Compassion Free Conservatives

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Throughout the years, from the Reagan Administration through 2008, we've heard a lot of talk about compassionate conservatism.  According to conservative conventional wisdom, it is entirely possible for a state and/or federal government to be fiscally conservative without, at the same time, disenfranchising those who are economically disadvantaged and others who are vulnerable, like the children of the poor.  

The reality?  When conservatives talk about compassion they are reading GOP talking point memos.   The real GOP imperative:

Kiss up to special and corporate interests.  Kick down the everyday constituents.

I guess Ronald Reagan thought he embodied compassionate conservatism when his administration deemed ketchup a vegetable in the public schools' federal lunch programs.  What's wrong with poor kids eating a paste comprised mostly of salt and sugar with nil nutritional value?  It has a vegetable kind of product added to it.   Let them eat a salt/sugar paste with artificial coloring.

Reagan's budget cuts, especially those involving social programs, effectively dismantled all safety nets for the nation's poor.

When George W. Bush ran for the Presidential office in 2000 he promoted himself as a compassionate conservative.  His tax cuts would produce more jobs.  Life would be good for all.But W.s significant tax cuts for the nation's most wealthy yielded few jobs and benefits for middle and working class Americans.  Jobs are outsourced to third world countries where labor is really, really cheap. Profits are hidden in offshore tax havens.  American corporations are no longer required to pay their fair share of taxes.

And so, few jobs and economic life lines were thrown to the middle and working class during the dark days of W.

So much for compassionate conservatism.

Yesterday while driving home from work I listened to local news on Pacifica Radio, KPFT 90.1 FM (Houston).   The last segment reported on our state's disgraceful lack of critical resources for homeless children.  The bottom line, Texas is the worst place in the U.S. for homeless children.  

That would be the low life bottom pit of shame.

No, we are not ranked second to the bottom of the pile as we are with our K-12 public  school rankings.  Au contraire – we are numero uno, i.e. the worst among the worse in providing crucial services for poverty stricken children.  

I missed part of the coverage since I turned the radio on midway through the report.

A quick Google search yielded an article published in the Houston Chronicle in March 2009 that gives details of our disgraceful neglect of homeless children.  Our state's poverty rate, by the way, is 23% while the rest of the U.S. averages 18%.  This is pretty stunning considering Texas is not exactly a poor state.   That said, one has only to drive through the city of Houston to witness the extraordinary differences between the haves and the haves not.   I am sure this holds true in other large cities here as well.

A study by the National Center on Family Homelessness  released Tuesday placed Texas 50th – last of all states – in how homeless children fare.

The ranking considered four areas: the percentage of homeless children; their overall well-being; risk factors for homelessness, such as poverty and foreclosure rates; and what the state is doing to address the problems.

“You've got a difficult context,” said Dr. Ellen Bassuk, president of the national center that produced the report and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

She said that the child poverty level in Texas is 23 percent, compared to 18 percent nationwide. Add to that the state's high foreclosure rate and Texas children start off at a disadvantage.

“You're a big state; you've got a significant problem,” Bassuk said. “Texas needs to respond.”

Texas needs to respond.

Crickets chirping.

Crickets continue to chirp.  And chirp.  And chirp.

The crickets died while chirping.

A new crop of crickets chirp.  

They are still chirping.

As I recall the number of homeless Americans grew exponentially during the Reagan Administration,  thanks to Reagan's budget cuts and overhaul of the tax codes.

Gov. Rick Perry likes to grandstand about turning down federal stimulus money for the unemployed and he enjoys promoting himself as a compassionate conservative at the same time.    According to Perry's web site:

Gov. Rick Perry today said that it is the responsibility of a conservative and compassionate government to protect the most vulnerable in society. Speaking at the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, Perry said that sweeping reforms will come to the beleaguered Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services programs and he announced that $1.5 million in Workforce Investment Act funds will be used to expand APS caseworker training in the current fiscal year.

“Conservative and compassionate government should provide a safety net for the most vulnerable among us, those in the dawn of their lives and the twilight of their years and those with little or no hope of self-sufficiency,” Perry said. “Not every child is born into ideal circumstances, but every child is precious. When a child's welfare is at risk, a case must not be ordered closed; it must be subject to immediate action.”

I guess Perry does not think the unemployed are vulnerable.    And if children are so precious why are our public K-12 schools ranked so low and why do we chose to ignore the needs of impoverished homeless children here?  

Why do Senators like John Cornyn vote against the SCHIP program (health insurance for low income children)?

As if this is not enough, Texas is telling psychiatrists here to pay back the Medicare payments they received for treating impoverished people who suffer from mental illness.  

In all fairness this is not entirely the fault of Texas.  If I understand it correctly, feds have a hand in this reprehensible act because the government relies on a 1965 statute of the law that established Medicare.  During the time of Medicare's enactment many mentally ill patients were institutionalized.  

Texas is stepping up enforcement of an old law denying Medicaid coverage to adult patients treated in psychiatric institutions, a move expected to leave even fewer doctors to treat the state's mentally ill poor.

The law is the original statute that established Medicaid in 1965. Conceived at a time when mentally ill patients were routinely institutionalized for lengthy periods of time, it is widely criticized today because psychiatric treatment and health care generally have evolved so much.

Why on earth are the federal and state governments relying on a law that is archaic and complete out of synch with 21st century mental illness realities?

A federal audit spanning 2001-2007 indicated there were $1.67 million in “improper payments.”  It seems the federal government and the state of Texas believe the psychiatrists did not properly screen their patients and many of the charges were unnecessary.

The improper payments, which total $1.67 million, were identified in a federal audit into the years 2001 to 2007. Following it, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission implemented better screening measures to deny such billing.

Some psychiatric groups can owe the government $130,000 and individual doctors could owe up to $40,000.  The federal government will get 60% of that owed while the state will receive 40%.

I was in disbelief when I received the letter,” said Dr. Jason Baron, a private-practice psychiatrist who admits patients at a number of area hospitals. “It appears to me a way of disenfranchising people from getting the treatment they need.”

Disenfranchising people indeed. It is always about the money. This is precisely what is happening on a number of levels and it has been going on since St. Ronnie.

So, what is going to happen to people who need treatment and cannot afford it?  Do any   conservatives out there have any idea?  

Are the poor and mentally ill not considered vulnerable, Guv?

The systematic disenfranchisement of the mentally ill began, once again, with yours truly, the revered St. Ronald Reagan the Compassionate Conservative whose cuts in social welfare funding drove patients out of mental institutions during his saintly term.  

According to the Electronic Journal of Sociology conservative backlash against the welfare state drove the Reagan agenda.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the reduction of funding for social welfare policies during the 1980s is the result of a conservative backlash against the welfare state. With such a backlash, it should be expected that changes in the policies toward involuntary commitment of the mentally ill reflect a generally conservative approach to social policy more generally. In this case, however, the complex of social forces that lead to less restrictive guidelines for involuntary commitment are not the result of conservative politics per se, but rather a coalition of fiscal conservatives, law and order Republicans, relatives of mentally ill patients, and the practitioners working with those patients.

Combined with a sharp rise in homelessness during the 1980s, Ronald Reagan pursued a policy toward the treatment of mental illness that satisfied special interest groups and the demands of the business community, but failed to address the issue: the treatment of mental illness

There they go again.  Conservatives pimped for the demands of special interest groups and those of the business community. They completely ignored the critical issue at hand, i.e. the treatment of mental illness.

The conservative backlash against an imagined welfare state and the Republican's desire to please the moneyed fat cats are alive, well and furiously humming along today.  The GOP is locked into an operating mode that harks back to the ancient times of the Reagan Administration.  Its agenda has not changed.

The Texas GOP assault on the poor and minorities continues to be relentless and pervasive.  It is hammering the impoverished and disenfranchised on all levels possible:  the homeless, public education, voting rights, health care insurance for children and mental health treatment.

Anytime a conservative calls oneself compassionate it means one really, really loathes those who truly need compassion. Indeed, compassion is not a concept conservatives can even remotely fathom.  



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