Friday, February 26, 2010

Health of the Debate

The patient is resting uncomfortably, and the patience is wearing thin. And though opinions differ on the immediate effect of the the 7 hour healthcare session of members of Congress presided by the President, my reading of the reactions suggests that the President and the Democratic plan came out healthier, though the length of the process and the number of players probably diluted the kind of clear exposure of the GOPers bad faith, hypocrisy and game-playing that happened when President Obama met with House GOPers.

Still, even the New York Times' right-of-moderate columnist David Brooks--who appears not to favor the Obama plan--gave credit to the President. After admitting that the event was more meaningful than he expected, he wrote:

Most of the credit goes to President Obama. The man really knows how to lead a discussion. He stuck to specifics and tried to rein in people who were flying off into generalities. He picked out the core point in any comment. He tried to keep things going in a coherent direction. Moreover, he seemed to be trying to get a result. Republicans had their substantive criticism of the Democratic bills, but Obama kept pressing them for areas of agreement."

For other press/blog responses (with selections towards the positive) check the beginning of this blackwaterdog diary on Kos.

On substance, objective fact-checkers supported what President Obama said, and agreed that GOPers routinely distorted numbers and facts. So did Paul Krugman in his opinion piece, and then he pointed out:

What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable."

As for "the Republican plan," Krugman translates the findings of the Congressional Budget Office: But here’s the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most. Under the Republican plan, the American health care system would become even more brutal than it is now."

Once again, the differences could not be more stark, and so you have to wonder what is really going on in the Zietgeist that makes these reforms controversial. On the face of it, there should be overwhelming public support, since the vast majority of Americans are paying exorbitant amounts for weak coverage that insurance companies can disappear at their whim, and are mostly paying for mega-corporations to establish monopolies through acquisitions and lobbying.

Against this, President Obama kept coming back to the stories of real people, who aren't among the income elite. And so did Rep. Louise Slaughter, one of those admirable public servants who voters have wisely sent back time and again, so she has institutional memory and can recite history that she has seen from the inside, like what happened with the Clinton attempts, and what the price has been for that failure in the 90s--especially in an area that no one talks much about, the economic burden on companies of health insurance, which has had a hand in making exporting products so expensive that they become uncompetitive--and so the American car manufacturing business was essentially disappeared to a large extent because of health care costs.

But Slaughter also told of a woman who was using her dead sister's dentures because she couldn't afford not to. How can this happen today in America? Slaughter asked, and that's the question that is answered by the Zeitgeist and what happens to this bill.

Krugman concludes:

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right. But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do — and they have the power to do it — is finish the job, and enact health reform. "

David Brooks doesn't think it will happen, and no one is predicting an easy road. Apparently a lot will depend on conservative Dems and whether they believe they have enough political cover, which depends in part on whether they sense the public is behind this. That's probably why the GOPers kept talking up polls which they claim say Americans aren't. We could talk about courage and doing the right thing. It's not unknown in Congress, though it's hardly the rule. But some sense of justice in health care probably will depend on it, and maybe it should.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Like It

This is more like it, and more will like it. According to Robert Reich:

Astonishingly, the health insurance industry is exempt from federal antitrust laws, which is why a handful of insurers have become so dominant in their markets that their customers simply have nowhere else to go. But that protection could soon end: President Obama on Tuesday announced his support of a House bill that would repeal health insurers’ antitrust exemption, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled that she would put it toward an immediate vote.

As Reich points out, this may well do more in one fell swoop than a lot of other more complicated reform proposals. Huge insurance companies specializing in health insurance have swallowed up so many of their previous competitors--all of them doing so using the premiums we've supposedly been paying for health insurance--that most Americans have no choice of health care insurance company.

The choice that the public option was to provide may yet be years away, if it ever happens, but subjecting this monoliths to anti-trust laws could be almost as effective--especially with consumer safeguards now proposed in the Obama reform bill.

Update: This legislation passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 406-19. By according to TPM, its prospects in the Senate are "dim."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Riddle Me This: Why is it so hard to understand that when the government spends money, it results in jobs and economic activity? Today I read somewhere about how hard it is to get the concept across, whereas the concept of cutting taxes is easy. And I heard someone on CNN explain that the money in the federal budget going to earmarks spending isn't much, but "tell that to somebody who's unemployed." What? I think most unemployed people are smart enough to wonder if they can get a job financed by that earmark, let alone discretionary spending as a whole, and especially something like the Recovery Act. The government spends the money-- so somebody gets it. Maybe it's a government employee, who buys stuff that means others are employed, and/or who performs a necessary service for society and the economy, like teachers, or maybe the money is spent directly in the private sector, employing people! Building stuff! Maintaining, staffing stuff! Why is this such a difficult concept????????
The Recovery Act creates jobs--as even the Republicans who were against it know it does, and want those jobs for their districts.
Update: The CBO now says the Recovery Act has employed up to 2.1 million workers, and added up to 3 million workers to the economy, reducing the unemployment rate by more than a point.
How It All Doesn't Work

This column by Nicholas Kristof parodying health insurance chicanery is pretty funny, pretty sadly funny, especially because it is wickedly applicable to quite a lot of how business is "conducted" in private/public/every sector.

If you missed it, check it out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Footnote to Copenhagen

Bill McKibben's report on the Copenhagen conference appears in the new New York Review of Books (March 11, 2010; not free online.) It's a masterful overview with excellent reportage, and fairly restrained in its tone and conclusions, that the weak outcome was the result of political heavyweights gambling with the future.

There was enough blame for everyone, in McKibben's view, including President Obama. The last hope for Copenhagen rested with him, but according to McKibben, "And almost from the moment Obama began to speak, it was clear that there would be no dramatic surprise agreement..." His proposals for the U.S. were weak, he writes, just as Hilary Clinton's offer of financial aid to the poorest countries likely to be most damaged by climate change were vague and inadequate by orders of magnitude. McKibben notes that Obama "helped negotiate" an accord, which "some inside-the-Beltway environmental leaders hailed [it] as a 'breakthrough' because it commited China to doing something..."

At the end of his report, McKibben points readers to the online NY Review blog, and another post on the Copenhagen accord by Tim Flannery. I found it, and it offers a different emphasis on Obama's participation, including an incident I didn't see reported elsewhere. Here are the graphs(I've added the boldface):

When he spoke afterward, President Obama was clearly both frustrated and surprised at the limited progress that had been made toward a resolution. Nor did things go terribly well after that. The key objective for Obama in his meeting with Premier Wen was to secure greater transparency on Chinese emissions targets, and Wen signaled his dissatisfaction by dispatching increasingly junior emissaries to meet with Obama.

Then, much to the annoyance of the Chinese delegation, Obama burst uninvited into a meeting between Wen, Manmohan Singh, Lula da Silva of Brazil, and South African President Jacob Zuma. It was at that meeting—in which no European leaders were present—that the final touches were put on the three-page document that would become known as the Copenhagen Accord. In this agreement, despite Chinese resistance, Obama could claim to have—in principle at least—achieved his key objective of obtaining greater international transparency and accountability for emissions reduction targets;"

This tells a different story. Obama may have had too restricted a goal, and domestic politics may have weighed too heavily at that moment, but it seems that he made damn sure he got something.
The Daily Trance

If following links along the Internet weren't bad enough in print, there's the truly addictive and zone-out inducing YouTube. I've just spent a couple of hours on what began as a simple search: curious to see what versions of "Kumbaya" might be preserved, in connection with a post I wrote on the subject at Daily Kos, expanded for my site, 60's Now. As I suspected nobody could really make much with that song, although Pete Seeger tried--as the crowd sang the melody he tried some lower register harmonies reminicent of black South African harmonies.

But through their fiendish links, I watched and listened to a couple of versions of "If I Had A Hammer," by the still incomparable Peter, Paul & Mary, and a great version by Pete Seeger with Arlo Guthrie (although he had little to do with it--it was the backup band and the backup singers that made it great.) And PPM singing "Blowing in the Wind" at a peace demo in Washington in 1971--I was there for some peace march that year, but I don't remember a podium and a program, although I do remember hearing them sing this song at the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963--it was the highlight of the program for me (sorry, Dr. King--I was a white 16 year old.)

And then somehow I happened on Paul McCartney singing "Back in the USSR" in the USSR (Red Square) and some obscure Beatles performances and studio tapes....I know I shouldn't have even started, but I let my guard down because last night I found the 1948 Superman serial I don't remember ever seeing, and which I just read about in a new book about the Superman phenomenon. I did that for an hour, but that's all, I stopped. So this time I thought I could control it.

And now I'm wasting even more time writing about it! This is the Internet!!!

Speaking of which, there is this strange thing on Kos. There's an entire underground of "trusted users" who can carry on dialogues through the comments that no one else can see. This happened on my post--there are at least 17 comments hidden to, among others, me--the person whose post it is.

But I think I know what it's about. I posted this "diary" early Saturday evening, then went out for awhile. Just before I left I saw a comment that was no longer there when I got back. It was from somebody who felt threatened by young men "of color" in his neighborhood, hanging around his car. His opinion was that his Louisville Slugger was more useful than singing Kumbaya. So my guess is there was or is a discussion about the appropriateness of this comment.

Well, gotta go--check my spam filter, run a couple of virus programs--one of which purports to erase at least 13 viruses a day. And if you care to comment here--though no one does--it won't appear right away, because my comments have been spammed (I know because the comments are in Chinese) and I have to approve them before they appear. When I get the time. Off of YouTube. Fortunately, I don't much care for today's TV shows on Hulu. I don't think.