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Dan Nejfelt
Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Messaging and Trainings Manager, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.

Affordable Care Act Working for Young Adults

December 15, 2011, 4:03 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Data released this week shows that 2.5 million more young adults now have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law passed in March 2010. This is a remarkable achievement, especially as young adults enter the workforce at a time when job seekers outnumber jobs more than 4-to-1.

For reasons beyond my control, I went without health insurance from age 24 to 28. Uninsured twenty-somethings are often called “young invincibles” who forgo health insurance because of the good health and sense of invulnerability associated with youth. I’m sure that’s true for some, but not me. I didn’t get a basic check-up during those four years, and I depleted savings and leaned heavily on my family to pay for a couple of emergency room visits, numerous specialist appointments and skyrocketing prescription drug costs. I know what it’s like to be hounded by collection agencies over medical bills. But it could have been much worse. If my pre-existing condition had taken a turn for the worse, or I’d faced serious illness or injury, I would have gone bankrupt and jeopardized my parents’ ability to afford retirement.  Or I could have been denied necessary treatment. No one deserves that, and it’s a disgrace that so many people face such situations.

If the Affordable Care Act’s provision allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 had been in effect back then, my time without health insurance would have been cut in half. When conservatives on Capitol Hill and religious right leaders work themselves into high dudgeon about the moral urgency of repealing “Obamacare” in full—including this provision—I  take it personally. It’s hard to believe that people who claim to follow Christian principles would enthusiastically pursue a policy agenda that puts millions of people like me in direct physical jeopardy.

Passing the Affordable Care Act was the right thing to do. And I’m especially grateful to those in the faith community who worked tirelessly to pass it.

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Family Research Council’s Cable News Bonanza

December 12, 2011, 2:46 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Media Matters has an important new report about the alarming frequency with which leaders of the Family Research Council appear on cable news shows. You might ask why that’s a big deal. As the report spells out, it’s because FRC regularly traffics in false, demonizing rhetoric about the LGBT community.

Since being designated a hate group by the highly respected Southern Poverty Law Center in November 2010, FRC staff have appeared on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC 52 times. Only two of those segments mentioned FRC’s designation as a hate group. (Despite FRC’s claims to the contrary, the SPLC designation stated Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”)

A few notable hateful, misleading claims by FRC leaders cited in the Media Matters report:

  • The “It Gets Better” Project is a disgusting and “part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that ‘lifestyle.’”
  • “The ‘Research is Overwhelming’ that gay men are more likely to molest children.”
  • “Senators Who Vote For [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] Repeal Will Have ‘The Blood Of Innocent Soldiers On Their Hands.’”

In addition to these examples, we’ve also noted FRC’s willingness to make inflammatory false claims on a variety of issues, such as:

Having diverse viewpoints in the news media is important. But so are accuracy and credibility. Giving FRC an elevated platform in the public debate on critical issues implicitly extends to them an image of honesty and integrity they simply do not deserve. Kudos to Media Matters for so thoroughly cataloguing this problem.

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Tony Perkins Uses Bible to Baptize Conservative Economics

December 8, 2011, 3:54 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

As the economy relegates social issues to the back-burner, Religious Right leaders are baptizing the Tea Party’s agenda of punishing the vulnerable in order to further enrich the wealthiest Americans. Toward this end, Tony Perkins wrote a post on CNN’s Belief Blog this week arguing that “Jesus was a free-marketer.”

To make this point, Perkins offers a noncontextual exegesis of the parable of the ten minas in Luke 19. Rather than a figurative lesson about using Spiritual gifts to grow the church, Perkins interprets the story as proof that God rewards industrious businesspeople with fantastic wealth and punishes lazy people. He also offers this dubious, troubling description of the nature of our modern capitalist society:

Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality that has occupied America for the last few decades: that everyone gets a trophy – equal outcomes for inequitable performance. There are winners and yes, there are losers. And wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual. [emphasis added]

This, in a nutshell, is what I call The Big Lie about our economic system – the argument that everyone gets what they deserve, that poverty and prosperity alike are truly earned.

Taken to its logical conclusion, Perkins’s argument means that there was a sudden massive collapse of individual work ethic in Fall of 2008 that led to millions of layoffs. It concludes that those who currently can’t find work have only themselves to blame (never mind the fact that job-seekers outnumber job openings more than 4-to-1). Perkins’s argument suggests that a difference in work ethic is what keeps 49 million Americans in poverty and allocates to the richest 400 Americans more wealth than the bottom 50 percent. In other words, it’s pure fantasy that serves no other purpose than to deny the existence of economic injustice.

Perkins also clearly argues that this system is not inevitably sinful:

Some would argue that such an approach encourages abuses, the likes of which we have seen on Wall Street. While some egregious abuses have taken place, they are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise. [emphasis added]

This claim ignores that corruption and predatory practices are ubiquitous features of not only free-market capitalism, but also the entirety of human history. I’m sure Perkins recognizes that we are a fallen people, but his economic philosophy doesn’t seem to square with this belief.

Two immutable aspects of human nature are that we have a strong desire to pursue narrow self-interest, but are also social beings who seek the moral approval of our neighbors. Free-market capitalism, in theory, reconciles these impulses by harnessing our selfishness in a way that establishes an inherently fair economic and social order. The problem, in practice, is that it simply doesn’t work. The continued prosperity of the bankers whose greed crashed the economy and the ongoing hardships faced by teachers and nurses who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own, are but two small pieces of evidence.

I don’t mean to imply that hard work has nothing to do with prosperity. It absolutely does. I know of many very rich people who work very hard, and have also met poor people who don’t. But the inverse is also true. Reducing success and failure to consequences of personal virtues is foolish at best and dishonest at worst. And Perkins should be ashamed of himself for using the Bible to perpetuate this myth.

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The Log in Tony Perkins’ Eye

November 18, 2011, 3:00 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who has an extensive record of lying about and hatefully attacking people with whom he disagrees, outdid himself recently when he accused President Obama of having “disdain for Christianity” and said Christians who voted for him in 2008 should repent (which pretty clearly implies that he believes supporting Obama was a sin).

This smear not only maligns the President in service of a political agenda, but also insults Christians who believe faith doesn’t belong to one party. Such charges are not only arrogant, ignorant and cynical, they promote a theologically dangerous commingling of faith and partisanship.

Politics is by no means a vocation for the thin-skinned, but some lines of attack are inexcusable. Perkins’s accusation definitely falls into that category. Even though Perkins exhibits unChristian characteristics of dishonesty, hate and cynicism in the service of an agenda that promotes bigotry, exalts greed and inflicts suffering on the powerless, I would never call his faith fake.

Perkins should have the decency to give the President and people who supported him the same respect. In his rush to point out the speck he perceives in Obama’s eye, Perkins misses the log in his own.

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Debunking the distortion of our economic debate

November 10, 2011, 2:54 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Tim King has a great post over at God’s Politics identifying a core flaw of our nation’s economic debate:

If you didn’t watch last night’s [GOP] debate, I’ll save you some time and sum it up for you in seven words and a em dash.

Taxes and regulations — we’ve got too many.

Now, this isn’t surprising. Last year, in President Obama’s State of the Union address, he talked about cutting bureaucratic red tape and reviewing regulations that would hurt businesses.

What was missing from the GOP debate was a discussion of consumer demand.

Tim goes on to cite a McClatchy study revealing that small business owners are being held back not by onerous government red tape, but rather by lack of consumer demand. He then makes the important connection that government programs can help address this problem.

The good news is our country can tackle poverty and the lack of demand in the market at the same time. According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities the effect of the 2009 Recovery Act:

  • Expansions in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) kept 1.6 million people out of poverty.
  • The Making Work Pay tax credit, which expired at the end of 2010, kept another 1.5 million people out of poverty.
  • Expansions in the duration and level of unemployment insurance benefits kept 3.4 million people out of poverty.
  • Expansions in SNAP benefits kept 1.0 million people out of poverty

That means nearly 7 million people have been kept out of poverty, but it also means 7 million people have been boosting consumer demand.

This chart from Moody’s elaborates further:

I’ll add two things:

  1. Tim wasn’t cherry-picking the McClatchy investigation about demand rather government regulations’ effect on small businesses. The AP, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the Economic Policy Institute and the New York Times’ Bruce Bartlett all came to similar conclusions, drawing on Bureau of Labor Statistics data and business surveys.
  2. Conservatives attack the programs Tim correctly identified as stimulants of demand. In addition to talking points about the supposed failure of the 2009 stimulus, folks on the right decry the fact that many Americans don’t have an income tax burden even though tax credits that contribute to this reality – like the EITC, CTC and Making Work Pay tax credits — keep low-wage earners from being taxed into poverty.

When you hear religious right leaders talk about job-killing regulations or the injustice of too many people not paying income taxes, remember that they either aren’t telling the truth, aren’t doing the math, or aren’t honoring Christian teachings on poverty.

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