Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Bad Healthcare and Bad Government

A friend recently sent me an article describing how the new President’s campaign promise of healthcare reform might be far more expensive than previously thought. The tone of the article clearly reflected its author’s stance with the opposition. I saw nothing new in the article’s arguments, warning as it did about the “perils of socialized medicine”. Actually, I have seen little new from either side in this debate, for many, many years.

I think the President is bumping into an ugly reality on this issue. The choices appear to be to put bandages on the existing employer/insurance-driven system, or go to a government-run system. I disagree. Although I do not know what they might be, I feel very strongly that there must be some other choices available.

It will take “thinking outside the usual political box” to resolve this issue successfully for the American people. However, just as in years past, everyone is entrenching into their two opposed traditional positions, and no one anywhere is approaching this problem with the open, inquiring mind that is required.

One of the two positions seems to be to maintain the existing multi-provider health-for-profit system, with the pharmaceutical corporations and the malpractice lawyers making a very corrupt “killing”, and multiple insurance companies with their duplicated overheads unable to make a killing unless they cheat.

They cheat by defeating what was for us the point of insurance at all: a big pool to spread costs. These insurance companies are so horribly inefficient that they are only profitable if they carefully pick their pools (read that as covering only those who never get sick). The byzantine rules and out-of-control premium costs effectively deny adequate coverage to something like 1 in 4 of us, if not more.

The other position is "single payer", a euphemism for the British system of fully-socialized, government-run "health care" that is really merely rationing in a completely dis-incentivized environment. Others point at the Canadians, but they use exactly the same system as the British. In either country, health care delivery for all but the most routine things is usually bureaucratically delayed until the patient dies. Effectively, that is really how costs are cut to tax-supportable levels.

As far as I am concerned, both approaches are abject failures!

I do not know exactly what the Scandinavians are doing, but I do know these four things about what they do:

(1) everyone is covered,

(2) the total of their taxes is comparable to the total of all our taxes at all levels of government (both totals are about 65% when you include Social Security in our total, which goes into the general fund, and has for decades; that's effectively a tax),

(3) on the average Scandinavians live 10 years longer than Americans, and

(4) their oldsters are healthier later into life than ours, so that old age there is much pleasanter than old age here has become.

With respect to point (2), let me add: those three countries also maintain large, well-equipped, and formidable military establishments, comparable to ours in a per-capita sense. I know of the military endeavors of the Swedish and the Norwegians from my days in the defense industry. I presume the Danish are similar, although I never had any dealings with them.

As I already said, I do not know exactly what they are doing in those three countries to provide health care for their peoples, but those four items I just listed above, make a powerful argument to go look. Maybe there is something they do that we can adapt and use here.

We ought to at least look!

Here is the only reason that I can see, as to why this possibility has been excluded from our debate here in America: the “very loud-talking” money of the entrenched special interests. In this case that would be the gigantic (and international) pharmaceutical corporations, the trial lawyers groups, and the big insurance companies themselves. These giants have enough “petty cash” to have bought almost all of Congress. We the people are nothing but a disposable source of income to them.

A representative owned by these giants will vote against the interests of the people every time the issue comes up. Further, as a group, they will hide this pattern by cloaking the debate in terms of opposing ideological positions that are in fact logically ridiculous. And that is exactly what has been going on for over 20 years on this issue.

This happens on a lot of issues critical to the American people, not just health care. And it is about to happen again on healthcare.

And THAT is why I recommend voting against all incumbents, unless one can personally verify that an incumbent did more good than harm while in office. VERY FEW qualify, in my book. (I found only three out of all the choices at all levels on the last ballot, although I have now identified a fourth.) It does take time for a freshman representative to put down roots into the “good-old-boy” corruption system. Therefore, that garden requires frequent weeding. And we-the-people have NOT been doing our weeding.

And THAT is why we have bad government.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Plea for a More Civil Political Discourse

I get a lot of forwarded e-mail letters and articles from friends and acquaintances. Many of these are, shall we say, unfavorable toward our new President and his administration.

Over the decades, I have learned that jokes and opinions adverse to sitting Presidents are quite normal. But, in the last couple of decades, I have noticed two things that disturb me greatly.

One is the vitriol, the sheer unadulterated defamation, in lots of the recent material that I have seen. This is clear evidence of a hatred that is poisoning our collective political life, and that is dangerous.

The other disturbing trend is that this hate campaign has been directed not just at the current sitting President, but at his party even when it was not in power. This tells me a lot about the very negative thinking of those who actually produce this stuff.

I am not a Democrat. Nor am I a Republican. Over the years, both parties have advanced proposals that I have liked, and other proposals that I have detested. Over the years, I have picked and chosen candidates whom I felt would do good things for America, regardless of their party. In my opinion, that is what all Americans should do.

Now, over the last several decades, I did tend to vote for more Republican ideas than Democrats, because those ideas back then were generally more moderate: a more moderate size of government, moderation in spending, etc. This was actually a very centrist position, by today’s standards. I like centrist stuff. It is usually the least intrusive, least harmful.

The problem is, today’s GOP is not the party of moderation anymore. The last traditional Republican (moderate-politics) President I can remember was Eisenhower. In recent decades, the closest thing I saw to that moderate ideal was Bill Clinton, the Democrat! In much of what he did, he was closer to the mold of the moderate Republicans of old. He balanced the budget, reformed some welfare into workfare, and he did not start any wars. This was entirely unlike Reagan, Bush 41, or Bush 43, all Republicans.

The departure of Arlen Specter from the GOP is a very public example of something that has been going on since before Reagan. The “power base” of the GOP was once politically-moderate folk of a strong connection to big business, just as the “power base” of the Democrats were the politically-moderate folk of a stronger connection to organized labor. Both parties had their extremists: the GOP included some very “right-wing” extremists, while the Democrats had both right wing extremists (“Southern conservatives”) and the “far left liberals”.

The makeup of the Democrats is still mostly unchanged: a moderate core and lots of fringe wackos on the left, although they lost most of the Southern conservative extremists to the GOP.

In contrast, the “power base” of the GOP shifted sharply to the extremist conservatives, plus what amounts to some very intolerant Christian religious extremists (the so-called “evangelicals”). After that shift, the party essentially began purging itself of moderates, such as Specter. That is why fewer and fewer people identify themselves as Republicans in the polls any more.

Unless the GOP becomes less extremist and more inclusive, or unless a new party espousing moderation arises, then I think that the best hope of obtaining moderate politics and policies now lies with the Democrats, at least for the next few years. Yet, one of the reasons I voted for more Republicans than Democrats over the previous decades was a tendency of the Democrats to get taken-over by their own “left-wing liberal” membership, just about election campaign time. That still happens.

Even so, I am pleased with the selection of Mr. Obama by the Democrats, and that he won the election. Obama and McCain were both moderates within their parties, both “centrist” politicians. These two men were closer to each other in their politics than either was to his party’s “base”. I simply think that the polyglot political baggage of the Democrats is less harmful to us right now, than the right-wing extremist baggage of the GOP. It’s a lesser-of-two-evils thing.

That brings me back to the vitriolic and defaming email forwards. These were directed at the Democrats all through the presidency of Bush 43, and were particularly mean-spirited about Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton during the long campaign for the last election. A lot of these were “photo-shopped” images or “testimonials” depicting Obama as unpatriotic and un-American. Some of it was quite clumsy and easily spotted for what it was. After a while, even the jokes are no longer funny. This stuff is still being produced and circulated.

The latest egregious example is a careful quoting-out-of-context of Mr. Obama, who said “America is not a Christian country”, with the implication that we are not religious at all. The full text actually says “not a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim country”. The full meaning, in proper context, is that this country is not just one of these, but all of these, and much more besides. His meaning is entirely positive, and very inclusive, even of those who do not believe. It certainly includes all Christians, and not just those who pass the “litmus tests” for the extremist Christian religious right.

The election is over. We are being tested by multiple emergencies that transcend all politics. We desperately need our President to succeed, no matter who he is. This continuing campaign of political hatred actually endangers America.

It has to stop.

I submit to you all that Barry Goldwater was wrong back in 1964 when he said that “extremism … was no vice”. It is a terrible vice. And it is a potent danger, whether in politics or religion. After all, it is extremist religious fanatics that we fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. That they are Muslim matters not. It is the extremism, not the brand of religion, that drives them to do Satan’s work for him: to kill others for God.

As LBJ once said “come let us reason together”; and let’s do it in the moderate center of our political and religious lives.