Friday, June 07, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #111 - Part 5

Clown #2: John Stossel

Our other red nose this week goes to a man who is not only a clown, I believe he's also a self-serving hypocrite and a phony. He's Fox Business host John Stossel.

Last week, he told the hosts of Fox & Friends that government programs should be cut, in fact whole whole departments should disappear. To show the intellectual depths of his analysis, he said "Why do we have a Commerce Department? Commerce just happens!" Which doubtless would seem like a solid argument to anyone who thinks the government is saying that there would be no such thing as commerce absent the department. The Department of Agriculture is likewise unnecessary because "farmers do that!" He also wants to dump the Department of Education, apparently thinking that education is something else that "just happens."

But his receipt of the big red nose comes from his astonishingly lamebrain assertion in that same appearance that before the modern "welfare state" came into existence, "no one" died of starvation. Literally:
Think about the [Great] Depression. That was before there was any welfare state at all. How many people starved? No one.
In fact, the number of cases of starvation in New York City alone went from 20 in 1931 to 110 in 1934. There were so many accounts of people starving in New York that the West African nation of Cameroon sent $3.77 in relief.

Malnutrition was a much larger problem. One 1933 study of 514 children in New York found that more than one-third were in "poor" or "very poor" health.

And the fact is, many more died as the result of starvation, deaths by starvation that do not appear on the records. Starvation is rarely listed as a cause of death because few people actually literally die of starvation, that is, literally die directly from lack of food. Rather, they die of some immediate cause, some injury or illness which would not have killed them if they were not starving. They did die of starvation, but the cause of death will be listed as the disease.

Stossel later made what has become for him a typical non-apology when challenged: He said - on his twitter account and his blog, not on the air where most people heard the original statement and most would hear the not-really-but-kinda-sorta retraction - he said it was "dumb" to say "no one" died. But he then claimed that governors at the time said there was no starvation and cited a study claiming that - get this - the Depression was, and recessions in general are, actually good for public health. In other words, his "retraction" was actually a way of making the same anti-government claim in a different way. As clownish as they come.

And by the way, why do I call John Stossel a self-serving hypocrite and a phony as well as a clown? Because I remember him from WCBS-TV in NYC, where - at a time when consumer protection was a hot topic - he was the hotshot consumer reporter, uncovering misfeasance and malfeasance by corporations and local businesses alike.

But right around 1980, when the right came to power in the form of the Reagan administration and right-wing media was on the rise, he claimed with remarkably career-convenient timing to have discovered "the magic of the market" and became the extreme "business good, government bad" fruitcake he is. Bluntly, I think that if the pendulum swings the other way soon enough, he will have a new awakening to the "necessity of close regulation of the market" and government assistance.


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