that calls our beliefs into question while seeking out information which supports our beliefs. This phenomenon explains why 15% of Republicans chose Mitt Romney over “don’t know” or “Barack Obama” in a recent poll in Ohio on who should receive credit for killing bin Laden.

This is also why right wing publications like the Weekly Standard and National Review have provided readers an excuse to disregard fact-checkers by claiming that they all share the some fictitious liberal bias associated with the “mainstream” media.

Political campaign managers would much prefer an atmosphere where they are not held accountable and truth is defined in the minds of the listener rather than measured against an objective standard. “Look, when people give speeches, not every fact is always absolutely accurate,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN’s Piers Morgan with aw-shucks candor at the Tampa convention.

What started as a trickle with the Willie Horton distortions that brought down Dukakis and the Swift Boat attacks that tarnished Kerry’s military record, has become a veritable waterfall of propaganda and deliberate misinformation promoted primarily by the right wing media. First you had the release of Dishonorable Disclosures – an attempt to discredit Obama’s role in the killing of bin Laden. Next was 2016 Obama’s America which tries to build the case that Obama has some deep seated hatred of the United States because of slavery. Most recently we’ve had the disturbing political posturing of Mitt Romney trying to curry favor with those who dislike Obama because of the color of his skin and next reaching out to those 15% of voters who believe that Obama is sympathetic to radical Muslims because of his name.

I think that voters have a right and the media has a duty to hold politicians to a higher standard. The stakes are too high to let elections be decided on who does a better job of deceiving the public. Voters can choose to ignore those facts that make them uncomfortable, but hopefully these biased partisans on the right and left will balance each other out. Those remaining voters who approach elections with an open mind deserve a better fate. They should be able to honestly evaluate the facts and the details behind those facts before they place their votes. Otherwise we give ourselves over to a future where we are governed by those who stand to make the most money from promoting the biggest lies. That is certainly not the future contemplated by those who founded our democracy, enshrined the right to vote, protected free speech, and depended on a free press to inform the public and hold politicians accountable.

False Witness

Friday, August 31st, 2012

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19

The Bible is pretty clear about lying.  It’s the eighth commandment.  Proverbs classifies those who lie and sow discord as “an abomination”.  Those who like to cite Bible verses about homosexuality place a lot of weight on the use of the word “abomination”.  Even Jesus, when asked by the rich man which commandments he should follow included the prohibition against lying.

I know that Mormons use both the old and new testament too.  So I’m also sure that Mitt Romney is familiar with the concept of false witness.  That makes the most recent turns of his campaign that much more distressing because they indicate that this man who claims to be a devout Mormon is either delusional or deeply cynical regarding the practice of his religion.

The Romney campaign has been running a  series of ads claiming that President Obama is gutting welfare.

These ads have been widely criticized as inaccurate and race-baiting.  It has been universally condemned by the fact finders.  Politifact gave it their worse rating, “Pants on Fire”.  The Washington Post gave it four Pinocchio’sFactcheck.org concurred.  All of the major newspapers echoed the fact-checkers.

The Romney campaign, however, seems undeterred.

“Our most effective ad is our welfare ad,” a top television advertising strategist for Romney, Ashley O’Connor, said at a forum Tuesday hosted by ABCNews and Yahoo! News. “It’s new information.”

“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” Romney Pollster Neil Newhouse said.

In other words, we don’t care whether our ads are factually accurate.  All we care about is how people respond to our ads.  This ad convinces more people to vote for Mitt Romney than any other ad that we have.  So we are going to continue to make this claim even though it has no basis in fact.

Further, we aren’t going to let ourselves be limited in any way by any other claims that we make. We are going to say and do whatever is required to get elected and we really don’t care what the consequences are for our actions.  If inflaming old racial stereotypes is what we need to do to drive more of our voters to the polls in November, we are going to do it.  This is a no holds barred campaign and we are in it to win it.

The big difference here is when the Kerry campaign suffered a similar fate; the perpetrator of the Big Lie was an independent group supposedly unconnected to the Bush campaign.  This Romney ad is not some PAC or other interest group shredding the truth. These ads are running with Mitt Romney’s personal endorsement.

The first question is why they think they can get away with this tactic and not suffer some consequence from voters?

The second is what the long term implications are if these sorts of political tactics are successful?

There are certainly the rationalizations that the right wing echo chamber have been making that the Romney campaign can use to justify their actions.  The Obama campaign has also been telling lies, but that’s not really the question.  The “Romney killed my wife” Obama ads were the product of a PAC.  Because of the public outcry including the fact checkers, those ads never did actually run.  If the Romney campaign took a similar stance on their “welfare” ads, they would defend their position but stop making the assertion and move on as the Obama campaign did.  In this case, the Romney campaign’s primary defense is that they aren’t going to stop running an effective ad even though it is inaccurate.

The Romney campaign thinks they can get away with this because Republicans have developed three effective strategies to minimize the impact of fact-checkers.

The first is the basic tenant of Big Lie politics.  That is to repeat your lie louder and more often than those objecting to it.  Eventually the lie drowns out the truth.  If you have the money and the determination, this tactic has already been proven effective in past campaigns.  Willy Horton and Swift Boat are just two examples.  There are mountains of campaign cash flowing into the Romney campaign and the shadowy unregulated semi-independent PACs supporting his campaign.  So the Romney campaign has the means to mount a sustained effort to establish their lie as the truth.

The second is the ongoing Republican campaign to discredit the mainstream media.  This has created distrust among conservative voters of anything in the mainstream media that contradicts their views or the views of their candidates.  Evidence of this is the Romney campaign’s suggestion that, “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs.”  This is code for the claim that the fact checkers share the same liberal bias as the mainstream media.  One need look no further than the dust ups that Politifact.com has had with MSNBC and the Obama campaign to appreciate that these organizations are committed to holding ALL politicians and parties accountable to the truth.

The third is the conservative media who make huge amounts of money repeating right wing talking points and supporting conservative candidates.  They both spread the lie and create doubt about any sources who suggest the lie has no basis in fact.  Rush Limbaugh said, “But I have no reason to lie to you about any of this, and there’s nothing in it for me to be wrong.  It does not help me to be wrong about any of this.  There aren’t any lies in the Romney welfare reform ad.”  The next day he accused Obama administration of exerting undue influence on the government’s Hurricane Center’s prediction models in hopes of disrupting the Republican Convention.  Rush clearly has this figured out since his act generates somewhere north of $40M/year for him.

The result is a parallel Republican universe where anything is free game, pollsters and pundits can create whatever claim they feel will best advance their agenda, and where fact-checkers are irrelevant.

The implications for democracy are dire.  Democracy depends on informed debate and compromise.  We have elections (rather than civil wars) to decide those particularly troublesome issues where compromise fails.  We also have the balance of law and the judiciary to protect minority rights from being trampled by the majority.

Without a shared set of facts, you can’t have productive debates or effective compromise.  Instead ideology is allowed to trump reality and demonize compromise.  When that happens, we leave ourselves open to demagogues.  To quote Robert Reich, “A society without trusted arbiters of what is true and what is false is vulnerable to every lie imaginable.”

Crazy Train

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

This has been a remarkable week for exposing the crazy side of conservative Republicanism.

Women’s Issues
Suburban women were a significant part of Obama’s winning coalition in 2008 and were also the reason why so many Tea Party Congressmen were elected in 2010.  So how are the Republicans doing with this particular voting block this year?

Look no further than Todd Akin the tea-party backed Congressman running against Clare McCaskill in the Missouri senate race.  He referenced a loony theory created by Dr. Jack C. Willke, the father of the antiabortion movement, that pregnancy from rape is rare.  This theory is important to the pro-life movement because it allows them to argue that the current exclusions of rape from abortion bans are unnecessary.  Not only is this whole concept deeply offensive to women across the political spectrum, but the theory has no basis in fact.

It has also shined a light on Paul Ryan’s record regarding women’s rights.  Ryan and Akin co-sponsored a bill which attempted to introduce this concept of “legitimate rape”.  Ryan’s 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee is the result of his support for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.  Ryan and Akin were also co-sponsors of the Sanctity of Human Life Act which sought to give a fertilized egg the same rights of “personhood” as a human being and would not only ban all abortions but outlaw some forms of birth control.

Ryan has said he will support the Romney position of allowing abortions in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother.  Some women are already wondering what would happen if Romney were elected and then could no longer serve?

Climate Change
We are going through the worst drought in 60 years which deeply affects famers.  New scientific studies are released almost every week attributing this drought specifically to climate change caused by human activities.  Yet, John Shimkus of Illinois who heads the house subcommittee on climate change says there is nothing to worry about.  “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length.

John Barton is on the same committee.  He’s the one who among other things apologized to BP because he felt the Obama administration was being too demanding following the gulf oil spill.  Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines.  Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.”  Clean energy, he said, “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter.  “You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

Michele Bachmann and Jim Inhofe claim that global warming is a hoax.  Mr. Inhofe is a senior member on the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

Romney’s energy plan calls for increased oil drilling and relaxation of EPA regulations on the use of coal.  He promises North American energy independence by 2020 (assuming Canada still likes us by then).  He depends on a study by the Citigroup for his data but ignores the portion of the study which also recommends dramatic increases in conservation standards in order to achieve energy independence.

Finally Romney also promises freedom from foreign oil and cheaper gas.  As long as oil is a globally traded commodity, he can’t deliver on either of these promises unless he is willing to restrict domestic oil exports.  He’s said he won’t do that.  So though the US balance of trade may improve when the US becomes a net oil exporter, prices will still fluctuate based on international events that could affect supply, and we will still be burning foreign oil.

Education
Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House, is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

Romney has taken the position that college students don’t need the loan supports they currently receive.  His advice to a college student asking about how they are going to afford the costs of college is that they shop around for a cheaper college or borrow the money from parents and relatives.

Taxes
Romney does not want this election to turn on whether or not he releases his tax returns.  However he continues to assist the Democrats in keeping this issue in the news.  The latest evidence of this is from a talk he gave recently to a small business group.

“We’ve got to make it easier for small businesses,” Romney told a crowd of about 300 people at a high-dollar fundraiser in Minnesota. “Big business is doing fine in many places -they get the loans they need, they can deal with all the regulation. They know how to find ways to get through the tax code, save money by putting various things in the places where there are low tax havens around the world for their businesses. But small business is getting crushed.”

So not only did he echo Obama’s remark regarding the private sector, and effectively take that off the table as a future talking point for his campaign, but one of his recommendation for helping small business appeared to be easier access to tax havens.  This remark came on the heels of several reports on Bain’s practice of setting up tax havens for their customers and additional analysis of Romney’s public returns suggesting extensive use of off-shore accounts to avoid US taxes.

Budget
Romney has promised to balance the budget, but recently he also said he was going to add back $700B in Medicare spending which the Obama administration had listed as cost savings in the Affordable Care Act.  This $700B, as many have already pointed out, is coming from reduced re-imbursements primarily to hospitals who have agreed to the cuts in return for seeing a reduction in their costs for caring for the uninsured.  The other major source of that reduction comes from reducing the rates paid to insurance companies for the Medicare Advantage coverage since the Affordable Care Act also addresses many of the gaps in Medicare coverage that the Medicare Advantage plans filled.  I’ll address the whole Medicare issue in another more detailed post.  But Romney also hasn’t said how he hopes to pay for this additional $700B in spending and still keep his promise to balance the budget and reduce the deficit.  His math didn’t work before.  It has only gotten worse.

Birtherism
Romney has said that he doesn’t dispute Obama’s citizenship.  At the same time, he met with Donald Trump during the primaries and recently made a joke about his own citizenship in a talk in Michigan where he said “no one ever asked to see my birth certificate”.

Welfare
Romney’s claim that the Obama administration is dismantling welfare work requirements has been widely criticized as a thinly veiled bit a race-baiting.  It is factually inaccurate because if anything, the states requesting waivers of the current work rules were attempting to put MORE people to work rather than less.  Instead it was an appeal to the portion of the Republican base who distrust an African American President and the motivation of the African Americans who support him.

Conclusion
There are a couple of things going on here.

There is a segment of the Republican party that hold beliefs well outside mainstream America.  34% of conservative Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim.  51% doubt his citizenship.  50% feel that he is a socialist.  You can see that extremism in the Republican platform which includes a pledge to pass a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion without exception.  It includes the construction of a giant wall along the US border with Mexico, mandatory use of electronic verification by private employers, no support for a path to citizenship, the blocking of funds to universities offering in-state tuition fees to the undocumented, and an end to federal lawsuits against controversial anti-immigrant legislation such as Arizona’s SB1070.  There’s even language suggesting an annual audit of the Federal Reserve and a “gold commission” to investigate return to the gold standard.

Romney’s strategy to become President has shifted over the last month.  Some pundits say that his selection of Ryan had much more to do with needing to put Wisconsin in play than it did anything else.  That’s because many say that Romney can’t win Ohio.  Romney has to win one of the rust belt states to have any hope of a November victory and he was willing to put Florida at risk because of Ryan’s unpopular Medicare proposals in order to improve his chances in Wisconsin.

The other shift in Romney’s strategy is that he has refocused his attention on his base.  Selecting Ryan made it more difficult for him to win women, but it did guarantee a vigorous attack from Democrats.  That attack and Romney’s recent statements on energy, welfare, and birtherism all indicate that the focus of the rest of his campaign is going to be on turning out the Republican base.  He wants every Republican voter (including those with loony beliefs) so energized that they will be first in line when the polls open.  The added benefit is that a divisive campaign not only gets his base to the polls but also suppresses the less partisan undecided voters who may decide to just stay home because they are so disgusted with the whole process.

This scorched earth strategy  may work to get him elected.

It won’t leave much room for him to govern if he is successful.

Blessed are the Poor

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

What ARE implications of the Republican vision of individualism that is at the core of the current Republican campaign for the White House.

Let’s look at government programs to help the poor.

Social Safety Net

The Republican claim is that the social safety net put in place after the Great Depression and expanded by Medicare passed during the Johnson administration and other programs since has exacerbated the problem of poverty in this country rather than reducing it. Florida Senator Marco Rubio summarized that view in a speech at the Reagan Library.

These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.

This line of reasoning is based on two assumptions.

  1. Social Safety Net money is wasted because it doesn’t reduce poverty and creates a culture of dependency.
  2. The private sector can do a better job than the government in administering these programs, so handing this over the private sector will reduce the costs to taxpayers who can then use that savings to more efficiently help those in need. This will eliminate the culture of dependency.

Let’s look at each claim.

The first one is simple.

Government programs to reduce poverty are working.

The poverty rate among the elderly was 25% before Social Security and Medicare. These programs alone have reduced elderly poverty to 14%. When you include all the other safety net programs, the elderly have the lowest poverty percentage of any age group in the country at 9%.

The Earned Income Tax Credit reduced the number of poor people by 6M, half of them children. Food Stamps come in a close second at 5M.

This table shows how all of the other programs have affected the poor.

Effect of Specific Adjustments to Income on Poverty Counts, 2010, in Millions
  Age Group
  All Under 18 18-64 65+
EITC -6.1 -3.1 -2.9 -0.1
SNAP (food stamps) -5.2 -2.2 -2.5 -0.4
Housing subsidy -2.8 -1.0 -1.3 -0.5
School lunch -1.2 -0.6 -0.4 0.0
WIC -0.3 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
LIHEAP (energy assistance) -0.3 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Child support paid 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.0
Federal income tax before credits 1.2 0.2 1.0 0.1
FICA 4.3 1.4 2.9 0.1
Work expense 4.6 1.5 2.9 0.1
Medical out-of-pocket expenses 10.1 2.1 5.4 2.9
         
Number of People in Poverty 49.1 13.6 29.2 6.2

 

You can see that the table also lists those things that exacerbate the problems of the poor. Those include FICA deductions, childcare expenses, and that largest contributor to the ranks of the poor, uninsured medical expenses. The Affordable Care Act will provide a very high percentage of these people insurance coverage that they can’t afford today. The net effect is that 32M who don’t have insurance today will be insured and be able to afford care.

This graph also demonstrates the effects of commitment at the federal to reduce poverty.

People Living in Poverty

 

The other side of the equation is easy too because it is just math.

The question is can the private sector really take up the slack and provide better services to care for those in need than what is available at the federal level? The graph demonstrated that before the social safety net was expanded and charitable institutions were bearing more of the load, the poverty level was at 23%.

There are currently 45M people in poverty.

There are currently an estimated 335,000 churches in this country.  Roughly 59M people attend church regularly and the average size of a congregation is 75 people.

Here’s how the math works out.

If we depended on churches to deliver the same level of support that the government current provides, each church would be responsible either directly or indirectly for 137 people.

If you assume that the average household size in country applies to those who attend church regularly that means that there are 22M households where church going is a regular activity. Each household would be responsible to support two more people. How much would they have to pay?

The cost for our social safety net (excluding unemployment) in 2010 was $365B. As this graph shows, the majority of that increase as for Medicare.

Growth in Safety Net Programs

Math again comes to our aide. The amount of money we are spending per poor person is a little over $8K. Using our previous figures, every church would need to come up with an additional $1M a year. On a per family basis, every family would need to come up with an additional $16K.

Where is that money going to come from?

The conservative claim is that tax rates would go down and the private sector would give more.

However, simple math can help us with this claim too since we have already determined that the average family would have to contribute an additional $16K a year to make up for the support currently coming from the government. The average individual tax (federal, state, and local) paid in 2010 was $10,549. The social safety net spending represents roughly .3% of the federal budget.   So even if we extrapolate that savings to the total tax burden rather than just the federal tax, the reduction each individual would see is $31.64. With that savings comes the burden providing the equivalent of $16K in services to the two poor people they are responsible for.

Why the Math Doesn’t Work

The math doesn’t work because in a tax system, the government receives contributions from everyone.

In a private sector system, contributions only come from those who are motivated to contribute. There just aren’t enough willing to contribute to cover the gap. Today, the average charitable contributions are shown in the following graph. You can see they are all in the mid to low single digits. Adding another $31.64 in tax relief isn’t going to dramatically increase this contribution.

Dependency Culture

Conservative logic is faulty on this count too.

Their claim is based on a simplistic view of the situation.

Because they are looking at this through the prism of conservative values, conservatives have a difficult time understanding why anyone would take money from the government rather than taking the initiative to improve their lives themselves.

Rather than go into the details of why people are poor, or cycle in and out of poverty; let’s just address the question of dependence.

The key question here isn’t even whether dependency exists because the data also doesn’t necessarily support that bit of common wisdom either.

The only real question that conservatives are raising is whether dependency is a function of getting help from the government rather than the private sector because in both cases the poor are getting services they didn’t pay for. If anyone has had any personal experience with the challenges of getting money from the government, you know that it is infinitely more complicated to satisfy government requirements than it is to get help from a charitable organization.

So if there is a culture of dependency that exists among the poor, changing the source to one that is easier to deal with would logically INCREASE dependence.

Yet Paul Ryan and others claim that this is the problem. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute he said our safety net, “lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives. It’s demeaning.”

Conclusion

And therein is the rub.

The bottom line when you deconstruct this whole argument is that conservative Republicans object to the very CONCEPT of providing assistance to the poor.

Mitt Romney summarized the current conservative Republican view when he said, “I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have the safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them…The – the challenge right now – we will hear from the Democrat Party, the plight of the poor, and – and there’s no question, it’s not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor.”

But when you look at the Ryan Budget, which Romney also supports, it does not repair the safety net. In fact it includes steep cuts to food stamps, school lunches, crop subsidies, Supplemental Security Income for very poor seniors and disabled people, unemployment insurance, veterans’ pensions and refundable tax credits to the working poor. Even the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, though they are unhappy with the current administration over health care reform, wrote a series of letters objecting to the Ryan budget. They reiterated our national responsibility to protect the poor and said the proposed GOP budget “fails to meet these moral criteria.”

The bottom line is that government through the tax code is able to step in and spread the cost of programs for the poor over the whole taxpaying population.

The program generates positive results at a cost of approximately $30 per tax payer.

Without these programs the number of people in poverty would increase and the cost for those willing to provide services for those in need would increase dramatically from what they are paying today.

Those are the facts.

What we have from the Republicans is a thinly veiled attack on the poor. They feel that the poverty is the appropriate punishment for those unwilling to work for a living and any attempt to help those in need only encourages those who have already made bad decisions to continue their pattern. Since the poor clearly have earned their condition, Republicans feel perfectly justified in turning their back on them in the interests of debt reduction.

But that doesn’t make sense either, because when you take out Medicare, poverty programs represent only .3% of the federal budget.

So why bother?

It’s because Republicans are terrified of taking on the REAL problem of Medicare and jobs. Instead they are trying to convince voters that liberals have been running up the deficit by wasting money on poor people who don’t deserve it.

This “big lie” politics is a method of distraction that Republicans appear to be much better at that Democrats.  In future posts we’ll try to figure out why.

Next let’s deconstruct the Ryan budget and determine how effective it is in reducing debt.