Thursday, August 20, 2009


One final addendum for the day on health-care...

I was watching this clip of Matt Taibbi being interviewed on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' about health-care (two plugs in one day, Matt, you owe me a kickback!) and some of the pundits objected to his criticism of the U.S. health-care system. The standard pushbacks were thrown against Taibbi... that most Americans like the health-care they get, that we have done great innovative work on this front, that many foreign people come here because our system is so awesome, and etc. I didn't think Taibbi did the best job responding to these specific points-- though they got there in the end-- so let me give my response, since they always come up.

I agree with those points in general... America does have amazing facilities and doctors (I'll leave the drugs out of this for now), and many Americans are satisfied with both. But... that's not the point and it's not the issue. The issue is that the greatness or horrors of a system is moot if you don't have access to it. And our current system of a profit-based, private insurance monopoly-- except for all those socialist old people and veterans who have a... wait for it... public option already-- is on the wrong side of that. Don't have, or can't afford, insurance? You're screwed. Have insurance? You're screwed anyway, because between denied claims and cancelled policies and increasing co-pays, countless Americans are being driven into poverty for the crime of having gotten sick. It's a corrupt system that is overly complicated and puts profits ahead of health. Nearly a third of all premium dollars go toward administrative costs, not toward paying claims and actual care. That is the issue.

The idea that since the occasional foreign millionaire may come to the U.S. to see a particular specialist (unlike the majority of Americans, who could never afford that) all this is negated is laughable. But it's part of the narrative tide we are fighting against. For every such anecdote, I can find you (very easily) a hundred of these heart-breaking stories. I'm sure the latter is more tragically familiar to most Americans too.

This is not a good system. Period. There is a reason the World Health Organization ranks us #37 in this regard. And I'll note again, in conclusion, that the idea of replacing this system was taken off the table from the start... at best, all that is being proposed is an option for something better, with some regulations here and there to help the rest. If we're the greatest country in the world, we deserve at least that much.

Yes We Can't.

Yes, I'm still neglecting this blog like a bad parent, but I still like to peek my head in every so often and make sure it hasn't choked on any blocks. Looks okay, so let's proceed!

The political debate this months leads us right back to where we were the last time I posted... health-care reform. The last time I blogged about this, my pessimism was showing, but my aura of hope remained. What have I missed since then? Of yes... America went completely insane. I'll get to that, fear not.

For me, I've been trying to stay as focused as possible on the substance of where this is all headed. This past month I thought, I can't be the only who noticed that the fight for 'universal healthcare' became 'health care reform' and now is simply 'health insurance reform'. And that's the bigger story. The Democrats-- elected to their most powerful majority in decades less than a year ago-- still endlessly bargaining away their own agenda. For all the oxygen being consumed by right-wing loons and cable news pundits and lobbyists, etc, a failure to get meaningful reform passed (if that's what ends up happening) will really be a story of a Democratic leadership that failed to actually lead, and also became a victim of the very special interests they set out to vanguish.

People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin (and countless numbers of angry tea-baggers shaking their fists, and guns, from coast to coast) may be shameless and loud and good at what they do, but they don't hold any political office. They don't control the White House or congressional committees. But people like President Obama and Senator Baucus and Rahm Emmanuel and their colleagues do. These are supposed to be smartest guys in Washington and they are blaming their failures on a bunch of people who think that Obama forged a U.S. birth certificate so he can take over America and put us all in FEMA concentration camps and grind grandma up into soylent green. That is not acceptable when the stakes are this high.

The cynic in me wonders if, at this point, Congress wants to pass a reform bill (any reform bill) just to check it off the list, and move on. To what? That's unclear. The key question I'd ask if I were a White House reporter is this... is there any health-care bill that Congress could pass that'd be so watered-down and unacceptable to the President that he would veto it? That answer would clarify a lot.

Of course, the media has made matters worse by making the story not the issue itself, but the anger. When President Obama held a lengthy press conference on the issue, the story for the next week was about the Professor Gates controversy that he commented on in the final question of the hour. When Sarah Palin (Unemployed - Alaska) wrote a rant on Facebook about imaginary 'death panels', it immediately took over the entire debate. Etc. It's not hard to figure out why so many Americans remain uninformed about the substance.

And, finally, to the liberals who helped elect Obama... yes, we should draw a line in the sand... a public option is non-negotiable. I'm with Howard Dean on this. Without it, all you've got, after all this time and energy and political capital, is some mild insurance reforms that will likely have huge loopholes in them anyway. That's not reform, and it's worth the time and money that's being asked for it.

I still want to have great faith in Obama's leadership. But we've got over three years left (with an option for four more), and if we can't accomplish this now, under these circumstances, what can we accomplish? The answer to that would clarify even more.

Health-Care Links

Two good stories that play up the angles from which I'm following this...

NY Times: A Primer on the Details of Health Care Reform

AP: FACT CHECK: Health overhaul myths taking root

Business Week: The Health Insurers Have Already Won--
How UnitedHealth and rival carriers, maneuvering behind the scenes in Washington, shaped health-care reform for their own benefit

...and here is a must-watch segment from the last 'Real Time w/ Bill Maher' showing who's angry and who's not with all of this, and what that says about the state of U.S. health-care.

A Month Old Now...

...But still deserves to be posted. It's Matt Taibbi's story on Goldman Sachs-

The Great American Bubble Machine-
From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression - and they're about to do it again

To me, the big political story of 2009 so far (other than health-care, natch... more on that later) is how the economic collapse of 2007-2008, which was supposedly going to shake the American economic status quo to its core, has essentially changed nothing ... other than putting countless more Americans out of work. The bailouts and back-room deals of 2008 coupled with the failures this year to get any meaningful Wall Street/banking reforms passed have ensured that the same system that nearly destroyed the global economy will remain untouched. Nobody likes learning lessons and it seems that we all collectively decided not to.

And what passes for economic reporting in this country isn't helping. We have publications like Newsweek insisting that the recession is over... while simultaneously acknowledging that conditions on the ground (jobs, foreclosures, etc) haven't improved yet. So why "over"? Because Wall Street had a few bubble-licious good weeks? I'm not seeing anyone on a large forum asking these questions.

And the President who hired Larry Summers-- yes, this Larry Summers-- as his top economic adviser is supposedly a socialist.

There's that old cliche that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and I think that's apt here. And when the next economic crisis hits us down the road, it will be very hard not to feel that we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Tom Ridge confirms that the sky is blue!!

Tom Ridge, reasonably sane Republican and former head of the Department of Homeland Security has-- what else?-- a new (tell-all?) book coming out, called "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege... and How We Can Be Safe Again". Reports indicate Ridge "wants to shake 'public complacency' over security" (complacency? I still have to go through airport security in my socks and surrender my toothpaste).

They also say Ridge indicates he "was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over." This is a shock to almost no one, except maybe Joe The Plumber and that blond woman from Fox and Friends. Of course, it wasn't just one incident. It was a recurring theme. Keith Olbermann took a break from yelling at stuff a couple of years ago to do a really good report on the many terror-alert 'coincidences' during the Bush years-

I am posting this because a) history shouldn't so easily forget this aspect of the immediate post-9/11 political environment, and b) it's some good perspective as conservatives (well, the extremes anyway) go nuts insisting that there is no bigger threat to freedom than an affordable public health-insurance alternative.