Eric Alterman, the $166,895 a year "distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College" who when he is not busy being distinguished manages to hold down three other jobs — at the Daily Beast, the Nation, and the Center for American Progress — has a column up that tries somehow to drag September 11 workers into the tax debate:
Any remotely sensible or sensitive person who watched Jon Stewart on Thursday night with the sick 9/11 workers who were asked to compare the priority of ensuring that fewer than 5 percent of America's most financially fortunate folks be given their $133 billion (or so) in tax breaks would have had a hard time not wanting to just punch these guys in the nose.
Rather than illuminate or clarify the question of additional federal funding of health care for September 11 workers, this sort of argument only muddies the issue. Why pick on the "most financially fortunate folks" rather than any of the many other beneficiaries of government expenditures or tax breaks? What about ethanol farmers and owners of "certain motorsports racing track facilities"? What about distinguished professors of English and journalism at Brooklyn College? If Brooklyn College, which is funded by New York state taxpayers, laid off the $166,895 a year Mr. Alterman and had his courses taught by much cheaper yet no less distinguished adjunct professors, of which there aren't exactly a shortage in the current journalism job market, that'd easily free up probably about $100,000 a year for health care for sick 9/11 workers. Talk about America's most financially fortunate folks!
Never mind the doctors providing these health benefits, who probably earn even more than Mr. Alterman. The docs can't give the 9/11 workers a discount or see them for free if they don't pay? It's a repeat of the Jonathan Alter argument about how tuition tax credits need to be extended to help poor children go to college. In that case, the money really ends up in the pockets not of the poor children or their parents but in the pockets of Columbia's $1,753,984-a-year president Lee Bollinger. In the case of the 9/11 health care, the money doesn't really end up in the pockets of the workers, it winds up in the pockets of the doctors who treat them.
Rather than make an argument for funding these extended health benefits on the merits, Mr. Alterman tries to pit one group — the sick 9/11 workers — against another — the "fewer than 5 percent of America's most financially fortunate folks." He marginalizes anyone who disagrees with him as not "remotely sensible or sensitive." It's a classic example of the zero-sum thinking that Caroline Baum wrote about in her Bloomberg column the other day.