Michael Moore and Me

The mayor of Philly is going to “crack down” on unregistered, uninsured drivers.

This campaign, as usual, is packaged as if it’s about “cutting costs” and “safety”. It’s about neither. If one can or cannot afford to patronize private, for-profit insurers, these compulsory insurance laws offer many grounds to call for rejecting the system. This is privatization, at its worst, of a public interest area, that creates endless nightmares, dangers and costs for the people while illegitimately benefiting one private industry…big insurance. It’s no small concern to also consider that the idea of a business-linked government compelling a large segment of the public to hand over profits to a business is a very ominous precedent that ought not be tolerated. It’s not that big a step, now that the public has been conned into accepting it, to the idea of compulsory private health insurance, for all. This isn’t fantasy-land. Sen. Bill Bradley actually promoted just such a policy before the last national elections.

Here’s a collection of problem areas with the Philadelphia car insurance situation.

* Unless City Council did a sneak law change somewhere along the line, it is the CITY which is the scofflaw by tolerating the use of the Parking Authority for non-parking-related matters…such as this registration/ insurance thing. The Authority’s tow trucks and lots will be used for impoundments. The Authority’s establishing ordinance doesn’t just ignore this to let officials fill in the blanks as they please…the ordinance specifically FORBIDS use of the Authority for things not directly related to parking and the free flow of traffic etc. The Parking Authority’s establishing ordinance does not authorize it to be a Revenue Enhancement operation either…but that’s another topic.

* The real and virtual lies used to sell this vicious campaign indicate that it is invalid and that officials know this, but do it anyway. Lie Number One has been somewhat addressed in a March 2 Inquirer article…the parts about how “rates will come down” etc. Often officials sound like they’re advertising Snake Oil by saying things like “we HOPE that rates MAY come down” etc., but notice…there is NEVER any guarantee demanded from the insurers. Who’s in charge anyway? Also, Philly’s invaluable CEPA…Consumer Education and Protection Assn., confirms that nowhere in the country has it been found that rates came down no matter HOW much compliance increased. Insurers can always find an excuse to maintain or raise rates, and officials let them. Lie Number Two, often heard, is that it’s about “SAFETY”. This is patently preposterous. A piece of paper in the glove compartment does nothing to increase safety. The absurd cost of this insurance means that low income people will keep older and less-safe cars on the road and will avoid getting new tires and brakes etc., AND…if one had to pay for their OWN repairs and doctor bills (if not covered elsewhere), one would tend to drive more safely. So…this insurance thing COULD be actually LESS safe.

* Viciousness abounds. It’s a big part of the War on The Poor. What’s the average income level of those 400,000 uninsured drivers? As Welfare Cuts kick in for real, along comes the City, not to HELP…but to impound what may be a vehicle that’s necessary for jobs. As public transit rates go up and as routes and schedules are cut, along comes the City to make it even MORE impossible for many to go to school or work or to medical care or relatives or shopping or the works.

* It is not hyperbole to note that this program reeks of classic, dictionary-definition and even Mussolini-definition fascism. It is the merger of private business and Public Governing, as the POLICE are used as tools to compel drivers to purchase a PRIVATE commercial service… and, of course, to contribute profits to one of the wealthiest corporate entities in the land, AND to fork over investment money for the insurers to increase holdings in god-knows-what all industries…like cigarette manufacturing, weapons, cigarette ingredients, pesticides, nuke plants, prison industries and the works. Though one may say the insurers can do what they want with their money…it’s not funny that drivers do not have this luxury. This isn’t a Free Market…it’s a compulsory market.

* Some say…well, no one’s forcing you to drive and…it’s a “privilege”, not a right. Swell. The same people who created the driving necessity and who did all possible to make public transit as expensive and limited as possible now say drivers have to purchase private insurance.

* Radio news about this said that the program would not be about racial profiling. That’s nice. Imagine them saying otherwise. The racism is, conveniently, Built-In…since most of the worst poverty in the city is in the African American and Latina/o communities…for all the well-known historical and current reasons. These are people who are not asked to pay a PERCENT of their income or car value to insurance (as would be the case if the program was Tax Based); they are asked to pay the SAME as, or MORE (!!!) than, the richest drivers in Chestnut Hill! Annual insurance may cost a day’s wages (or interest earnings) or LESS for one person, but may be two month’s income or more for another. Money to come out of kid’s mouths, medical care, clothes budgets and all the rest.

If the impoundment program, instead of forcing great compliance, simply makes it impossible for low income minorities to drive, we have taken a step towards increased ghettoization. Absolutely despicable.

* Insurance would be easily affordable for almost EVERYONE if it was tax based…on blue book car value, tax on gas at the pump (to also get input from out-of-staters who DO no less contribute to accidents) and from some part of registration fee. Other countries manage such plans quite well. If the gov’t believes it is a Public Interest thing to do, IT must provide the system. Whatever happened to complaints about “unfunded mandates”?…or is that only when the mandate is on a business?

* This vicious system is yet another example (like drug laws, most famously) of The Law causing more crime and danger than would exist otherwise. It’s the LAW that caused 400,000 cars (they say), in just One City, to be unregistered and uninsured…and ALSO UN-INSPECTED! That’s SAFETY inspections remember. So…whereas we could have had ALL of those cars safety inspected via a public system, now we got 400,000 actually or potentially UNSAFE cars running around in Philadelphia alone. State-wide figures must be breathtaking. The LAW created a public endangerment of vast scale.

* And…it has proven exceedingly difficult to get official rules or statements about the safety of impounded cars and contents. Do, or will, cops do an inventory of contents at time of impoundment to make sure things don’t get stolen? Will cops do check of car condition (like they do at some car rentals) so that City will be liable for damages later? Or is it “tough cookies”…the apparent Motto of The City? If car is destroyed…where do all the fluids go? There’s battery acid, steering fluid, oil, gasoline, anti-freeze and who-knows-what a car may be carrying besides. How much just drains into the ground and then water table? I’ve seen one impoundment lot. It was a toxic swamp.

* INJUSTICE. Impoundment of car is a huge penalty for a violation that harms no one and, unless car is a danger, threatens no one. This may mean loss of one’s job or dropping out of school. It may impact entire families, innocents, in every way imaginable.

* Arbitrariness and cruelty will reign, unavoidably. Cops will pick and choose, guaranteed, who they will leave out on highways during what weather conditions or times of day…and who they will not. What ARE the guidelines re/ elderly or handicapped or children passengers, or pets? Will they be stuck on the roadside in strange neighborhoods in the rain at night? Will the cops take drivers and passengers to the police stations? Will cops wait til people are picked up by friends or a cab?…IF they have friends or money for a cab. (Can this all be done in the 15 minutes per stop that the mayor mentions?) Will people be able to remove their work equipment from vehicles? Some cops WILL be maybe less zealous and cruel to those who have those FOP stickers or U.S. flags waving…or to folks who are the right racial type, etc. They might just let them go altogether or not run a check in the first place. Others… a different story.

* What is the expected effect as over 400,000 people (add the affected family members) come to fear, hate and avoid police? And…with such a Draconian penalty awaiting someone, what’s the incentive for a driver to stop at even a minor accident? Add that to the huge economic and immobilization incentive to hit-and-run, with the dangers to ALL that represents.

* I fully believe that this program is NOT about safety or cutting costs for drivers…but is about REVENUE enchantment for the City…to fill the void left by corporate interests which do not pay anything NEAR their fair share of taxes…or which even GET public money for their various business pursuits. Also, of course, it’s about officials doing favors for campaign contributors, to increase their own economic holdings or those of their immediate family, AND to increase future job prospects.

Clearly the people (hundreds of THOUSANDS!) ARE scoffing at a law that deserves the greatest scoffing for a host of reasons, as noted above. Officials who enact such stuff are scoffing at the very idea of justice, democracy and humanitarianism…not to mention free-market business principles. If the Parking Authority ordinance has not been changed, officials may themselves be scofflaws here, as so many are in the Billboard situation.