By Dr. Art Kamm
Originally posted 4/15/12 at Art On Issues
Looking back at my research and writing on conservative special interest-driven policies, a common denominator emerges – without exception. Regardless of the area (opposing reform of our gun markets while expanding public exposure to weaponry; opposing healthcare reform; continued support for financial deregulation and supply-side tax policies; discriminatory treatment of the LGBT community; and another to be included in this article, science denial regarding global warming), all are continuing to be pursued despite the well-documented, and often substantial, loss of American lives. And in some cases, e.g., our gun market and global warming, the loss of life extends beyond our borders.
With politicians reliant upon special-interest donations to keep their jobs (campaign spending is strongly linked to winning), as well as needing to energize segments of their base to secure votes at the polls, it is the interfacing of business, lawmakers, and lobbyists that has proven to be a deadly mix – in every sense of the phrase.
A synopsis of each of the above mentioned special interest-driven areas follows. Links to previously posted, referenced, articles are provided for each issue and have been supplemented, where appropriate, in the text.
Special Interest-Driven Areas
NY City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has noted that more than 400,000 Americans have died in gun violence since the 1960s – more than the number of Americans who died during World War II (ref). This loss of American life dwarfs that seen in other developed countries. In one year gun-related homicides totaled 17 in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9484 in the United States (ref). Gun-related deaths in the US contribute about 25% to the lower life-expectancy of Americans vs. peer countries, and in children less than 15 years of age the gunfire death rate was shown to be almost 12 times that of 25 other industrialized countries combined. Yet politicians, largely on the right, either oppose, or enact, legislation that not only continues, but contributes to this travesty. This while a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll (ref) shows that a strong majority of Americans support laws limiting the sale of automatic weapons (74%) and requiring background checks (91%) before allowing the sale of firearms.
The solution put forth by the gun lobby (the NRA is linked to the gun industry both through its board membership as well as financial contributions it receives) is to increase public exposure to weaponry, i.e., the right to defend ourselves from the consequences of a gun market they resist changing. A gun market that readily makes weaponry available to criminals, the mentally-ill, drug traffickers and terrorists. A gun market that financially benefits the very corporations that support the NRA’s lobbying efforts.
The loss of life also extends beyond our borders into Mexico where tens of thousands of individuals have been killed at the hands of heavily armed drug cartels. Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, has called for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban in the US, citing that its expiry in 2004 “coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest – the harshest – period of violence we’ve ever seen” (ref). The ATF estimates that 80% of the weapons confiscated from these cartels are supplied through our markets.
And politicians who receive donations from the NRA (89% to Republicans where the ‘gun rights’ crowd largely resides) continue to enact, or oppose, legislation that propagates the way our gun markets operate; to the financial benefit of the gun industry and at the expense of citizen lives both here and across our borders.
Healthcare Reform (ref)
A Harvard Medical School study estimated that the lack of access to essential medical care in our country results in a loss of 45,000 American citizens every year, including over 2000 military veterans. And yet Americans are paying more for healthcare and have shorter longevity than those in other developed nations; the reason being attributed to the lack of what other countries have – an effective government mechanism that acts to keep prices down (ref). And when Republicans controlled both houses and the presidency for six years (2001 – 2006), not one piece of legislation was put forward to address this issue, and they now stand united in opposing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
American citizens who are denied access to healthcare due to pre-existing conditions, lack of affordability, dropped coverage, etc., are required to pay taxes that support the government-provided healthcare benefits of politicians who, in turn, deny the same to them. This after our lawmakers receive substantial sums of special interest money to oppose reform, and despite the loss of tens of thousands of American lives each year due to the way our health insurance market operates.
An outcome of the spectacular failure of financial deregulation policy (a failure that Alan Greenspan testified left him in a state of ‘shocked disbelief’) was a marked increase in American poverty. Poverty carries with it a mortality rate. A Columbia University School of Public Health study estimated that in 2000 875,000 Americans lost their lives due to a cluster of social factors bound up with poverty and income inequality. Extrapolating to the increased poverty resulting from the recent economic collapse, in 2009 the estimated deaths would sit at 1,228,169, an estimated annual increase of 350,000 lost American lives since 2000. And yet, despite the damaging effect financial deregulation policy has had on the vast majority of the American public (lost employment, devalued property and retirement accounts, increased poverty) politicians, largely on the right, continue to oppose financial reforms while at the same time receiving special-interest donations from ‘Wall Street’, and Super Pacs funded by the wealthy, that benefit from deregulation policy.
Supply-side tax policy, largely benefitting the wealthiest, has contributed to more and more income and wealth being pushed into the uppermost sliver of the American population, while income in our broad economic engine, the middle class, has not kept pace with the growth of our economy. In both instances where 1% of the American public held 24% of this nation’s income a major economic collapse followed (The Great Depression and the Great Recession); not surprising as the largest single component of our economy is personal consumption (70%). The decreased purchasing power of the middle class, combined with debt accumulation as a coping factor, contributed to the economic collapse, the loss of employment that increased poverty, and thus lost American lives.
Despite the wealthiest in America paying proportionately less total income tax than the middle class, Republican lawmakers vehemently oppose reinstating tax policy that helped produce balanced budgets, national debt reduction, strong economic growth, strong job creation, and reduced levels of poverty, while at the same time calling for cuts to safety net programs (food stamps, heating subsidies) that victims of the recession, the impoverished, relied upon.
Analysis published by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) shows that homosexuals are 2.4, 2.6, 4.4, 13.8 and 41.5 times as likely as Jews, blacks, Muslims, Latinos and whites, respectively, to be the target of violent hate crime attack. And yet the conservative majority in the NC legislature has placed on this May’s primary ballot a constitutional amendment that would require the state to legally recognize only one union, a marriage between one a man and one woman. At the heart of this amendment is much religious fervor that describes homosexuals as sinners and gay marriage as an assault on God’s holy institution.
The Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA), both supporters of the amendment, have been labeled as hate groups by SPLC, not because of religious opinion regarding homosexuality, but because of their continuing issuance of known falsehoods that reinforce unfounded fears and bigotry about this segment of our citizenry. And yet, NC House Majority Leader Skip Stam (R), a supporter of the amendment who likened same-sex marriage to polygamy and adult incest, agreed to be interviewed on AFA radio with the presidents of both organizations.
Once the religious objections to homosexuality are removed, there is nothing of substance left as was demonstrated in California’s Prop 8 trial (Perry v Schwarzenegger) where 17 expert witnesses debunked multiple falsehoods and fears about same sex unions. Yet, in pandering to the wishes of the Christian right, an influential part of the conservative majority’s base, politicians in NC are not only mocking our constitution’s Establishment Clause, but are also lending credence to the falsehoods issued about this segment of our citizenry that contribute to lost lives either directly through acts of violence or by suicide following unrelenting bullying and ostracization.
There is strong consensus in the scientific community that humans are playing a role in increasing our planet’s temperature and that we are dangerously close, perhaps within a decade, of reaching tipping points where global warming will become irreversible. The result is anticipated to be as much as a 6 degree increase in this planet’s temperature by the end of this century (ref).
As the world population grows and more countries are developing, there are increasing amounts of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere by the burning of carbon-based fuels. The heat trapped by these emissions is leading to a melting of ice and permafrost around the planet that results in the release of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. At the same time, vegetation on this planet is being systemically destroyed both by both climate change and development. In Brazil, for example, the Amazon rain forest that is currently a carbon sink (and supplies 20% of this planet’s oxygen) is being systematically destroyed by development; and, should tipping points be exceeded, climate change could turn this rain forest into a carbon emitter further accelerating the process.
The projected impact of global warming, should it continue and accelerate, is nothing short of catastrophic causing extreme weather conditions, increasing volcanism and earthquakes through the effects of ice displacement, destroying our oceans through acidification and increased temperature, decreasing food supply and food security, affecting human health on multiple levels (malnutrition, infectious disease, diarrheal disease, increases in ground level ozone, etc), reducing water resources, and causing mass migration of humans (ref).
Yet, despite the scientific evidence and these grave concerns that have been well publicized, Big Oil remains a powerful lobbying force in Washington. Regarding legislation intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Michelle Bachman (as an example) denied the science and stated that she wanted her constituents “armed and dangerous” and ready to fight a “revolution” against the President’s Cap and Trade plan (ref). And is Rush Limbaugh really listened to as an authoritative source when he states that global warming is a hoax, an attempt to ‘codify liberalism as science’ (ref)? Recently published international opinion is that America’s position on climate change is ‘a tragedy’ and that the US is losing its leadership prestige (ref).
In product benefit-risk analysis, death is the very first stopping point in evaluating risk. It is considered a ‘hard endpoint’, readily measured, and is the penultimate negative outcome. In a previous article (ref) I applied that principle to the gun debate where there is a considerable loss of life associated with the product outside of its intended purpose with little evidence of an off-setting benefit, thus making the argument for regulatory intervention.
In this article I expanded the scope by applying that principle to examine multiple special interest-driven areas. Using death as an outcome measure, it is clear that the political right is continuing to pursue policies that have been documented to produce an often substantial, and unnecessary, loss of American lives. Policies that fatten their coffers with special interest donations that help secure their position, and policies that energize segments of their base in return for votes at the polls. And as our government is empowered by our constitution to enact laws to promote the general welfare of the people, it draws into serious question how our government is operating and who/what it is actually beholden to.
The issue of death separating the left and right can be found in the very language that the two sides issue. Regarding guns, healthcare reform, and discriminatory treatment of LGBT’s for example, the left speaks in terms of the loss of life and discriminatory treatment that contributes to death, while the right issues ideologically-based statements such as our Constitutional right to bear arms, we are becoming a socialist country, and we must protect our holy institution of marriage and stop the moral degradation of our country. And there is a reason for this.
Campbell and Putnam’s research (ref) has shown that the current hard right movement in America that drove the 2010 mid-term elections, the Tea Party, is ideologically driven. The strongest predictor of becoming a Tea Party supporter was previously being a highly partisan Republican. The movement is overwhelmingly white, has a low regard for immigrants and blacks, are disproportionately social conservatives, and they wish to see religion play a prominent role in politics (the second greatest predictor). So, it is not about ‘smaller government’ with the rank and file of this crowd. In fact, it would have been these same individuals that in 2000 voted away the very things they say they now want (balanced budgets and surpluses, pay down of our debt, strong job creation, smaller government workforce, etc) in return for the same tax and economic policies that had already been shown to produce debt at a rate faster than the growth of our economy (ref).
Thus this movement becomes easy prey to manipulation, especially during this era of 24/7 television punditry where polling showed the majority of them watched the Fox News Channel as their primary news source and viewed Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck as actual news shows rather than entertainment (questions 95 and 96). They are driven to the polls to pull the lever opposing such things abortion, healthcare reform, and same sex marriage. But with few understanding the inter-relationships between tax policy/financial policy/economic growth/job creation here at home/debt, they also wind up pulling the lever against not only their own financial self-interests, but the well-being of many of their fellow citizens as well. Money and power once again have their day through manipulation and at the expense of American lives.
And is there any wonder why the right has an interest in defunding public education?
Image: from the Flickr photosteam of FamilyMWR.
Arthur R. Kamm, PhD (Dr. Art Kamm) has devoted his career to the study of patient populations and the research and development of treatments to alleviate pain, suffering, improve quality of life, and save lives. His blog is dedicated to his study of many topics including, but not limited to, debt, deficits, economy, leadership, healthcare, climate, politics, hunger, intolerance, etc. The intent is to disseminate information and open dialogue based upon consideration of information rather than spin.