The Justice Chronicles Volume 12: Marriage Gets More Inclusive

Last month the Supreme Court handed down decisions on United States v. Windsor (DOMA) and Hollingsworth v. Perry (Proposition 8). They covered different issues and made different claims, but both opened up marriage to gay couples.

This shouldn’t surprise readers of my writing, but I was disappointed with much of the news coverage. Most of what I saw from the major networks held up the decisions to “who won, who lost” and missed the reasoning behind the decisions. I was interested in this and also which justices landed on which side.

The DOMA case was 5-4; Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion and was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justices Roberts, Scalia, and Alito wrote dissents; Justice Thomas joined the dissents of Justices Scalia and Alito.

DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996. Basically it mandated that the federal government not recognize gay marriage even if the marriage is legal where it was performed. That meant gay couples who legally married were not eligible for such things as joint filing of income taxes, survivor benefits for Social Security, etc. The lawsuit was brought by the widow of a lesbian marriage; because their marriage was not recognized by the federal government the surviving member owed $363,053 in probate taxes. If not for DOMA she would not have owed anything (you automatically get all your spouse’s assets tax free when he or she dies). She claimed that the federal government must recognize all valid marriages, not just heterosexual ones. She was also able to show that DOMA caused her harm to the tune of $363,053.

The majority of the court (led by Justice Kennedy) argued that since states issue marriage licenses the federal government can’t decide which marriages are valid and which aren’t. Different states have different rules about who can marry (e.g. minimum age) and the federal government recognizes any marriage the state recognizes. DOMA puts homosexual marriages in a different case for no good reason

The dissents argue a few points. Justice Scalia argues that the court should never have taken the case (it’s a fairly technical point that he makes well). Most of the rest are what we’ve come to expect: that traditional (opposite sex) marriages are the norm because only they can produce children. They also decry the demonization they have suffered: opponents of same sex marriage are right only because they are demonized as homophobes and bigots.

In a sense they have a point: they are homophobes and bigots. The justices who dissented argue several points that make no sense and weak arguments: “this decision refutes the will of the majority,” “this decision goes beyond what everyone used to assume about marriage,” “this decision allows people to love one another in a way that offends me,” etc.

Simply put, this allows adults to marry each other. Granted, homosexual marriages cannot produce children but neither can marriages of heterosexual couples where the woman is post-menopausal or where one (or both) have been sterilized. We, who are heterosexual, cannot ban marriages that we find gross and icky. Marriages in the this country haven’t been homosexual, but in many states marriages weren’t biracial until 1967 (Loving v. Virginia).

The Proposition 8 case was more interesting in the lineup. The 5 person majority consisted of Justice Roberts (who wrote the opinion) and was joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Kennedy wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayer.

The Court ruled that they weren’t going to rule on the merits of the Prop 8 case because the defendants had no standing (they had no right to bring the case). The case originated with several gay couples who wanted to marry but were prevented by Prop 8; they filed suit against the state of California. In the first round the court ruled for the plaintiffs, and the state of California decided not to appeal. Supporters of Prop 8 stepped in as defendants, claiming that they had standing because they were the ones who collected the signatures for the ballot initiative. The Court ruled that they may have had standing during the process of putting the measure on the ballot, but once it passed, only the state of California could defend the proposition.

This was a mixed result for supporters of gay marriage. While this will allow gay marriages in California once again, it does not affect laws in other states. Many of us wanted the Court to go further and rule that Prop 8 is unconstitutional because the states don’t have the right to ban gay marriage. They wanted a gay version of Loving v. Virginia.

What next? Proponents of gay marriage have 2 routes: they can bring suit in a state that currently bans gay marriage, or they can start working on the state legislature level to pass laws that allow gay marriage. I’m guessing that groups will try both, and I suspect that the days of homophobia in marriage are numbered.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 11: Thoughts on Edward Snowden, The NSA, and the 4th Amendment

Earlier this month Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton leaked information that the National Security Agency has been collecting phone records of US citizens. It’s been a huge story and awakened a debate on privacy, security, and the 4th Amendment.

Unfortunately any story that hits the 24 hour news cycle loses all nuance and much its accuracy; we should begin with a few of the facts of the case. Here is what I’ve gleaned:

The NSA (National Security Agency) is tasked with protecting our nation and citizens from people and organizations who wish to harm us. They are secret by nature and work in the shadows; most of us don’t know what they do. The information age, global connectedness, and the internet has led to an explosion in both the ability to harm us and the ability of the agency to find out what they are doing. The NSA has worked hard to collect information, not only by people who mean us harm, but information that we might need later.

Earlier this month Edward Snowden leaked to the media the fact that the NSA is collecting phone records of nearly every call made here. If you think about all the calls you’ve made in the last month, multiplied by the 314,000,000 people who live here, it’s a large number. To be clear, they haven’t been listening in on every (or any) conversation. They’ve been collecting the data on the calls that we’ve made: not what we’ve said but who we’ve called and how long we’ve talked. They can’t access any of this information without a warrant from something called the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” (FISA).

Edward Snowden is in legal trouble because the Obama administration claims that by leaking this information he has committed espionage, normally defined as giving aid and comfort to the enemy. In other words, by telling us that the NSA is collecting this information we are “tipping our hand” and allowing our enemies to find other ways to harm us. This is the part I’m finding troubling.

I have to confess a bias here: I look at the 4th Amendment the way the NRA looks at the 2nd Amendment. The 4th Amendment says this:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

When this amendment was written there was a limited ability to search and seize. That ability has dramatically changed with technology. For example, in the 19th Century the invention of the telegraph and telephone allowed for private communications to travel from one place to another. The courts could have easily found that the 4th Amendment applied only to the physical limits of houses, papers, and effects, but it didn’t. Law enforcement still needs a search warrant to tap telephone calls.

But what about now? What limits do we have on tracking our cell phone calls, emails, or social media platforms? Are we in the 19th Century where your telephone is part of your house or the 21st Century where even your trip to 7 Eleven is videotaped?

In my role as a hospice chaplain I am in public view a good part of the day. My 2006 Toyota Prius has an “event data recorder” that records (among other things) my speed, steering, and whether or not I’m wearing my seatbelt. Since I have a GPS my location is also recorded. Several of my patients live in gated communities or other places that have video surveillance. Most of the places where I stop for lunch or a soda also videotape. Anytime I get cash out of at ATM or use my credit card, that is recorded. During all this time I’m either alone or with people who don’t know me, and I carry with me the presumption of privacy.

But is that presumption is false? The government has the ability (though the court system) to look at all of this information. If all this tracking comes under the same eyes, my life would not be far off from Winston Smith in 1984 by George Orwell.

I think we can all agree that there needs to be limits on what can be revealed on us, but conversations about these limits needs to be public.

This is the point where I find myself in agreement with Mr. Snowden. We cannot have a dialogue about the limits of the 4th Amendment if we don’t know what the rules are. President Obama wants to prosecute him, claiming that revealing this information tips off our enemies about what kind of information they gather.

This type of argument is not new. When the Bush administration was trying to convince us that we needed to go to war against Iraq, they claimed we knew the location and existence of weapons of mass destruction. How did the administration know this? They couldn’t tell us because that information would tip the hand. Later, when we all learned that these weapons didn’t exist, many of us believed that they didn’t show us the evidence because they simply didn’t have it. Had we known the evidence either didn’t exist, or was unreliable, we would not have favored going to war.

Most people don’t feel as strongly about the 4th Amendment as I do. There is often the presumption that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, and government surveillance in the interest of catching bad guys is always allowed. I disagree, and I believe the framers of the Constitution did too. They knew this amendment would make prosecution of criminals more difficult (as do jury trials and the prohibition to compel someone to testify against himself), but they thought it was worth it. So do I.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 10: There He Goes Again (Hopefully for the Last time)

It’s been five days since the election and binders have been written about what happened and why. The day after the election Governor Romney held a conference call with major donors (that CNN and other news organizations joined) about what happened. This was his chance to be magnanimous, thank his supporters, and move on. That’s what he did in his concession speech.

Instead, he stated that President Obama won the election by pandering to the voters. He said (and this comes from multiple sources on a few different phone calls):

  • What the president, president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote
  • With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift
  • Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women
  • And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008

The best part of this? I don’t even need to react because other Republicans already have.

Newt Gingrich said this: I just think it’s nuts. I mean, first of all, it’s insulting. The job of a political leader in part is to understand the people. If we can’t offer a better future that is believable to more people, we’re not going to win.

Piyush (Bobby) Jindal: [A winning strategy] does not involve insulting [voters] and saying their votes were bought. I’m proud to have campaigned for him across the country, but I absolutely reject what he said. Look, we as the Republican Party have to campaign for every single vote. If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And you don’t start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought.

Lindsay Graham: Rhetoric like this keeps digging a hole for the Republican party. We’re in a big hole. We’re not getting out of it by comments like [Romney’s]. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging.

To this I add only this: Justice is not a gift. Providing people what they need is the role of government. I’m grateful Romney lost.

PS: You can still order Romney campaign stuff on his webpage.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 9: There He Goes Again

Governor Romney has proven once again that (1) He still doesn’t get it, and (2) There are no limits on his ability to shop for a moral compass.

A few weeks ago the Governor was interviewed on 60 Minutes and, as you might expect, he was asked about health care. Scott Pelley asked him this question: “Do you think the government has a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?” He responded:

Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance. If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.

His implication is clear: If you don’t have health insurance you don’t have to worry. Just go to the emergency room and you’ll be taken care of. That’s fine, but it’s just not true. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires that anyone who comes to a hospital emergency room be provided an examination and needed stabilizing treatment. In other words, if you show up in an emergency room with chest pain, they have to make sure you are stable. In that sense Governor Romney is correct that emergency room has to stop your chest pain.

But they don’t need to stop your heart disease. They only need to stop your symptoms. So what if your symptoms aren’t cardiac? Glad you asked. There is an article in the today’s Los Angeles Times about Jode Towe.

On the surface, he is living the Republican dream. He started a business (as truck driver), but he couldn’t afford to buy health insurance on his own. His only option was to hope he didn’t get sick or injured. Things were going well until he noticed increased fatigue and “something” in the back of his throat. He paid out of pocket to see a doctor, and the results were not good. He’s not sure what is in his throat, but there is at least a chance it’s cancer. A biopsy would be the next logical step but that (and a tonsilectomy) would likely cost $4,000; if there is cancer any treatment would cost thousands of dollars, well beyond Mr. Towe’s ability to pay.

So what if he takes Governor Romney’s advice and go to the emergency room? All they are required to do is stabilize his symptoms (essentially a throat lozenge). Mr. Towe would also be responsible for any charges. In many ways that’s the worst part of Mr. Romney’s advice. If someone goes to the emergency room and can’t afford to pay, the hospital ends up eating the cost, but the hospital can still try to collect the money. They are counting on you mortgaging your house, selling your blood, hitting up your family, etc. If that doesn’t work they turn the case over to a collection agency that trashes your credit score. Nobody wins: the hospital doesn’t get their money and your financial future is compromised.

When the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in 2014, Mr. Towe will be offered affordable health insurance, even with his pre-existing condition. Hopefully he’ll still be around then.

Hopefully Governor Romney won’t have a chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 8: Maybe now DOMA is Doomed

With all the attention given to the Presidential campaign, an important story isn’t getting as much publicity as it should. On October 18, 2012 the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit handed down a ruling in the case of Windsor v. US that the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA is unconstitutional.

In 1996 the Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, DOMA. Among other things DOMA prohibits the Internal Revenue Service from recognizing same sex marriages, even if the couple were legally married.

I’m taking the facts of the case from the opinion itself. Edith (Edie) Windsor and Thea Spyer were legally married in Canada in 2007 (though they had been a couple for 44 years). Thea died in 2009 in New York, and had they been a heterosexual couple, Edie would have been classified as the surviving spouse for tax purposes. Because of DOMA their marriage wasn’t recognized by the IRS and Edie owed $363,053 in taxes to inherit Thea’s estate. Under federal tax law, a spouse who dies can leave assets, including the family home, to the other spouse without incurring estate taxes, but because of DOMA Edie was not considered Thea’s spouse and is responsible for those taxes. Edie sued in federal court to return the $363,053, arguing that she was Thea’s spouse; in 2011 New York began allowing same sex marriages and the state recognized their union.

There are many nuances to this case, but essentially the court found that DOMA is “an unprecedented intrusion into an area of traditional state regulation” as the states grant marriage licenses.

Clearly the issue of gay marriage is going to the Supreme Court in either this session or the next. But I have to confess a chuckle over this case as it’s decided on the basis of federal intrusion while the Republican Party consistently reminds us that they are the party to “get government off our backs.” I’m guessing they don’t want government off our backs on this one.

Personal note: DOMA claims to protect traditional marriage. As a heterosexual married man, can anyone tell me how gay marriage threatens my marriage? If so, I’m happy to support DOMA. In the meantime I’m on the side of opposing homophobia.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 7: Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand

Yesterday we learned that Governor Mitt Romney has chosen Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. There is lots to talk about, and I’ll be doing more talking in the next few months. Right now I want to focus on Paul Ryan’s views on the role of government.

When he was in college Paul read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1905-1982) and was immediately taken by it. Much of his political philosophy comes from her views: what she calls “Objectivism.” She holds that:

  1. Reality exists as an objective absolute–facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes, or fears
  2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s sense) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
  3. Man–every man–is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
  4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but historically, had not yet been) a complete separations of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Religion composes the only true difference in their beliefs: Paul is Catholic and Ayn was a strong atheist. In an interview in 1964 she was asked: “Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?” This is her answer:

Qua religion, no—in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy.

Paul wishes us to believe that you can be a follower of Ayn Rand and a Christian, but can we? How do we square an entire philosophy based exclusively on self interest when Jesus gave his life to save all humanity? How does the pursuit of one’s own self interest find any common ground with a faith that demands that we be our brother’s keeper?

This is not just academic discussion. Paul has proposed a federal budget that is very much in agreement with Objectivist views. He calls it The Path to Prosperity and you can download a copy here. It is clearly a path to prosperity if you are already rich. It makes horrific cuts to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and a host of other programs that provide basic services to the poor while providing generous tax cuts to the richest among us.

If this budget plan aligns with Objectivist values, what does Christianity say? In 1986 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a document called Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. This is their opening paragraph:

We are believers called to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim his Gospel in the midst of a complex and powerful economy. This reality poses both opportunities and responsibilities for Catholics in the United States. Our faith calls us to measure this economy, not only by what it produces, but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land.

In paragraph 8 they state: “As a community of believers, we know that our faith is tested by the quality of justice among us, that we can best measure our life together by how the poor and the vulnerable are treated.”

The election is 84 days from now and we have a clear choice to make. More later.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 6: The Supreme Court rules on Snyder v. Phelps. Unfortunate But Necessary

I’ve reported on this case before, and on March 2nd the Supreme Court ruled on the case. By a vote of 8-1 the Court upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at funerals. They have protested at several funerals of young men and women killed in uniform who died in service to our country, including the funeral of Matthew Snyder. The members of the church (who are mainly members of the family of pastor, Fred Phelps) carry signs that say: “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11” or “God Hates Fags.”

The Court ruled that while this speech is clearly offensive and painful, it’s protected by the First Amendment. At the end of the day, I’m afraid I have to say that I agree.

As a Christian I hate the fact that Fred Phelps claims to worship the same God as me. And while I pray for his conversion from a life of hate to a life of love, as an American citizen I believe he has a right to his hate. He has a right to offend me, and large segments of the population.

The final good news here is that all of us also have the right to offend him. Since this case has made national news, several organizations have promised to show up at these same funerals to shout down Phelps, et. al. They also have First Amendment protection.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 5: Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: The Government Doing What It's Supposed To Do

Last month the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in the case of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth and I’m finding great satisfaction over it.

Here some background and the basic facts of the case: In the last few decades there has been an increased belief that there is a link between vaccines and illness, especially autism (you can read more of my views on this in a previous post). Out of this came a well founded fear that drug companies would no longer be willing to develop or manufacture childhood vaccines. In 1986 Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA). Section 22(b)(1) states this:

[n]o vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after October 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings

This act does not prevent anyone from suing a drug company if they did something wrong, but it did say you can’t sue if they did everything right and the person had a bad outcome.

Hannah Bruesewitz received the DPT (diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus) vaccine and later developed seizures. Her parents sued Wyeth claiming the vaccine caused this. Because they could not prove that Wyeth did anything wrong (or for that matter that there was a link between the vaccine and her seizures) the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Wyeth.

This puts me in a strange place as I almost never side with these large drug companies, and I virtually never side with Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion.

Our nation is currently full of people who believe that the free market can take care of our needs and government shouldn’t interfere. But I find that this was our government doing well what it should be doing. The free market would have made it unprofitable (and therefore impossible) to develop and manufacture vaccines that have become essential to childhood health. Congress passed, the President signed, and the Supreme Court affirmed this legislation.

Way to go.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 4: Are We Ready To Go Backwards In Our Compassion?

This image may be a strange way to start a blog on justice, but bear with me. This is the death certificate of Joseph Arthur Calixte Lizotte in Greenfield, New Hampshire. For the record he’s my 7th cousin twice removed, though I doubt I would have ever met or heard of him had he lived. The death certificate is hard to read, but he died in 1915 at 16 months of cholera (that he had for 3 days) and malnutrition (that he had for his entire life).

I came across this death certificate about 10 years ago when I was doing genealogy research and was struck and saddened by the fact that someone could die (at least partly) from malnutrition here in the United States. Simply put, the programs that would have saved him wouldn’t exist until 20 years later when the country was in the middle of a depression.

As I look over the political landscape today I worry that we may be headed back to those days. The Great Depression lasted only a decade but framed much of the 20th Century. Talk to nearly anyone who lived through those years and he will tell you that it was when people came together to help each other. It was also a time when our nation began to reflect on common values. Led by President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) we developed programs to support the elderly (Social Security), the poor (Welfare, later known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children), and the unemployed (Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and others). In later years help was expanded to include the hungry (Food Stamps). By the 1960s we began to provide health care to the elderly and the poor (Medicare and Medicaid).

Though far from complete, these programs ensured that most of the basic needs of most of us are provided. If my distant cousin had been born in 1934 instead of 1914 he likely would not have spent his entire life suffering from malnutrition. Because of progress made in plumbing and cleanliness he probably wouldn’t have even developed cholera, but if he did he would have had an 80% chance of surviving it (see the CDC for more information). All these programs were funded through the taxes we paid, and we paid them because they reflected our values.

Fast forward to today. I’m not sure we still share those values; as I read the political landscape, the only real value I see is that I should not be inconvenienced or charged for anything that will benefit anyone other than me. If you’re running for office, the fastest road to defeat lies in not promising to cut taxes. It’s become fashionable to claim that government does too much and is too costly. Meanwhile, on ground level, our schools, fire departments, libraries and infrastructure are crumbling. We are laying off teachers while school attendance continues to rise.

We’re also making it harder to access services. In 2008 here in San Diego, only 29% of those eligible for food stamps actually received them. Why not? These answers are always complicated but I don’t think anyone can deny that the process of applying is difficult and humiliating. Fortunately there has been some publicity around this and more hungry people are accessing food stamps, but the number is still too low.

This will ensure I can never run for office on any level, but I think we need to be willing to pay for what we value and be frank that we are all invested in good schools and full stomachs. We, as a whole, need to be compassionate not just with our minds but also with our wallets. We need to live in a society where nobody dies (even in part) of malnutrition.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 3: Is Justice Devolving into Just Us?

In February of this year I started the Justice Chronicles, and talked about it in a religious context. Now I wish to talk about it in terms of how we govern ourselves. Hard to imagine an issue that is more polarizing than religion, but this may be it.

When someone in the government talks about justice it’s virtually always in the context of law enforcement: Protect me from the bad people and get rid of them if you can’t protect me. But it seems to me that justice ought to be much more. When we talk about justice in the public forum, why can’t we see it in the context of what we value as a society?

When I did marriage preparation I used to say this to the couple: Show me your checkbook and the last several months of your credit card statements and I’ll tell you what you really value. In other words, if I know where your money goes, I know what you think is important. We can use the same thing when we look at the budgets of the nation, state, and locality. You can look on a page at Wikipedia to see a pie chart of the 2010 US Federal Budget. The top categories are Social Security (19.63%), Department of Defense (18.74%), Unemployment/Welfare/Other Mandatory Spending (16.13%), and Medicare (12.79%).

So how are we doing? At first blush, not bad. Nearly 3/4 of the federal budget (73.24%) are these four categories, and three of them (Social Security, Unemployment, and Medicare) provide direct services to people in need: the elderly, the poor, and the sick. The other category protects us from outside forces that wish us ill.

But on the other hand, you can see how these four categories are weighted toward those who can advocate for themselves. I’m headed toward the Social Security/Medicare population at what seems like light speed, but it’s also true that the elderly vote in large numbers. They are essentially the exclusive recipients of Social Security and Medicare.

In 1961, in his farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the emergence of the Military Industrial Complex. He was, in this case, a prophet. No one, myself included, begrudges the brave men and women in uniform whatever they need to stay safe and come home. But the past 50 years we have been littered with stories of the military denouncing a weapons system, a jet, or a missile as unnecessary only to be overruled by a member of Congress who doesn’t want to lose the federal funds to pay for a factory in his/her district. We are owed efficiency from the Department of Defense every bit as much as the Department of Health and Human Services.

Finally, and this is my most salient point, is the status of our children in the federal budget. Where do we find them? Well, 8.19% of the budget is devoted to Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Medicaid was designed in the 1960s as health insurance for the poorest among us. It is certainly that, but it is not necessarily weighted toward children. The fastest growing segment are elderly folk who need someone to pay for their stay in a skilled nursing facility (also known as a SNF or a nursing home).

Children, alas, are often looked at as an expense for the rest of us. That’s wrong. We need to look at our children (and I’m speaking globally as I have no children myself) not as an expense, but as the ultimate investment in our future. Study after study has shown that the more resources we give our children, the better off our society will be. But year after year we find that our schools are grossly underfunded, the people who care for our children the worst paid, and we don’t want to invest anything in children we don’t like (e.g. those who were born in other countries and came to the U.S. to contribute to an economy that will provide a sustainable standard of living). One of the charities I support, that you can find on the left side of this page, is Donor’s Choice. It’s a site where you can contribute directly to schools and classrooms who have needs that aren’t covered by their local school districts. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help, but I’m angry that these teachers need to go begging. Take a look and don’t be shocked by what you see.

Finally, the worst way we fail our children lies in the way we care for their health. Seniors, virtually all of them, have universal health care. If you are 62 or over and are here legally you are virtually guaranteed that you will be taken care of. Until then you’re pretty much on your own. If you’re a child and your parents are either wealthy, middle class, or destitute, you’re in good shape (either because your parents can afford health insurance or because you’re eligible for Medicaid). If your parents are working poor, or if they are employed by a company that does not provide health insurance, you’re pretty much counting on not getting sick. Your primary health provider is the emergency room where your parents are presented with a bill they can’t pay. If that happens everyone loses: the hospital doesn’t get their money and your parents file for bankruptcy because they can’t hope to pay the bill.

And there’s more. Here in San Diego we don’t have enough money to staff all of our fire stations and that has led to a policy of not staffing certain stations at certain times (called a “brown out”). Last Tuesday Station 44 in nearby Mira Mesa was out of service. When there was a call in that neighborhood, Station 38 responded. That was fine, until the family of 2 year old Bentley Do called 911 because Bentley was chocking on a gumball. The Do family lives a block away from Station 38. Because Station 38 was responding to a call that Station 44 should have taken care of, there was no station available to care for Bentley. When a station from farther away finally responded, it was too late. Two year old Bentley Do died.

There is a ballot measure in November that will raise the sales tax in San Diego by 0.5% (if you spend $100 on taxable items, your tax will increase by 50 cents). Fire and police protection will directly benefit from this. Yesterday the San Diego Union Tribune carried this letter to the editor from J.R. Bolger of Tierrasanta:

The death of young Bentley Do is cause for every San Diegan to grieve for and with his family. But my grief turns to outrage when your paper and its ilk use this tragic accident as a campaign issue in a drive to pass a sales tax increase! Your front-page headline (“Tragedy renews sales-tax debate” July 23) is yellow journalism at its finest and William Randolf Hearst must be smiling down on you.

It’s hard to live in San Diego and care about children. I pray that the family of Bentley Do is heartened by the fact that if this tax increase fails, Mr. Bolger of Tierrasanta won’t have to pay an extra 50 cents on a $100 purchase.

This just in: As I was writing this post the San Diego City Council decided not to pass the sales tax resolution. It’s a good day if you don’t want to spend the 50 cents, and a bad day if you need emergency services.