Truth, Justice, or The American Way

February 26th, 2010 by Gid

I’ve seen a lot of words being bandied about in recent discussions of health care reform, words such as morality, justice, truth, integrity, and so on.  Just recently I read a post by George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor, asserting that life and freedom are morality issues, and thereby extrapolating that health care, which enables said freedom, is a morality issue as well.  What Professor Lakoff fails to mention is that morality has little to do with what goes on in Washington, DC.  There are some people who can still close their eyes and see Superman overlooking the land, his cape billowing in the breeze, proclaiming his advocacy of Truth, Justice, and The American Way.  Unfortunately, while such things look good in print and sell comic books, the concepts they embody have long since lost relevance to reality — at least for the majority of our elected officials.

The most cursory glance will show the fate of truth.  Just recently, we have a slew of rutting Senators who denied their improprieties and only barely admitted any malfeasance in the face of hard evidence.  We have listened to detractors of the stimulus bill decry its unsound policy from one mouth while praising its efficacy from the other.  We have listened to claims that Death Panels, Medicare cuts and prohibitive costs provided incontrovertible proof that health care reform is a terrible mistake.  We hear assertions that Obama is not American born, and therefore ineligible to serve as president.  We hear Repugnicans allege their willingness to bipartisanship, while holding up over 290 bills through abuse of the filibuster.  We see Sarah Palin presented as a capable politician.

Justice is equally infirm.  We have a Supreme Court which, in a demonstration of judicial whiz-dumb, struck down a long standing policy preventing the open sale of elections.  We have a Department of Justice (sic), which has ruled that those attorneys who opined the legality of torture were guilty of a lapse in judgment, deserving only censure rather than sentence (Nurem-who?).  We have a presidential administration obstructing the prosecution of bona fide war criminals, while one of those criminals makes frequent appearances on national television to publicly revel in his past decisions to commit crimes against humanity.  Meanwhile, the heads of state in Virginia are gloating in their recent victory, which restores discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Thankfully, we can take heart in the fact that the American Way has not been desecrated beyond recognition.  The American Way, to some, means the freedom and opportunity to find a job, earn a decent wage and pursue Clark Kent’s American Dream of a spouse, 2.5 children, and a home in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a car in the driveway.  To others it may mean the freedom and opportunity to open a bank and lend Clark — convinced by advertising that it’s easy and sound to live beyond one’s means — the money he will surely need to buy his dream life.  The American Way also means the freedom and opportunity to establish a monopoly and buy enough politicians to ensure profiteering beyond the dreams of avarice.  This may, perhaps, mean that the Daily Planet can no longer afford to pay Clark, who will no longer be able to afford his severely depreciated home, his car, or health insurance.  Well, that’s not too much of a problem for him — he’s Superman, after all.  Lois, however, is mortal, and a simple twist of fate will render the family bankrupt.  But this is OK!  The bankers and insurers are still living their American Dream.  While this may seem inequitable to some, we refer them to the now immortal words of Kentucky senator Jim Bunning: “Tough shit.”

And thus we found ourselves in battle not only with the megacorporations, but the politicians they own.  While most liberals will thank the Republicans (to some extent) for throwing tantrums like indignant children, while we may be glad of the proof at yesterday’s Blair House Summit that Republicans want only to persist in lies, talking points and smoke screens to maintain the status quo, they cannot be singled out as the only schemers in the game to sell middle America to the corporations.  With Repugnicans in the minority, they cannot be held entirely responsible for the fact that there has been no curtailing of risky banking practices of those banks we bailed out last year.  They cannot be held solely responsible for the fact that Blackwater, with a proven record of criminal practices, is still under consideration to gain another billion dollar contract for mercenary services.

And my advice to anyone with some money to invest is to buy stock in WellPoint, Humana, or any other health insurer you choose, because they have scored a political coup.  Behind all the political staging we can see that lobbyists have outnumbered congressmen eight to one.  We can count the number of meetings they’ve had at the White House.  We can count the number of so-called “blue dog” Democrats, sabotaging their own party.  After all the drama, we’ve finally been given to believe that the Health Care Reform bill will be passed and enacted via simple majority, which the Democrats still hold.  But how is is that now, when the Public Option could easily be added to the reconciliation process, the Democrats who touted the Public Option, who made a great show of sacrificing it at the altars of Snowe and Lieberman (oh, how they did gloat!), how can we now believe that they ever really had the least intention of considering it?  Is it merely coincidence that Obama dropped his support of that same Public Option for which he campaigned in ‘08 after meeting with insurance lobbyists?  Are we supposed to believe that although the majority of American voters are in favor of the Public Option, the politicians purported to represent them fear some sort of retribution for giving voters what they want?

You bet they do.  They fear the retribution of the insurance industry, which provides a kings ransom in campaign contributions, perks, and other benefits, the likes of which no average voter could ever hope to match.  I have seen Glenn Greenwald, constitutional attorney and blogger, doing a few interviews lately — interviews that will never appear on any Repugnican owned faux news channel.  In these interviews, as well as his book Great American Hypocrites, he exposes what most of us do not see: the back room meetings and schemes used by the majority of both parties to ensure that the flow of wealth maintains its status quo.  The Health Care Reform debate has never really been about truth, justice or morality.  It has never been about the American people, differing ideologies, nor has it even been about health care.  This battle seems to have been fought to remove any threat of competition and ensure the obscene profits of the health insurance companies.  By doing their best to thwart any reform, Repugnicans show their conservative disciples how they fought against evil governmental takeovers and socialism; by making a great show of trying to create a Public Option, Democrats can tell their liberal base that they did their best for them.

Except that they didn’t.  Nor will they, so long as politicians continue to be bought and sold in free capitalist markets.  This is, after all, the American Way.

YES, WE CAN (fail)!

January 20th, 2010 by Gid

In the last year, I have written countless missives to Dumbocratic and Repugnican representatives alike — including our “fierce advocate in chief” — arguing in favor of Health Care and Banking reform, and an end to billion-dollar war contracts to homicidal swindlers like Blackwater.  Those who bothered to reply had little more to say other than to send a bland form letter with the ambiguous sentiment that they realize that many Americans had strong opinions on the subject.  Meanwhile, the Democrats, un-led by Obama, failed to accomplish anything meaningful for a year, despite majority control.

The Republicans under Bush had no such problem, but there were no Red-Dog Repugnicans with the chutzpah to cross their own party, and ignore Bush/Cheney cries of War and Terror.  Then everyone decided they wanted a change, and Obama sent the right message: “Yes we can!”  What no one heard, however, was the unspoken parenthetical: “…but we’re not going to.”  Obama made promises of a shining new beginning.  Then, little by little, he began to chip away at them.  Certain transparency promises to counter Bush-era abuses had to be broken in the interests of security.  Enforcing Banking Reform had to wait to be certain that Wall Street could survive the change (they’re surviving quite well, thank you).  Ramming Health Care Reform through the house and senate had to be abandoned in the interest of bipartisanship - despite repeated and obvious evidence that no Repugnican cooperation was forthcoming.

A little while ago, there was much press given to the recently vocal and ubiquitous Cheney for accusing Obama of dithering and failure to take prompt action against terrorism.  Well, Obama did dither, but one must correctly identify the terrorists:  The corporate heads of the too-big-to-fail banks, private insurance giants, big pharmaceuticals and others with billion-dollar budgets for lobbying (read: legalized bribery), and the Republican minority campaigning for war and fear-mongering and against humanitarian issues like the right to health care, the right to equal treatment under the law for GLBT Americans.

Americans had ringside seats to the sickening displays of childishness on the House and Senate floor.  We had ringside seats to the media circuses of the tea-baggers.  We had ringside seats for announcement after announcement amounting to one message: Yet another excuse why Goal XYZ would not be met.  And last night the people of Massachusetts sent a loud and clear message to the Washington Democrats that the maintenance of the status quo, despite the rallying cries for change 14 months ago, is less than satisfactory.

I’ve listened to all the post-mortem reports casting blame on Coakley or the Democratic party leaders (isn’t that an oxymoron?) for the loss of the Democratic super-majority, but the most hypocritical among those is that of the Obama Administration.  The Democrat-in-chief should have taken a firm hand to the helm and failed to do so.  Well, Mr. Obama, shortly after your inauguration you told us that Roosevelt’s sign was still on  your desk to remind you that “The Buck Stops Here.”  Now we have given you a clear reminder that it’s still there a year later.

Does this spell doom and gloom for the slightly-right-of-center “Democratic” party when the next senate elections are decided?  If the Democrats take Brown’s victory as an object lesson in what they’ve failed to do and turn resolutely to accomplishing what the people asked of them before the end of the year, they just might manage to maintain some semblance of control.  If not, there will be future opportunity to repeat today’s resounding cries of “I told you so!”

Nobel Prize for Health Care Bill

November 23rd, 2009 by Gid

Honorable Democratic Senators:

Thank you for your hard work on the current Health Care Reform bill.  Some of us are well aware of the vote in the senate and what it represents.  Unfortunately, many are unaware that suggestions of a Public Option to keep costs under control are grossly overstated, if not patently false.  What started out as a cost control has been so watered down to cater to the whims of the Blue-Dogs and Repugnicans that it can no longer accomplish anything but drive everyone straight to the waiting greedy arms of the private insurers and pharmaceutical companies.  If the Nobel Committee is still granting prizes for outstanding effort, though you may have accomplished nothing, and most of you didn’t really try that hard, you just might stand a chance at one.  If not, it may still gain you some good political exposure, which you may desperately need later.

But if you wish to actually help, you will do your best to give us what the vast majority of Americans want: A Public Option that is open to everyone who wishes it.  Without that simple stipulation, it is neither Public, nor an Option.  It will not provide an effective cost control, and will not ensure accountability of the private insurers.  If you wish to be proud of your accomplishments, if you wish to honor the memory of the late Ted Kennedy, you will take the opportunity afforded you in the debate process to restore this bill to what it ought to be for the benefit of the American people.

If this is not possible, and the bill must remain virtually powerless, then kill it.  Vote “no” when someone asks you if you want to disservice your constituency.  Vote “no” when someone asks you if you want to force millions of people to give billions of dollars to the great Synod of Extortion composed of corporate giants like Aetna, Humana and United Health Care (a misrepresentation at best, as it cares only for its own corporate health).  Vote “no” when someone asks you if you want to perpetuate the same slovenly system of minimal care and claim denials.

This, of course, will mean that you are voting to perpetuate a broken system: that you’re willing to bow down before the Repugnant Republican Right (including the masquerading Blue-Dogs); that you’re willing to admit that the Obama Administration is not only illegitimate, but incapable of carrying out matters of state in the best interests of its citizens; that you’re willing to admit that the Democrats have failed their constituency; that you’re willing to dismiss the life-long cause of Ted Kennedy as well as his memory; that you’re comfortable with allowing 45,000 people to die every year for lack of health care.

But could it be that you’ve met your goals?  When viewed from your perspective, this bill is a godsend, isn’t it?  It’s all right, because the majority of politicians are very comfortable with the system as it currently is, but now even more money will flow generously from the public to the greedy hands of private insurers and pharmaceutical companies, and thereby ensure the continued generosity of campaign contributions, and you can all pretend that everything is fine.  You can tell yourselves that policies like universal health care, while they may work for other places like Canada or France, are not a viable choice for the US.  You can tell everyone that a strong Public Option available to everyone would only raise costs for everyone, while minimizing care even further than it is now.  You can swear that this could not work, because the policy itself is deeply flawed – political concerns are completely irrelevant to the issue.  You’ll tell everyone that this bill is the best thing anyone could have hoped for, the best compromise that you could accomplish, and it’s just enough that some of your constituency will believe you.  It will be all right, because there are plenty of taxes to provide for your comfortable salaries, bonuses and stipends, and some of the best medical care in the country for the elite few on Capitol Hill.  There are enough rich people in the country who can afford decent health care for themselves, and they will be happy to continue to support you in your drive to maintain the status quo, so don’t give it a second thought.

While it’s true that the constituents vote, it’s the corporations that provide so much of that sweet frosting on top of the cake, after all.  Not only the Health [pretend to] Care industries, but the coal and oil industries are good providers.  The war companies’ contributions from those like Boeing, Lockheed, Xe, Halliburton/KBR are among the sweetest, since they get paid from the military coffers, which are funded by taxpayers, so the taxpayers are paying not only your salary, but your kick-backs as well.  Just spin the best arguments against cap and trade and for the continuation of the Iraq/Afghanistan war.  The earth is good for another century at least, every conservative loves a good war, and in a worst case scenario, you get out of politics and get a very well-paid position with one of your former contributors.

Go home, enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, spend time with your well-provided for family.  Sleep well at night, secure in the knowledge that none of your immediate relatives will ever need to work again.  You are one of the success stories that make this country great and perpetuate the American dream.  The rest of us will manage somehow, just as we always have.

Sweeney Todd School of Health Care

November 16th, 2009 by Gid

“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit, and the vermin of the world inhabit it, and its morals aren’t worth what a pig would spit and it goes by the name of …”  Well, let’s face it, London has long since lost the title for the hypocritical epicenter of the earth.  While some might try to shift blame by citing British colonization, there comes a point in every child’s life when it must cease blaming the parents and accept responsibility for itself.

There was a time when I was thoroughly snowed.  I thought a Disney world was possible.  I thought an evil man who was shown the true nature of his ways would reform and adopt a policy of philanthropy or minimally, good will and abstention from malevolent acts.  I thought that, given a choice of doing what’s right could outweigh greed and self-aggrandizement.  Of course, I was only 7 and also believed in Santa Claus.  By the time I got to middle school, I was thoroughly disillusioned.  By the time I was through high school, I was disabused of any notion that the creators of Mr. Rogers were anything but exceedingly well-paid, mentally challenged, or both.

It was not until later that I began looking at the mass of corruption that comprises our government that the last lingering shred of hope gave way to cynicism.  Mr. Smith not only failed in his attempt at a filibuster, he never even made it to Washington in the first place, and to this day it remains a great black pit, where the rest of us are bought and sold like so much slave labor.  We pay billions in taxes to support senators, congressmen, and a veritable army of politicos and functionaries, who then sell themselves off to the highest bidders, corporations who have paid good money to have laws written to ensure that we buy only what they offer at prices they set.  Elected officials, of course, get substantially discounted prices in addition to the bribes — nice job, if you can get it.

This is just a sample of the latest villainy.  The US Chamber of Commerce is now raising funds to buy an economist.  The economist will, for a price, concoct a projection that will show the impending economic collapse of the world as we know it should any kind of public health care option be passed into law.  Not that they need to go to all the trouble.  The Dumbocrats have already grabbed their ankles and invited Repugnicans to strip any efficacy out of the bill, except for what will most benefit the private health insurance companies.  In case this should fail, we’ve got Dumbocrats sabotaging the bill from within by adding restrictive pro-life amendments, which all but strip women’s rights and overturn Roe v. Wade.  If that should fail, there’s the White House itself pushing for a trigger to nullify any kind of public option.  In case that should fail, we’ve got Lieberman threatening to kill any bill that contains a public option.  Just to hedge their bets, the big drug companies — who’ve been making all sorts of deals with the Obama Administration to maintain their monopoly and exorbitant pricing – are going to raise their prices in advance to cover the amounts they stand to lose should a health care bill threaten their profit margin.

This weekend, a free health clinic — for which MSNBC’s Countdown spearheaded a fundraiser — took place in New Orleans, LA.  A report was posted by Rich Stockwell, Countdown producer, that bore ample testimony to the deplorable state of affairs propagated by the failure of our elected officials to do anything to endanger the profit margin of the private insurers.  Approximately 1000 people attended.  83% were employed, but had no affordable health insurance; this included an RN who spent his days caring for those who could afford what he could not.  90% of the patients had two or more diagnoses, and 82% had a life-threatening condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or hypertension.  One woman was dismissed without a treatment plan, having been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.  She will soon be one of the 45000 people who die every year for lack of affordable health care.  No politicians were available to appear on Countdown to discuss the free health clinic, the implications of its findings, or their own culpability in the health crisis.

The worst, however, is yet to come.  What will happen when the health care reform bill fails and millions of people are mandated to pay exorbitant prices for health insurance they’re unable to afford?  What will happen when the public option fails and profits for private insurers drive more and more people toward bankruptcy?  What will happen during the next election when the same people who failed us buy their way back into office?  Cynicism will give way to a bleak acceptance of misanthropy.

Out of the Park?

October 25th, 2009 by Gid

My partner received a note from an acquaintance who works for a hospital, encouraging him to view a video of Mike Rogers’ arguments against health care reform. In her view, his comments “hit it out of the park.” My partner asked me to write an opposing point of view for him to share with her. He read it, found it too “snarky,” and asked me to “tone it down” for the benefit of a Repugnican point of view. The idea immediately put me in mind of the White House pandering to Olympia Snowe — a situation I view with disgust. If I viewed it as a teacher gearing a lesson toward the students, it became more palatable.

In Mike Rogers’ last campaign in 2008, this is what some of his campaign funding looked like:
Pharma/Hlth Products $117,500
Hlth Professionals $96,200
Insurance $70,900

Why would such companies give him all that money? Do they really like Mike, or might they expect something in return? In the last election, I didn’t give Mike any money at all. Would he be disposed to act in my best interests in the legislative process knowing I will be no help in getting him reelected, or to act in the best interests of his contributors?

Mike states that health care reform, and the public option in particular, are against the principles of America, but one principle of the American marketplace is competition. Since the MacClaren-Ferguson act, the health insurance companies have been free of that particular constraint, and therefore free to create a cartel: a syndicate formed to regulate prices and output in some field of business. My own premiums have increased by 55% in the last 3 years alone. If health reform passes with a personal mandate as included in the bill by Senator Baucus (who, btw, got well over 1.5 million from health care concerns in his last campaign), that will guarantee millions more in premiums for the health insurers. This bill would ban exclusion, while allowing no competition. But when it seemed that the public option was gaining popularity last week, the insurance industry’s lobbyists reported that if any type of reform were passed, they would increase premiums by 111% in the coming years.

There is no basis in fact for any claim that a public option would take care away from anyone. The only thing purported to be cut is wasteful spending. If my cardiologist orders a CBC one week and my endocrinologist wants one the following week, I’d rather save my blood (and a few hundred dollars worth of wasteful spending) and tell him to call the other doctor and get the info from him. I want them to collaborate with each other anyhow. Health care being withheld as a result of a government run public option is a rumor created to scare people into defeating the public option. In fact, health care being taken away and disenrollment of policy holders has been part of the status quo of the private healthcare giants.

It’s common sense that the less money one pays out, the more money one has; therefore private insurers do everything possible to legally refuse coverage or reimbursement, and cancel policies they consider risky. CIGNA denied a liver transplant to a young woman, now dead. A healthy baby’s coverage was cancelled because he was too fat. Guardian insurance cancelled the policies of many Muscular Dystrophy patients, because one man’s annual care was in excess of $1 million. In a worst case scenario, where all the myths and misconceptions spread by spin-doctors were true, a government run system could not be worse than the treatment we now receive at the hands of the private insurers.

Mike argues against government run health care, though we already have it in the medicare and VA systems, in which the care is so good that well over 150 eligible congressment get their own health care through those systems. Furthermore, the other representatives have a health care bloc at their disposal, through which they can pick and choose their coverage from a number of companies to obtain competitive prices. It seems somewhat hypocritical that the people we elect can do this while denying that privilege from those who elected them. Mike warned that a government run health plan could determine which doctor you visit. My insurance carrier is UHC, and they do the same thing. They frequently make deals with different providers, laboratories, and hospitals, and tell me I must either see a different provider or pay steep deductibles. How would this be worse if a government run system did the same thing?

The public option offers competitive pricing and precludes price gouging, and if I can get good quality health care without paying an extra 25% to 30% for a company’s administrative costs, exorbitant executive salaries and high profit margins, I will go with a plan that’s easier on my wallet. The private insurers have become quite used to their high income — theirs is one of the few markets that showed billions in profit while most others saw the bottom fall out when the recession began. Equally comfortable are the many representatives who receive millions from private health enterprises on a yearly basis. Equally comfortable are the lobbyists who earn billions — the private insurers at the height of the campaigning this summer, were spending upwards of $1.5 million every single day to stop any reform.

On a good day, a Repugnican will admit that health care reform is necessary, but they will insist upon letting the private sector fix the problem to preclude government involvement. As this method has achieved no progress in the last 40 years — why should the private sector fix something which has made them obscenely wealthy? — I think it’s time for more affirmative measures.

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