Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Violation of Kindergarten Fairness Part II: The First Tenet of EINKILK, A.K.A. Share Everything

For those who missed the previous post,

A. How dare you? And...

B. The following are ways in which we've all failed to live up to the tenets of the Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (EINKILK) poster from the early-1980s. For this week's EINKILK post, I will start with the tenet listed at the top of the poster:

Share Everything.

Seems easy enough, right? Too bad it goes against every imaginable aspect of human nature. That a shrill, piercing "MINE!" is one of the first words embraced by toddlers is probably not a coincidence. And that I look outside my window as I write this and see a quiet, suburban street lined with attractive homes, buffered by barriers of iron gates or stone walls - and in some cases, an impregnable combination of both - as their first line of defense against the scourge of emo teenage skateboarders, is indicative of a society that fetishizes over the concept of sole ownership.

Hilariously, one of the more opulent homes, set back amidst a phalanx of looming eucalyptus and fir trees, has a cutesy, Casper-inspired "Happy Halloween!" sign draped from its towering, perpetually locked iron gates, thus turning a generic autumnal salutation into an ominous threat.

Which begs the eternal question: How high would Jesus' impregnable wrought iron gate encompassing his estate be?

This obsession with sole ownership isn't restricted to Southern Californians and their preoccupation with material goods. I can recall, as a newspaper boy in suburban Upstate New York, having neighbors on my route with POSTED: NO TRESPASSING signs affixed to modest oak trees that loomed over perpetually muddy, postage stamp front yards. And the image of a paunchy middle-aged guy wearing the requisite stained wife-beater, brown dress socks, bermuda shorts, and plastic sandals, gaining increased satisfaction with every THUD as he hammers the nails to his NO TRESPASSING sign deeply into the pulp of said tree, was a continual source of wonder and amusement for my adolescent mind.

As we've seen throughout the past several months, our primal hoarding impulse, our pathological obsession with maintaining ownership over our stuff - no matter how shitty it is - has gone zoonotic, seamlessly pervading the health care reform debate while inhibiting any degree of substantive reform. From James Surowiecki's "Status Quo Anxiety" piece in The New Yorker,
Behavioral economists have established that we feel pain of losses more than we enjoy the pleasure of gains. So when we think about change we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get. Even people who aren't all that happy with the current (health care) system, then, are still likely to feel anxious about whatever will replace it...

...After all, although people tend to feel that they own their health insurance, their entitlement is distinctly tenuous.
Macroscopically speaking, for the U.S. to even have a fighter's chance of achieving successful health care reform - and maintaining its slightly misnomered "superpower" status, for that matter - we need to collectively move away from this unwavering preoccupation with ourselves and closer towards a greater willingness to share in the sacrifices of building and maintaining a healthy, wealthy, just society. That means embracing the glimmering path towards socialism, then communism, then, ultimately, the liberal wet dream of fascist rule.

Just kidding, you nutty conservatives. Wipe the slobber off your faces.

I'm not talking about erecting mass communes and handing all our worldly possessions over to the Politburo. I'm talking about sharing. Something.

What that means, at least for the short term, is the willingness to play fair, to look out for our fellow citizens, to do what Mom said when she "asked" us to share our cookies with Tommy or Billy or Yuri or whomever that scrappy little kid was who switched schools mid-term and sometimes ate his own boogers but never had the good fortune of getting any cookies in his lunch to eat. (My mom: "I don't give a flying fig that he smells like vinegar. Give him at least two of your damn Newtons!)

When we shared our Fig Newtons with booger-eating Tommy for the first time, some of us discovered that there was great deal value in doing so. For one thing, Tommy was happier - not simply because he was inhaling processed yummy goodness but also because now he realized, consciously or not, that there was another kid in the godforsaken world of fourth grade who had his back.

Alliances are a good thing, whether they're forged with Moscow, Beijing, the house next door, or the kid at the end of the same lunch table.

And just maybe another kid sitting nearby took notice of your kindly gesture and adopted it as his own behavioral template. (Maybe tomorrow he tosses Tommy or another perpetually ignored kid a bag of Wise chips, cheese doodles, or the Holy Grail of junk food orgasms: the Hostess fruit pie.)

Believe it or not, kids commit these acts of kindness every single day. But this is hardly breaking news; it's common courtesy, kindergarten ethics. So at what point did we all become one great big pile of self-obsessed fancy-pants jack-offs?

For one thing, in a society that places a disproportionate emphasis on mass consumption and individual accomplishments and not nearly enough on the responsibility to one's community, the drive for altruism fades rapidly as we enter adulthood.

(Ah, isn't it about that time of year again - you know, when we start getting bombarded with all of those gauzy heartwarming ads in which the husband flashes his trophy MILF the keys to a brand new Lexus, which is, low and behold, waiting in the driveway wrapped in a red ribbon. Now, the wife's reaction has always fascinated me, as it ranges somewhere between a "So?" and a "You know, sweetie, this is just really thoughtful of you." Which has always seemed odd. Or maybe receiving a $50 thousand car on Jesus' b-day is really that prosaic for the super 1 percent. As an even bigger slap in the face to the already raw sensibilities of Americans struggling through an interminable recession, maybe this year an ad agency will put out a commercial wherein a B of A executive endorses a government-issued check over to Boeing, thus commencing the purchase of an upgraded private jet for his new mistress.)


...That the U.S. postures as the paragon of ethics and morality runs counter to the ways in which we actually deal with the less fortunate. In fact, the richest country on earth has:
  • 750,000 homeless
  • 131,000 homeless veterans
  • 37 million people living below the poverty line (larger than the entire population of California)
  • Approximately 45 million people without health insurance
  • 20 percent of all of its children currently receiving welfare
  • The top 1 percent of households owning 57 percent of all corporate wealth
  • An infant mortality rate that holds at 6.7 per 1,000 births (45th in the world)
  • An average life expectancy that ranks 50th in the world
  • Approximately 700,000 of its citizens file for medical bankruptcy each year. (In France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and Japan combined the number is zero.)
We need to start sharing our cookies again. Which means we - along with our leaders - need to stop bragging about how wonderful and bountiful we are and start behaving like the nation we could and should be. A nation more like...France. Again, from T.R. Reid's The Healing of America:
Whenever the French talk about health care, they invoke the concept of solidarite, the notion that all French citizens must stick solidly together to help one another in time of need. "The solidarity principle," explains Professor Rodwin, "requires mutual aid and cooperation among the sick and the well, the inactive and the active, the poor and the wealthy, and insists on financing health insurance on the basis of ability to pay, not actuarial risk."
For starters, that means a health care system that makes actual patient health its first priority, rather than a complete afterthought. Which might mean each of us paying slightly higher taxes so that everyone has a shot at living a healthy, humane existence. What's that you say? Sharing's still not your bag? Well, have no fear, because more people covered by basic health insurance means fewer people using the E.R. as their primary care provider. And guess who pays for those (even more) expensive E.R. visits?

You do.

From The Economist's "Heading for the Emergency Room":
With the truly poor, the free-riders turn up at emergency rooms. This is hugely inefficient, because pricey late interventions and operations could very often have been avoided with a much smaller investment in preventive care. Insured people and taxpayers are forced to cross-subsidies such "uncompensated" and wasteful treatments to the tune of tens of billions of dollars per year.
Granted, some people feel as though these freeloaders should be restricted from receiving any treatment at all - even in the gravest of emergencies. And they're called assholes.

Many individuals with degrading or degenerative ailments, such as diabetes or heart disease, turn to the E.R. when their condition becomes irreversibly grave because they couldn't afford regular or preventive treatments in the first place, placing even greater financial strain on an already teetering system. From a recent Times editorial:
People without insurance tend to delay seeking medical care until their diseases, like diabetes and incipient cancer, become so severe that they require emergency attention and often cannot be treated effectively. The rest of us pay for their charitable care through taxes or higher premiums on private insurance.
So you see, this really isn't just about holding hands and singing "Kumbaya." Or giving away Fig Newtons. Sharing is practical, for the short and long term.

And despite what some indignant redneck at a town hall meeting in Tuscon might scream, sharing is not a euphemism for Socialism, Communism, Fascism, or whatever-the-hell-else ism that jumps into his head - and is caught on camera - at that particular moment. It's compassion - one of the key ingredients that supposedly separates human beings from packs of ravenous jackals.

To protect ourselves from the exploiters of our future generosity, it's also high time we become more engaged on key civic issues and political races so that we can, in turn, elect public officials who hopefully won't embezzle or misallocate these new streams of benevolence.

That means steeling ourselves against the tide of red meat issues with which political campaigns so egregiously flood the media, distractions that actually impact so few people yet somehow manage to pulsate the vein on so many a forehead.

But ask yourself, which of the following issues has a greater impact on U.S. citizens? Income tax allocation or euthanasia? Affordable health care or school prayer? Having clean air to breathe and safe water to drink or David and Terrance doing the Hora?)

Yet Americans get sucked in time and again by cynical ad campaigns generated by right-wing interest groups, invoking the cataclysmic demise of "values," a word which, loosely interpreted, has come to mean the outright contempt for lifestyles that don't revolve completely around an arbitrary interpretation of strategically targeted portions of the New Testament.

And not that it matters much coming from a half-assed Jew, but with all their sanctimony, intolerance, divisiveness, hypocrisy, multi-million-dollar mega-churches, and Precious Moments Figurines, Jesus Christ would loathe these charlatans, I promise you.

And one last thing: Private health insurers have every intention of not sharing in the moral obligation of providing a necessary service for American citizens. After all, these are for-profit money machines, largely automated behemoths that are free from regulatory constraints and beholden only to their shareholders. Again, from The Healing of America:
It's revealing that, in the lingo of the U.S. health insurance industry, the money paid to doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies for treatment of insured patients is referred to as "medical loss." That is, when health insurance actually pays for somebody's health care, the industry considers it a loss.
We've been duped into believing that private insurers are the sine qua non of our health care system; in reality, they're not only completely superfluous (care to have your colonoscopy performed by Tim in underwriting? Or how about a tonsilectomy by Marcy in human resources?), but also the primary reason for the mess in which we find ourselves. A government-run single-payer plan could easily, efficiently, and humanely fill the void left by these parasites. From Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece "Sick and Wrong":
In the real world, nothing except a single-payer system makes any sense. There are currently more than 1,300 private insurers in this country, forcing doctors to fill out different forms and follow different reimbursement procedures for each and every one. This drowns medical facilities in idiotic paperwork and jacks up prices: Nearly a third of all health care costs in America are associated with wasteful administration. Fully $35o billion a year could be saved on paperwork alone if the U.S. went to a single-payer system - more than enough to pay for the whole goddamned thing, if anyone had the balls to stand up and say so.
Taibbi's last point is critical in understanding the true essence of this ongoing fiasco. Physicians, politicians, academics, journalists and bloggers have fixated on four main factors leading to the health care system's seemingly irreversible tailspin: As a nation, we overspend, overeat, and over-treat.

Then, when all is lost, we place the reform process in the hands of Capitol Hill's most pathological teat suckers, who, after years of engorging themselves with corporate money, turn around, with straight faces, to inform the public that introducing a public option would never work long-term. And why not? Because it would cripple private insurance corporations' profit margins.

I shit you not, they actually say stuff like this. From The New York Times:

Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, said he feared that a government plan would prove so popular it could never be uprooted. "Does anybody believe Congress would let this public plan go away once it has a constituency?" Mr. Ensign asked. "No way. Once it's started, you will never get rid of it."

It's good to know that being under investigation by the Justice Department for a violation of ethics hasn't dampened Ensign's sense of humor. But then, we get this from Ensign's buddy, Chuck Grassley:
But Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the committee, said a government insurance plan would have inherent advantages over private insurers "Government is not a fair competitor," Mr. Grassley said. "It's a predator." He predicted that "a government plan will ultimately force private insurers out of business," reducing choices for consumers.
If a government-run public option is predatory, let me be eaten raw.

From Robert Creamer of The Huffington Post:
To compete, private insurance companies would be forced to change the way they do business. They would have to end all of those practices that American consumers have grown to hate, cut administrative costs - maybe even cut CEO pay. Of course since the CEO of Cigna makes $26 million -- 65 times the salary of the President of the United States -- he could afford several million dollars in belt-tightening.

They could compete - but they would have to change the way they compete. That's what they are fighting tooth and nail to avoid - and that's also the whole point of health care reform: to change the incentives that determine how the players in the health insurance market do business day to day.
And now, a public service announcement, courtesy of the American Foundation for Insurer's Rights.

Cue this guy's voice:

We've heard about the women and children of Darfur, subject to mass rapings and killings by Sudanese warlords; the starvation of Congolese refugees, forced from their homeland by a brutal civil war; and the women of the Middle East and Central Asia, who all too often fall victim to rigid and severe social strictures. Many endure mutilation, torture, and so-called honor killings for alleged crimes they never commit. These are all grave injustices.

But what about insurance company CEOs?

Forced to compete with the government (socialism), they too will become hopeless victims. Victims of too much competition (pussies), too much choice for consumers (come back - we were just kidding!), too much transparency (see, what had happened...), and the systemic elimination of eight-figure bonuses (worse than The Holocaust).

Sadly, many of these individuals have spent years doing little more than cashing checks. Because neither they nor their companies possess an actual skill, these out of work executives - with palms like the coating on a freshly molted wax worm - will be forced back to the mean streets of Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Champs Elysses with little more to do than to shop for high end merchandise all day, every day, for the rest of their lives.

Thankfully, with your help, this tragedy is preventable. So, please, join with us to ensure that all insurance company CEOs can maintain their yearly bonuses - bonuses that, while greatly increasing the overall cost of healthcare, also go to pay for back alimony, exclusive country club memberships, male breast reduction, penile enlargements, and really, really fast speed boats with cool names like "Child Support, Shmiled Support," and "CUL8TR."

Remember: It's up to all of us to maintain the status quo. Thank you. God bless. And God bless America.

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1 comment:

  1. "It's up to all of us to maintain the status quo." How funny. I've been mumbling something similar to myself whenever I wonder why certain institutions of secondary education don't make the necessary changes as well.
    We strive for mediocrity.



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Stop the Inanity. by Brock Cohen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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