Monday, August 31, 2009

Healthcare Reform: How 'Bout It?

It's been a little while since my last political entry, so I figured it was getting to be about time. (I did say I'd get another post up while it was still August - maybe not in those exact words, but close enough!) And with all the insanity buzzing around the very notion of reforming our broken healthcare system here in the United States, I felt like it was time for me to weigh in. (Particularly to honor the recently deceased Ted Kennedy in this case, an admirable politician with high ideals who fought hard for healthcare reform up until his death to brain cancer the better part of a week ago. A sad, troubling time in which to pass on, but his funeral on Saturday was a fitting tribute to in many ways the most important Kennedy family member in American politics.)

Ganked from's start by looking at the heart of the basic problem of healthcare reform. What's wrong with this country? The insurance industry, of course. Even I grew up thinking the basic concept was screwed up. "Really? We pay other people for the promise of helping us with our healthcare, and they do everything they can to avoid paying out? Why are we trying to make money on going to the doctor?" Legally, we place more importance on making sure everybody has to buy CAR insurance than we do making sure people have access to healthcare. We place more value on liability insurance for our vehicles than we do our own national health. (In fact, you can't even be legally issued a Driver's License here in North Carolina without car insurance.) Yes, it's safe to say that our priorities are more than a little screwed up. Here in America, we have a $400 billion industry standing as a giant barricade between the people and the healthcare that the rest of the developed world deemed a human right quite some time ago. When faced with a money-wall that dauntingly dense, corporations that have indeed placed prices on human lives - lobbying Congress like there's no tomorrow, keeping as many politicians as deeply in their pockets as possible from both parties - those of us fighting for reform face a seemingly unbeatable beast. And it's imperative that we - not only as moral creatures who care about others than ourselves, but as human beings in general - defeat this monster birthed by our greed.

Back in 2007, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's Sicko highlighted the serious problems of this corrupt industry and made a strong argument for public healthcare. Over 40 million Americans are uninsured. Moore covered this, along with the focus on profits for shareholders at insurance companies - talking with former employees, who discussed the cost-cutting lengths they'd go to in denying service. (In short, even having insurance is no guarantee of actual healthcare. Their end goal is to take your money and give you as little back as possible for it - ideally nothing at all. It's a crooked system in its very conception.) He also looked at the right's framing their opposition of healthcare reform and nationalization as a Cold War era style battle against Communism, appealing to the Baby Boomer generation that actually responds to this kind of fear propaganda. Two years later, here we are seriously fighting for healthcare reform with a historic moderate president in office keen on mopping up long-term right-wing political mistakes, and the right's attacking reform through exactly the means Moore brought up. He even found that the origins of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973 were rooted in a conversation between John Ehrlichman and Richard Nixon (President at the time) in which Ehrlichman spoke of the HMO system being expanded in a way to focus on profit for insurance companies through giving the public as little care as possible. Nixon - in this, one of the many obviously regrettable conversations he taped - remarked that it sounded just fine to him. He also looked at the healthcare systems in Canada, France, and the UK - all of which are far better than the US's, and far less expensive than this bloated mess our love affair with unregulated capitalism has wrought. (Despite what Libertarians often espouse, the "Free Market" will not "take care of everybody." In fact, from what we've seen repeatedly here when deregulation occurs - and in this case, when we try building a for-profit industry on an essential service - the "Free Market" will screw everybody it possibly can given the opportunity.) And this description is merely the tip of the iceberg - Moore addresses the problem in his documentary far better than I can in a blog post, but I'm taking a crack at it regardless. Typically, the far right has written the contents of the documentary off, as they're not exactly shy about their hatred of Moore - in particular because he tends to back up his arguments with facts they can't exactly counter. When you get to the bottom of the matter, the big issue is that healthcare itself is an essential service - the sort of services that the government has socialized virtually all of for a very long time. No essential service should ever be a for-profit industry. We could not run the post office, police, or fire departments as for-profit industries without shutting out a dauntingly large portion of the nation. This is exactly what we are doing with our healthcare system.

That's right, this political cartoon obviously isn't mine.The Republicans, Michael Steele's proclaimed "Party of No," have NO interest in the future of this country or the quality of life for the average American. (No reform, No empathy, No intellectual honesty. We're seeing a veritable "Let's run this shit into the ground!" mentality blossom in this George W. Bush/Sarah Palin era where incredibly ignorant fringe politics are considered mainstream. Opposition for opposition's sake.) This is a point that they have both established and hammered to death since this administration took power earlier this year. And with the extremely high deficits forecast for the future, they'd like now more than ever to shut down all nonmilitary government spending (And the military takes up an inordinately large part of our spending as a result of the travesties the previous administration pushed us into abroad. There absolutely shouldn't be any of the buzz we still hear here and there about a potential war with Iran, either. If the chaos around the recent stolen election there shows anything, it's that their leadership is definitely corrupt, but the people? Absolutely not. And if we attack Iran, it's the people who suffer the most. They are not our enemies, but we will be making them into them and giving them every reason to hate us if we attack them.) in the name of reducing the deficit. (An issue they curiously didn't care about with our trainwreck of a previous president, who cast us headfirst into a deep fiscal well as a nation. They'd rather put all the focus and blame on Obama as though he were responsible for the numerous terrible decisions made by the Bush administration.) Of course, this is also a completely unrealistic concept that they like to cling to because a government that cannot spend money is a crippled, ineffective government. And if they could shut down the Obama administration's spending, that would ensure the collapse of their support and give the insanely far right another opening to pursue election as their party's disturbing ideologies continue to slide further from mainstream acceptance. They talk about "reform" every now and then, but offer up nothing of value, deeper in the pockets of the insurance companies than even the Democrats. For them, this is all about "defeating" Obama with dangerous fringe politics and the inciting of fear, with the incredibly ignorant Sarah Palin (Who seems to lower the glass ceiling another inch every time she opens her mouth.), hateful Rush Limbaugh, and openly deceitful Fox News (Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly as standouts) at the forefront. If these people win with their politics of hate, fear, ethnocentrism, incitement of violence, and class warfare (With the rich deified and the poor vilified - after all, "If you're not rich, you're just lazy!"), this country has no future.

Even the baby wants nothing to do with her. (You should've seen what Something Awful did with the original image.)While numerous lies have been told about healthcare reform - all by people who haven't actually read the bill, and tend to come up with "It's too long to read!" as the best of their flimsy excuses - one in particular has stood out in recent weeks, made especially popular by Sarah "Dingoes/gubmint/Good healthcare ate/tried to eat/might eat in the future/does a concept have an appetite? my political prop/grandpa/baby with Down's Syndrome/normal baby that I also use as a political prop!" Palin. She claimed in a Facebook post (The real blogging outlet for all serious politicians who resign halfway through their only term in elected office out of personal narcissism. The same page has been full of all kinds of ugliness toward the Kennedy's since Ted Kennedy's death as well - representative again of how low her followers' political discourse is, if you can even really call it that.) that the government would begin forming these so-called "Death Panels" to determine who would live or die, and suggested rather blatantly that she would be forced to stand before one in order to justify her child with Down's Syndrome's existence. This, of course, is based in this meme-like claim from the right that universal healthcare will take away our freedoms and choice in regard to our healthcare, that not only will we not be able to choose our own physicians, but that there will be forced abortions and mass killings of the elderly once it's no longer "cost effective" to keep them alive on things like life support or to pay for expensive medical equipment in general. The thing is, that's the exact opposite of universal, socialized healthcare - specifically because it's a program designed to operate at a loss, funded by taxpayer dollars like all other essential services, because the private sector can't do a better job providing these services. In fact, the "Death Panels" spoken of already exist in many capacities - sure, they're not forcing anybody to abort their Down's babies, but they sure as hell are looking for every excuse they can to abandon their clients, citing any "preexisting condition" they can to drop coverage and justify not paying for things as so to avoid taking losses. There may not be a "bureaucrat between us and our doctors" like they claim with nationalized healthcare, but we've certainly got businessmen with profit incentives behind denying healthcare coverage between us.

Who put all this "Death Panel" talk in Sarah Palin's head? None other than Betsy McCaughey. On the last Daily Show, Jon Stewart took her to task on her criticism of end-of-life counseling and claims that the healthcare bill makes it mandatory. She had the bill right there in front of her on the show, and still could not back up her claims with anything in the bill. The claims she's made stemmed from her twisting her own misinterpretation of Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel's writings on making the most ethical medical decisions about organ transplants when supplies are low into claiming that he was advocating the rationing of healthcare based on age and disability. (And from there, Sarah Palin took that to a whole new level of stupid, and ta-da! Death Panels.) Ultimately, McCaughey's proven herself to be a very unreliable source of commentary on the issue of healthcare reform, writing from a perspective well established as being in no way rational or objective - geared instead toward giving the Republicans ammunition with which to sink legislation aimed at improving the American people's quality of life.

If only this were really true, Mr. Geisel. At least you've written many things truer than this.Even when McCain made some halfhearted efforts to defend Obama and the administration at a town hall meeting last week, we saw an audience ultimately filled with the kinds of daunting ignorance and hate that Palin spent their campaign last fall whipping up. And with things like that Facebook post intended to incite, she continues to do so alongside with Fox News. These are the kind of dangerously radical far right wing people that actual conservatives should have stepped up to and quieted as they started to get rowdy instead of gorging themselves on the adulation of the racist and ignorant. A political party that now builds itself on ignorance and hate has no future and is no better than the enemies it claims exist around the world seeking to destroy us. Their platforms these days are largely constructed in an unsustainable manner to cater to the last people who need the government looking after their interests, while shutting out those who need assistance the most, with the usual "bootstrap" excuses, as though every problem in this country can be solved by "hard work." (And accusations of "laziness.") A very popular right-wing myth that they - in all their corporate love - have helped to successfully make a myth.

Also getting media attention as of late is the stepping up of comparisons between Obama and Hitler. While you'd think this might have come from the same crowd shrieking about "socialism" (See: Surrogate terminology for racism-derived anger in no way socially accepted as a form of expression anymore, like the constant focus on Obama's "Hussein" middle name throughout the election, in many of these cases.) and "Getting government out of my Medicare!" (Despite Medicare being a government program and nothing but.), it didn't. (Not that they don't enjoy seeing that kind of rhetoric, of course.) Rather the blatant Hitler comparisons come from a cult of personality of sorts around a man named Lyndon LaRouche. He's a creep, a criminal, a fascist (The actual kind - not what the Republicans mean by the word here.), and a crook, with a long-established history of fixation on linking everything he can to Hitler and the Nazis. Basically, he's the worst kind of cult internet celebrity. There's no sanity or value behind the "contributions" to discourse we get from his followers. (Not to mention people outright shouting "Heil Hitler!" at Jewish people over the healthcare reform issue now. It's both a little scary and beyond ridiculous how the extreme right is trying to label those fighting for a better healthcare system - for that all-important first part of "Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" - as Nazis while themselves invoking the Holocaust in the name of their own brand of ignorance and fear-driven political oppression. For all the talk of "fascism" from the left, while we're seeing fascist mentalities publicly expressed in this country out of fear and ignorance, the left's the last place it's coming from.) Hitler comparisons add nothing of value to a political debate, when you get down to it. All they do is serve to insult all who died in the Holocaust. We've certainly had some terrible people in power over the past few decades - Obama and Clinton are not amongst them - but even as bad as things got under Bush, he didn't deserve Hitler comparisons either. In fact, while we've had quite a few terrible presidents, none of them have anything on Hitler's brand of "terrible." But the Hitler image isn't about a comparison with any kind of basis. It's all about manipulation through McCarthy-esque fear mongering - not unlike what the Bush administration used throughout their years in power following the September 11th attacks in 2001. It's the lowest of the political tactics, the most effective way to counter facts and rationality - with emotion and irrationality. If you can't win on facts or anything reflected by reality or human empathy, you shift gears to focus on bringing out the worst in humanity in the name of your cause.

This guy was not a voice of reason at Arlen Specter's town hall meeting. You can tell by the yelling.There are people fighting against healthcare reform saying that so many people don't "deserve" healthcare because they can't afford it in our current broken system. This is downright sociopathic - however, most people who say this have no idea what they're actually saying and lack actual understanding of our problem at its root. There are people worth tearing into over this issue - those who knowingly spread deceit and sow the seeds of rage and fear - but those being deceived by these individuals gain nothing by having their anger met by anger. They may have lost sight of reality after listening to twisted, lying individuals with their own anti-reform agendas to push in their opposition to this administration - elected in the very name of reform - but odds are for all those who won't listen, there are still undoubtedly a few whom reason has a shot at reaching. Antagonizing these people achieves nothing, and antagonizing those who refuse to listen doesn't achieve anything either - rather than acknowledging them, we should remain steadfast in keeping our focus on making our voices heard far more clearly as the masses we are. The right's whipped up a potentially dangerous, vocal minority, but what they amount to is hot air - sound and fury lacking substance and significance. It's with empathy and reason that we can stand against an enraged fringe - in standing against what they do with the methods they use, all they do is serve to vilify themselves.

Another real problem we face is that we're enamored with the myth that "America is this way, it's the way we're SUPPOSED to be, this is the pinnacle of civilization, those who succeed do so by their power and their power alone, all those who fail are lazy and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, change is bad." Naturally, it's a myth the far right continues to try to sell, drifting further and further from reality. (Frankly, you'd have to fairly out of your mind to think that consumer capitalism is the pinnacle of human civilization. It's insane to think that there's any permanence to where we are now, given that the entirety of history has shown us that there is no such thing as permanence - nor is there such a thing as perfection, though some Republicans seem to take offense to the idea of America's imperfection. Part of the whole narcissistic "patriotism" shtick.) There are some things in this nation we should not uphold - like the insurance system. Its existence is an obstacle to obtaining the kind of humanistic healthcare the rest of the developed world provides their people. We're absurdly obsessed with the concept of an individual's power and the idea that free market capitalism can save everyone and everything, while relying heavily on government-provided services and opportunities on a day to day basis - there's a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance on the part of the conservative "bootstraps" crowd that lives to pat themselves on their back and insist that their every accomplishment was achieved solely because they "worked hard." It's utter nonsense in a society ruled by corporate interest. There is no level playing field - hell, the whole existence experience itself is pretty damn rocky unless you were born into wealth and privilege. (And yet we can't get enough of trying to make dramas about how hard it is to be a rich white teenager on TV here. Pretty hilarious.) It's in their interest that this "free market" delusion remain popular, since it makes it easier for them to avoid proper regulation and more effectively fight off competition. Even the insurance industry itself has no real competition, and there isn't much inter-company competition, as they're all focused on the same goal - not one that results in healthcare being treated like the human right it is.

Obviously not mine. (Note the watermark.) But I had to use it.What does all this say about us? We on the left (Or frankly, all of us left of dangerously far right on our arbitrary political spectrum) got plenty ugly when Bush was in the White House. But we played NICE compared to the far right now. Since Obama made it to the general election and even more since his successful election to the office of the president, the racists have come out of the woodwork in this country, reminding that despite how far we've come, we haven't really come anywhere near as far as we should have. We have prominent political thought in a major political party that still harbors and feeds racist thought, all in an era where we've seen Republicans claim for years that we have a "post-racism" society where we no longer need important programs like Affirmative Action. (Naturally, they're completely wrong and they've only proven just how wrong they are to a scary degree in the past year.) But while racism is absolutely a big factor in all of this, it isn't the whole picture. Our conservative-leaning media (Fox News now terribly being the most popular 24-hours news network in America, they have no room to claim there's a "liberal media" in any sense. Their accusations only played a big part in further drifting away from objective journalism and into profit, sensationalism, and fear-based territory where there were always "two sides" to every story, and where the "left" and "right" had pundits being dragged onto TV to duke it out over every issue with zero real journalistic regard for where the actual truth lies. This is the kind of journalism that led to Walter Cronkite passing on deeply saddened by the pathetic state our newsmedia has sunk to.) openly works to keep the public misinformed now, with their owners (In Fox's case, the openly crazy-far-right Rupert Murdoch) having their own narratives they want to press upon the public. The newsmedia has failed us and helped to break this country.

As much rage as we get over "socialism," these McCarthy-esque claims are being made by people who have no idea what actual socialism is - and those who do are simply lying to manipulate older generations with whom McCarthy style paranoia strikes a nerve. The Republicans and their cable news network took this nation in a very dangerous direction with Bush, and now that they're out of power, they're hellbent on doing whatever they can to tear down whatever hope we have left of real change and reform away from the terrible things they represent. Unfortunately, we have no real leftist, progressive political presence on the national stage in this country. (Dennis Kucinich is probably the most progressive Congressman we've got, and even he's just one representative in the House.) Instead, we have a somewhat moderate right-leaning party in the Democrats, in which corporate lobbyists have taken a depressing amount of control, and then we have a dangerously far-right fringe party in the Republicans, completely in the pockets of the interests of corporations and the wealthy.

As for real healthcare reform, however you look at it, unless the Democrats stop trying to court the Republicans - who've made it clear that they want no part in real reform - and fight to push through a major overhaul of the system with a strong public option, we're not going to get anywhere near as much change as we need. (Though I would absolutely love to be wrong. PLEASE prove me wrong, Congress.) At this point, even something incremental and some real regulation of the corrupt insurance industry would be welcome, but until we start to study the healthcare systems in Canada, the UK, France, Scandinavia, and most of Europe in general, we're not going to get the real overhaul that we need. During the Bush years, "bipartisanship" meant pushing Democrats to vote for Republican legislation. Now during the Obama years, the very concept of bipartisanship is sadly essentially dead thanks to terrible, ignorant individuals leading the Republican party. When they cannot win on logic, rationale, and honesty - and they even tried to make "empathy" into a dirty word during Sonia Sotomayor's historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings (Implicit was that her sympathies should lie solely with the rich, white, and conservative, serving the same function as Bush's Supreme Court justices, Roberts and Alito. The conservatives seem keen on the Supreme Court being a last stop to forcibly ensuring a backwards status quo, rather than making the difficult decisions without a blatant right-wing slant.) - all they have left is fear and threat of violence. This is a political party encouraging oppressive values, and whipping up the absolute worst in America in what - in any sane reality - should be the beginning of the end of the party's political viability. It's time we start using our hearts and brains and move toward a more empathetic - and less greedy - national philosophy, toward a future with stronger left-wing and moderate politics, away from the right, which hasn't served this nation well. And away from the corporate kings who essentially rule the nation in so many ways and have broken our political system. A great first step would be in continuing to push for public healthcare for the masses - competition and regulation the corrupt insurance industry has long needed. For the good of the people.

Healthcare reform was a major theme at Ted Kennedy's funeral on Saturday. The Lion of the Senate was known for fighting the good fight for the right causes and not backing down. Once he died, the most disgusting people in this country began to verbally dance on his grave across the internet, and Republicans who respected him - including John McCain - began to try to politicize his death in their favor, claiming that in this one case, he would have backed down, given in, and compromised with them. Despite the fact that this is not what he was known for, and the last thing he would have done - and they know this. They knew his death would be politicized - and as one of our most important politicians of the 20th and early 21st centuries, that's only natural - but not in the direction they wanted it. (Rather, his death deserves to be politicized as he wanted it to be politicized - in fighting all the harder in his name to achieve his life's goal. He may not be on the Senate floor to cast his vote when the time comes this fall, but he'll be there in spirit.) So instead of being honest, they went on to disrespect him, claiming that were he still alive, he would have done exactly what he wouldn't have, just to continue their push against his own proclaimed life's cause. A worthy cause for one of our most important and respectable politicians. But the way the right's handled his death in trying to use it in a push against healthcare is downright sleazy. You'd think that out of respect, they'd avoid addressing Kennedy's passion for it, knowing that he was an opponent who wouldn't back down in the face of their fear mongering. But instead, they chose to go to another low.

This is where we are as a nation. Over one of the most important human rights. You're sorely missed, Ted.

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