Burch: Immoral Aid?

Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 10:05pm
By Michael R. Burch

Those of us who lived through the Great Nashville Flood can certainly empathize with the victims of the “Frankenstorm” that just hammered millions of Americans, leaving many of them temporarily underwater, without electricity and faced with massive cleanup projects.

One of my favorite political cartoons has a man clinging desperately to his car in a raging flood. His bumper sticker reads GET BIG GOVERNMENT OFF MY BACK! Overhead, a FEMA first-responder is being lowered from a helicopter to save him.

I’m sure that many of my neighbors whose houses ended up underwater were happy to see FEMA workers here, Johnny-on-the-spot, helping to start and coordinate the recovery process.

But it’s quite fashionable these days — especially since the rise of the Tea Party — to complain bitterly about taxes and damn the federal government for anything and everything that doesn’t work out perfectly. If a dime gets wasted on green energy or disaster relief, it’s “obvious” to the lunatic fringe that the federal government is the Devil, President Obama is the Anti-Christ, and Mitt Romney is the Savior.

But is Romney the promised messiah, really? He claims that anything the federal government can do, the states can do better. That statement plays wonderfully well with the “federal government is the Devil” crowd. But when a huge storm strikes, is a centralized federal agency bound to be outperformed by states whose actions are uncoordinated, and probably unfunded? Can we really save money by duplicating FEMA 50 times?

Ironically, when there was relatively minor flooding in Massachusetts, it seems Romney didn’t come close to outperforming FEMA. Far from it.

In 2005, the Green River flooded Greenfield, destroying a trailer park and low-income housing. Greenfield’s Mayor, Christine Forgey, says she didn’t hear from Romney on the first day. A resident turned the high school into a crisis shelter. A radio station launched a food/clothing drive. The Red Cross provided services. But Romney was nowhere to be found. New Hampshire’s Governor, John Lynch, called up the National Guard and cut short his trip to Europe, but Romney couldn’t even be bothered to return Forgery’s phone calls.

Only after heavy criticism from the press did Romney finally visit Greenfield. But Forgey says she never met Romney, because his visit was unannounced. Would FEMA have made that mistake?

Romney got lost, according to John Barrett, who said Romney called him to say that he was in the area when he was actually in the wrong county, an hour away. “I don’t think he understood that was part of the job ... dealing with catastrophic storms,” said Barrett, obviously not convinced that Romney can outperform FEMA professionals.

A year later, floods hit Melrose, displacing 8,000 residents, including hundreds of elderly tenants. According to mayor Rob Dolan, FEMA representatives arrived the next day. But even though Melrose was just minutes from Romney’s house and office, Romney was again nowhere to be found, nor did he ever call Dolan.

So Romney himself illustrates why we really do need FEMA. But his allies, including Paul Ryan, want to either get rid of the agency or slash its funding.

Romney once called it “immoral” to borrow money to help flood victims. However, Romney, a former Mormon Bishop and therefore someone who should presumably understand the term, didn’t call it “immoral” for the federal government to borrow billions to bail out the Olympic games and his rich Wall Street cronies. He obviously doesn’t consider it “immoral” to borrow the better part of $7 trillion to give more tax cuts to the wealthy and increase defense spending for things the Pentagon hasn't even requested. According to Bishop Romney, it seems the only people it’s “immoral” to help are the 47 percent of Americans who need help the most, including flood victims, Detroit auto workers, homeless veterans, the elderly, and girls who need Planned Parenthood’s help with contraceptives and preventive health care.

“Let them eat cake” seems to be Romney’s personal philosophy, but if the past is prelude, it could be a very soggy meal. And now Romney has suddenly gone mum, refusing to respond to reporter questions about FEMA at least 14 times since the Frankenstorm struck. In his next act of magical transformation, Romney will probably emerge costumed as the champion of FEMA first-responders. But I think American voters are surely wising up, by now.

Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.

Filed under: City Voices

237 Comments on this post:

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 9:55

Adman, raising taxes isn't about "making lliberals feel good." The fact is that we need revenue. Yes, we do need to curb spending but we ALSO need to increase revenue.

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 9:57

bfra said

"Adman - But it certainly would help! Why do you have a problem with that?"


By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 9:58

Have you noticed lately how much is being saved by going after Medicare fraud? Which, by the way is part of "Obamacare." HCA alone has been busted a half dozen times this year in various states. That's BILLIONS of dollars.

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 9:59

Blanketnazi2 said

Have you noticed lately how much is being saved by going after Medicare fraud? Which, by the way is part of "Obamacare." HCA alone has been busted a half dozen times this year in various states. That's BILLIONS of dollars.

And Adman said, "So?"

By: Mike Burch on 11/2/12 at 10:01


Raising taxes on the wealthy may not solve the problem, but the Romney-Ryan plan to add $7 trillion to the budget deficit then end up with a "revenue neutral" solution via closing unspecified "loopholes" is a bad magic act and a recipe for disaster. I haven't read a single respected expert who says such a thing can be accomplished.

Romney is doing one of two things: (1) either saying anything to get elected, or (2) deliberately trying to transfer even more wealth from the people he despises (the 47%) to the people he prefers (people like himself).

I can accept the fact that solving the problems in the middle of a decade-long recession is difficult. But Romney is wrong and backward-looking on nearly every issue because his voter base is wrong and backward-looking. If he wins the election and wants any chance of being re-elected, he will not be able to do sane things, because his voters and his party have gone insane. This is why intelligent, moderate Republicans like Powell, Bloomberg and Christie are supporting President Obama.

By: Captain Nemo on 11/2/12 at 10:06

With the handle like Adman, I suppose that he works for some lobby group. This is just a thought.

By: JohnGalt on 11/2/12 at 10:06

"Is this going to be another day filled with troll droppings, clicks and flushes?"

That's all it ever is. Why should today be any different?

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 10:12

@bfra, actually I don't necessarily have a problem with that per se. The problem I have is that we are having this huge political debate that is really nothing more then a tempest in a teapot. We have huge problems to face as a nation but the best solution liberals seem to come up with is let's raise tax rates on the rich 4 1/2%. Why don't expend our energy on solutions that will really solve the problem.

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 10:15

Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned!


By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 10:16

With a handle like Captain Nemo I assume you are some kind of cartoon character, or creation of some late 19th century sci-fi writer.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:23

Adman, I agree that there is too much energy being spent finger pointing on both sides. However, there are things that are being done that need to be acknowledged such as the part of healthcare reform that prevents fraud. That is a HUGE amount of money. Raising taxes needs to be addressed even though it's not a popular idea.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:23

Adman, I agree that there is too much energy being spent finger pointing on both sides. However, there are things that are being done that need to be acknowledged such as the part of healthcare reform that prevents fraud. That is a HUGE amount of money. Raising taxes needs to be addressed even though it's not a popular idea.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:24

Dang, too much caffeine again!

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 10:26

@brrrrrrrrrr, don't attribute a comment to me I didn't make.

I will make these comments though about Medicare fraud. It needs to be rooted out and prosecuted wherever it is found. I am however less confident in the Fed Gov'ts ability to do this then many of you seem to be. Medicare has been around for what 40 or 50 years now? Waste, fraud and abuse have existed as long as the system has been in place, and now the Fed Gov't is going to get serious about getting rid of it? Where have they been for the past 40 years, and what in that history gives you confidence that it will be different going forward? Because Obama needs it to be to make Obamacare work?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:29

The healthcare industry has changed a lot over the last 10-15 years and waste and fraud on a corporate level is astronomical. Laws needed to be put into place for oversight. That has now been done and change is already taking place. Research it if you are not familiar. I will provide links if you need them.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:32


Here's one good piece of information.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:35


By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 10:36

Adman said

"@brrrrrrrrrr, don't attribute a comment to me I didn't make."

Was I wrong? That was certainly the implication I got in your response to BN regarding increasing taxes on those making over 250,000.....

"Higher taxes on the rich will only provide a small (less then 10%) dent in the deficit. It will make liberals feel good that the rich are now paying their "fair share", but like many liberal solutions it won't solve the problem."

Sounds like "So?" to me.....

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:38

A large part of the fraud is in the coding of procedures. HCA, among others, have been caught coding things incorrectly so as to receive a higher reimbursement from Medicare. The total amount of money is in the billions. So, when you're discussing the cost of medicare fraud it is much larger than just the garden variety scumbag who is selling his prescription drugs. It's much, much larger than that.

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 10:41

@ Blanket, I don't dispute that, and it needs to be stopped

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:43

Ninety-one people including doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were charged criminally after an investigation of Medicare fraud that involved $430 million in false billing in seven cities,


By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 10:43

@brrrrk, Those comments were about taxes and had nothing to do with Medicare fraud.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:45

So, you can't say that Obama has done nothing.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 10:50

Next time someone brings up how much "Obamacare" costs, remember how much it is saving, especially in fraud. It also ensures that those who need coverage receive it - especially those with pre-existing conditions. As our baby boomers continue to age, a very large percentage of our population will benefit from these changes.

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 10:59

@Blanketnazi, and I am sure that is just the tip of the iceburg. My concern is how the gov't will be able to do this. How long did the investigation take that led to these charges? Weeks, months, years? There is no question this is going on, but I really doubt there is the political will to root it out on a long term basis.
I know I am going to stir up a hornets nest, but I fundamentally disagree with the way we are approaching the healthcare issue. We are approaching it from a point of providing access, but from my point of view the problem is controlling cost. If we provide greater access to the system without a corresponding increase is the availability of healthcare providers, how can costs do anything but rise? What we are doing is vilifying the healthcare providers and making it harder for them to make a living, so how does that attract more to join the system.

By: Captain Nemo on 11/2/12 at 10:59

@ Adman

Nemo was given to me by another poster; I just tack the Captain to irritate some of the extremist. I hope that your are not offended.

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 11:01

I am not easily offended...that is a liberal malady ( a joke:))

By: Captain Nemo on 11/2/12 at 11:05

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 11:16
With a handle like Captain Nemo I assume you are some kind of cartoon character, or creation of some late 19th century sci-fi writer.

BTW I was not offended by this shot. I was just interest as to why Adman

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 11:06

Adman is an old nickname

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 11:08

I enjoy working with numbers so I was the Add Man shortened eventually to Adman.

By: Captain Nemo on 11/2/12 at 11:14

Good to meet you Adman. It will be good to have your knowledge and insight added (no pun intended) to our little board.

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 11:20

So can we get back to my original question that no one addressed? I haven't read anyone who denies that we have a budget problem. I for one believe that all the issues and possible solutions need to be on the table, and that most (probably all) of these Fed Gov't programs are here to stay. Are we not allowed to evaluate the efficacy, and efficiency of those programs and make changes that will make them better, or is the status quo the best we can do. We have to recognize that each of these programs have their own bureaucracy and constituency that will fight like crazy to survive intact, regardless of what is best for the country as a whole.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 11:30

Adman, you are missing the point that this process is lowering the cost of care. And it's not "vilifying" healthcare providers - it's making them do their job legally. BTW, that portion of the healthcare law has been in existance for less than a year and look how much it had accomplished (that is not nearly a complete list of fraudly cases). So, this is addressing your question about programs and their effectiveness and efficiency.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 11:32

Making healthcare accessible to all IS what's best for our country. Many people who could not previously afford healthcare ended up in the ER which is more expensive than doctors visits. Therefore, in the long run, more people are covered at a less rate per person. No one should have to "fight like crazy" to have healthcare.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 11:32

Access to food and affordable housing also costs less in the long run as well. Do you need me to go into that too or can you research it?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 11:34

Since you are the Add Man I figured you should enjoy the research.

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 11:34


No, the fundamental question is, "What is the purpose of government?" At it's core, government is a service provider... not a profit center. Treating government like it's a traditional business is as ridiculous as treating a church like a traditional business. And until we get beyond that, we're stuck.....

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 11:54

Ok, so we provide access to everyone in this country. Access to what level of healthcare? Does everyone get everything they want? My wife went in the hospital this summer for 1 1/2 days for an emergency situation. She had 3 different high dollar tests. Our insurance has paid out something like $25,000 - $30,000 for this including follow-up care. The tests were $3,000 - $5000 each. They have paid out 2 - 3 times the amount we have paid in premium this year, and it turns out she is basically healthy. I heard a statistic recently that 50% of all healthcare $$ are spent in the last 6 months of life. I don't know what the answers are, we have an aging population, and the use is only going to rise. I believe a 3rd party paying system is a part of the problem, because nobody cares what is spent. It really doesn't matter who the 3rd party is, the gov't or an ins co. We curse docs because they make too much money, but forget that they generally spend at least 10 years in post-graduate education, and pile up mountains of debt (check out the annual cost of med schools), and work a schedule most of us would never agree to before they ever make any real money. More and more young people who can do all of that are moving toward the specialties, not to primary care. The available supply of healthcare providers will continue to contract if we continue to make it harder for them to make a living. I don't mean that we should turn a blind eye to fraud, but a big part of Obamacare and Medicare reform is to reduce reimbursements to providers. Then we will hear liberals squeal when more and more doctors opt out of seeing these patients. There is an old saying that floats around in conservative circles, if you want more of something subsidize it, if you want less tax it. Cutting back reimbursements is effectively taxing.

By: Mike Burch on 11/2/12 at 11:55


I think we can all agree that reducing healthcare fraud in all forms is a good idea, and that the issues are so big and complex that such reductions will never be perfect.

The GOP has taken a stance that the federal government is the Devil, that the states can always do a better job than the federal government, and that unregulated businesses can do a better job than the states. Bishop Romney has said as much, in no uncertain terms.

But history proves this to be a wild fantasy. What would happen to poor, sick people if unregulated insurance companies could do whatever they wanted?

Unless we are willing to let elderly, sick and poor people die in the streets, we need responsible politicians who are willing to accept reality and work to improve the system. But Romney, Ryan, the Tea Party and seemingly most of the GOP seem to believe wild fantasies.

By: Mike Burch on 11/2/12 at 11:57


I agree. Bishop Romney does not believe in preventive healthcare for poor people. He said, in effect, that they should wait and suffer until they are on death's door, then call for ambulances to take them to the ER.

That increases both suffering and costs.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 11:59

Adman, I completely agree that single payer is the correct solution. Yes, there are less general practitioners than before and that is an issue. The laws in place do not make it harder for them to make a living - actually in the credentialling process Medicare is the first one approved. Receiving credentialling from insurance companies takes longer and is more complicated.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 12:00

Adman, you also brought up the good point of student loan debt. The plan the republicans put forth would limit grants and raise interest on student loans. How can we encourage more people to pursue a degree if we make it harder and harder to receive the education needed.

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 12:02


An typical Ayn Randian response if there ever was one. Has it ever crossed your mind to ever look at things from anything other than an "all the world runs on greed" position?

By: Adman on 11/2/12 at 12:03

@brrrk, therein lies our basic difference. I don't see the role of gov't as a giant service provider. The gov't is certainly not a business either, but certain laws of economics still apply. We can't sustain prolonged periods of spending vastly more then we take in and continue to be a viable nation. We can't afford to be that giant service provider who provides for all of every citizens needs. We need to have a real debate about what that role of the gov't should be.

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 12:04


And has it ever crossed your mind that it's attitudes like yours (where everything revolves around dollars and cents) is actually part of the problem?

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 12:08

And one more thing.....

I don't know how old you are, but there was a time in this country when people like doctors weren't the richest guys in town (nor did they aspire to be the richest).... they did what they did because it was their calling; the thing that they felt they were put on this earth to do. This idea of greed uber alles is what's destroying this country....

By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 12:12

Adman said

"@brrrk, therein lies our basic difference. I don't see the role of gov't as a giant service provider."

Ahhhh, I don't see it so it ain't so.... right?

Tell me ONE thing that government does that ISN'T a type of service?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 12:17

Actually, if you look at what the government spends money on, entitlements are a small part of the budget compared to the military. Do we really still need military bases in Germany and Japan? Do we need wars we can't afford? I don't believe it's the role of the United States to be involved in every thing that happens globally.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/2/12 at 12:26

According to a number of sources, the U.S. defense budget sits at around $1 trillion annually. Costs include defense contracts (all that fancy machinery is produced with corporate welfare enjoyed by Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, etc.), the operating costs of hundreds of international military bases, munitions (bombs, guns, etc.), active duty pay, veteran benefits, and so on. With all of the defense contracts and personnel pay and benefits which amount to 24% of the federal budget in 2012, we could honestly characterize the Department of Defense as the biggest entitlement program of them all. By comparison, healthcare and welfare spending account for 22% and 12% of the budget, respectively.


By: brrrrk on 11/2/12 at 12:50

chirp, chirp......