Thursday, July 30, 2009

Don't Be Fooled

Although the President would have you believe otherwise, they’re not here to rescue us all from the brink of health care calamity, and they’re not here simply to usher in an era of sensible, centrist, bipartisan discourse. In fact, they could ultimately be responsible for derailing any chance of real health care reform. 

If the Blue Dogs have their way, much of the already watered-down public component of several health care proposals currently underway in the House and Senate will be scrapped, thus giving us...wait for it...

...the same fakakta mess in which we currently find ourselves. 

The problem seems to be that the Blue Dogs are gaining increasing leverage within the Democratic Party. To that end, their extremely conservative (pro-business, anti-government) views on the economy will inevitably be reflected in any sort of reform package.

But I don’t hate the Blue Dogs. Their virtues are strikingly reminiscent of the those once coveted by the pre-Reagan-era GOP - fiscal parsimony, Laissez-faire social policy, and personal accountability - each of which had a legitimate place in U.S. policy before the Moral Majority lassoed itself to the party, transforming it into a traveling freak show of self-righteous bible thumpers , warmongers, ultra-religious carny barkers, bimbos, creationists, more bimbos, climate change deniers, and repressed homophobes. 25 years ago, politicians like Olympia Snow and Lindsay Graham would’ve been part of the right’s mainstream. But now, the GOP has become the home of individuals like this. And this. And this

The more I think of it, the more I think the Blue Dogs would make a fine adversary for the Democratic party, if they were to - hypothetically speaking - become a substitute for the insane asylum currently located across the aisle. Because their members typically take moderate stances on social, environmental, and foreign policy, engaging in legislative debate with the Blue Dogs perhaps wouldn’t lead to as many irrevocable impasses. Which could lead to more meaningful, substantive, and expeditious policy leaving both houses of Congress. 

That the Blue Dogs are a major cog within the current Democratic party, however, should be cause for deep concern, because they compromise a party that is historically known for indecision and intra-party fractiousness. And since most of their members represent political districts that would otherwise belong to conservative Republicans, Democratic party leaders like Obama, Steny Hoyer, Henry Waxman, and Nancy Pelosi seem far more inclined to placate rather than pressure

And the President, who, in less than a year, has gone from being a staunch advocate of nationalized health care to waving pom-poms for Team Concession, is rapidly exemplifying why no successful politician is safe from the devastating effects of corporate influence.  

Per The Times’ The Caucus blog:

“Nobody is talking about some government takeover of health care,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve been as clear as I can be, under the reform I’ve proposed, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. These folks need to stop scaring everybody.”


The angry, fire-engine-red emphasis on the text is mine because those words compel me to flip over random pieces of furniture, as one who believed that Obama would have the moral and political will to facilitate real change in health care policy. Which meant pushing unabashedly for a single-payer system. 

Jesus and Mary in a Motel 6, even Obama’s own doctor agrees!

Scheiner argued that the "public option" Obama favors, in which a government-run insurance program would compete with private insurers, does not go far enough. The public option has been one of the most controversial parts of Obama's plan, with insurers and conservatives vigorously opposing it.

Scheiner said a single-payer government-run system would cut costs by reducing the administrative overhead that doctors and other health providers must maintain to meet complex reimbursement rules from different insurance companies. A government program also would have greater leverage in negotiating lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, he said


But instead, the Dems are looking to sell their already tattered souls yet again. Per the L.A. Times:

Originally, the government insurance plan would have paid doctors, hospitals and other providers a rate set slightly higher than Medicare's. Insurers and hospitals, as well as many lawmakers, feared that arrangement would mean the government plan would incur lower costs than private insurers and could charge low premiums -- driving companies out of the market. Consumers, critics said, ultimately could be left with only one choice for health coverage: the government.

Under the deal struck Wednesday, the government insurance plan would have to negotiate with hospitals and other providers apart from Medicare. That could make it harder for the federally run plan to charge very low premiums.


And, God forbid, exploitative, privateering health insurance companies be driven out of the market by sensible policy that for once addresses the needs of most Americans.  

Saturday, August 1st Update: 

Major provisions of the bill include an expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state healthcare program, to cover more low-income people. Middle-class workers would receive new subsidies to pay health insurance. A government-sponsored insurance plan would be available as an alternative to private plans.

Critics worry that the government option will undercut private plans by offering cut-rate premiums, putting the health system on a path to being dominated by the government.


Gee golly, I wonder who these “critics” might be. Here’s an idea for the private health insurance companies: If you want to compete in the marketplace, create a better product. It’s called capitalism.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Using plausible circumstances from several fictitious families, The Times has mapped out some hypothetical health care scenarios as examples for the (Byzantine, insufficient) ways in which the proposed House and Senate plans would address them.  It’s like the world’s shittiest board game! Come join me, won’t you?

(Ooh, ooh, ooh! I get to be “Healthy Employed Single Mother making $38,000!”)

Here’s the scenario, then: 34-year-old healthy, employed single mother of two small children - Convolutasha and Minutia - making $38,000:

The family could receive assistance to buy insurance from an exchange and out-of-pocket medical costs would be capped. Democrats say an exchange, and a public plan, could stimulate competition among insurers and hold down premiums. If the family still cannot afford to buy insurance, they could apply for a hardship waiver.


The italicized coulds are mine, for added emphasis, as are the glorious names of the children. But maybe you get my point: That’s a lot of coulds. Could to me means: “possibly, but no one knows for certain.” If, when I proposed to my current fiancee, she responded with, “I could marry you,” well, then that wouldn’t be terribly encouraging for me. 

And it doesn’t bode well for sweeping proposals that were supposed to be rolled out by August 1st (which is not happening, by the way).

Have you also noticed the fun, new terms that keep popping up seemingly each day - words like “exchanges” and “hardship waivers”? I don’t know what these things are, but it sounds as though they’re certainly going to be accompanied by a whole litany of convoluted bylaws. And then, when this whole thing bubbles over into an oozing bureaucratic quagmire, the Republicans will really have something to mirthfully frolic around Washington about - in their knowledge that the Dems are in fact creating the Kafka-esque nightmare that the GOP has claimed it would become.

Okay, so how about this next doozy: Small business owner, married couple with an adjusted gross income of $70,000. According to the given scenario, they have a mouthy 17-year-old son, and the wife has high blood pressure. Under their current health plan, high blood pressure would be considered a pre existing condition, whereas mouthiness would not.

The couple may pay less in premiums because the proposals would limit the ability of insurers to charge higher rates because of health status, gender and other factors. The family could also buy insurance for themselves, and their employees, through the exchange.

And yet there’s still no guarantee that they’d be paying cheaper premiums with the new plan. Hell, they might end up paying more. And it only gets worse:

The family will most likely be required to have insurance or pay about $1,282 in penalty (2.5 percent of adjusted gross income over a certain level, which is $18,700 for a couple) 

The couple would not be required to provide insurance to their employees, or help with premiums because the business's annual payroll is less than $250,000.

If they buy insurance for employees through the exchange, they could receive a tax credit to help pay the premium costs. Credits are available to employers with 25 or fewer employees and average wages of $40,000 or less. The amount, up to 50 percent of premium costs, phases down as employer size increases.

Penalties, exchanges, subsidies, premium costs, tax credits. Yikes. Or, we could just avoid this whole hot mess and opt for a single-payer plan.

But the thing that stuck with me most yesterday, while reading this, is that based on what I’ve seen so far from these two plans, there is still no safety net for the working poor nor for individuals of any socioeconomic strata who must endure catastrophic medical circumstances: 

All the bills offer some kind of assistance to lower-income people who do not get health benefits through the workplace. The bills would provide premium subsidies to millions of people and would establish limits on consumers’ out-of-pocket costs. But lawmakers and consumer groups say insurance could still be out of reach for many families with modest incomes who receive small subsidies or none at all.


And here I was, naively thinking that the whole purpose of this thing was to cover everyone.

I’m beginning to see evidence of the same arrogance, greed, complacency, and myopia among current House and Senate Democrats that ultimately brought the Republican political machine to its knees four years ago.

Which begs the question: As a politician, it really worth it to sell your soul to a special interest group if doing so ultimately costs you your job? 

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If Everyone in the U.S. Gets Sensible, Affordable Health Coverage, the Communists Win

Or so this man would have you believe.

As I mentioned at the end of my post yesterday, there’s simply no way a single-payer health initiative will ever get the backing it needs to succeed in either the House or Senate, and I think The President realizes this. But it’s a shame, a tragedy, and a travesty. It’s a Shamtragersty.

All joking aside, not having a nationalized health care program is untenable and unconscionable. 

A single-payer system would put one single entity - the government - in charge of apportioning health care funds and managing coverage. Consequently, there would be one federal agency responsible for performing these specific tasks. But, unlike, say, the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, this agency would actually serve an invaluable purpose.

Hospitals and physicians would still remain private. So you could continue to receive care from your chosen provider and he or she would get fully compensated by a single entity - the government (just like the local fire department, police department and post office). No rationing care, no co-payments, no unnecessary procedures, and no more morally repugnant practices by health insurance companies - like dropping patients retroactively for having a ”pre existing medical condition.” 

In a PBS interview with Bill Moyers, Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (I believe they’re accredited now), asserted that obviating the bureaucratic madness of health insurance providers would save approximately $400 billion a year. 

President Obama, along with most House Democrats, are proposing a public health care option that can compete with the private health insurance companies. This would theoretically drive down the private health insurance premiums. You know, keep ‘em honest. But by advancing such a proposal, aren’t the Democrats implying that the private health insurance providers are, you know, sort of profiteering dickheads? Why not just completely eliminate an entity that for years has been literally bleeding millions of Americans to death? 

But let’s not play stupid. Health insurance companies are businesses; their primary motive is to make massive piles of money. Which is precisely why they shouldn’t have anything to do with the distribution and management of our health and wellness. Would you want Halliburton running your local fire department? Exxon-Mobile in charge of your local school district? 

Paul Krugman exquisitely illustrates this argument on his “Conscience of a Liberal” blog when he says:

This problem is made worse by the fact that actually paying for your health care is a loss from an insurers’ point of view — they actually refer to it as “medical costs.” This means both that insurers try to deny as many claims as possible, and that they try to avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there’s a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need — not everyone agrees, but most do — this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.


Critics claim that putting the big, bad, scary federal government in charge of health care would be a cataclysmic mistake, since we’ve learned by listening to many a scholarly conservative, that the g-word is scarcely more than a euphemism for the leviathan of waste, inefficiency, and bureaucratic red tape. 

First, a few comments on wasteful, ineffectual government. The combination of Republican anti-government propaganda and eight years of this guy flooding each and every federal regulatory agency with cronies, industrial big wigs, and glorified crooks has produced abysmally ineffective government and a U.S. populace that has grown increasingly skeptical of it.

Being circumspect of government is always a good thing. But rejecting its crucial role in a functional republic is foolish and politically immature. And, yes, I’m talking to you, Libertarians.

I liken this exact scenario to that of the leery - and interminably pie-eyed - citizens of Metropolis in the cinematic masterpiece Superman II. Let me set the stage: Following Evil Superman’s short and brutal reign, the world teeters on the brink of disaster. Just then, the real Superman finally returns from halfway across the globe (where he’s just finished bedding down his special lady friend, Lois). See, the people know the real Superman is essentially a decent guy, aside from the split personality and megalomania, but they just cannot seem to put their faith in him anymore. And these goodly citizens of Metropolis well know that this Superman isn’t the evil version, but they can’t shake the notion that the two are to some degree associated by virtue of their shared post. That is, until the real Superman saves the earth - AGAIN.

The end.

But the Evil Superman (Bush Jr.) is gone. As is Lex Luthor (Cheney). And now, free from the grips of an imbecilic prick and his diabolical puppet master, government can hopefully get back to the task of serving the greater interests of its people. It’s eminently possible: Just ask the Brits, the Canadians, the Belgians, the Swedes, the French (I know, I know: the French), the Germans, and the Swiss. While the governments of these countries might not be ideal (is there such a thing?), they all largely seem to avoid the abysmal social, political, and economic fiascos that somehow ultimately plague our quaint Shining City Upon a Hill. 

And why is that? Because those governments have something in common. They hold the purse strings of an entire nation. Citizens pay more in taxes, but they’re also provided with cradle-to-grave security nets that mitigate many of the socioeconomic extremes that we experience today in the U.S. But universal health coverage goes beyond public policy in these countries. It’s ingrained in the social fabric of their citizens. For example, to Canadians, a system like ours is not only ineffective, inefficient, and expensive, but it’s also highly unethical.

What else do each of these aforementioned bastions of socialism have in common? You nailed it: They’re all countries in which the average life expectancy of their citizens exceeds those of us living in the U.S.

Hey, but we beat Slovenia!

Nevertheless, Americans share a different perspective, brought upon by a confluence of history and culture. We are the progenitors of Manifest Destiny. We are the homesteaders. We are the strong, the protectors, the guardians. We cling tenaciously to the conviction that each and every man is responsible for his house, his yard, and his family, and that the world beyond that patch of pesticide-soaked lawn in the front yard is beyond the purview of our responsibility. Ultimately, we don’t want a corrupt, ineffective, impotent government to solve our problems - ones that we should be able to remedy ourselves. 

But times have changed. 14,000 workers every day lose their employee-based health coverage. And in the same interview with Moyers, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head of the advocacy group, Public Citizen, said that nearly half of all U.S. bankruptcies last year were of the medical variety, and that two thirds of those were filed by individuals who already had health coverage. Dr. Wolf later added that over 20,000 U.S. citizens die each year due to a lack of adequate health coverage.

So, if anyone needs me, I’ll be at Urban Outfitters, purchasing myself a Che Guevarra T-shirt. Should I buy extra?

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Obama's Latest Albatross: Health Care

Because inheriting quagmires in both Iraq and Afghanistan, an erosion in diplomatic ties with allied nations, an economy on the brink of collapse, and a panoply of federal agencies that have, for eight years been pervaded by cronyism, corruption, and fecklessness wasn’t enough. 

But unlike many fickle Americans (51 percent as of today) who can only seem to criticize The President’s mission on this issue, I applaud his effort (while somewhat disagreeing with his policy).

I can understand why the public is more than a little uneasy about the Obama-lead $700 billion-plus financial bailout, especially since we still haven’t seen any change in the corporate culture of the banks that have benefited the most. Still, I can’t help but fear that most people expect every aspect of the financial markets to have been repaired by now. I mean, come on already: It only takes my microwave burrito two minutes to cook all the way through: What the hell?

But to use the glacial pace of the stiumulus as a touchstone for Obama’s health care policy is misguided. 

Predictably, most Americans are also leery about an increased public presence in the health care sphere, primarily because it involves the g-word - government (Or, what GOP House Minority Leader John Boehner and other conservatives more ominously and hyperbolically refer to as BIG government.) Sadly, though, despite the fact that the Dems currently have the bully pulpit in the White House, as well as clear majorities in both houses, the left still yields the verbal framing on policy issues to Boehner and his GOP brethren, bless their nostalgic donkey hearts.

Incidentally, by now we know that conservative Republicans are exquisite at three things: Hijacking elections, running up massive budget deficits, kowtowing to corporate greed, initiating preemptive war, engaging in adulterous trysts, and appealing to the disproportionately huge fear center that resides in red-stater reptilian brains through the usage and repetition of trigger words and phrases such as “family values,” “free markets,” “death tax,” and “socialized medicine.” 

These words, chosen with utmost care by Republican pollsters, coincide nicely with the American “bootstraps” mythology, reinforcing the enduring yet fallacious notion that all Americans are ultimately headed for unlimited wealth, health, and prosperity, providing they live lives of chastity, hard work, and religious piety. From George Lakoff’s bestselling Don’t Think of an Elephant:

In the 2000 election Gore kept saying that Bush’s tax cuts would go only to the top 1 percent, and he thought that everyone else would follow their self-interest and support him. But poor conservatives still opposed him, because as conservatives they believed that those who had the most money...deserved to keep it as their reward for being disciplined. The bottom 99 percent of conservatives woted their conservative values, against their self-interest.


It is claimed that 35 percent of the populace thinks that they are, or someday will be, in the top 1 percent, and that this explains the finding on the basis of a hoped-for future self-interest. 

Yesterday in The New York Times, a cross-section of families were asked to give their take on Obama’s Thursday press conference. In the article, the Brown family, struggling by on $38,000 a year, seemed more concerned about how American the new policy would be, rather then whether or not it would provide their family with consistent, stable health coverage:

Mr. Brown said he realized his escalating insurance premiums, which have doubled since 2006, had suppressed his wages. He noted that he and his wife were still struggling to pay off $3,000 in uncovered medical expenses from the birth of their youngest child. but the Browns said Mr. Obama and the Democrats had not convinced them of the need for radical change. They said the notion of establishing a new government health plan to compete against private insurers seemed un-American. They questioned the wisdom and fairness of taxing the rich. And they said individuals should bear more responsibility for staying healthy.

“I know the system is not perfect, but I’m not completely convinced it’s broken,” Mr. Brown said. “And even if it’s broken, I’m not sure the government is the solution.”

Somewhere, Karl Rove cracks a demonic smile and Frank Luntz french kisses his own reflection in the mirror.

As Obama has implied in the past, at its essence, health care reform is about finally seizing the moral high ground. Simply put, a nation cannot continue to claim to be morally righteous when millions of its citizens are forced to go without basic health care. Sound bytes are nice, but we can no longer merely claim to be a just society. We must act.

For tomorrow: Why single-payer is the only solution...and why it will never happen.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stop the Inanity Project: Day 1

Inane adj. 1. Silly; senseless.  2. Empty; void; SEE ALSO: Most major news outlets

Because I love agonizing, debilitating pain, I maintained an informal tally of the total number of times any aspect of the Michael Jackson case appeared on the front page of my local newspaper, the L.A. Times throughout the two weeks subsequent to his death. The number...want to guess? No? 

Forty Seven. Aaaand I’m lying. I kept no such “informal tally.” But, if one had, I can almost guarantee that they would have arrived at a similar number - or perhaps even greater.

Which brings up three questions:

Question #1: Why was so much coverage given to a deceased pop mega-star who hadn’t produce any work of import in at least fifteen years? 

Question #2: Does anyone but me recall the degree to which the media vilified this guy prior to his death on June ?

Question #3: Why are they now deifying him?

At what point will my newspaper go back to filling some of its most valuable journalistic real estate with actual news stories? I want the latest box office receipts! I want siamese twins navigating through adolescence! I want babies in wells! I want Branjoline! I want kitties stuck in trees!

The Fourth Estate is no longer adequately serving the informational needs of the populace, and it’s unconscionable. 

At any rate... 

...First off, I wanted to say a few things about blogs and explain why mine will hopefully be worthy of the precious slice of time you dedicate each day to procrastination (I, for one, guard my procrastination time with the intensity of an imploding star and the self-righteous ferocity of a stage mom whose only daughter was just eliminated from the finals of a Junior Miss Sparkly Gorgeous pageant.) 

For me, a good blog is one that offers fodder for intellectual discussion or debate, serves a civic purpose, entertains (beyond merely YouTube links to a University of Tennessee fraternity power-puke contest or looped footage of a midget getting donkey-kicked in the crotch by an unwieldy Great Dane), provides a forum for individuals to organize and/or voice public discontent, offers access to previously reported information on a topic, gives similar-minded individuals an opportunity to share ideas about their chosen hobby or avocation, or provides original content that has been independently researched and published by the blog’s author. 

So, in summation, good blogs look like this. And this. Oh, and especially this. And this one is pretty damned good. So is this one...and, of course, this one. And there are many more.

In other words, there are a great deal blog sites that provide real, tangible value for readers, even though these exceptional - even seminal - voices are occasionally drowned-out by the din of indulgent, puerile, often incoherent flotsam that all-to-frequently clogs the blogosphere. 

But my objective - and promise -  is to contribute to the burgeoning list of excellent political blogs - though delivered with my own unique perspective and spin. And by unique I mean heavy-handed, overbearing, self-righteous, judgmental, and irreverent.  

Oh, and I’m a liberal. But not the squishy, closeted, wishy-washy, apologetic kind. Unlike Hillary or Barack or any formerly liberal politician who feels like they need to eschew the moniker in order to remain relevant (and they’re probably right in doing so) in the public sphere, I’m proud of my liberalism: To me, it’s less a political affiliation than a philosophy: Think more FDR, less John Kerry; more Naomi Klein, less Harry Reid; more Robert Scheer, less Mark Pryor. In other words, I have an unwavering belief in higher education; a woman’s right to choose; a clean, safe environment; stringent gun restrictions; the government staying out of our bedrooms, wedding ceremonies, and pot dispensaries; smart, efficient government regulation; diplomacy; social justice; putting the welfare of the citizenry and the environment over the needs, interests, and desires of corporations; racial and gender equity; and socialism.!

(Government watch list ACTIVATED.)

As an aside, those of you who object to socialism should do the right thing and duct tape your mailbox, find a pothole to drive over, never again take public transportation anywhere, refuse service from the next police officer, firefighter, or paramedic that attempts to assist you in any way - even when you’re writhing on the ground, desperately grasping to your final moments of right-of-center life, only send your kids to private school, and vow to never, ever check out another Harry Potter book from the library again. That’s right, I said it: People who read library-issued Harry Potter books are socialists. Fucking commies.

Additionally, you might want to reconsider renting out that spare bedroom just yet. Why? Because, starting the first of next month, you - yes you - will be sharing your home with a maximum security inmate from the tax-subsidized, socialized public penal institution of your choice. But, since you don’t believe in socialism, well, all I can say is take up Judo. 

Finally, you will be refusing your social security check once you’re eligible, instead using it for kindling for the fireplace your palatial mansion - or your skid row trash can. Either one. And no Medicare for you, either. But you already knew that. 

In other words, Socialism is as American as Abraham Lincoln, apple pie, and the X-Men. Oh, and, by the way, FDR? Socialist. MLK Jr.? Socialist. Albert Einstein? raging socialist. None of them would ever admit it, but their respective philosophies and behaviors indicate that they unequivocally were.

Problem is, we stubborn Americans just cannot seem to shake images like this one from our collective imaginations when pondering the necessity for programs like single-payer health care, Head Start, or an expansion of myriad other safety nets for working-class citizens.


Much of the content on this site will be taken from recent headlines, though some posts will address issues that are a bit larger in scope - and some will even contain original reporting.) So this is your forum to question, comment, rant, and sermonize. To that end, S.T.I. has but two rules:

1. Stay on topic. In other words, please refrain from addressing non-related news items.

2. No personal attacks. 

Repeated failure to adhere to the two rules above will result in a permanent ban from the site. 

So don’t be an idiot.

And welcome.

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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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