Reader Hal Davis forwarded me this column from a Hartford newspaper. Colin McEnroe is writing about a Connecticut court case, but he's also writing about every poor school child in the country.
I've decided that Sheff v. O'Neill is not really a legal case and
that none of [the] settlements or proposed forms of redress will ever work,
unless we change. It's a moral case. It makes a moral argument. The
problem is that we don't listen to moral arguments anymore, so you've
got to dress them up as lawsuits.
The thing that broke down worst of all was us --
the people with hope and resources -- and our supposed Judeo-Christian
values. Those values are unambiguous about what we're supposed be be
doing for others who are poor, who are sick, who are helpless. We can
do it through our churches or through Boys' and Girls' Clubs or Big
Brothers Big Sisters or through some other mentoring or intervention.
But we're supposed to do it. Those values are supposed to be the spine
of this country.
But if we lived them -- even just a little --
there would have been no compelling case to make in Sheff v. O'Neill,
because each of use [sic] would have identified those children as our moral
responsibility, a long time ago.
School choice doesn't quite get at the kids McEnroe cites, mired in "experiential poverty," who "have never been to a movie theater or
ridden a pony" or spoken to someone who has noticed their unique gifts.
Liberals have been taking a drubbing lately for making moral arguments instead of economic ones or Constitutionally principled ones.
McEnroe's piece calls us to remember the moral case for our communities and our governments.
In a Washington Post op/ed, Annie Lowrey muses about how the U.S. Senate might be reconfigured to represent voters according to interests other than which state they live in. After all, we're already geographically represented in Washington by Congressional District.
What if senators were elected on a different basis? The possibilities beg for a graphical rendering.
Imagine a chamber in which senators were elected by different income
brackets -- with two senators representing the poorest 2 percent of the
electorate, two senators representing the richest 2 percent and so on.
Based on Census Bureau data, five senators would represent Americans
earning between $100,000 and $1 million individually per year, with a
single senator working on behalf of the millionaires (technically, it
would be two-tenths of a senator). Eight senators would represent
Americans with no income. Sixteen would represent Americans who make
less than $10,000 a year, an amount well below the federal poverty line
for families. The bulk of the senators would work on behalf of the middle class, with 34 representing Americans making $30,000 to $80,000 per year.
Lowery never goes so far as to propose a change. But think about it. Beyond the current imbalance of Wyoming and New York having equal clout in the senate, there are plenty of people living in places where they might feel they aren't represented by their elected officials.
I live in the 5th Congressional District of Minnesota, so I'm reasonably well-represented by Keith Ellison, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. But conservative blogger Mitch Berg on the other side of the metro could reasonably argue he has no representation in Washington.
He could move north or south and find Michele Bachmann or John Kline, but why should he have to? Who, besides our Founders, say our interests today are so bound up in our state of residence?
Would we be any better off under an electoral system that apportioned representation according to age, income, race or employment status?
The questions are provocative, but other than posing how the balance might shift under other schemes, Lowery doesn't dig into what the differences might make in real elections or the functionality of the Hill.
would make medical
expenses, including health care premiums, 100% tax-deductible for all
individuals. Under current law, health insurance is tax-free for those
who receive it through their employers. My bill would give this same
tax benefit to people who buy their own health insurance or pay for
medical care “out-of-pocket.” This would give all Americans the
freedom to purchase the health plan of their choice, to pick their
preferred doctors and to make their own medical decisions.
In the buildup to her rollout, the decidedly non-bipartisan Bachmann said, “We are rejecting politics as usual in Washington D.C. in dealing with this health care issue.”
Apparently, proposing tax cuts as the solution to all that ails us is not politics as usual.
I haven't read the bill, but let's examine her description 100% tax deductibility as giving people freedom to purchase the health plan of their choice.
The average American family with employer-subsidized health care coverage (earning about $50,000 in household income) pays out about $7,000 per year in its share of premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Employer contributions average nearly $10,000.
The current federal tax system already allows deductibility of medical expenses. You can deduct the amount of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 7.5% of your
AGI [Adjusted Gross Income]. For example, if your
AGI is $35,000, 7.5% is $2,625. If your family of four paid medical expenses of
$7,000, you could deduct $4,375. Filing as the head of the household, you would pay $3,996 in federal income taxes.
So who really benefits from the Bachmann proposal?
The poor? No. They don't save enough to afford insurance.
Taking the example above, the Bachmann bill would lower the family tax bill by $393 — or about 10 percent. That's about enough to pay for one month's premium on a moderately high deductible insurance policy in Minnesota for that family of four.
levels of expenses does not yield any larger relative savings under the
Bachmann plan, because the only difference is the tax that's applied to the family's first
$2,625 in expenses under the current system.
The real question for lower income households is whether they can come up with the money at all. They are less likely to be covered by employer plans, and they also have less income
available to pay regular premiums and out-of-pocket costs. A tax deduction doesn't help the cash flow for people living paycheck to paycheck.
The middle class?They'd see a modest benefit.
The Bachmann proposal would result in an additional $562 in tax savings over the current system — worth a little more than one month's premium for a Medica HSA plan.
The top earners?You won't be surprised.
1. The top 10 percent of earners — at least those who are employed — are generally covered by health insurance. (In 2006, only 8.5% of those earning $75k+ were uninsured, sompared to 21.1% of those earning $25-50k.)
2. The higher the income, the more likely the insured has a Cadillac plan as part of an executive compensation package.
3. Once you reach top 5 percent of earners or so, your own medical expenses cease being deductible under current tax law. For example, at $200,000 AGI, only your expenses above $15,000 would qualify for deduction.
Someone earning $100,000 and paying the average $7,000 for medical expenses would not be able to deduct any of it. Under Bachmann's bill, they could deduct it all, worth $1,680 in tax savings.
The bottom line?
Wealthier tax payers, who are more likely to be well-covered, do better under the tax portion of the Bachmann plan.
A tax-deduction scheme favors those who pay more taxes. Look at it this way. Someone earning $500,000 who had $35,000 in medical expenses could deduct them all and save $12,250 in taxes. Someone earning $35,000 with the same medical costs would simply be bankrupt.
A tax deduction for all also means less revenue, and less revenue means program cuts. No doubt
"Health Care Freedom of Choice" would be used to justify cutting public
health care expenditures, which primarily benefit low-income people.
His point about the poor in America benefiting from a cheap but new car is worth considering. Cars are an important mode of transportation for working poor who aren't well-served by the disconnects between low-income housing and jobs. (See also the Growth & Justice paper on this topic [PDF].)
But as far as I'm concerned, this wonder car for the U.S. market exists on paper in King's demand curve and in the promotions of Tata.
I see no evidence that the company thinks it should be able to sell the car for $2,500 in the U.S. Note that all the statements about price lump together regulatory requirements and model upgrades for the market. Tata likely doesn't want to reveal where its own costs are for competitive reasons.
King is correct about some of the pitfalls of cheap used car ownership, but he missed one advantage these have over this Tata Love Bug. When the poor lose their marginal jobs to overseas labor, they still have a vehicle large enough to haul their possessions to a cheaper apartment — or to sleep in.
On the heels of the flawed "taxes and happiness" correlation that Mitch Berg celebrates, this comparison of states shows that both high-tax and low-tax states have a growing number of residents living on food stamps and not much else. [Chart: New York Times]
Minnesota's population of food stamp recipients who lived in households with no other cash income grew by 87% between 2007 and 2009. That tied us with Utah for fourth highest increase among the 30 states reporting data. New Jersey, which is dead worst on the Tax Foundation's state tax rankings, had the smallest increase among reporting states.
Far worse were the once go-go job creators of conservative fantasy, Nevada and Florida, which also lead the nation in mortgage foreclosures — indicating that the so-called low-tax jobs boom was more likely the product of the housing bubble.
Food stamps are easier to get than other forms of assistance, such as unemployment, general assistance and emergency aid. The feds pay the whole bill, so the growth may indicate cash-strapped states are relying on this help more as their programs are maxed out.
Of course, this evidence doesn't sway the true believers, who see a brother and sister trying to get by on $300 a month between them as just two more on the slippery slope of the safety-net-to-hammock scale heading to permanent government dependency.
“This is craziness,” said Representative John Linder, a Georgia
Republican who is the ranking minority member of a House panel on
welfare policy. “We’re at risk of creating an entire class of people, a
subset of people, just comfortable getting by living off the
Mr. Linder added: “You don’t improve the economy by
paying people to sit around and not work. You improve the economy by
lowering taxes” so small businesses will create more jobs.
Linder doesn't say what kind of businessman magic spins lower taxes into jobs that lift people out of poverty, but it obviously isn't working any better in low-tax Nevada and Florida than it is in Minnesota and New York.
The Christmas Day death of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who had been partially paralyzed since a drunk-driving car crash when he was 18, could be spun as a story about chemical abuse, depression or suicide. But at bottom (see his "When the Bottom Fell Out" below), it's a story about health care in America.
If you have a pre-existing condition that requires ongoing treatment, and are a self-employed musician in employer-based system, you're not likely to be enjoying the "greatest health care system in the world."
He spoke at length December 1st on "Fresh Air" about his struggles with the health care system, and in another interview, he said:
I'm not too eloquent talking about these things. I
was making payments, but I can't anymore and I really have no idea what
I'm going to do. It seems absurd they can charge this much. When I
think about all this, it gets me so furious. I could die tomorrow
because of other operations I need that I can't afford. I could die any
day now, but I don't want to pay them another nickel.
Back in 1996, a Chesnutt Tribute album called "Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation," helped raise money for his medical bills — and was intended to perhaps goose him out of obscurity so he could make a better living. At the time, he was quoted in a Strib story by Jon Bream about medical insurance for musicians.
"A lot of musicians are living supper to supper" and can't pay for
insurance. "It's really scary," said Chesnutt, pop's most prominent
paraplegic singer-songwriter. "I was lucky enough: I had a job when I
crashed. I was working at Hardee's and at a cotton mill, too. So I'd
paid in Social Security for a couple of years and I automatically got
Medicaid, which is a great thing. If not, my family would've been
starved to death. It would've sucked them dry."
Even thirteen years later, a difficult and obscure artists can't go back to the well for another tribute album. So the greatest outpouring comes too late.
Well, not really. But it is a tale about consumption and the birth of babes in humble surroundings, specifically, Kettleman City, California. It's a tiny, Spanish-speaking farm town three miles from the largest toxic waste dump in the West.
Of 20 children known born here between September 2007 to November 2008,
five had a cleft in their palate or lips, according to a health survey
by community activists.
Clefts of the lip or palate routinely occur in fewer than 1-in-800 births in California, according to state health statistics.
Owners of the waste facility have offered to fund a health study, but
they say there's no evidence linking the dump to the maladies. Other
potential culprits are pesticides sprayed on nearby fields, discolored
drinking water and exhaust from Interstate 5, the West Coast's major
north-south highway, that borders the town.
Ironically, some of the chemical waste in the neighborhood comes from
Mexico, where U.S. auto batteries were sent for recycling. When signs
of lead poisoning started showing up in communities near that facility,
Mexico and the EPA paid to ship some of the waste back to America.
In other words, babies with birth defects and adults with high incidences of cancer and asthma are one result of this American life.
Doing it the old-fashioned way.
Down-the-hill method of waste disposal, Colorado (left) and Chinese street life near the local lead plant.
The concentration of waste near people without power or the money to move elsewhere happens all over the world today, but the more usual historic pattern was dumping in place. Whether it was sewage, garbage, or construction debris, the waste byproducts would be distributed more evenly unless the farming, mining or manufacture was done on a large scale.
Even without big dumps that pull in waste from elsewhere, residents in Libby, Montana, inhaled asbestos. Folks in Moab, Utah, still deal with background radiation and leachate from uranium tailings. Rural Louisianans live with toxins and sludge from the oil industry and its partner, petrochemicals. Floridians watch sugar growers pollute the Everglades. West Virginians wheeze and eventually strangle on coal dust.
Kettleman City is just more egregious example.
The company operating the dump may not be blameless, but it is handling the toxic residue of America's production of lead, arsenic, asbestos and PCBs in a location bombarded with agricultural chemicals and vehicle emissions. As a Chemical Waste Management spokeswoman says, "there's a high degree of complexity."
She's right. And as American consumers with big garages and nice, neat backyards, we contribute to it.
I regularly pass through North Minneapolis on residential streets. Occasionally I'll read of a shooting that took place near a familiar route, but I'd never seen anything like this memorial at any of those locations.
On past rides, the weather was rainy or I didn't have the camera, but today I stopped and checked out the memorial. Two foil balloons now hang limply on the sidewalk side of the tree. A river rock at the base is engraved with the word Love. But there is no other indication of what happened on this street corner, so today I decided to search for a news story.