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George Curry

The Myth of a Federal Government Out of Control

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(NNPA) The Republican push to reduce the federal deficit solely through spending cuts is based on mythology rather than fact. That was clearly demonstrated by a series of reports issued recently by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

In a report issued Oct. 28, CBPP stated, “As a new budget conference committee seeks agreement on spending and tax priorities for the next decade, some policymakers and commentators who believe that future deficit reduction must come solely from spending cuts will likely repeat the claim that the federal government is exploding in size. The data do not support such a claim.

“To be sure, total federal spending as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) rose considerably in 2008 and 2009 and remained high in 2010 and 2011, in part because GDP was unusually low due to the Great Recession and its aftermath. But spending dropped significantly in 2012 as a share of GDP and, as the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) data indicates, this downward trend is expected to continue over the next five years.”

The report, titled “Size and Reach of Federal Government Are Not Exploding,” notes that those backing deep cuts in social programs neglect the real reasons for increased federal spending.

“While total federal spending will rise modestly as a percent of GDP during the latter part of the decade under a continuation of current policies, that is mostly because of a marked increase in interest payments,” the report stated. “In particular, as the economy recovers, interest rates will also rise, simultaneously increasing the interest we must pay on any given amount of debt.”

The study also found, “Under a continuation of current policies, total federal spending – including interest – will drop from 24.1 percent of GDP in 2011 and 22.8 percent in 2012 to 21.5 percent in 2013, before starting to rise in the middle of the coming decade, climbing back up to 22.7 percent by 2023. At least three-fourths of the increase between mid-decade and 2023, however, will come from higher interest payments on the debt. Interest payments are not a federal program, and increases in interest costs do not themselves represent an expansion of the government’s activities or reach. It should also be noted that interest costs rise when taxes are cut, because the tax cuts add to deficits and debt just as spending increases do.”

As I noted in this space last week, more than 90 percent of so-called entitlement benefits go to the elderly, disabled or working households. Furthermore, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities observed, increased spending on safety net programs because of the recession is both appropriate and temporary.

“Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections show that federal spending on low-income programs other than health care has started to decline and will fall substantially as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP) as the economy recovers. By the end of the decade, it will fall below its average level as a percent of GDP over the prior 40 years, from 1973 to 2012. Since these programs are not rising as a percent of GDP, they do not contribute to our long-term fiscal problems,” CBPP said in a report titled, “Low-Income Programs Are Not Driving the Nation’s Long-Term Fiscal Problem.”

I am not suggesting there are not some serious financial questions facing the nation. The rising cost of Medicaid is among those concerns. But it’s important to know why costs will rise rather than using it as an excuse to cut social programs.

“To be sure, Medicaid is projected to rise significantly in cost, relative to GDP, for several reasons,” said the report on low-income programs. “To begin with, costs throughout the U.S. health care system – in both the public and private sectors – have been growing faster than GDP for several decades. Medicaid isn’t the cause of this systemwide cost growth; over the past decade, in fact, per-beneficiary costs have risen more slowly in Medicaid than under private insurance, a trend expected to continue over the next ten years.”

It also noted, “A second reason that Medicaid costs will rise faster than GDP is the aging of the population. Older people have much higher average health care costs than younger people. Elderly and disabled beneficiaries account for 24 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries but 64 percent of program costs. As the population ages, the number and share of Medicaid beneficiaries who are elderly will increase, raising program costs.

“Another reason that Medicaid costs will continue to rise significantly is the continued erosion of employer-based health coverage. Over time, the share of low-income people able to get coverage through their (or their families’) employers has fallen, so more of them have turned to Medicaid for coverage.”

Yes, the federal government needs to pay close attention to future spending and revenue. But not because spending is out of control or the safety net is bankrupting the country.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

‘Entitlement Programs' Serve Elderly and Poor

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(NNPA) Republicans have made it clear that their next budget goal is to slash so-called entitlement programs. Democrats have failed to explain to the public that the misnamed programs are valuable and prevent millions of Americans, many of them elderly or children, from living in poverty.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) issued a report last week that found: “Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty. Without Social Security, 22.2 million more Americans would be poor, according to the latest available Census data (for 2012). Although most of those whom Social Security keeps out of poverty are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1 million children. Depending on their design, reductions in Social Security benefits could significantly increase poverty, particularly among the elderly.”

The report explained, “Almost 90 percent of people aged 65 and older receive some of their family income from Social Security. Without Social Security benefits, 44.4 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal; with Social Security benefits, only 9.1 percent do. These benefits lift 15.3 million elderly Americans — including 9.0 million women – above the poverty line.”

Medicare has proven equally as effective. Yet, Republicans like to pretend that the U.S. is quickly moving toward an entitlement society.

However, CBPP issued a report last year titled, “Contrary to ‘Entitlement Society’ Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households.”

It stated, “More than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work. This figure has changed little in the past few years.”

It stated, “The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.

“Such beliefs are starkly at odds with the basic facts regarding social programs, the analysis finds. Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households. People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.

“Moreover, the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.”

The research also shatters another myth, the idea that entitlement programs shift resources for the middle class to the poor.

“The data show that the middle class receives approximately its proportionate share of benefits: in 2010, the middle 60 percent of the population received 58 percent of the entitlement benefits. The top 20 percent of the population received 10 percent of the benefits; the bottom 20 percent received 32 percent of the benefits. “

Even with a sluggish economy, Congress seems unwilling to support those on food stamps, now called SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Under the 2009 Recovery Act, recipients received a 13.6 percent temporary boost in benefits. However, that provision is set to expire on Nov. 1, resulting in a $80 a month loss for a family of four. That means SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in fiscal 2014.

Instead of continuing to help those in dire need, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okl.) introduced legislation in September cutting SNAP by at least $39 billion over the next decade.

To his credit, President Obama has suggested a more balanced approach, with cuts being matched by closing some of the loopholes for the wealthy.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top fifth of the population receives 66 percent of tax-expenditure benefits, the middle 60 percent of the population receives a little more than 31 percent of tax-expenditure benefits, the bottom fifth receives just 2.8 percent of tax-expenditure benefits and the top 1 percent of the population receives 23.9 percent of tax-expenditure benefits. And the report pointed out, “That’s more than eight times as much as the bottom fifth of the population, and nearly as much as the middle 60 percent of the population.”

It’s time for President Obama and Democratic leaders to show that they can stand up to Teapublicans more than once.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can abe reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Obama's Showdown with 'Teapublicans' is Just Beginning

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(NNPA) Believe it or not, President Obama’s decision to finally stand up to Teapublicans – a Republican Party hijacked by Right-wing Tea Party zealots – in the latest standoff over the Affordable Care Act and the debt ceiling was the easy part.

Next comes the real fireworks over the budget. And, judging from the past, the Democrats are likely to wave the white flag of surrender, even before the first shot are fired.

Don’t forget that although Obama campaigned on the promise of extending the Bush tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000, which would cover 98 percent of all taxpayers, he eventually capitulated under Republican pressure, extending the Bush-era rates on incomes below $450,000 for families and $400,000 for individuals.

And in his unsuccessful effort to reach a grand bargain with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011, according to leaked confidential documents, Obama expressed a willingness to support cuts to TRICARE, the health insurance program for the military and military retirees; Social Security, Medicare, housing, nutritional assistance and other social programs.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explained why he, too, feels Obama will cave in to Republican demands.

“He’s already put on the table a way to reduce future Social Security payments by altering the way cost-of-living adjustments are made – using the so-called ‘chained’ consumer price index, which assumes that when prices rise people economize by switching to cheaper alternatives. This makes no sense for seniors, who already spend a disproportionate share of their income on prescription drugs, home healthcare, and medical devices – the prices of which have been rising faster than inflation. Besides, Social Security isn’t responsible for our budget deficits. Quite the opposite: For years its surpluses have been used to fund everything else the government does.

“The President has also suggested ‘means-testing’ Medicare – that is, providing less of it to higher-income seniors. This might be sensible. The danger is it becomes the start of a slippery slope that eventually turns Medicare into another type of Medicaid, a program perceived to be for the poor and therefore vulnerable to budget cuts.

“But why even suggest cutting Medicare at all, when the program isn’t responsible for the large budget deficits projected a decade or more from now? Medicare itself is enormously efficient; its administrative costs are far lower than commercial health insurance.”

Equally troubling are the signals the president is already sending on the budget.

“Keep in mind that the budget that we are going to pass under any deal is going to be the Republican budget. It will have cuts that are much more substantial than Democrats would prefer,” Obama said in an interview with New York’s WABC-TV two days before the government reopened. “The Democrats have not asked for anything to reopen the government. The Democrats haven’t asked for anything for paying our bills on time.”

The last time I checked, the Senate and the executive branch were controlled by Democrats. Republicans control only the House. And the only reason they control the House is because of gerrymandered congressional districts. In the last election, House Democrats received more votes than House Republicans. So why does President Obama feel that the nation will be stuck with a “Republican budget”?

Second, Obama correctly noted that Democrats have not asked for anything to reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling. And, as Congressman Gregory W. Meeks of New York observed, that is the problem.

Meeks told Politico, “At no point have we said what our demands are. All you’ve heard was what their demands are. Maybe we should put down what our demands are of what we need and what we want because there’s things that are important and dear to us also, and then the negotiations start from there.”

The tragedy is that Democrats usually won’t stand firm even when public opinion is on their side. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted a survey in March asking: What is more important, taking steps to reduce the national debt or keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are?

According to Pew, 55 percent favored keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are 34 percent preferred taking steps to reduce the national debt, and 11 percent said both are equally important.

Yet, Obama is willing to make concessions on Social Security and Medicare.

With no demands on the table, it’s impossible to know what, if anything, is important to the Democratic Party anymore. That’s not the case with the Teapublicans. Love or hate them, they have clearly and forcefully stated they want to privatize Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher system, and want deep cuts in social programs. They have not only articulated their priorities, they have demonstrated with the shutdown how far they are willing to go to fight for their misguided beliefs.

What are Democrats willing to fight to the end for? If you find out, please let me know.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Dr. Ben Carson: 'Gifted Hands,' Foot in Mouth

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(NNPA) Dr. Ben Carson became the darling of conservatives earlier this year by stridently attacking the Affordable Care Act with President Obama sitting just a few feet away. Carson, who was serving as the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast at the White House, said,

“Here’s my solution: When a person is born, give him a birth certificate, an electronic medical record, and a health savings account to which money can be contributed – pretax – from the time you’re born ’til the time you die. When you die, you can pass it on to your family members, so that when you’re 85 years old and you got six diseases, you’re not trying to spend up everything. You’re happy to pass it on and there’s nobody talking about death panels.

“Number one. And also, for the people who were indigent who don’t have any money we can make contributions to their HSA [Health Savings Account] each month because we already have this huge pot of money. Instead of sending it to some bureaucracy, let’s put it in their HSAs. Now they have some control over their own health care.”

Predictably, the Right wing rushed to embrace him. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the crew at Fox News were ecstatic that a prominent Black neurosurgeon shared their world view. Jonah Goldberg, a columnist for the Right-wing National Review, compared Carson to racial apologist Booker T. Washington. David Graham, writing in The Atlantic, called him Herman Cain without the “personal skeletons.” And the conservative Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed under the headline, “Ben Carson for President.”

Carson became a paid contributor to Fox News, was hired to write a weekly column for the Right-wing Washington Times, and became in demand as a speaker at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and any national event that attracts more than three conservatives.

Professionally, Carson is no dumb man. He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his M.D. from the University of Michigan. At the age of 33, he became director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the youngest major division director in the school’s history.

In 1987, he led a 70-member surgical ream that separated twins who had been joined at the back of the head. After the successful 22-hour surgery, Carson gained national recognition. His autobiography, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, was published in 1992. The book recounts how his mother, Sonya, reared him and his older brother, Curtis, after she and her husband, Robert, divorced when Ben was 8 years old. In 2009, TNT released a television movie with the same title as his book, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Ben Carson. In 2008, George W. Bush presented Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Carson has made several controversial remarks after his appearance at the White House. In March, he said on Fox TV: “Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition.”

Under pressure, Carson withdrew as commencement speaker for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He also apologized for “not the best choice of words,” called his critics racist, and then apologized again.

Of all of his outrageous comments, his latest one ranks among the most egregious.

Speaking at a Voter Values Summit, Carson said, “I have to tell you that Obamacare is, really, I think, the worst thing that’s happened to this nation since slavery. It was never about healthcare, it was about control.”

First, the Affordable Care Act does what its proper title implies – it makes health care affordable to millions of people, including the uninsured. If making insurance more affordable, not allowing insurance companies to reject people with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26 years old isn’t about healthcare, the esteemed neurosurgeon doesn’t know the definition of healthcare.

Second, any idiot knows that having access to healthcare is not worse than slavery.

Enslaved Africans had no rights, as the Supreme Court ruled in its 1857 Dred Scott decision, “which the white man was bound to respect.” They were brutalized, degraded, whipped, killed, and raped at the whim of the slave master. Marriage was not recognized and the slave codes in various states made it illegal to teach Blacks to read or write.

The Affordable Health Care Act is worse than that?

It’s a ridiculous comparison. At the rate he is going, Carson’s photograph will be slapped on boxes of rice. Dr. Ben will be more appropriately known as Uncle Ben.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Yes, Mental Illness Affects 'Us'

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(NNPA) On Monday, Sept. 16 the news was shocking: A contract employee who worked at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., later identified as Aaron Alexis, killed 12 innocent people in the facility before he was killed by police.

For many African Americans, our first thought was: “I hope it wasn’t one of us.”

On Oct. 3, there was another disturbing incident in the nation’s capital: An unarmed woman with her 1-year-old child in the car, drove her vehicle into barriers outside the White House and on Capitol Hill before being shot to death by police.

Again, we thought: “I hope it wasn’t one of us.”

And the next day brought additional bad news from Washington: A man poured gasoline over his body and set himself on fire on the National Mall. He died the next day.

Once again: “I hope it wasn’t one of us.”

In each case, it was one of us. Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard gunman, was Black. Miriam Carey, the 34-year old dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn. was an African American. And the unidentified man who burned himself to death on the Mall was also Black.

More important than their race, Aaron Alexis, Miriam Carey and possibly the man who set himself on fire suffered from a mental disorder. And that’s something we have been reluctant to discuss. But it’s time for that to change.

In an interview last year on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” Dr. William Lawson, professor of psychiatry and chairman of psychiatry at Howard University College of Medicine, discussed some of the factors in our refusal to seek help for mental problems.

“Many African Americans have a lot of negative feelings about or not even aware of mental health services,” he said. “They are not aware of the symptoms of many mental disorders, or they may believe that to be mentally ill is a sign of weakness or a sign of character fault.”

That attitude permeates Black America, regardless of income level.

“In places like Los Angeles and New York, everyone and their pet has a therapist, yet even among the wealthy and elite, many African Americans continue to hold stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness.” Monnica Williams wrote in Psychology Today.

“For example, a qualitative study by Alvidrez et al., (2008) found that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered ‘crazy’ in their social circles. Talking about problems with an outsider (i.e., therapist) may be viewed as airing one’s ‘dirty laundry,’ and even more telling is the fact that over a quarter of those consumers felt that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family.”

Williams observed, “African Americans share the same mental health issues as the rest of the population, with arguably even greater stressors due to racism, prejudice, and economic disparities. Meanwhile, many wonder why African Americans shy away from psychotherapy as a potential solution to challenges such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, marriage problems, and parenting issues. As a Black psychologist, it is troublesome that so many African Americans are reluctant to make use of psychology’s solutions to emotional hurdles.”

And when Blacks do seek help to get over those emotional hurdles, they tend to do so later, when treatment might not be as effective as it may have been if they had sought help earlier.

In addition to our antiquated attitude toward mental health, medical professionals also share part of the blame.

A fact sheet by the National Alliance on Mental Health notes:

* African Americans in the United States are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their Caucasian counterparts. Schizophrenia, for instance has been shown to be over diagnosed in the African American population;

* Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural understanding; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African Americans; and

* Overall sensitivity to African American cultural differences, such as differences in medication metabolization rates, unique views of mental illness and propensity towards experiencing certain mental illnesses, can improve African Americans’ treatment experiences and increase utilization of mental health care services.

Dr. Sarah Vinson, who created website BlackMentalHealthNet.com, said mental illness takes a high toll on African Americans.

In an Emory University posting, she said: “Untreated, mental illness can cause strained relationships, social dysfunction, and numerous other problems that can end up in divorce, unemployment, and suicide.”

(In addition to Dr. Vinson’s website, further information on mental illness can be obtained from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Minority Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.)

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

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