Diablo Dispatch Part 2: Death & Taxes
Preface: I reckon this is my last (chiefly) political post. These missives are not particularly fun. They require math and research. A pal invited me to contribute to a blog with more comfortable subculture subjects: punk, vintage soul, literature. Wheelhouse topics. Also, it's winter and the surf is good. Besides, I think you'll agree that the premise of this blurb leaves very little else to say.
Allow me to set me set the stage. The year is 1987. Teenage fashion looked a lot like it does right now... at least the hues. The Smiths had recently released "Cemetery Gates." Morressey gives away Yeats and Keats, while claiming Wilde for his side.
Arguments have sides. In the pages of our high school's newspaper and on its campus, I debated Regan's complicity in the Iran/Contra scandal, inaction on a scary new epidemic, James Watt's anti-science crusade, and tax cuts to the filthy rich as the expense of the poor and the deficit. Even deep in Orange County, I don't recall my opponents ever slipping into arguments typically associated with Nazis or the KKK. And the plausibility of a Presidential administration colluding with the KGB was, of course, absurd. We were in a cold war, after all. My Grandfather fought white supremacists as a Marine and countered the KGB as a CIA agent. These were things Democrats and Republicans could agree were admirable endeavors.
In the sorriest days of the Watergate scandal, the iconoclastic journalist and 60 Minutes commentator Nicholas von Hoffman compared the Nixon presidency to “a dead mouse on the American family kitchen floor. The question is: who is going to pick it up by the tail and drop it in the trash?” It would be premature to write off the Trump presidency as a deceased rodent lying on the linoleum. In its nasty defensiveness, it is closer to a cornered rat. It still has plenty of ugly fight left. But we are at the beginning of the endgame and it is not premature to start imagining how to pick through the damage the Trump presidency will leave behind and future-proof the republic so that It Can’t Happen Here never happens again.
Forget for a moment the gathering storm – the administration's verified financial ties to the Kremlin, the litany of offenses, omissions from son-in-laws, sons, advisors, an attorney general, and a commerce secretary – forget all that James Wolcott (a journalist equally infuriating to the left and right) eloquently assesses above.
Simply consider that while his criminal empire flips, the President of the United States re-tweeted neo-Nazi propaganda and his party continued its bludgeoning of the nation's populace with negligence and deceit destined to cost and kill Americans well into the coming decades.
How many? A lot. By my calculations, the GOP agenda could prematurely kill 30,000 Americans and over 500,000 people worldwide. I know. Sounds crazy. I'm a moderate who is disinclined to shout. (I talk loudly, but that's inadvertent. Really.) What am I doing throwing around all those ghastly zeroes? It wasn't fun. I dislike numbers and their damn clairvoyant accuracy.
I started with this obvious intent: Republicans want to repeal the ACA. It's even a goal of their new tax bill. Assuming they succeed, we know 22 to 30 million will lose health insurance. About 25,000 would die as a result from lack of healthcare access. This is not mere conjecture. A study of Romneycare (which provided the backbone and blueprint of Obamacare) found that for every 850 Massachusetts residents who gained healthcare, at least one fewer life was lost. Nicely done, Mitt Romney.
In the process of making my claim, I dismissed many speculative and potentially unanticipated numbers (less education opportunities*, warfare, & workplace/home tragedies due to deregulation). Frankly, I consider my numbers to be a conservative estimate of conservatism.**
It does include a few precedents. Even when the nation had a functioning EPA and Interior Department, a 2013 MIT study calculated that air pollution – primarily vehicle and coal burning emissions – leads to 200,000 premature US death every year. The GOP has already succeeded in assuring dirtier air and water. It's their doctrine.
A recent plea from a black-lung coal miner to keep Obama-era environmental regulations was heartbreaking. Around the world, pollution kills 9 million annually. The GOP is the last remaining political party on earth to deny that this is a problem.
"Beijing sees this as a gift-wrapped opportunity to position itself as a responsible global leader at the expense of the United States,” says Andrew Small, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund.
Pollution not only kills, it costs a lot of money. Turning our back on the Paris agreement just gave $1 trillion of future investment to China. That could've been ours. (One trillion is a lot of money... it could've nearly paid for the amount the new GOP tax bill adds to our deficit.)
If we continue to count, even the GOP's stubborn resistance to upgrading national background checks for firearm purchases or reinstating the semiautomatic ban means more deaths. Based on comparisons of states with stronger background requirements versus those with weak rules, we can extrapolate that around 5,000 deaths annually could be prevented by stronger gun laws and/or laws prohibiting guns for those diagnosed as mentally ill or with prior domestic violence convictions.
It's really not too much to ask. Australia had a mass shooting problem. They fixed it. Japan, meanwhile, has roughly 8 firearm deaths a year. Models and precedents abound. Unfortunately, the National Institutes of Health and the CDC are both prevented from allowing public health experts to study gun violence. Like Climate Change, the GOP has made it literally unlawful to study the problem.
This is Medieval level anti-intellectualism. It's the imprisonment of Galileo.
My impossibly huge international death estimate is also based on past experience. Previous Republican gag rules and cuts in international aid resulted in an estimated 200,000 unnecessary overseas deaths during the Bush administration. Trump's cuts are more severe, including the decidedly anti-Christian exclusion and expulsion of refugees. He has also proposed ending our commitment to buying antiviral drugs for 11.5 million sub-Sahara Africans with HIV. That alone will likely result in a million deaths... a claim which sounds like ridiculous hyperbole, but models don't lie.
I welcome a critique or retort. Please check my math and extrapolation. I'm genuinely curious to hear a Republican response.
Nobody's clean, of course. Between my ancestors' arrival in New England and today, the United States has committed a rather spectacular genocide and land-grab. And, frankly, the indigenous peoples were not entirely peaceful before Europeans arrived (Hi, Aztecs). Humans are migrant, tribal, and occasionally brutal creatures. However, considering there are now seven billion of us, we are getting along rather swimmingly. We are learning, adapting, growing.
But any hopeful future cannot accommodate Trump's party. Beyond the authoritarian rhetoric and racism, the Republican Party is stubbornly clinging a woefully inaccurate and unscientific concept of the future. It's going to hurt.
I arrived at this conclusion numerically and quite reluctantly: We humans all have reasons to repent, but any Republican today should seriously consider the potential of fresh blood on their hands.
* Trump's proposed DOE budget slashes $9.2 billion from public education. It's vile. "It stands to hit low-income high school graduates especially hard—slashing $166 million in state grants for career and technical education, reducing the budget for federal work-study by a whopping 50 percent, eliminating the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes the AmeriCorps program, and doing away with federally subsidized loans." - Eve Peysner, Vice.
A lack of education won't kill, but it often leads to circumstances that can.
There's one more kid that will never go to school Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool.
** Other developments might lead to tragic circumstances, but were too nebulous or inconclusive to include:
Closures and restrictions to woman's health care (in particular Planned Parenthood) has turned Texas into a region with the highest pregnancy mortality in the developed world. It's nearly ten times higher than Japan, Italy, or France. In terms of caring for pregnant women, Texas is on par with the third world. (Not incidentally, Texas has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the US.) But, hey, taxes are kinda low. The GOP is currently unleashing similar cutbacks and abstinence-only education on the entire country.
I read Michael Lewis' (Moneyball) report of incompetence and animosity within the Department of Energy and how it could lead to disastrous consequences. Nutshell: the greatest nuclear threat in the world today is from within an agency lead by people with no experience and, worse, intent on killing it. Really, annihilation by incompetence is so terrifying and serious that The American Conservative wrote a follow-up entitled Idiocracy at the DOE.
I did not count collateral damage. We are at war, after all. There are stats suggesting that innocent casualties based on our operations around the world have increased since Donald became President, but adding these deaths isn't sound science. How does one attribute military operations that began prior to Trump's presidency? Trump's expansion of the 16 year war in Afghanistan will surely add to the loss of blood and treasure, but I've left them out of the estimate. War is messy.
So are natural disasters. Deregulation kills; lack of building regulation and environmental checks on growth on the prairies and bayous of Southwestern Texas exacerbates flooding. That was a conclusion made long before Harvey. It would be imprudent to add the tragedy to any estimate of the Republican agenda's death total... but the party has crippled or weakened most regulatory agencies designed to keep us safe.
Cuts in Medicare/aid, lunch programs, Meals on Wheels, public & workplace safety, the EPA, FDA, CDC, even the inability to offer protective health insurance to poor children will likely result in other premature deaths.
To be honest, I simply didn't have the will or fortitude to examine all the calamities. But since I try to thread music-makers into even the most disheartening posts, I'll conclude with an observation from country star Sturgill Simpson,
... Out of chaos comes beauty and order. That’s why I think all this Trump shit, as much as it’s hard to watch and look at, it’s absolutely necessary. I really believe that. He’s a manifestation of all the leftover remnants of the negative energy existing in our society. It’s all just coming to this head and it’s going to get so fucking ugly and exposed that it all just fizzles away and dissolves into itself and out of all of that, both parties will have to step up and take a real hard look in the mirror and do a much better job for us than they’ve been doing. In terms of empires or countries, we’re a puppy. It’s going to be OK. Other than outright global nuclear war, which in any case it doesn’t matter much.
Hope he's right.