Tag Archives: Barr

Red States, Blue States…And Death Rates

The other day, during a political discussion (these days, pretty much every discussion gets political) my youngest son wondered aloud whether it had been a mistake to win the Civil War. The red states of the South have been an economic drag on the blue states for a long time–they send significantly fewer dollars to Washington than they receive courtesy of blue state largesse.

My son was being flip, but his characterization of Red and Blue states wasn’t far off. As Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column in the New York Times, “the political divide is also, increasingly, an economic divide.”

Democratic-leaning areas used to look similar to Republican-leaning areas in terms of productivity, income and education. But they have been rapidly diverging, with blue areas getting more productive, richer and better educated. In the close presidential election of 2000, counties that supported Al Gore over George W. Bush accounted for only a little over half the nation’s economic output. In the close election of 2016, counties that supported Hillary Clinton accounted for 64 percent of output, almost twice the share of Trump country.

Evidently, however, we don’t just live in different economies–lately, we also die differently.

Back in the Bush years I used to encounter people who insisted that the United States had the world’s longest life expectancy. They hadn’t looked at the data, they just assumed that America was No. 1 on everything. Even then it wasn’t true: U.S. life expectancy has been below that of other advanced countries for a long time.

The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation. True, a recent Times article on the phenomenon noted that life expectancy in coastal metropolitan areas is still rising about as fast as life expectancy in other advanced countries. But the regional divide goes deeper than that.

It turns out that the “death divide” Krugman is addressing is closely correlated with political orientation.

I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population. In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.

There are a number of possible explanations: blue states expanded Medicaid while most red states didn’t, for example. The gap in educational levels is probably implicated as well; better-educated people tend to be healthier than the less educated, for a number of reasons.

Krugman also notes differences in behavior and lifestyle that affect mortality. (Although obesity has dramatically increased all across America, obesity rates are significantly higher in red states.)

Krugman references–and debunks–conservative explanations for the death divide:

Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”

But European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy. And even within America these evils are concentrated in states that voted for Trump, and have largely bypassed the more secular blue states.

Although he doesn’t mention it, I’d also be interested in seeing a comparison of gun deaths in Red and Blue states.

Actually, conservatives like Barr inadvertently make a point: culture and values matter. Just not the way they think.

 

 

Corruption Everywhere

Talk about the “times that try men’s (and women’s) souls.”

I am not naive; I know the dark side of America’s history. I know we have repeatedly failed to live up to our professed values. But there has also always been a bright side– a reason this country has been a beacon of hope for so many oppressed people, a reason idealistic citizens have dedicated themselves to public service, a reason millions of  individuals have been proud to be Americans.

It is no longer possible to ignore the degree to which those values and ideals are being trashed by the gangsters in this administration and the self-serving GOP cowards in the Senate. Washington lawmakers are no longer engaged in disagreements about policy. Instead, the government has been paralyzed by an administration that is a criminal enterprise–a criminal enterprise abetted by Republicans in the Senate, most prominently Mitch McConnell.

The corruption is breathtaking, and Trump is only one manifestation of the rot.

The Campaign Legal Center recently filed an FEC complaint detailing the NRA’s coordination with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin in the 2016 campaign. It used a shell corporation through which it illegally funneled millions in in-kind contributions– unlawfully coordinating with Johnson and other candidates it was backing.

Last August, Jonathan Chait had an article in New York Magazine titled “The Whole Republican Party Seems to be Going to Jail Now,” in which he ticked off the operatives who were then behind bars (and those who belonged there).

There was Paul Manafort, who embezzled funds, failed to report income, and falsified documents, and his partner and fellow Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, who confessed to participating in all these crimes.

There was (and is) Wilbur Ross.

Forbes reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have stolen $120 million from his partners and customers. Meanwhile Ross has maintained foreign holdings in his investment portfolio that present a major conflict of interest with his public office.

There were the three Trump cronies running the Department of Veterans Affairs, despite lacking  any official government title or public accountability. According to Pro Publica, all three “used their influence in ways that could benefit their private interests.”

Chait concluded that

Trump appears to select for greed and dishonesty in his cronies…. The sorts of people Trump admires are rich and brash and disdainful of professional norms, and seem unlikely to rat on him. The sorts of people who are apt to work for Trump seem to be those who lack much in the way of scruples.

The administration is understaffed and disorganized to the point of virtual anarchy, opening up promising avenues for insiders to escape accountability. Trump’s public ethos, despite his professions during the campaign that he could “drain the swamp” and impose a series of stringent ethics reforms, runs toward relativism — he famously tolerates anybody who supports him, regardless of criminal history or other disqualifications, defining their goodness entirely in terms of personal loyalty. And above all there is the simple fact that Trump himself is a wildly unethical businessman who has stiffed his counterparties and contractors, and worked closely with mobsters, his entire career. A president who is continuing to profit personally from his office is hardly in any position to demand his subordinates refrain from following suit.

Chait’s article was written in August of 2018. Since then, among other scandals, we have seen William Barr besmirch the reputation of the Department of Justice by mischaracterizing the Mueller Report and refusing to follow clear laws requiring him to inform Congress about the whistleblower complaint.  We have seen Mike Pompeo turn the State Department into a tool of Trump’s ego. (A Washington Post article reported a growing belief among State Department officials that Pompeo has subordinated the Department’s mission and abandoned colleagues in the service of President Trump’s political aims.)

It is highly likely that Mike Pence was involved in the effort to blackmail Ukraine’s President into manufacturing dirt on Biden’s son.

Even administration officials unconnected to the events that triggered the Impeachment inquiry are conspicuously corrupt and incompetent. Betsy DeVos, anyone? Elaine Chao? Rick Perry? (Whoops–evidently Perry is involved in the Ukraine cesspool.)

Political scientists are busy trying to explain how we got here, and–assuming we can turn things around, which is by no means a given–we’ll need to know how and why and what to do to avoid a repeat. But all I can focus on is the need to clean house.

Whatever happens with Impeachment, in 2020 we need massive turnout and an overwhelming rejection of both the criminals who currently control our federal government, and their enablers in the Senate.

We can argue about policy later.

 

 

The Fight Is Never Over

When I first began this blog, one of the issues I frequently addressed was gay rights. LGBTQ folks still faced formidable barriers to equality; same-sex marriage was a pipe dream, with DOMA at the federal level and so-called “mini-DOMAs” in many states.  Activists were fighting “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” and working to include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state civil rights statutes.

In Indiana, civil rights organizations and major businesses managed to defeat an effort to place a ban on same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution, but we still lack those “four little words”–sexual identity and gender identity–in our civil rights law.  Unless you live in an Indiana city with an inclusive human rights ordinance, it is still perfectly legal here to fire someone for being gay. We also remain one of only five states without an inclusive hate crimes law.

Even in states like Indiana, though, LGBTQ folks have benefitted from the truly dramatic shift in public opinion that has occurred over the past couple of decades. As homophobia ebbed–it certainly hasn’t disappeared, but it has greatly diminished–this blog focused on other issues.

Attacks on LGBTQ citizens may have diminished, but as young folks like to say, “haters gotta hate.” As an article in the Guardian recently illustrated, there is plenty of room for homophobia among the numerous bigotries exhibited by our accidental President and those who support him.

The Trump administration has attacked LGBT rights in healthcare, employment, housing, education, commerce, the military, prisons and sports.

These efforts, it turns out, were just the beginning.

The president’s anti-LGBT agenda could soon gain significant momentum at the US Supreme Court, where Trump’s Department of Justice (DoJ) is pushing to make it legal to fire people for being gay or transgender. The move would fundamentally reverse civil rights for millions of people, LGBT leaders say, and raises fears that LGBT people may lose the minimal protections and resources they have won in past years.

“This is a critical point in history,” said Alesdair Ittelson, the law and policy director at interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth. “The outcome of this case is going to have a tremendous impact on everyone.”

During the Obama administration, the LGBTQ community won significant victories:  repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” new protections under the Affordable Care Act, an anti-discrimination executive order and expanded recognition of trans rights, among other things. Those victories are now under attack.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has sought to reverse healthcare protections for trans people, moved to ban trans people from serving in the military, eliminated rules protecting trans students and pushed to allow businesses to turn away gay and trans customers if they seek a religious exemption.

Last month, the Trump justice department made its most aggressive anti-gay legal argument to date, urging the supreme court to rule that gay employees are not protected under a longstanding act that prohibits “sex discrimination”. The DoJ filed briefs related to three supreme court cases to be heard together on 8 October – two involving gay men fired from their jobs, and a third involving a woman terminated by her employer after she came out as trans.

The courts have repeatedly held that gay people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Before Trump, the federal government agreed. But William Barr’s Department of Justice is now arguing that sexual orientation and gender identity are excluded under Title VII because “sex” means only whether people are “biologically male or female.”

Before Trump, the Justice Department pursued justice. Before Trump, judicial nominees elevated to the federal bench were vetted for legal competence, not for fidelity to radical “conservative” (actually fundamentalist Christian) ideology.

Before Trump, even our worst Presidents weren’t rabid White Nationalists, Islamophobes, homophobes, anti-Semites and proud and loud racists.

But that was then, and now is now.