|April 24, 2014||The Agitator #113: We're falling and can't get up||no comments|
|April 17, 2014||The Agitator #112: Freedom and responsibility||no comments|
|April 10, 2014||The Agitator #111: Ozzie was right||5 comments|
|April 02, 2014||The Agitator #110: Men of principles||1 comments|
|March 27, 2014||The Agitator #109: Medicaid and onions||2 comments|
|March 20, 2014||The Agitator #108: What would Reagan do?||no comments|
|March 13, 2014||The Agitator #107: Defense spending and more||no comments|
|March 04, 2014||The Agitator #106: Tax change and other folly||4 comments|
|February 26, 2014||The Agitator #105: Religious freedom bill that isn't||4 comments|
|February 20, 2014||The Agitator #104: Cigarettes, Merry Christmas, price gouging||3 comments|
The middle class in America is on a steady decline, which is not a good thing for social stability. Manhattan has been a microcosm of this for a long time, and has become a place for the very wealthy and the poor. Middle class people can’t afford a decent lifestyle there because it is out of reach, so they have moved further and further out along with their long commutes. This is not good.
The New York Times recently did an analysis of the U.S., Canada and Europe that shows us falling in rankings as the country with the most people per capita in the middle class. Canada has passed the United States in the number of people with more after tax income. Most of the European countries are also trending in the direction of Canada. While the United States is still the richest country in the world, the distribution of that wealth is what should concern us.
This is not an argument for redistribution of wealth; we already have that through the tax system that takes from each of us and applies various sums to causes and programs that we can all find disagreement. But something is very wrong when the backbone of this great nation is weakening because wages are not keeping up with costs, and more money is going to the top 1% than at any time in perhaps a hundred years. While companies are making big profits and sitting on upwards of $3 trillion, most of the profits are going to the C level executives and shareholders, not the workers who put in the sweat equity.
There was a time when things were different. Henry Ford paid his people on the assembly line enough money that they could realistically expect to own a Ford product. Today you have companies that will do anything to cut employee costs, because employees are expendable in tough times. Many of those employees have to sign up for food stamps and other government benefits. In other words, the taxpayers are subsidizing the private sector and corporate profits. This should be troubling to more people than it seems to be. George Romney, president of American Motors, chose to cap his salary at lower multiples of what he was offered because he thought that the workers should be paid a decent wage. What has changed?
Another analysis that I recently read reported that no couple that survived on the income of a minimum wage worker could afford to rent a place to live in any county in the U.S. Considering that the couple would be living on $15,000/52 week year before taxes, and that even those too poor to pay income taxes still pay FICA, sales tax, commuting costs, groceries, clothing, and out of pocket medical and dental costs if there is any money left, this analysis makes sense. Remarkably the annual COLA given to Social Security recipients, those with veterans benefits, civil service retirements, and pay increases provided for those in the private sector (lucky enough to get one) don’t cause inflationary concerns with most. Yet a small bump in the minimum wage scares the daylights out of the same people.
Today’s workers are expected to produce more for less remuneration. It’s the modern day version of the outlawed assembly line speedup. If union bashers think that unions are the cause of all the problems, the numbers don’t support it. Union membership is a fraction of what it was even thirty years ago. Foreign auto plants in the U.S. don’t pay anywhere near what their American counterparts pay. The uprising in Egypt a few years ago was the result of rampant corruption and an unemployment rate of forty percent among college graduates. There was no hope of things getting better. We aren’t there, but we should be paying attention and working to fix the things that can be fixed in order to return to a much more equitable society that the U.S. experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.
If anyone doubts the seriousness of the growing disparity of wealth and income in America, they are making a big mistake. Fewer people with disposable income means our consumer based economy is going to slow down even more than it has. In my former travels to Eastern Europe, I discovered that many of these countries had declining birth rates. I frequently asked why, and the response was always the same, that people didn’t have enough money to raise children. They also said that there was little hope of upward mobility in their jobs or a chance to enjoy what we once took for granted here---the ready availability of a good middle class life.
Our country can do better. Reforming the tax code would be a start. Anything to stimulate the economy, especially hiring private businesses to rebuild so much of our decaying infrastructure would also go a long way. There are a lot of good ideas out there, but unfortunately all we hear are partisan attacks by both sides and no meaningful dialogue. We should keep that in mind on May 20th and November 4th.
I’m not sure of the whole story behind all the different versions of what has been reported concerning Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose cattle were seized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees. Bundy admits that he owes $300,000, but disputes the remainder. Who knows what the truth is since this case had been demagogued by everyone with their own agenda.
Some have argued that the Obama administration, the most evil presidency, or tyranny if you prefer, since Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, et al, has victimized an innocent cattle farmer just trying to live the American dream and way of life that he and his family have enjoyed for over a hundred years. Somewhere along the way, though, the federal government decided to charge a grazing fee on government land, land that belongs to all the people of the United States. One unverified account I read says that it was Ronald Reagan who issued an executive order imposing the fee. Either way, it is still the law.
I don’t like the heavy hand of the government any more than those who advocate for less government, fewer laws, and fewer regulations. Having been subject to the abusive power of the IRS, I know what it’s like to have your back against the wall. (I ultimately prevailed.) I also believe that the Constitution is a worthless piece of paper with no meaning if everyone can decide for themselves that they are a “Constitutionalist”, that he’s right, you’re wrong, that he knows what the Founding Fathers intended, you don’t. Amazing how so many who subscribe to this belief don’t know just how divisive the constitutional convention was, and just how close it came to not being ratified. There was no unanimity when the delegates left Philadelphia more than 200 years ago.
We as a nation either accept the rule of law or we end up like other countries with dictatorship, or corruption so endemic that you might as well not have a government and instead rely on neighborhood vigilante groups to decide disputes and mete out “justice.” Our current system is anything but perfect, but however imperfectly, it works pretty well. That includes accepting the dictates of the Supreme Court, many of which I think are wrong for a lot of reasons. If the Constitution was so simple and so clear, we would only need one justice on the court, not nine. If we don’t like the laws our representatives make, then we can change horses and elect those who better reflect what we want for ourselves, our regions, our states and our country. Until then, if we are to remain a peaceful nation that lives under the law, we have to accept the laws that are handed down.
Whatever Cliven Bundy’s differences are with the U.S. government, as an American he owes an allegiance to the Constitution to play by the same rules that we all tacitly agree to as part of our social contract that gives the Constitution any meaning. There are courts available to him. Since he has a lot of supporters, I’m sure some are wealthy benefactors that have access to legislators and other powerful people in Washington to try and work through this problem or help with his legal fees. Fomenting potential violence by supporting militia groups armed to the teeth is, in my opinion, about as un-American as it gets. Again, I don’t know all the facts in this case, and neither do most people who have opinions about it, so I don’t know why the BLM chose to seize Bundy’s cattle instead of pursuing other options to collect their money. But to all the critics who attack Obama for not enforcing all the laws equally, I would ask what makes Bundy’s case any different? Perhaps it illustrates that in fact the government does selectively prosecute cases, some like this one because of the deterrence impact it will have on other ranchers who might look to skirt paying fees.
This is not an easy case for sure, and I don’t know who is on the right side of the underlying issues. But I do think that if we don’t all agree to abide by the social contract of obeying laws, like them or not, we are headed for a lot more trouble. And any politician that supports armed confrontation against the government isn’t worthy of holding any public office.
On August 22, 1979, Philadelphia Congressman Ozzie Myers took an envelope with $50,000 from an undercover FBI agent. He was filmed stuffing the envelope into the inside of his suit coat pocket, and while doing so he was heard to say, “Money talks and bull----walks.” It’s highly unlikely that Myers was the originator of that expression, but he certainly popularized it.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 opinion that any American has a First Amendment free speech right to give as much cash to as many candidates (within the limitations of each individual candidate) as he chooses, perhaps Myers’ words take on an expanded meaning. Somehow this conservative decision smacks of the very judicial activism that Republicans love to lay on liberal judges. The congress passed a law after much debate and deliberation that set limits on how much any one individual can contribute in an election cycle. They did this because of the obvious corrupting influence of money, and that a handful of very wealthy individuals could potentially swing the outcome of an election and which party would be in the majority. Yet the five conservative justices overrode that of the will of the people.
The justices equate spending money with free speech, but if you read the First Amendment there isn’t a single mention of money. Since strict constructionists like to argue that we need to “go back to the Constitution”, how had this “unconstitutional” law undermined anyone’s right to speak? Laws should not be overturned unless they clearly violate the Constitution. Otherwise the high court becomes an unelected super-legislature. The Constitution has to be interpreted because most of it doesn’t, and can’t possibly, define every situation. For example, there is nothing in the First Amendment that says a person can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. But we all agree that the courts have it right that this is not protected speech. The question then is what is protected?
The Court ruled that the current limits of how much an individual can contribute to each candidate remains in force. But why? If money is the same as speech, why should there be any caps under any circumstance? What is the reasoning behind upholding this part of the law but overturning the other? Draw your own conclusion as I have drawn mine, but it should be pretty clear.
Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the ruling does not create a corruption issue. In the very strict sense of the law I would have to agree with him. In other words, trying to prove that someone’s contribution was a quid pro quo, an element of proof in a bribery case, is very difficult. But if you’ve ever tried to get a call returned from your elected representative in Washington, or a letter that is directly responsive to yours, it won’t happen unless you are a major player. Just a week ago a stream of potential Republican presidential candidates met with multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson one on one in Las Vegas so that Adelson could determine who would be the recipient of his campaign largess. Is there a doubt that Adelson can get a call returned from any Republican representative anywhere in the USA? Anyone doubt that if Adelson has some concerns to discuss about tax laws, for example, that he will be heard and likely get some support for his special issue?
The very wealthy will sneer at those who exercise their freedom of assembly, a First Amendment protection, when they “occupy Wall Street.” These protestors, with no power, no voice, but with legitimate issues about the unfairness of so many things in government, can only be heard if they rally in unison. But then the right wing media trashes them for being communists, nare-do-wells, lazy, people just looking for handouts and government welfare---and many more pejoratives. Those seeking corporate welfare can pay to do it in private.
Ozzie Myers, a convicted crook, proved to be a sage with his immortal words. He just didn’t know at the time of his gift of prophecy.
Last week the Republican candidates to replace Saxby Chambliss in the senate met for a debate in Savannah. It is interesting to observe how the experts that identify less than doctrinaire Republicans (RINOs) would have classified the various candidates. I was left wondering who in the bunch was the real Republican. Republicans love to accuse Obama of class warfare, yet here was Jack Kingston saying that “no gate separates your house from my house.” This was in reference to the big money candidate David Perdue who made his money in the private sector as a successful businessman. Sounds like Kingston is trying to create a divide between those who choose to spend their wealth however they decide in a free society, which makes me ask whether underneath Kingston’s professed conservatism he is really a RINO.
Then Kingston, who is polling number two behind Perdue, acknowledged having voted in the House to cap federal flood insurance premiums. Kingston defended the tax subsidy, which affects a disproportionate number of one percenters who own mansions and palaces on beaches, rivers and lakefronts. One would think if you profess to believe in free markets, then these folks should buy their insurance from the private sector---except that Kingston pointed out that the private sector won’t handle coastal property. Jeez, then maybe if the marketplace worked like Republicans claim it should, these “poor” homeowners shouldn’t live where they can’t get insurance. Could it be that insurance companies have sized up the risk and figured out that they can’t make a profit because the premiums might dissuade people from living on the coast or in flood plains? To the experts who “out” RINOs, Kingston is sounding more like one all the time.
Karen Handel, who abandoned the two elective offices that she has held in order to run for higher office---and lose---denounced the federal flood insurance program, but when pressed wouldn’t say how she would have voted. Now that’s bold leadership, yet she touts her leadership skills and how as a U.S. Senator from Georgia she will lead the charge to balance the budget, rid us of Obamacare, and create good jobs just because she says she can.
Meanwhile, all of the aforementioned candidates pay glancing lip service to tax reform. But not one has publicly supported Republican Representative Dave Camp from Michigan who a few weeks ago proposed a substantial revision to the tax code. In fact, House Speaker John Boehner, when asked by a reporter about the plan, replied “blah, blah, blah.” The low hanging fruit, at least for now, remains the promise to repeal Obamacare, something highly unlikely to happen. Senate candidate and current congressman Phil Gingrey has promised not to run for reelection in six years if he isn’t successful in repealing the law. There are people who are not happy with Obamacare, but there are also many who are, and time will allow some tinkering to work out the bugs. But speaking for me and most of the people I associate with, there is more anger at the tax code, the complexity of it, the unfairness---especially to the middle class---and the bigger bite it takes from working stiffs than those at the top of the economic ladder.
The senate race is another one of those three card monte games. They want you to focus all of your attention on Obama and anything to divert your attention from issues that affect your daily life. How many reading this column get a tax break for trying to put their kid(s) through college? Recently Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an editorial about tax breaks that most don’t know about. They include write-offs for owners of private jets; mortgage deductions for second homes and yachts; lower tax rate for hedge fund operators; loan guarantees for banks; and tax breaks given to corporations that relocate to certain areas. Then there are the property tax exemptions for churches. Make no mistake, whatever argument one wants to make to defend these tax breaks, in the end it is the rest of us who make up the shortfall.
Robo calls by the candidates has already begun. They are annoying to start with, but after you hear what they say, and what they don’t say, it should be pretty clear: not one offers a specific plan to do something to help the middle class or the small business owner. If attacking Obama makes you feel good, then vote for the one who makes the most noise. But once the election is over, one thing will not have changed: the middle class and small business owner will continue to take shaft.
The General Assembly just passed a law that will take away the power of the governor to expand Medicaid into Georgia. It seems more like a gift to the incumbent in this campaign year allowing Nathan Deal to shift the blame to the legislature when it becomes a hot issue to see who gets to live on West Paces Ferry Road next January. A lot has already been written on this subject, so I will only add a couple of thoughts. First, it is remarkable that the taxpayers of this state aren’t screaming outrage for declining the Medicaid expansion. Georgia will turn away one hundred percent of the funding for the next three years, and then a minimum of ninety percent in the ensuing years. That is our money that would have come back to our state, provided for countless jobs, tax revenue from those jobs, and given the down and out a chance at getting minimum health care. The money that we send to Washington on April 15th will go to other states.
The second point is that without that federal money to bring in more people, to include not only patients, but doctors, nurses, equipment providers, and other associated business in the medical field, hospitals, particularly in rural areas, will close. It is the smaller communities north and south of metropolitan Atlanta that will feel it the worst. Consider that there will be almost no incentive for medical school graduates to set up shop in these places because there won’t be enough money to provide a living and to pay off their education debt, and they won’t have hospitals nearby that provide them privileges. Makes you wonder why any business would possibly think about relocating or expanding where medical services are non-existent. Actually, they won’t consider it, and we may see more small towns and communities disappear.
Then there is the controversy being litigated over Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black’s decision dictating to growers the earliest date that they can ship their Vidalia onions to market. A judge ruled that Black did not have that authority, so Black is appealing. He argues, among other things, that in recent years some farmers have tried to be first in selling this trademark onion, and the lower quality from not having reached maturity has adversely affected the Vidalia’s reputation. What is funny about Black’s argument is that if I recall correctly, he ran on a Republican platform of fewer regulations and less government.
Now I’m all in favor of protecting the Vidalia onion and it’s singular reputation. But as someone who believes in free markets, I thought that if a farmer sent a poor quality product to a store, that the consumer would make the decision on whether to buy from that source again. Apparently Black has decided when the Vidalias are ready to be shipped for all farmers. Yet I haven’t heard any labels attached to Black like czar, dictator, fascist, socialist, or communist that the current occupant of the White House is accused of every day. I won’t disagree that Black might have some meritorious arguments for his position, but it seems a tad hypocritical to campaign on fewer regulations, less government, free markets where the consumer decides, and then impose a pretty harsh regulation on the growers. Makes me wonder if there isn’t a hidden agenda in there somewhere considering how much of the state’s money he will spend appealing it. It also makes me wonder how Republicans pick and choose which regulations are in the public interest---at least in their opinion.
Georgia voters should know by now that the Republicans they elect aren’t serious about reducing regulations or tax reform. Unless you are a big business that threatens to leave the state without tax breaks just for them (Gulfstream comes to mind), or a business that promises to come to Georgia and play Santa Claus to get a tax advantage, you will continue to pay the full freight and abide by all the rules and regulations. No waivers for you. Struggling small businesses will make up the difference. It’s only during campaign season that the empty promises of reform are made, but once in office---as they say in New York---fuhgetaboutit!
Because Obama is so disliked by conservatives and most Republicans, the question frequently comes up how Ronald Reagan might have done things differently with the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, our military, taxes, and everything else a president has to deal with. (I voted for Reagan both times.) This is a counterfactual, and with all counterfactuals, change one thing, let one of the moving parts fail, and there could be a very different outcome. I think it fair, though, within this limited space to try and sort through some of the issues and see if things would be a lot different. Certainly, many of the readers of this column will differ (most in Cobb for sure), but it makes for an interesting discussion.
Obama is being ridiculed for his fecklessness in Crimea, for not standing up to Vladimir Putin. Yet all of my conservative friends readily acknowledge that we should not do anything to provoke a war with Russia over it. Obama and European leaders are talking in unison about applying a number of financial sanctions, but the Russians have options too, and Putin is probably more willing to let his people suffer than any American president would if either side is to apply heat. Only John McCain and Lindsay Graham seem to think that we should consider some kind of military intervention.
While this is going on and still to be played out, the Pentagon is looking at huge cuts in size of our manpower levels for all the services. While many complain about the shrinking military, they don’t want a tax hike to pay for one that they want. Considering the Great Recession and its ongoing aftermath with lower revenue, money is a more important factor than it was during better times.
Obama has been blistered for the death of our ambassador and four civilian security personnel in Benghazi. Yet I haven’t heard a single word from the right about the failed security precautions that resulted in the deaths of over 240 marines in their barracks in Lebanon in October 1983 when a suicide bomber rammed his truck into it. There was active intelligence that such an attack could occur. Despite that, marine sentries were not permitted to have loaded magazines in their weapons. The bomber was subsequently identified as an Iranian national. Yet Reagan never retaliated against Iran, and he was never held to account for the security lapses. I personally wouldn’t hold him accountable, but since Obama is somehow accountable for Benghazi, I would think that the same rules for where the buck stops should also apply to Reagan.
Reagan inherited a very bad economy, and several years into his presidency the high unemployment rate dropped very significantly. What is rarely discussed in connection with how Regan got unemployment under control is the record setting deficits he created. His deficits were off the chart compared to all of his predecessors with the exception of FDR, who had to deal with the Depression and WW II, and who Reagan considered one of America’s best presidents. Reagan spent money that we didn’t have to build up our military that had deteriorated after Vietnam for a lot of reasons. I don’t have an argument with what Reagan did---it got results by pouring money into the economy---but when Obama suggests spending money to stimulate the economy, he is a “tax and spend” liberal. WW II and Reagan’s deficits proved that there are times that government spending can work to prime the pump of the private sector.
People forget that Reagan substantially increased taxes when he was governor of California, and while he was successful in lowering taxes as president, he also raised them several times. But the right doesn’t remember these inconvenient truths. Nor do they like to bring up the amnesty that Reagan got through for some three million illegal aliens. I think Reagan proved to be a sober president, a man who understood politics on a national and international level, who at first was considered a traitor by the right for negotiating arms limitations with the Soviets, and only later proving to have been bold and wise.
Reflecting on Reagan’s historical record, I have a hard time thinking that he would have been so different than Obama today. I also don’t believe that the same Ronald Reagan, using a pseudonym, could get very far in today’s Republican Party based on his record. He would be considered a RINO and persona non grata. Reagan may have projected being a better leader than Obama, but his record doesn’t support the mythical icon that he has become in far right quarters.
Republicans have complained about taxes since before Ronald Reagan lowered them before raising them again. Any Republican running on a platform of a needed tax hike, any Republican breaking his promise of no new taxes is doomed from the start. That’s a fair political debate that the voters should hear before casting their ballot accordingly.
I am in Representative Tom Price’s Sixth Congressional District. He wrote a letter to his constituents dated February 18, 2014. It was written on congressional stationary, and in small print at the bottom it said that “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense. It is provided as a service to constituents.” Actually it was a highly partisan letter that to my way of thinking should have been paid for out of his campaign funds.
In the letter Price laments, as I do, the “millions of hours complying with the tax code while our businesses face the highest tax rates in the industrialized world.” He continues that House Republicans have included tax reform as part of their budget plan in order to “simplify the system, eliminate special interest loopholes, and make America more competitive.” All well and good and makes for a great campaign slogan. Too bad the reality is that it’s more smoke and mirrors, more red meat show and tell with absolutely no substance.
Juxtapose Price’s comments with fellow Republican Dave Camp of Michigan. Only a few days after the release of Price’s letter, Camp published the results of his research and hard work in proposing a new tax code. It would close the special tax breaks that wealthy hedge fund operators get, compress taxes into three categories, eliminate a lot of deductions that are antiquated and supported by special interests, and reduce the complexity of filing a return. The immediate reaction to Camp’s honest proposal, one that deserves consideration, debate, argument, and perhaps a vote, came from House Speaker John Boehner, who when asked about it said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”
If that doesn’t tell you how serious Republicans are about streamlining the 70,000 page tax code, you are indeed a hard person to convince. I wondered where Tom Price’s voice of support for Camp was when Camp first came out with his bill. After all, in light of Price’s letter, Camp addressed the very concerns that Price raised. What we got from Price was the voice of silence. If Americans are watching this game being played out, they should know that they have no hope of tax reform. Republicans have a majority in the House and may even gain the senate in November. But don’t expect change. They didn’t do anything when Bush was president and they had both houses, and it won’t happen if they once again have the chance.
In the meanwhile on the state level, the state House successfully passed some bills to provide tax breaks to help luxury jet owners and other business interests. The proponents defend this by saying that it keeps and creates jobs, and other states grant similar largess. I guess if every state did the same, eventually no business would pay taxes in order to remain “competitive.” Delta was once given a fuel tax exemption when they were going through hard times. An argument can be made for it in such cases, but now that they are making nine figure profits, shouldn’t that tax gift be reconsidered? The state stands to lose $150 million with the latest sweetheart presents, but if you follow the money and who gave to whom just before the General Assembly began, you can see how it played out.
And so my fellow readers and taxpayers, be prepared to continue to shell out more money for your tax accountant or lawyer. There is no relief in sight. Be comforted by Price’s letter funded by your hard earned money, and trust him to lead the charge for tax reform as his letter promises. Then wait for his first word of support of the one Republican, Dave Camp, who at least did the work and came up with a proposal that deserves attention. Several tax cycles will pass and you still won’t hear Price utter one peep as long as Boehner considers it blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s the modern definition of leadership, and Price is the leader of it.
The General Assembly has joined with a handful of other states to ensure that all Georgians’ religious freedom is protected, especially from the mean spirited Obama administration that has no regard for the Constitution. The two bills working their way through the legislative process are H.B. 1023 and S.B. 377. I wish I felt better and safer, but in fact I feel a lot worse.
The first question that comes to mind is whether there really is an attack on our religious freedom, which is part of our freedom of conscience. I am unaware of the government monitoring the sermons of clergymen. I know of no churches that the government has closed. I’ve never seen or read about army tanks surrounding a single house of worship in America. In fact, as I’ve written about before, religion is much favored in this country with special tax benefits that only clergymen can claim, property tax exemptions, and breaks from tax reporting exclusive to houses of worship. To be sure, and rightfully so to my way of thinking, some churches have come under IRS scrutiny for openly and blatantly endorsing political candidates, a violation of the tax code. Then again, any church is free to support a candidate of its choice if it decides that giving up the tax break is worth it. America has always been about choices, and this isn’t an onerous one.
There have always been and always will be bigots when it comes to race, religion, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, and other categories of people. The 1964 Civil Rights Bill outlawed outright discrimination based on race and most of the foregoing classifications. No law is going to be perfect, and proving discrimination is not easy. Most challenges go nowhere because it’s hard to prove someone’s real intent unless you have strong evidence. If Georgia were to allow a business to refuse service because of someone’s sexual orientation based on the businessman’s religious beliefs, the door will open for an affirmative defense for anyone to discriminate for any reason and to fall back on their “religious” convictions. Try proving that the person is lying.
On March 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether the government can mandate that birth control be included in the health insurance a corporation provides to its employees. The issue will include the question of whether or not corporations are people. Mitt Romney said they were, but he never addressed how a corporation could have a conscience, how it could serve time in prison for committing crimes, why it doesn’t pay the same rate of taxes as individuals, or other things that constitute a living, breathing being. The court will have to decide if the Plaintiff in this case, Hobby Lobby, is merely the legal fiction that corporations are, or if they are more. Interesting side bar on Hobby Lobby is that while they profess that their religious freedom is being violated because they don’t believe in certain forms of birth control, they purchase most of their wares from China, which has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Makes me wonder about their sincerity.
If Georgia’s religious freedom bill were to pass, all sorts of other defenses would be used to deny blood transfusions to patients undergoing surgery, medications could be eliminated from health insurance policies on religious grounds, and countless other consequences, many unforeseen. Imagine that such a bill was the model for a federal law. I wonder if soldiers could claim, as crazy as it sounds, that they didn’t have to fight because it would violate their beliefs.
Lastly, one has to wonder about how such a law squares with all the hype from our elected representatives who tout the importance of creating good jobs and attracting business to Georgia. Can they really believe that this law promotes those objectives? Have they considered how many businesses have gay C-level executives? Some companies might publicly state that Georgia is off their lists, but many would probably just passively go elsewhere. It is sad to think that our state, which has come a very long way since the 1960s, that has built an international reputation for being progressive, could undermine all that with a law that smacks of something out of the 1950s. Have these elected officials no shame?
This week alone I heard two conservative radio talk show hosts blasting regulations in the marketplace for impeding business growth. I can’t recall any conservative over the years defending any regulation as being good. Makes me wonder if zoning laws that protect a nice subdivision from having a box store move in next door would be an exception.
Recently CVS announced they would be discontinuing the sale of cigarettes in their chain of drugstores. I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been, at the outcry of this decision. Among the arguments attacking the drug company was that cigarettes are a lawful product and therefore it is wrong to have a self-imposed ban on them.
Each December Bill O’Reilly becomes a “victim” of the secularists who he claims are trying to wipe out Christmas in the public sector. His favorite argument to prove his point is to highlight some businesses that don’t allow employees to wish customers Merry Christmas. What he never mentions is that there is no government involvement in a company’s decision to instruct employees that they are not to use this greeting. Again, it is strictly a business decision. If customers don’t like it they are free to shop elsewhere. Just maybe if there is a noticeable drop in sales the company might change its policy. Amazing how the marketplace works when it’s left alone to correct imbalances, especially those that don’t really affect anyone’s quality of life like the zoning example.
And then there is price gouging. It never fails that following some natural event that causes shortages, like the two recent snowstorms, some businesses will significantly jack up their prices. The screams I heard on the radio were deafening. Yet I wondered why. I thought the marketplace was all about supply and demand. And if folks don’t want to pay the exorbitant price at the moment, they can do without for the time being or find another place to buy a product where the owner might see a business opportunity to gain new customers now and in the future. Free markets at work. Nary a word from the conservative complainers that just maybe gouging occurs because a business has to make up for lost sales during the emergency, his costs may have gone up, or other economic considerations.
I saw a Facebook posting of a Delta ticket that went up from a few hundred dollars to $8,000. I won’t disagree that this is outrageous, but the person objecting is a very strong conservative. The solution is simple if you don’t like the price: find another way home and perhaps discontinue your support of the airline. Same for baggage fees. Lots of complaining about them, but again, the solution for these conservatives is to leave the markets alone and take your business to an airline that doesn’t charge them.
I am not suggesting for a minute that I support gouging or some of the business practices that conservatives object to. What I am saying is that the hypocrisy of the free-marketeers reeks. They are fine with free markets and no regulation as long as it doesn’t impact them. Most don’t live near a coalmine and never even saw one. So mining safety regulations don’t really matter to them. All of us take our clean water for granted without giving a thought to the laws and regulations that ensure its safety. Same for the myriad of safety regulations when we fly, purchase food, the clean air we breathe today, and so much more. I grew up with the stench of polluted rivers and beaches in NYC, and air that was dangerous to your health. A WW II veteran on my first ship was from Manhattan. He told the story of swimming in the East River as a boy, but before anyone jumped in they decided whose turn it was to be the “sludge” breaker. The creation of the EPA in the early 1970s changed all that. The young today who object to the EPA wouldn’t know what those days were like.
The marketplace works just fine when businesses decide things for themselves like selling cigarettes or what holiday greetings are appropriate. As for government regulations, it’s a fair political discussion to debate whether there are too many. What is absurd is the notion that agencies like the EPA should be abolished despite the measurable improvements in our healthier quality of life. Perhaps whenever such arguments are raised we should do as we were taught starting in high school: follow the money.