Little Red Ribbon-Hood: February 2008: Archives

February 28, 2008

The Price Of Economic Inequality? genre: Econ-Recon & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Behind Bars

A report on the rising number of incarcerated Americans provides a disturbing look at the unspoken impact of economic inequality and the high cost we pay for perpetuating it. At the same time, during each election cycle, politicians from both parties accuse each other of practicing suspect fiscal discipline.

For this discussion, I want to look at the costs of incarceration in relation to providing universal health care as well as the Bush tax cuts. Time and again, the GOP points out the exorbitant costs that might be associated with providing universal health care. From what I've read, the plans being pushed by Senators Clinton and Obama are reported to cost 10 to 15 billion dollars annually. That's a big expense...but before one concludes we can't afford it, one must consider the burgeoning costs of incarceration and the distribution and impact of the Bush tax cuts.

From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

NEW YORK -- For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America's rank as the world's No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars.

Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 - one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it's more than any other nation.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

So in the course of 20 years, we have increased our annual corrections spending by a whopping $38 billion dollars. That is roughly three times the projected annual cost to provide universal health care...health care that would help elevate the very people who are disproportionately represented in the prison population. Factor in the following data on the Bush tax cuts and one will begin to see the larger picture.

From MSNBC.com:

WASHINGTON - Since 2001, President Bush's tax cuts have shifted federal tax payments from the richest Americans to a wide swath of middle-class families, the Congressional Budget Office has found, a conclusion likely to roil the presidential election campaign.

The conclusions are stark. The effective federal tax rate of the top 1 percent of taxpayers has fallen from 33.4 percent to 26.7 percent, a 20 percent drop. In contrast, the middle 20 percent of taxpayers -- whose incomes averaged $51,500 in 2001 -- saw their tax rates drop 9.3 percent. The poorest taxpayers saw their taxes fall 16 percent.

Unfortunately, these percentages are deceptive. Let's look at a practical explanation of what these tax cuts meant to the working poor.

From BusinessWeek.com:

Imagine you are a waitress, married, with two children and a family income of $26,000 per year. Should you be enthusiastic about the tax cuts proposed by President Bush? He certainly wants you to think so. He uses an example of a family like yours to illustrate the benefits of his plan for working Americans. He boasts that struggling low-income families will enjoy the largest percentage reduction in their taxes. The income taxes paid by a family like yours will fall by 100% or more in some cases. This is true--but highly misleading.

President Bush fails to mention that your family pays only about $20 a year in income taxes, so even a 100% reduction does not amount to much. Like three-quarters of working Americans, you pay much more in payroll taxes--about $3,000 a year--than in income taxes. Yet not a penny of the $1.6 trillion package of Bush tax cuts (in reality, closer to $2 trillion over 10 years) is used to reduce payroll taxes. Moreover, should your income from waitressing fall below $26,000 as the economy slows, your family could be among the 75% of families in the lowest 20% of the income distribution that stand to get absolutely zero from the Bush plan.

The President claims that the "typical American family of four" will be able to keep $1,600 more of their money each year under his plan. Since you won't be getting anything like that, you might be tempted to conclude that your family must be an exception. Not really. The reality is that the President's claim is disingenuous. Eighty-nine percent of all tax filers, including 95% of those in the bottom 80% of the income distribution, will receive far less than $1,600.

In other words, when a 100% tax cut is the equivalent of $20.00, a family of four might be able to translate that twenty dollars into a meal at McDonalds...one time in 365 days. On the other hand, if one is lucky enough to be in the top one percent (those with $915,000 in pretax income...and first class health care) of earners and receive a 20% tax reduction, I suspect the savings would buy more than one fast food dinner over the course of a year. The skewed advantages...and disadvantages...suddenly become obvious.

If that isn't bad enough, let's return to the costs of incarceration and look at future cost projections.

From The New York Times:

By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.

The cost of medical care is growing by 10 percent annually, the report said, and will accelerate as the prison population ages.

In less than four years, we will spend another $25 billion annually (more than enough to pay for universal health care) to incarcerate more and more Americans...the bulk of which come from the economically underprivileged.

More From The New York Times:

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.

Let me be clear...crime is wrong...and it should be punished. However, we cannot ignore the factors that facilitate crime. Failing to provide opportunities to those most lacking in resources is also wrong...and it often leads to a lack of education and therefore a susceptibility to participating in crimes that are driven by poverty.

We have likely exceeded the point at which it will cost us more to punish and incarcerate those who commit these crimes of poverty than it would have cost us to insure their education, to raise the minimum wage above the poverty level, and to grant them the dignity and peace of mind that comes with knowing one's family members can receive health care when it is warranted; not just when it is necessary to prevent death.

Instead, under the guidance of the GOP, we have elected to ignore the fact that 47 million Americans lack health care and to focus upon further enriching the wealthiest...all the while being forced to endure asinine arguments that doing so will create jobs and thus facilitate a rising tide to float the boats of all Americans. It simply isn't true.

At a savings of $20 a year, millions of Americans can't even buy a seat in the boat...let alone stay afloat by treading water in the midst of the steady deluge of ever more ominous waves. If the number and availability of life preservers continues to dwindle, we are fast approaching the point at which our society will collapse under the weight of the inequity we chose to ignore.

If that happens, it will be as my grandfather argued many years ago, "They can eat you, but they can't shit you". The cannibalism has begun. What follows will not be pleasant.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Economics, George Bush, GOP, Health Care, Hillary Clinton, Incarceration, Jobs, Minimum Wage, Poverty, Prison, Racism, Tax Cuts, Tax Rates, Wealth

Daniel DiRito | February 28, 2008 | 3:27 PM | link | Comments (0)
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February 5, 2008

Kansas Supreme Court Halts Abortion Grand Jury genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Uncivil Unions

Conservative Nanny State

If you've never heard of Phill Kline, consider yourself lucky. At the same time, if you oppose those who have made a career of vilifying abortion providers for political gain, Phill Kline may be enemy number one. When one hears the expression, "What's the matter with Kansas?", the former Attorney General's fingerprints are apt to be found. Fortunately, Kansas voters rejected Kline's reelection bid. Sadly, the defeat did little to deter Kline's obsession with criminalizing the actions of abortion providers and intimidating those who have had the procedure or might consider it in the future.

Today, the Kansas Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the latest efforts of Kline and his zealous supporters to review the medical records of some 2,000 women who visited the clinic of Dr. George Tiller, a prominent medical provider who has become the focus of the anti-abortion crusade.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a grand jury from obtaining patient records from a physician who is one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers.

The grand jury is investigating whether Dr. George Tiller has broken Kansas laws restricting abortion, as many abortion opponents allege. The grand jury subpoenaed the medical files of about 2,000 women, including some who decided against having abortions.

Abortion opponents forced Sedgwick County to convene the grand jury by submitting petitions, the second such citizen investigation since 2006 of Tiller, who has long been at the center of the nation's abortion battle. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and eight years later a woman shot him in both arms.

Tiller's attorneys asked the Supreme Court to quash the grand jury's subpoenas, and the court agreed to block their enforcement until it considers the issue.

Chief Justice Kay McFarland said Tiller's challenge raised "significant issues" about patients' privacy and a grand jury's power to subpoena records.

The grand jury is seeking records of all women who visited Tiller's clinic between July 2003 and last month and were at least 22 weeks pregnant at the time. The grand jury also subpoenaed information about current and former employees and referring physicians.

The edited patient records would not have the women's names, but they would have patient identification numbers. Tiller's attorneys claimed in court last week that in an earlier investigation, former Attorney General Phill Kline was able to track down patients' names using the identifying numbers on patients' files.

The tactic has been employed by Kline and his supporters for a number of years and many of his detractors see it as an effort to terrorize women who might seek out an abortion.

Kline's effort to portray himself as a law and order prosecutor are little more than a sleight of hand designed to oppose abortion. His willingness to victimize women who have made the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy demonstrates his disregard for the privacy of these individuals as well as the lengths he will go to advance his political aspirations.

Additionally, Kline and his ilk hope to highlight the flexibility granted to physicians in making exceptions to late term abortion restrictions. The courts have required that many of the laws limiting late term abortions be designed to allow physicians to protect the health and welfare of the pregnant woman...a provision abortion opponents would prefer be omitted from such laws.

One can only hope that the Supreme Court will limit these virtual witch hunts and maintain the privacy and dignity of the women in question. All too often, those vehemently opposed to abortion fail to consider the difficult circumstances confronting these women.

The fact that these same activists frequently object to comprehensive sex education and unrestricted access to birth control simply compounds the issue. I find it ironic that many within the GOP accuse the Democratic Party of favoring a nanny state. Truth be told, countless Republicans not only favor a nanny state; they would like to mete out their own brand of punishment to those who fail to comply with the imposition of their narrowly defined beliefs.

Tagged as: Abortion, Contraception, Dr. George Tiller, Kansas, Kansas Supreme Court, Late Term Abortions, Phill Kline, Planned Parenthood, Premarital Sex, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Roe v. Wade, Sedgwick County, Sex Education, Teen Pregnancy

Daniel DiRito | February 5, 2008 | 2:14 PM | link | Comments (0)
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