[digg-reddit-me]Stephen Colbert lays bare the pure cynicism behind Newt Gingrich’s refusal to acknowledge the silliness of Sarah Palin’s claim that Obama is createing “death panels” in what I think is my favorite response to the crescendo of wingnuttery on the right over health care:
Bill Maher – as is his wont – perfectly parries the conservative arguments defending our “capitalist” health care system by linking it to capitalism in general:
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But Bill, the profit motive is what sustains capitalism.”
Yes, and our sex drive is what sustains the human species, but we don’t try to fuck everything!
There are exceptions, rule, and regulations to everything. Maher – by bringing the matter back to sex – demonstrates that the radical capitalist ideology that seeks to impose itself on every facet of life is in fact just that – an unpragmatic and radical ideology. And he makes the case that liberals and the others in the majority who are opponents of this radical capitalism that the profit motive is a good thing – just like sex drive – but like sex, it needs to be constrained in order to be productive and not destroy our society.
There are quite a few ways to explain what is causing our health care and health insurance costs to skyrocket, but in terms of crude political terms, there are really only two possibilities: either health care costs are skyrocketing because the government is involved in a major way – with Medicare, Medicaid, the prescription drug benefit, the subsidy for employer-based coverage, etc.; or the market for health care and health insurance is inefficient independent of government interference.
I don’t have the expertise to resolve the issue – but to me it is telling that the costs of health care and health insurance began to rise exponentially not shortly after Medicare and Medicaid were begun, but during the early years of the Reagan administration with his derogatory fervor. Then the medical loss ratio began to decrease – as health insurance companies began to squeeze as much profit as they could from their businesses. In other words, the prices for health care and health insurance began to rise precipitously as Wall Street began to take a more assertive role in running the economy including health insurance. At the same time, the costs of government insurance has risen slower than that of private insurance companies.
Economists long ago discovered that health care markets are not efficient on their own – as most individuals do not treat health care as a typical service. Rather if people have a choice, they avoid using the service until they absolutely need it – and then are willing to pay whatever is necessary to get better. This also is demonstrated by the fact that despite the fact that America spends far more on health insurance than nations with similar health care systems, statistics show our overall level of care is generally lower than in these countries (fewer doctors per patient; a lower life expectancy; etcetera). At the same time, most individuals treat some level of health care as a right. Even right-wingers – as they decry the attempts to make health care a right in America – implicitly treat it as one when they tell the anecdotes about the 21-year old alcoholic who was denied a liver transplant under Britain’s system because the bureaucracy in place required him to prove he would not endanger his new liver. But unless getting medical treatment to extend this young man’s life is a right, why would anyone be outraged over it?
Because of these various factors, health care operates as an inefficient market as demand does not appreciably respond to changes in price. This helps explain how the health insurance industry began to fall under the sway of Wall Street and take on the telltale characteristics of a Wall Street-run corporation that exists primarily to generate exorbitant profits instead of to provide a service or product. When Wall Street focuses on an indursty, there follows certain predictable steps:
as a precondition, there needs to be a market inefficiency that Wall Street can exploit; for example, the inflexibility of demand for a product or service allows the creation of a rapidly inflating bubble in costs;
increasingly, these executives began to make decisions that benefit their shareholders in the short-term so as to maximize their paychecks and keep their jobs;
the product or service is degraded as corporations turn their focus to creating mass short-term profits;
the inefficiences present initially are exacerbated;
most important, many major risks and costs are deliberately externalized to the public so as to maximize private profits;
at some point, this becomes unsustainable and the bubble bursts.
This is exactly what we saw in Exxon’s massive profits during the surge in oil prices in 2008; and it is very similar to what we saw in the housing market; and it is also clearly what we have seen with health care in America for the past twenty to thirty years as the inflation in health care costs far outpaced all else.
I actually don’t like the idea of blaming everything on Wall Street – but the telltale signs are here:
health care demand is generally inflexible, although when costs are paid can be shifted as most people see health care as a right and medical facilities and doctors swear an oath to provide care to everyone;
rather than seeking to reduce the costs of care while providing the best service possible, they sought to exclude as many sick individuals as possible and to cancel coverage for as many individuals who got sick as possible and to use other means of artificially lowering their costs without lowering the price of their service;
by refusing to pay for so many sick individuals, many of these costs are externalized to the public; by refusing to cover those who have preexisting conditions – and thus those who are more likely to need to use health care resources – the costs of taking care of these individuals is put upon hospitals and the public; while doing all of this, the insurance industry sought greater and greater government subsidies.
Among the range of options for health-care reform, there’s one that is sure to raise your taxes, increase your out-of-pocket medical expenses, swell the federal deficit, leave more Americans without insurance and guarantee that wages will remain stagnant.
That’s the option of doing nothing…
Doing nothing means leaving our Wall Street-run health care in place; and while right-wing critics focus on the specter of rationing by government bureaucrats and government bureaucrats in between you and your doctor and complain about the complex system the Democrats are proposing – they fail to acknowledge that this Wall Street-run health care rations care by cost and interjects bureaucrats reporting to CEOs imbued with the culture and ethos of Wall Street as they attempt to exploit every inefficiency in our current extremely complex system as much as possible, externalizing as much cost to the public as they can.
If the problem with our current system is not that the government is too involved – as right-wingers assert – but that the market is inefficient in providing health care – and that these inefficiencies are being exploited by Wall Street-run health insurance companies – and if with the economy still fragile from the bursting of the bubble in home prices and with radical changes not feasible or desired – then you turn to the various plans that the Obama administration and Democratic Congress are looking at which attempt to introduce various processes and incentives that will gradually shape the health care system into a more rational market – creating regulated markets for individuals to buy health insurance; eliminating abusive practices that artificially decrease medical costs for insurance companies; creating a public option to compete with these private companies; empowering an independent body (MedPAC) to regulate Medicare prices and practices; creating a body to look at and disseminate information on the comparative effectiveness of treatments and medicines.
It’s clear that our Wall Street-run health care industry isn’t working. More of the same – more deregulation as the Republicans propose – isn’t going to fix this problem. We need change. We need to take back our health care from Wall Street and make it responsive to consumers again. Our system won’t be perfect – and it won’t happen overnight – but the Democrats are clearly working to reform this system. The Republicans are merely seeking to obstruct.
But neither Gigot nor Limbaugh nor any other right-wingers seem to give any consideration to those drags on risk-taking that our current status quo creates.
Gigot apparently thinks that raising taxes on a handful of powerful individuals has a greater effect on reducing risk-taking than the prospect of global warming, than the lack of a health care safety net has on potential entrepreneurs.
The difference between Gigot and myself is that Gigot is concerned that this handful of powerful people will be less likely to take risks with their vast sums of money – along with a dozen or so major corporations having less ability to generate major profits by externalizing costs for pollution and health care to the society at large. If a corporation has to pay for the damage it causes, then it is – by Gigot’s standards – less free. This is true only in the sense that a tyrant is less free than an ordinary citizen because he is no longer able to impose his way upon others.
If one wants to stimulate the economy by encouraging small businesses and entrepreneurship, there are few better ways to do it than to pass some sort of health care reform that makes it cheaper and more available outside of large employers. As Daniel Gross, financial columnist for Newsweek and Slate, explains:
An affordable national health care policy, which could allow people to quit their jobs and launch businesses without worrying about the crippling costs of premiums or medical costs, might be a better spur to risk-taking than targeted small-business loans.
I say this as a former small business owner and entrepreneur myself. One of my biggest concerns in working outside of an established business was that I was not able to get my health care through my job – which meant astronomical monthly premiums for a service I did not use – but which I could not be sure I would not badly need.
Gigot and other right-wingers are not focused on small business and entrepreneurs – although they does invoke them as a fig leaf for political reasons. If they were they could see the advantage of a public health care option. Instead of defending the free market, Gigot and other right-wingers seek to defend a corrupt status quo in which decisions are made by a princely few rather than being made in the competition and varied decision-making bodies of a free market. Health care reform – if done right, with a public option – will remove a major obstacle to individuals taking their own risks, starting their own businesses; it will be a small step to diversifying decision-making and creating a more free market.
Gigot – by taking the dogmatic position he does – proves he is not serious about protecting the free market; he is only interested in protecting the interests of his cronies among the monied elite.
[digg-reddit-me]Last week Campbell Brown provided a perfect example of the total abdication of the main responsibility of the press in a short piece in which she discussed the debate over whether or not the stimulus had worked or was working. The story was done in a perfectly formulated “he said, she said” manner in which she made no attempt to perform her basic job as a journalist: figuring out who is right and who is not.
It is hard to think of a more basic description of what the job of a journalist is than to say, “He or she should try their best to state the facts, and when there is controversy to try to get to the bottom of it.” Brown though is clearly happy to merely play clips of two different sides saying entirely opposing things, and then to smirk and hold herself above these individuals by taking no position whatsoever. It is on the shoals of this irresponsibility that our public policy debates will be run aground:
Someone here is right; someone is wrong; and there are various sets of facts out there backing up each side. Showing these clips like this – without delving into the actual policy questions accomplishes nothing.
Of course, someone might take the position that there was limited time on the air – and Brown didn’t have time to go into the details of the actual debate. And you’re right. Brown needed time for this great montage a few minutes later:
At the end of this segment, it’s easy to see how Obama is personally so popular and why his policies are less so. The policies are ignored on this serious news show while his coolness under the pressure of an annoying gnat are replayed once again.
Regardless of your position on the political spectrum, an actual discussion of policy in which facts were discussed rather than accusations traded would be to everyone’s benefit.
[digg-reddit-me]Reading the news stories about my Congressman Pete King’s “rant” pissing all over Michael Jackson’s dead body – saying “there’s nothing good about this guy” and calling him a “lowlife,” a “pervert”, a “pedophile,” a “child molestor” – I expected to be incensed when I saw the video. It’s not that I believe Jackson wasn’t any of these things – it’s just that in the absence of any convictions and with the accusations in the second trial at least looking rather calculated – I’m still reserving judgment. I wouldn’t go around denouncing a dead man for being a child molestor based entirely on the media’s portrayal of him.
But rather than being incensed at a ranting Congressman, what I saw instead was a rather sober, if cliched, Rep. Pete King – just down the block from my house in Wantagh – trying to cut through the bullshit and express something he felt without a politically correct censor. He does well to remind us that our country has many unsung heroes – police officers, firemen, people who volunteer in cancer wards, teachers who work in the inner city. It’s always a good time to remind people of that point. King’s “rant” reminded me of the way I had admired him for his defense of Bill Clinton through the impeachment trial:
In that same spirit that led King to take on Michael Jackson (but without relying on smears and accusations and instead relying on the Congressman’s own documented words), let me say this to my congressman, mincing no words:
Whatever your other redeeming qualities, you are a bigot – and a disgrace to the House of Representatives.
You have repeatedly demonstrated that you equate Islam with terrorism in public remarks – notwithstanding your attempts to save face by saying you are not talking about all Muslims.
When asked by Sean Hannity about previous statement you had made that 85 percent of mosques in America are “ruled by the extremists,” you said that many American Muslims are in reality “an enemy living amongst us.”
You denounced a mosque for running subway ads as “especially shameful because the ads will be running during the seventh anniversary of September 11, and because the subways are considered a primary target of terrorists” – equating, once again, the religion of Islam with terrorism.
I first realized you were a bigot when I read your novel Vale of Tears back in 2004 expecting a standard thriller – but what I got instead was page after page of anti-Muslim invective, approvingly noted by the narrator – an Irish American Congressman from Long Island who bore a striking resemblance to you.
And all of this bigotry is justified by your reaction to September 11 – which transformed you from a sensible moderate to a bigot and a fetishist for executive power. Since then, you have had little time for such niceties as the rights of citizens and American values – as you focus on this fight against “the enemy living amongst us,” thereby targeting the rights of us all. When asked about balancing American values with government power over citizens, you advocated the government using any means necessary – ignoring civil liberties and constitutional protections – as “if there is any doubt, [you] want this resolved by going out and getting the job done.” “If there is any doubt” you want to err on the side of constricting the liberty of citizens! This is not consistent with your oath to uphold the Constitution. Given this, it’s not that surprising that you think Guantanamo – a place where hundreds have been tortured according to America’s own records – goes too easy on them – that it’s like “Club Med.”
You are not the type of congressman we need. Your bigotry is embarrassing. Your disregard for American values is abhorrent in a public servant, sworn to uphold the Constitution. Whether you decide to challenge Kristen Gillibrand for New York’s Senate seat or remain in your House seat, I will do my best to make sure you no longer represent me.
That’s from me, Joe Campbell, addressing you in the no-bullshit style you so value. Go ahead – rant about that.
[digg-reddit-me]I pride myself on being the type of guy who tries to see the other side. And I believe in America, everyone has a right to their own opinion – and to express their own opinion. And I think that our media often presents too narrow a range of opinions.
But can somebody please explain to me how either of these men can be allowed a soapbox to speak from? Fox News should take Glenn Beck off the air for this – and ban Michael Scheurer, despite his experience and knowledge of Al Qaeda. There are certain things that are acceptable – and then there is what is beyond that. Wishing for a major terrorist attack is over the line. Every conservative or right-winger that railed against Ward Churchill blaming the victims of 9/11 for their own deaths should be on this bandwagon – as these two commentators hope for more American deaths so that their political agenda will be adopted.
Tell me how else to interpret this?! Tell me how this isn’t treason! Explain to me why this isn’t over the line:
The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States…Only Osama can execute an attack which will force Americans to demand their government to protect them…
Go ahead, somebody please talk me down from this – or if on the other hand email UPS and other sponsors of the Glenn Beck show to demand that they stop their sponsorship. (UPS is the only major sponsor I have seen – though let me know if you know of any others.)
Edit: I’ve contacted UPS to ask them to confirm their relationship with Glenn Beck and am waiting for a callback. When I get a response, I will find out a better method of directing these emails.
[digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan has mined the internet for information coming from Iran in the past few weeks. One thing that becomes clear in reading Sullivan’s site is that – if the assorted tweets, videos, images, blog posts, and messages are in any way representative – something new is in the offing in Iran. Sullivan quotes one young Iranian on his blog on Friday night, after the Supreme Leader has set out his demand that the protests stop, with the promise of violence in his words:
I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…
Later on Friday, in the night, a woman videotaped the sounds of shouts from the rooftops of Tehran of “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to the Dictator” as she explained the poetry of the moment:
Then, from Saturday I believe, there is this thrilling video from the Persian BBC:
The theme of the coverage of the Iran in the Times and other papers this morning – and indeed since Saturday – has been: “There is no going back from here.” Mousavi has made it clear he is not compromising on his core terms – and is prepared to martyr himself. On the other side, sources suggest the regime is preparing to label Mousavi a terrorist – as official media sources have hinted he is working with a small terrorist group within Iran.
What has become clear – given these sentiments of Mousavi and his supporters – is that what follows will be either a revolution or a crushed rebellion. The legitimacy of the regime has been questioned – and even if Mousavi is able to maneuver his way into taking power without removing Khamenei or the current power structure, the result is still a revolution. Because, as the system is set up, Iran’s democracy is designed to merely provide an outlet for frustrations – not to create a government with the consent of the people.
The candidates are chosen in advance by the ruling class – and alternate candidates are not just shunned, they are excluded. The votes are tabulated in secret – and the results of the election can be invalidated by the Supreme Leader if he deems the result to be improper. What the Iranian people have made clear in the past week is that their consent is required for the state to function. This fundamentally changes the social bargain at the heart of the Islamic republic – and directly challenges the more authoritarian vision of Ahmadinejad and his faction.
I thought Biden made this point particularly well:
[T]alks with Iran are not a reward for good behavior. They’re only a consequence if the president makes the judgment it’s in the best interest of the United States of America, our national security interests, to talk with the Iranian regime. Our interests are the same before the election as after the election, and that is we want them to cease and desist from seeking a nuclear weapon and having one in its possession, and secondly to stop supporting terror.
The Obama administration’s approach to these elections has been – in my opinion as an informed amateur – nearly flawless. They have made clear that they are prepared to talk with Iran – regardless of how the elections went, rather than giving the Iranian people or leadership an ultimatum; they have declined to endorse a side in the election, letting the Iranian people decide themselves; they have been clear about their principles, but circumspect in their goals; and they have extended a clear hand in friendship – which most reports suggest the Iranian people desperately want to grasp. By refusing to give our rhetorical support to the opposition, the Obama administration is frustrating the Iranian regime’s desire to paint this uprising as an American creation – as Ayotollah Khamenei preemptively sought to blame unrest after the election on “the enemies [of Iran who] may want to spoil the sweetness of this event … with some kind of ill-intentioned provocations.”
The Obama administration’s approach to the election — keeping its comments low-key and not signaling support for any candidate — was exactly the right approach. While tempting, empty and self-serving rhetorical support for Iranians struggling for more freedoms serves only to aid their opponents. History has made Iran wary of foreign meddling, and American policymakers in particular must be sensitive to giving hardliners any pretense to call reform-minded Iranians foreign agents. That’s why Iran’s most prominent reformers, including Nobel-laureate Shirin Ebadi, have said the best thing the U.S. can do is step back and let Iran’s indigenous human rights movement progress on its own, without overt involvement from the U.S-however well intentioned.
This is not about us. It’s about them. And any interference would only backfire to the regime’s advantage.
The Obama administration realizes what Bush never did – that democracy cannot be imposed by force or ultimatum; that it must be taken by the people; that fine words extolling democracy are not enough – but a hand extended in friendship can destabilize a regime propped up by its demonization of us.
And so, the outreach to Iran and its people goes on.
On this morning’s <em>Meet the Press</em>, Joe Biden said that the Obama administration has made the decision to go forward with talks – despite <a href=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22425001/vp/31353317#31353317″>the administration’s clear doubts about the fairness of the election</a>.
I thought Biden made this point particularly well:
<blockquote>[T]alks with Iran are not a reward for good behavior. They’re only a consequence if the president makes the judgment it’s in the best interest of the United States of America, our national security interests, to talk with the Iranian regime. Our interests are the same before the election as after the election, and that is we want them to cease and desist from seeking a nuclear weapon and having one in its possession, and secondly to stop supporting terror.</blockquote>