Don’t Care or Already Decided — Which Camp do you fall in for the November Election?

In my newspaper today was a column by Richard Cohen, arguing that the American people have been lulled to sleep by the presidential election. He claims that the only important issue is the economy, and that neither Obama nor Romney is terribly magnetic or charismatic, so people are not paying attention to the election and don’t care. He concludes,

This is a campaign of immense consequence and, paradoxically, torpor. It’s as if it is being conducted by men who will not — or cannot — control events but are waiting for events to control them. They campaign dutifully but dully, going through the motions until Election Day. Maybe then they’ll get the audience back. In the meantime, America has gone for a beer.

I would disagree with Mr. Cohen. I don’t think Americans are torpid, I think they have already made up their minds. Now, having decided, all they have to do is wait for November and vote. In the meantime, there is much more important stuff to do — finding and keeping employment and income in this terrible economy, housing and foreclosures, the hot weather, and summer vacations.

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Reed v. Reed

14th Amendment of the United States Constituti...

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In 1967, a young man in Idaho tragically took his own life. And out of that tragedy came a landmark case for equal rights for women. After Richard Reed died without a will, both his parents, who were divorced, filed petitions to oversee his small estate. The probate court ruled that his father was the proper person to oversee the estate, because “males must be preferred to females,” as written in an 1864 Idaho law.

Richard Reed’s mother, Sally Reed, fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the first case in which, in 1971, women were ruled to have equal protection under the law, according to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. I originally read about this article in the Post Register (subscription required). You can also read it in the Idaho State Journal for free.

Before reading this article, I had never heard of Reed v. Reed before. I think it should be widely publicized, much more so than it is. Sometimes feminists who fought for equal rights claim that younger women take the rights for which they fought so hard for granted. I think younger women (speaking for myself at least) wouldn’t be so quick to take things for granted (or at least seem as though we are) if we were told more about the way things used to be, before we were born.

Think about it. Before Reed v. Reed, a mother could be denied the right to administer her son’s estate, because she was a woman. To me, that is shocking. And yet, no one ever mentioned this to me, the daughter of a feminist.

Last year, many Republicans were discussing partially repealing the 14th amendment, in response to illegal immigration and the birther movement. I believe that is a terrible idea, not least because I don’t believe the Constitution should be changed to accommodate passing moods of the country (if the idea hasn’t been around for at least a generation or two, it shouldn’t be put in the Constitution), but also because the 14th amendment is so important for the equal rights of many people in this country.

Was that Republican push a hidden attack on feminism? It was certainly a not-so-hidden attack on anti-racists and immigrants. Who among us can say their forebears did not immigrate to this country? Certainly not white Republicans.

Some might argue it is stretching the 14th amendment to apply it to the equal rights of women. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who worked on Reed v Reed as a young lawyer, has a response.

“Equality was the motivating idea, it was what the Declaration of Independence started with but it couldn’t come into the original Constitution because of the odious practice of slavery that was retained,” she said. “I think the genius of the United States has been from the original Constitution where ‘we the people’ were white property-owning men to what it has become today. That it is ever more embracive including Native Americans … people who were once held in human bondage, women, aliens who come to our shores.  So ‘we the people’ has a marvelous diversity which it lacked in the beginning.”

 

The Debt Limit

As I write this, the debt limit of the government of the United States must be raised in 2 weeks, by August 2, or the US Treasury will run out of money. Congress cannot reach an agreement, even with the intervention of the President and Vice-President. The Republicans insist that taxes must not be raised, the Democrats insist that spending must be cut.

You know what? I don’t care which side is right. I think they both probably are. What I care about is that if no agreement is reached, the US government will not be able to pay its obligations and it will come to a screeching halt as most money is diverted to interest payments. If we cannot pay the interest, this great country will default on its debts.

Does the populace care? No, as the hubris of our elected Congressional Representatives threatens to destroy the ‘full faith and credit of the United States of America’, we fiddle. We fiddle on Twitter, on Facebook, on our other beloved social media, chattering about this and that, while Rome burns.

Years ago, in a personal finance class in college, I asked the professor if the United States would ever default on its bonds (this was about the time that Argentina defaulted). You’d have thought I asked if the sun would go dark tomorrow. No, I was assured, the United States would never default on its bonds. It would take worse than civil war, it would take the rending of the country into feuding regions, the destruction of the government, before that would happen.

And yet, here we sit, in peace in the country itself, winding down our major war obligations abroad, unattacked in a decade, and we appear to be about to default.

The hubris of our elected politicians is astounding. Elected to represent us, the people, they are about to destroy our economy over a matter of egos. As I said in the beginning, I don’t care how they reach agreement. The important thing is that, as we come out of the worst recession in eighty years, the economy is allowed to keep growing and recovering, not drowning under a huge influx of unemployed government workers and pensioners without Social Security checks.

For numbers, I refer you to something my husband wrote up:

Notes on budget.  Based on 2011 figures from http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy11/pdf/budget.pdf pg 149 See also http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/Pages/debtlimit.aspx

First of all, the budget for 2011 is already passed, the US just needs to raise the debt ceiling to borrow more money to implement the budget.

To simplify the calculations, I am using the amounts for the whole year to get an idea what the percentage reductions would be required.

The fiscal year 2011 budget has $3728 billion of outlays and $2583 billion of receipts.  Social Security is $730 billion of the outlays and $674 billion of the receipts.  Medicare is $492 billion of the outlays and interest on the debt is $250 billion.

If we keep Social Security, Medicare, and debt payments, those total 730+492+250=$1472 billion.  This leaves 2583-1472=$1111 billion dollars for the rest, which is 3728-1472=$2256 billion.  So the rest of the budget would have to decrease by half (1111/2256=49%)

If we keep the mandatory programs (everything but discretionary programs) and the debt payments, this is 2100+250=$2350 billion, which would leave 2583-2350=$233 billion for everything else (which is 3728-2350=$1378 billion dollars) so the discretionary funding would have to decrease by 83%=(1-233/1378).

Defaulting (failing to pay the debt interest) would cause all kinds of havoc.  It would also trash the “full faith and credit of the United States”.

Comment on Social Security: While social security is a trust fund, the extra money is invested in US government bonds. If the US defaults, these bonds are worthless. For 2011 it is estimated that there will be $674 billion dollars of payroll taxes and $730 billion dollars of payments. If the US defaults, Social Security would not be able to pay the full amount of the checks.

This great country is about to be brought to its knees through the hubris of politicians. It makes me sick.

 

Newspaper Column: Why does the working class scorn healthcare reform?

US residents with employer-based private healt...

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There is a mystery puzzling me lately. How have the poor and working class of this country and this state been persuaded that the people fighting against healthcare reform are on their side? And how have they been persuaded that healthcare reform is against their interests? How have the people and organizations fighting for healthcare reform lost the interest of the very people who most need it? Rich men have funded the Tea Party, but it is populated by the working class.

Without health insurance, the costs of having a baby or repairing a broken arm can wipe out any savings a family has. The medical costs of a heart attack or cancer can drive a family into bankruptcy. One of the most common causes of bankruptcy in this country is medical issues.

One way families deal with these unexpected costs is fundraisers. It is admirable that the community often steps forward and assists with huge medical bills. However, there are a few problems with this approach. First, in this difficult economy, more and more people need help with meeting their household needs, whether for food, winter coats, or medical bills, and those who can give have less to give as they cope with their own financial setbacks.

Health care systems

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Sometimes the money doesn’t come in time. I read just yesterday of a man who had a liver transplant lined up, but couldn’t raise the money in time and the liver went to another patient. He must now wait three years for another chance.

Third, and unfortunately, occasionally people commit fraud. They are not ill, but claim to be, and the community gives them money that then goes on luxury items, not medical bills. Thankfully, we have not yet had an example of this in our local community.

Traditional economics tells us that if a good is too expensive, then people will either go without or the price will come down. However, people are unwilling to forgo expensive medical care. The price only continues to rise because prices are set in a way that makes it impossible for consumers to comparison shop, and sometimes only the best will do, anyway.

The pricing and delivery system we have for healthcare is obviously untenable. The rich have no interest in reform, because they can pay for whatever they need. Instead of letting them dictate the terms of the debate, and shutting it down by creating a frenzy in the working class, the rest of us need to sit down and decide exactly what we want in our healthcare system, whether it is low cost medical equipment and clinics, health insurance for all, or something else entirely.

This column was originally published in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on December 19, 2010.

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