Archive for August, 2009

Obama Disappoints Again … Health Care Reform Likely to Lose its Public Option

Boy, what a disappointment. According to published reports, the Obama administration is willing to give up a plan to create a government-run health insurance company – the so-called ‘public option’ – in order to get some sort of reform passed. Instead, they are now touting the creation of some kind of cooperative health insurance groups, which would be non-profit and owned by its members.

Now I don’t want to overstate the letdown I feel. If this is the only way some health care reform can get done, then fine. Something needs to be done, and the political realities on the ground are obviously quite tricky when you have a slim majority in Congress and even some of the Blue Dogs Democrats are barking like they don’t want to support anything that could increase our deficit.

And unlike getting pregnant, you can get ‘a little reform’ when it comes to health care. I’ll be relatively pleased if a bill passes that takes active measures to limit cost inflation by reducing waste or fraud or increasing efficiencies in the system and includes regulations forbidding insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or dropping people when they get sick.

But I wonder how many other compromises will find its way into the legislation before it reaches the President’s desk. Already, DF pointed out a blog post that indicated the administration agreed to some fairly serious concessions to the pharma industry in order to get it to agree to close the Medicare doughnut hole in prescription coverage.

When it comes to this nation’s health care system, the patient is very sick and needs a very strong prescription. A placebo won’t do. If and when this plan finally passes, will it have any teeth in it?

Or will it just be another example in a growing list of measures that Obama has either avoided pursuing or gotten passed only after it was strongly watered down. A stimulus bill was passed, but only after its size had been slashed, and several of the more left-leaning initiatives removed. An effort to end military tribunals was abandoned. Energy reform and cap-and-trade (an interesting idea that will likely do far too little to reduce global warming) linger in legislative limbo. Meanwhile, Obama has been silent on immigration reform, avoids changing don’t-ask-don’t-tell, and decides to fight the release of torture photos.

The area where Obama has had his biggest successes has been in the economic arena, yet many of the initiatives there – such as forcing GM into bankruptcy and doling out hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money to banks and Wall Street institutions – hardly qualify as furthering the liberal agenda.

Why are liberals so friggin afraid of their own ideology? Can you imagine the Bush administration hemming and hawing the way Obama’s team has? They wanted tax cuts, they got it done. They wanted authorization to go to war with Iraq, they got it done. They wanted the Patriot Act passed, they got it done.

Granted, there’s very little on a political level that I want Obama to emulate from the Bush team. As someone who finds strict, unwavering adherence to an ideology a bit disturbing, I like the fact that Obama is open to compromise. Often, many of the most successful initiatives a president will accomplish come by reaching across the aisle in areas not normally associated with their side’s ideology (like Clinton’s welfare reform or Bush’s AIDS relief work).

But look, the folks on the other side had their chance. They messed up, and Americans voted for change. Not just change in process – in how things got done in Washington – but voted for change in policy, too.

Troubling public opinion polls and frequent displays of hostilities at town hall meetings shouldn’t matter much if you think the results of policy change will be successful.

Democrats now control both houses of Congress. There’s no justification for deadlock or watered-down, half-assed measures.

For at least the next three years, the Left has been given the opportunity to lead this country. It’s time they do just that.

Twist and Shout: Why the Politics of Anger Makes Me Want to Cry

“…it is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”

I was livid when I first saw video from the health care town hall meeting that took place last week in my hometown St. Louis.  I had already seen enough similar footage from other cities, but the fact that these were in some ways ‘my folk’ infuriated me.

Ignorant rednecks, I thought, the whole lot of them.

Judging by their age and apparent socioeconomic status (yes, I was stereotyping), I couldn’t help but figure that many of these folks were already receiving a substantial amount of government-financed health care in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. I was convinced many of them were either paid shills of the health-care industry or just sheep lathered up into an unthinking rage by the reactionary talking heads that now populate the airwaves.

These people are the ones who have been chewed up, spit on and totally ignored for years. They have seen their jobs shipped overseas, their communities neglected. They may have a right to be angry but they should be venting their rage at the fat cats on Wall Street, who plundered and pillaged this country for a decade and then received trillions of dollars of our money, bailed out of the damage caused by their own incompetency and malfeasance.

But instead, of all issues, the thing that finally tipped these people over the boiling point was the prospect of trying to find a better way to provide health care for all of our fellow citizens, of trying to fix a broken system that eats up way too much of our GDP, that doesn’t work nearly as well as other less resource-rich countries, and threatens to topple our nation’s already creaky balance sheet.

Fucking uncaring, unthinking, rude, selfish idiots. That was what I thought of these people.

But now I realize that by thinking this way, I was engaging in their game, letting my emotions get the best of me. I was demonizing them just as they were demonizing Obama and The Other that frightens them so much.

Because here’s the truth: I have bought into The Politics of Anger. How could I not? It is now in full force. Everywhere. We should just call it ImPolitics.

We can’t have a rational debate anymore about anything without feeling the anger, letting it seep into our thoughts and words to the point where we no longer are listening to each other but shouting at each other. And when the issue at stake is something as important and as personal as health care, the tempers run even higher and hotter.

And while the extreme right may practice this form of politics with much more enthusiasm and effectiveness than most, they don’t have a monopoly on it.

Admit it, you think the religious right are a bunch of hypocritical assholes. You thought Bush and Cheney were evil. You’ve compared them to Hitler and the Nazis once or twice, at least in your thoughts. And this was before they abused the power of their office, led us into a war on false pretenses, and took away a number of our personal liberties. Perhaps you felt this way as soon as they were elected, when they clearly stole the election, using their mob tactics in Florida (some of those scenes in the election offices in Miami-Dade County certainly do have an eerie resemblance to the rage we’re seeing now).

I’d like to think I’m better. I have a sensitive soul and an open mind, after all. I appreciate fine art and literature and film and music. I can appreciate nuance, see things in colors other than black and white. I am enlightened. I know and appreciate how precious and short life is, and how we too often get distracted by issues that don’t truly matter.  For whatever we may think lies beyond, if anything, we should at least agree that we would make our temporal lives a lot more pleasant if we tried to understand the common humanity that links us all, binds us to the same shared fate.

But then I see the terrifying rage at these meetings, and it makes me wonder.

I know it’s the insult of the day to throw out the term Hitler and raise the specter of  Nazism whenever you disagree with your opponent. Both sides do it, and the inappropriateness of the metaphor has rendered it all but impotent.

But I wonder if the rage you see at these meetings doesn’t indeed spring from the same place that led us to a world where such a thing as the Holocaust – and all the other holocausts, the Rwandas, the Cambodias, the Bosnias, the Darfurs, etc. etc. – became possible, perhaps even inevitable. That perhaps the rage at these meetings, and the rage that rises in me as I watch, is the true realization of the common humanity of which I speak, and of which binds us to the same shared fate.

And then my rage dissipates, and is instead replaced by a deep sadness. It is much less fulfilling. I hope it is just as inappropriate.

Is the Postal Service obsolete? And what does it mean for health care?

So apparently, the U.S. Postal Service is in a peck of trouble. Despite raising postage fees numerous times during the past couple of years, the USPS announced earlier this week that it had lost $2.4 billion between April and June and would be $7 billion in debt by the end of September.

Are you kidding me? $2.4 billion in losses in 3 months?? Are you sure the USPS isn’t making cars or selling subprime mortgages?

I know the economy is tough, and more and more people are communicating digitally nowadays, but there’s no excuse for this kind of performance. FedEx and UPS are still making money, after all.

If the USPS was a normal private company, changes would be made pronto to get its fiscal house in order. But because we’re talking about the government here, our lovely elected officials can seemingly do nothing but berate the Postmaster General John Potter for the agency’s performance while hemming and hawing over the implementation of some of the common sense changes he’s asking for – like the elimination of Saturday service, closure of hundreds of offices, and changes in retiree pay. Even certain Republicans – like Missouri congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson – are worried about cutting back too much. They’ve got constituents to think about, after all.

Of course, the union thinks Congress is already going too far and ‘declaring war’ on the postal workers. I’ve known a couple of people who work for the postal office and like most government workers, they have some of the most secure, cushy jobs out there. Anything that threatens the status quo is anathema to the postal union.

In the end, however, the union may have to accept certain changes, like the end of Saturday delivery. Meanwhile, I wonder if we even need residential 5-day delivery anymore? Why doesn’t the USPS do like the garbage folks and stop by two or three days a week. I know that 90-plus percent of the mail I get nowadays is either junk or not particularly time-sensitive. The rare items that I want to get as soon as possible – Netflix movies, magazines – could probably be delivered through one of the private couriers.

Don’t get me wrong. In many ways, I’m impressed by how well the postal service works. Sure, going to the post office and getting service is a nightmare, but when you think about the millions of pieces of mail that get delivered on time and to the right address every day, it’s a remarkable system.

In fact, when people have complained that a government-run health care plan would be a total disaster, the USPS was one of the examples I would give of government doing a big job pretty effectively.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure anymore. Perhaps the naysayers have a point.


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