The Culling of the American Herd

The original version of this story appeared at Sardonicky.

Uninsured. (Photo: TexasImpact / Flickr)There was a mass outbreak of righteous indignation in February at the news that a Danish zoo not only had wantonly slaughtered a baby giraffe, it had fed the chopped-up remains to the lions. In full public view. In broad daylight. In front of the children.

News outlets just couldn’t get enough of the spectacle, playing it over and over and over again, salaciously daring us to avert our eyes from the graphic content if we are sensitive viewers … and above all, to get our precious children out of the room. CNN ran nine separate updates on the story in the space of a week. The shock, the outrage, the defense, the debate … it was all there. No juicy angle, no pathetic tuft of adorable giraffe fur escaped their discerning journalistic eye. It was euthanasia! It was eugenics! It was so … ewwww. And boy, did it sell. And the anchors urged us to stay tuned, because there was an unconfirmed rumor that a second giraffe victim was waiting in the wings for our appalled delectation.

Meanwhile, a report on the thousands of American humans being effectively condemned to untimely, needless deaths has been met with a group shrug, if not a blind eye, by the media-political complex. No children are being sent from the room; no cable outlet is running constant loops of a middle-aged woman dying from treatable diabetes because some sleazy governor and legislature refused to expand Medicaid in their state. These stories are a dime a thousand-dozen, and the victims are usually not cute and cuddly with long eyelashes.

But let’s call this out for what it is. It’s Social Darwinism. The herd is being culled. “Excess genetic material” unable to pay cash for health insurance is being deliberately rooted out. It’s no less inhumane or appalling than Marius the Giraffe being chopped into pieces and fed to the lions. The difference is that, as we’re being ground up and served up to the predators of the plutocracy, we’re told it’s because we didn’t work hard enough or that our skills don’t match the exacting technological demands of the Job Creators of the Future. Those who are not fit do not survive in this Land of Opportunity. Out of a population of 315 million, about 50 million of us are in immediate danger of being culled. Be it by having SNAP food assistance reduced to starvation levels, be it by losing a job or having unemployment benefits cut off by the bipartisan millionaires of Congress, be it by lack of basic health care. No matter how you slice it, the results are the same: morbidity and mortality. One in six Americans is now listed by the Census Bureau as “officially poor.” But the reality is far, far worse. Based on wage figures, the IRS estimates that fully half the people in the richest country on earth are living in poverty.

So, let’s concentrate on just one aspect of the de facto policy of euthanasia as the solution currently being practiced in at least half the states of America. Dylan Scott of Talking Points Memo is one of the few journalists covering the orchestrated grisliness:

As many as 17,000 Americans will die directly as a result of states deciding not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, according to a new study.

Researchers from Harvard University and City University of New York have estimated that between 7,115 and 17,104 deaths will be “attributable to the lack of Medicaid expansion in opt-out states” in a study published in Health Affairs.

“The results were sobering,” Samuel Dickman, one of the authors, said, according to the Morning Call. “Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal.”

They projected that 423,000 fewer diabetics would receive medication to treat their disease. If opt-out states had expanded Medicaid, 659,000 women who are in need of mammograms and 3.1 million women who should receive regular pap smears would have become insured, the study found.

Most pundits (and that includes the estimable Paul Krugman), however, are still embroiled in the partisan nitpicking, such as arguing over the true meaning of a CBO report that estimates about a million people will now be free to quit their jobs and move because of the free market miracle of Obamacare. In a February column, with the usual lambasting of Republicans and overlooking of complicit centrist Wall Street Democrats, he mulled the meaning of “dignity of work” and the constant insults hurled at struggling people by the smarmy likes of Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor:

On the whole, working Americans are better at appreciating their own worth than either the wealthy or conservative politicians are at showing them even minimal respect. Still, tens of millions of Americans know from experience that hard work isn’t enough to provide financial security or a decent education for their children, and many either couldn’t get health insurance or were desperately afraid of losing jobs that came with insurance until the Affordable Care Act kicked in last month. In the face of that kind of everyday struggle, talk about the dignity of work rings hollow.

So what would give working Americans more dignity in their lives, despite huge income disparities? How about assuring them that the essentials – health care, opportunity for their children, a minimal income – will be there even if their boss fires them or their jobs are shipped overseas?

Think about it: Has anything done as much to enhance the dignity of American seniors, to rescue them from the penury and dependence that were once so common among the elderly, as Social Security and Medicare? Inside the Beltway, fiscal scolds have turned “entitlements” into a bad word, but it’s precisely the fact that Americans are entitled to collect Social Security and be covered by Medicare, no questions asked, that makes these programs so empowering and liberating.


The truth is that if you really care about the dignity and freedom of American workers, you should favor more, not fewer, entitlements, a stronger, not weaker, social safety net.

And you should, in particular, support and celebrate health reform. (my bold) Never mind all those claims that Obamacare is slavery; the reality is that the Affordable Care Act will empower millions of Americans, giving them exactly the kind of dignity and freedom politicians only pretend to love.

Obamacare is dignity; freedom is strength. Health insurance for some people magically equates to health “reform.” (that dreaded neo-liberal buzzword again.) Krugman basically rehashes an Obama speech here, even dutifully substituting “opportunity” for the newly verboten “income equality.”

As I responded to Krugman in my “reader comment,” Social Security and Medicare are so successful because they’re centrally and publicly administered. Because they’re not out to make a quick profit off desperate people, they’re reliable and cost-effective. And best of all, they eventually cover everybody – if we’re lucky to live so long.

But meanwhile, we’re supposed to feel abjectly grateful that the ACA will – perhaps, eventually, once all the Democrats in unsafe districts get elected – “empower” some of our uninsured neighbors in their quest for medical treatment. Several million lucky duckies will now be able to “consume” health care. Only in America could medical treatment become perverted from a basic human right into Shopping and Freedom and Opportunity. If you work hard, that is, and “play by the rules.”

Where’s the outrage over the 30 million people who are being left out of the health insurance market sweepstakes?

What the free market ideologues are accomplishing is no less inhumane. They’re Social Darwinists gleefully culling the herd, slashing unemployment insurance and food assistance with abandon, slicing us up into tender morsels for the plutocratic gluttons.

Why they haven’t yet choked on their own venom is anybody’s guess.

In his recent columns, Krugman persists in glossing over the fact that Obamacare is not universal health care. He actually compares this privatized kludge to FDR’s and LBJ’s great social insurance programs. He also persists in the theory that austerity is dead, by dint of the fact that Wall Street billionaires are no longer openly agitating for a “grand bargain” of earned benefit cuts for their inferiors. Krugman chooses not to notice that Obama himself was still touting deficit reduction recently as the thing to love most about the food stamp-cutting Farm Bill. Krugman should take a gander at Obama’s own White House web site. Bragging about pro-austerity measures past, present and hoped-for is still very much there, in all its digitized ignominy.

Joe Firestone of New Economic Perspectives is among those noticing Krugman’s blind spot. The deficit hawks have seemingly gone away, he writes, because they’ve already gotten pretty much what they want: the shrinking of social programs and the shrinking of deficits. Austerity already has won:

Here’s CBO projecting deficits of 3.0% of GDP this fiscal year, followed by 2.6%, 2.8%, and 2.9% for fiscals 2015, 2016, and 2017. Those deficits are mostly smaller than Warren Buffett’s and the Eurozone’s favorite deficit target of 3.0%. They are the same too small deficit targets that have prevented the Eurozone’s PIIGS from responding effectively to the crash of 2008, and the prolonged depression and astronomical unemployment rates which have engulfed them since. When one considers that CBO’s projections are usually too conservative when it comes to projected deficits, so that the reality of these is likely to be smaller, as it has been regularly, for the past few years, then it’s even more apparent that Peter G. Peterson and his other austerian friends have gotten where they want to go for the time being.

Nor are there any other major influences in Washington, DC advocating higher deficits. Even “progressive” groups and politicians always talk about “pay fors” and offer 10 year deficit reduction plans that envision deficits averaging far less than the 3% target.

The real slash-o-rama – raising the Medicare and retirement ages and the chained CPI method of further immiserating already-impoverished Social Security recipients – can wait until after the 2014 midterms, when politicians will no longer have to pretend to be for the little guy. Republicans, Democrats – all of them morph into born-again populists whenever their own jobs are on the line.