It’s always great fun when Halloween and Mid Term Elections converge. Or, as comedian Jon Stewart puts it, “We’ve got nothing to fear, but fear itself, so we’re going with fear.” If I were really getting into the spirit of the campaign/Halloween season I’d put the Halloween candy up on the roof, take down the ladder and lock it up in the shed, and then tell the kiddies that if they are patient, hard working, diligent, and patriotic some day the candy will trickle down to their eager little mitts.
However, since I’m definitely not a Republican, the candy will stay on the porch where everyone gets a shot at it. So, what’s scary this season?
It’s three pumpkin scary that there are still a large number of voters who are clinging to the failed and long debunked hoax that what is good for Wall Street is necessarily good for Main Street. Wall Street, and the financialists therein, love the witches brew of mergers and acquisitions – whether the companies involved are actually improved or gutted – and tales of layoffs, off-shoring, and other devices to reduce costs and improve “shareholder value.” Anything which reduces the expenses is received with joy, such as not paying their share of taxes by using accounting tricks and the ever popular Inversions.
So, when faced with the probability that they might have to contribute their fair share or face their responsibilities, the corporate shills resort to dragging out their well rehearsed talking points – taxes cost jobs, the wealthy create jobs, taxes make us less ‘competitive,’ and regulations are a burden. These lines are just so much mush in the core of an over-ripe pumpkin.
The good folks on Main Street and Elm Street are left holding the bag, every time a multi-national corporation plays games with the tax system Main Street and Elm Street have to foot the bills for roads, infrastructure, education, national defense, and health services.
Another three scary pumpkins for a political system so cynical that cheating is required to win. There’s NO epidemic of voter impersonation fraud in this country. An analysis of 2,068 cases of fraud in the entire nation since 2000 revealed that there were only 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud. There are approximately 146,000,000 registered voters in this country. Do the arithmetic. Your calculation should result in an answer of 6.84e-8. (If that “e-8” is throwing you, just remember to move the decimal point place 8 places to the left.)
However, that infinitesimally small number hasn’t stopped candidates from advocating Photo ID laws, the purpose of which is to reduce the number of the elderly, the young, the ethnic minorities, and the women at the polling stations. We even have our very own Vote Suppressionist running to be the chief election officer (Secretary of State) in Nevada. Voting suppression bills are enacted because voters buy into the fear-mongering about fraud, and the utterly illogical personalization talking point, “Would you want your vote to be canceled out by a fraud?” The answer, of course, is “no,” but the odds against this actually happening are literally astronomical.
It’s also three pumpkins scary we have media outlets which cater to the least attractive human characteristics – like, fear and what it does to otherwise rational beings. Yes, what the Islamic State proposes to do in Iraq and Syria is serious stuff, but remember the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack are 1:20,000,000. The terrorists would no doubt like to get us sufficiently agitated so that we’d agree to send troops to their region, which would make it ever so much easier to kill Americans.
And yes, the Ebola virus is a nasty little bug. However, it tends to thrive in places where medical facilities are both rare and not well regulated. It seems to prefer places with inadequate sanitation infrastructure. Thus far that does not describe the public health systems in North America and western Europe. What should concern us more than the incidents are questions about how our privatized health care delivery services are to regulated in order to prevent outbreaks of any infectious disease.
There is an old bit of business advice which says, “You can’t control what you don’t own.” We can apply the adage to public health care facilities. Government standards can be enforced in public facilities, whereas under the current system of corporate health care standards come in the form of guidelines – the implementation of which may not be as uniform as we’d like. One relatively recent report says that public hospitals declined by 27% in major suburban areas from 1996 to 2002, and by 16% in major cities. [AmMedNews] Are standards of accreditation strong enough to maintain a level of health care practices in which the environment is safe for both the patients and the medical staff? This question leads to our next set of pumpkins.
There ought to be three scary pumpkins awarded to the advocates of de-regulation. The exploiters, polluters, and “shareholder value” advocates have been beating drums about “burdensome regulations” since the corporate interests organized their campaigns to repeal any law which impinged on their profits. For example, since January 2011 the House of Representatives have voted 297 times to weaken public health and environmental protections. [CWA]
Though the Enron Debacle seems a distant memory from 2002, the Republicans are still trying to repeal the Sarbanes-Oxley Act which sought to curb the abuses that allowed the scam to spread through the financial sector. Opponents of financial regulation are still calling for the Act’s amendment or outright repeal in spite of the benefits stemming from its enforcement. The Dodd Frank Act, enacted in the wake of yet more financial sector abuse, and the cavorting in the Wall Street Casino leading to the Housing Bubble disaster, passed its 4th anniversary with more calls from the GOP to repeal it.
It would be remiss not to mention the REINS Act again. This bit of legislation from the House is a de-regulator’s wet dream, and everyone else’s nightmare. Congress would have to approve any and every regulation set forth by any agency of the federal government – environmental, financial, and (compliments of the Smith Amendment) public health. [See H.R. 367] Representative Jason T. Smith (R-MO8) offered amendment #450 which included all regulations under the Affordable Care Act. This is as good a time as any to see what Representative Smith’s amendment would do in terms of hospital regulations.
Section 3025 of the ACA outlined a “readmission reduction program” which penalizes hospitals which have readmission rates higher than acceptable. The idea was to get hospitals to use Best Practices (pdf) to reduce the readmission rate for cardiac patients, those who were at risk of being readmitted because of a lack of resources, and those who might show signs of infections after initial hospitalization. Now, imagine the members of the House of Representatives “de-regulating” hospitals which have high readmission rates by refusing to approve the CMS standards. That’s more money in the coffers of the 81% of Alabama hospitals which have been penalized; 82% of the hospitals in Arkansas which have been penalized; 89% of the hospitals in Illinois which have been penalized; and the 153 hospitals in Texas (out of 322) which have been penalized. [Kaiser]
Want to get scared again? There’s credible research suggesting that hospital acquired infections affect the readmission rate [AmMedNews] and hence the regulations from Section 3025 relate to hospital sanitation practices and the prevention of hospital acquired infections. Now, grab the remote and try to find a cable news channel that isn’t overloading the airwaves about Ebola. Quiver again, while thinking that Representative Smith’s little amendment could remove the incentive for corporately owned hospitals to literally clean up their acts.
Instead of being fearful, let’s enjoy the Halloween season with thoughts of increasing the minimum wage and adding about $22 billion to our gross domestic product. [TP] Or, we could think about further reducing our dependence on foreign oil by encouraging more solar power research, and ending the $4 billion annual subsidy paid by taxpayers to highly profitable Giant Oil Companies. Or, we could think of reducing the burden on college students by allowing them to renegotiate or refinance student loans. We could start by insuring students aren’t required to repay more than 10% of their annual income. [WH] We could improve the Voting Right Act and insure that everyone, in every state has an equal opportunity to cast his or her ballot. We could enact legislation to require equal pay for equal work, improving family financial situations across the country. We could employ people in our construction sector by starting to work on our infrastructure issues – our airports, dams, bridges, water lines, wastewater facilities, and levees could all use some work. [ASCE] We could enact reasonable gun safety legislation. And we could enact legislation to insure there’s no discrimination of any kind in American commerce.
The scary part is that none of these things will get started, much less accomplished, with Republicans sowing fear and discomfort – belaboring spooky apparitions like “Benghazzziiiii,” or “IRSssssss,” or “ISISssssss,” or other specters, wraiths, and spirits. It’s Halloween after all, and those are manufactured phantoms, nor more material than the costumes available at any big box store. Instead of focusing on the Spooks of October, we ought to be enthusiastic about the opportunities in November, such as electing people to state and national offices who aren’t afraid of their own shadows.