Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Health Care Reform Prompts Expressions of Hate

Disagreements about the future direction of America’s health care system have some Members of Congress facing discrimination over more than just their views. Recent health care tensions have given rise to an outbreak of hate crimes against representatives who support reform. According to CNN.com, African-American Congressman David Scott of Georgia “received death threats and found Nazi graffiti outside his office.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution explained that the escalation of negative calls, letters, and racial slurs was after an argument Scott had with a citizen who opposed health care reform at a town hall meeting. The CNN.com report also profiled some of the hate mail Congressman Scott received, such as a cartoon of Barack Obama, depicting the president as a clown with a swastika on his head in addition to a swastika painted on a sign outside his office suggesting that those who support the reform policy promote a Nazi socialist state.

Unfortunately, Congressman Scott’s situation is not isolated. Democratic Congressman Brian Baird from Washington has also reportedly received death threats that convinced him to cancel several public appearances. The Atlanta Journal Constitution also reports that, “Brad Miller of North Carolina, has received death threats for his support of health care reform. Two other Democratic Congressmen, Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Frank Kratovil of Maryland, were hanged in effigy by protesters opposed to President Barack Obama’s health care reform.”

These prejudiced attacks serve as perceptible evidence of the passion and anger the health care topic has stirred up in Americans. But, their significance spans far beyond the political realm. Threatening our elected officials with racist symbols and hate mail in lieu of the legislation they support sets a disturbing precedent that must not spiral out of control. Turning a blind eye to these acts could condone hate as an acceptable way to express one’s discontent. Hate crimes could grow in popularity and receive less severe prosecution if the government does not aggressively fight against these incidents now. Congressman Scott himself acknowledges the “hate and racism bubbling underneath the surface” in America and wonders if the health care debate will be the catalyst for its ultimate release. The popularization of hate crimes would be dangerous for minority communities of all ethnicities and religions in the United States who already suffer from persecution. It would ultimately cause Americans to take one giant step backwards in their fight for equality.

Going forward, the amount of media attention these hate crimes are receiving serves as a dilemma for the Republican Party. Huffington Post comments that despite the media attention, the GOP now, “risks being perceived as tolerant of an angry mob-like mentality that freely throws out charges of Nazism against the President of the United States,” proving they are also knowledgeable of the potential downfalls of these expressions of hate.

The country is approaching a defining ethical moment. As citizens, and active participants in forming the policies of our national government, it is important to not let freedom dissolve into displays of bigotry and hate. Spokesman for Representative Betsey Markey from Colorado leaves Americans with this advice, “Even as tempers flare on both sides of this debate, we need to remember that we are all Americans and we all want the best care for our families and our loved ones. And to that end we need to have a respectful and constructive conversation about one of the biggest issues that our country is facing."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Choices Surrounding Health Care Reform

Health care reform has recently taken center stage in American politics, and for good reason. Currently, the nature of the American health care system threatens our ideals of opportunity and prosperity. While we spend $2.2 trillion on health care — almost twice as much as other similarly developed nations — many American families’ livelihood are threatened by rising health care costs. The amount that we collectively spend on health care also threatens our relative prosperity. As the White House has argued, America cannot continue to compete on the global market if so much of our wealth continues to be consumed by health care costs.

Fortunately, Congress has taken notice and is currently working on legislation geared towards health care reform. As Politico.com reports, part of the debate surrounding this legislation is about finding a way to pay for it. Congress has proposed many ways of paying for reform. One plan is to increase income tax on families making over $250,000. Another is to tax health benefits for employees receiving more then $17,000 in coverage a year from their employers. A third option exists and involves creating new smaller taxes such as a surcharge on soft drinks and a repeal of tax benefit on health care advertisements.

But there is also another side to the debate. As Salon.com reports, the debate has shifted towards the type of reform that Congress should pass. On the one hand, traditional liberals prefer the President’s recommendation of a public option system. This type of reform would create a government run health care system that individuals could use as an option to employer provided health care. On the other hand, conservative Democrats known as Blue Dog Democrats have proposed a co-op system which would create non-profit state level health care agencies which would exchange the health care plans that individuals buy for large plans from private insurance companies. The type of reform that Congress eventually focuses on will depend on the politics of the situation, and proponents of both systems are leveraging their positions on other issues as clout for their system.

The debate on health care reform directly affects the American Muslim population. According the Pew Research center, nationally 59% of Muslim American families make $50,000 or less. Additionally, a significant number of American Muslims families, 24%, are self employed or small business owners. The rise of health care cost affects the ability of the self employer and small business owner to provide health insurance for their families and employees.

More generally, the choices that Congress faces in paying for health care reform reflects broader choices than just who is going to foot the bill. A tax on health benefits would be a tax on mostly middle class families, a tax no one wants to levy in these economic times. A tax on families making over $250,000 would avoid this but faces its own political risks. Perhaps the most interesting choice is a tax on soft drinks and advertisements. Many countries tax soft drink both as a way to raise money and to curb consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks.

The two debates are not simply choices based on demographics, money, or politics- they are choices of values as well. Which value should the nation tax: our security, our material success, or our unhealthy vices? And furthermore, how should one govern: do we compromise our ideas of what the better system is to pass some legislation, or wait for the perfect conditions to pass the perfect plan? The debate questions our ideas of pluralism and democracy.


State Budget Cuts Affect Social Services

Illinois citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the recent revisions to the state budget. In hopes of avoiding an immediate economic collapse, the legislature has implemented a new “stop-gap” spending plan that allows them to borrow $3.5 billion in order to avoid a hike in income tax rates according to progressillinois.com. Many legislators see this new budget as a compromise compared to the original “50 Percent Budget” plan they suggested in early June that slashed budgets even more radically. The 50 percent plan would have passed, however, if it were not for fervent citizen protest and the ultimate veto by Governor Quinn.

Regardless of the new plan’s attempts to minimize budget cuts, it has still resulted in a severe cutback of funding for many social services vital to the welfare of Illinois citizens. Pslweb.org has reported that social service organizations will suffer a cut of $2.1 billion immediately, and an additional $1.1 billion later this year. In anticipation of revisions to the state budget, many non-profit and social service organizations began to prepare for the worst by prematurely laying off employees. This has caused the Illinois unemployment rate to jump higher than the national average in the last month. The new budget attempts to save money by shutting down so called “duplicate” service agencies that share similar aims and objectives. But, this creates the even bigger problem of how to handle the overflow of displaced clients that will inundate the remaining organizations. As a whole, progressillinois.com reports that social services are proposed to receive 85% of what they did in the previous budget, which is sure to have an effect on the individual organizations that aid the Muslim community.

A likely target is the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a non-profit that advocates for social justice, provides a free health clinic, youth services, and food pantry. Another agency that is anticipated to suffer from the new state budget is Arab American Family Services (AAFS) which helps those who suffer from domestic abuse, child abuse, and youth behavioral issues. It is feasible that the state will view these organizations as duplicates of other anti-abuse or social justice agencies and will be cut in favor of more generic agencies that do not cater specifically to the Muslim community. The budget cuts, therefore, make it possible for Muslims to lose the special attention they rely on from these agencies.
The specific details of the cuts Muslim non-profits will undergo have not yet been released by Governor Quinn, but the decrease of funds allocated to the social services sector holds little promise for equitable distribution among its smaller organizations. Agencies such as IMAN and AAFS fall under the category of community health programs, which are already facing budget cuts of around $108 million, therefore, it is likely to anticipate they will be greatly disadvantaged as will the Muslim community as a whole.