Saturday, September 26, 2009

Health Care Reform: OMG That's Socialism!

Here's an excerpt from Wiki on Medicare and Socialism:


At the time it was enacted, conservatives strongly opposed Medicare, warning that a government-run program would lead to socialism in America:

  • Ronald Reagan: “[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” [1961][58]
  • Barry Goldwater: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink.” [1964][60]
  • Bob Dole: In 1996, while running for the presidency, Dole stated that he was one of 12 House members who voted against creating Medicare in 1965. “I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare ... because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965.” [1992][61]

Sound familiar?

It happened when Roosevelt passed Social Security, too, in the 1930's. There were people who predicted that the U.S. was headed down the slippery slope to socialism, and from socialism to communism. We would lose our freedom and all our liberties and be the subjects of a totalitarian slave state. The United States of America would be doomed.

It's happening again today, in the debate on health insurance reform.

The cries are coming from much the same sources as they did when Social Security and Medicare were passed.

What's different today is that the people who are voicing their fears are often those who LIKE their Medicare and Social Security just as they are. They are against socialism, in other words, except when they are for it.

This fear of losing treasured benefits is being played upon by politicians and corporate interests who are interested only in preserving their own campaign contributions or their own bottom lines. It's cynical manipulation of a vulnerable population.

With health insurance reform insurers will have to provide competitively-priced coverage with no loopholes for pre-existing conditions. To keep their premium costs down and keep insurers honest, there will, hopefully, be a public option -- a government-run, not-for-profit insurance plan for those who want it. Those who are satisfied with their present insurance will keep it. The huge profits of some of the biggest health insurance providers may well decrease somewhat. The high cost of pharmaceuticals, in addition, would probably come down as the drug companies would have to negotiate with the regulated insurance industry on prices. These are the costs to corporate interests, which are funding and disseminating some of the most vehement attacks on the proposed health insurance reform in America.

Another problematic proposal for some people is to make it mandatory for everybody who is eligible for health insurance to have coverage. This is much like our present policy of requiring by law that everyone who drives must have car insurance. Such policies are in effect in countries like Japan, where the level of satisfaction with health care is generally higher than it is here in the U.S. The rationale is that if everyone buys insurance that will enable the cost of premiums to come down and the additional burden of covering the uninsured won't add to health care costs for everybody.

But none of this is socialism.

Socialism is an economic theory in which the means of production are owned by the state. Neither Medicare nor Social Security nor health care reform as it is presently proposed would entail government ownership of the means of production. Countries like Canada and the United Kingdom are not socialist societies, for example, yet they have socialized health care which their citizens are basically satisfied with. Yes, there are some horror stories, but there are also plenty of those in the U.S. too, with its present capitalistic system of health care provision.

Capitalism will continue as it always has, and drug and insurance companies will not be put out of business, although they may have to come down on their astronomic costs somewhat.

At the risk of alienating those who, like Ronald Reagan, believe that government is always the problem, and never the solution, I would point out that programs like Medicare and Social Security are run better and more efficiently by the government than they could be if health care were left to the vagaries of the private sector, as it is now.

There are just some things that government can do better, and health insurance reform is one of them.

And America hasn't turned into a communist state yet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Difference Does It Make How Many People Were At the 9/12 Rally?

According to the crowd estimates given in this "Politifact" article (click on the title of this post for the link) various organizations have given widely differing numbers for those who attended last Saturday's "Tea Party" rally in Washington, D.C. The estimates range from 60,000 (D.C. police) to 2 million (Michelle Malkin) demonstrators.

I looked first to see what the New York Times reported, a source I believe to be generally objective, and was disappointed to find that it said "thousands," an estimate I find vague and unhelpful. "Thousands" could mean anywhere from 2,000 to a million. Beyond that, it seems like the numbers depend largely on one's political orientation. Glen Beck, Fox and ABC apparently gave the highest tallies, and government workers the lowest.

Politifact goes on to describe a misleading photo which was purportedly of the crowd on Saturday, but turns out to be a shot of the Promise Keepers' rally in 1997. This rally covered the vast expanse from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, while other pictures of the 9/12 protest showed significantly less acreage. The event has been widely discussed on the internet, but the disparities of reporting make me nostalgic for the heyday of newspapers.

The trouble with the internet is that we tend to go to sites that we like and that we agree with, and we get a lot of our news from them. This news is usually slanted in directions we approve of, and can eventually give us a false sense of important issues and public opinion. In addition, photoshopping and other techniques have allowed photos to be doctored to a point where it becomes impossible to be sure of the images we see. While newspapers never created a consensus they did offer a version of events that all readers could use as a starting point, and pictures that were less easily tampered with.

Still, it seems to me that reasonably precise estimates of crowds could be made by anyone with a helicopter. If you know approximately what number of people are in a given segment of the picture, then multiplying that amount by the number of segments should give you a good idea of attendance. Though there were variations in the estimates of the crowd at Obama's inauguration, they covered a smaller range of possibilities than the wildly differing numbers given of Saturday's march.

So that leads me to the question: why does it matter how many people there were? After all, even 2 million people are hardly a majority even of the people who voted in last November's election. The answer, I think, is that two thousand people can represent many more who just didn't have the time, means or energy to travel in order to attend themselves. Two million protesters can represent how many more? A two-million-sized gathering represents quite a bit of discontent in the country.

It has been alleged that many of the attendees at the Tea Party 9/12 rally are bought and paid for by the insurance companies and big pharma. Certainly Freedomworks, a political group funded by corporate interests, has been active, especially behind the scenes, in much of the agitation at this summer's town hall meetings, in funding a number of political ads, and at Saturday's demonstration. There is no doubt that powerful interests are dedicated to undermining this president and his administration and opposing any changes to the status quo.
I also believe that many conscientious, patriotic and hard-working people are being manipulated through fear and false representations of the facts.

My greatest hope is that fear, hatred, rabble-rousing and emotional manipulation can be replaced by reasoned dialogue between those who advocate for positive change and those who want everything to stay the same. If we are all reduced to the political equivalent of food fights we all will be losers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Democracy and the Town Hall Meetings

The concept of the town hall meeting goes back to the founding of this country. The business of the fledgling democracy was forged through the gathering of neighbors at an agreed-upon meeting spot and engaging in debate on the issues most affecting the community. The resulting ideas were subsequently published in newspapers, letters and pamphlets and dispersed, eventually making their way to other localities and states. In this way the common concerns of the nation were articulated and discussed. It was a slow process compared to the instantaneous communications of today, but it was more or less effective for the emerging young country.

We like to imagine these early town meetings as almost idyllic, punctuated by courtesy, cooperation and rigorous examination of the issues. It was on this model, probably adopted from the forums of some of the early Greek city-states, that the two houses of Congress were patterned. In all likelihood the local town hall meetings became contentious and rowdy at times, with insults and threats hurled in the heat of the moment. But it is the more civil and intellectual gatherings we like to remember as a nation.

It was in this spirit of listening to the voice of the people that this summer's town hall meetings between members of Congress and their constituents were held. The weighty matter of national health insurance reform would be discussed in all its pros and cons, with participants both hearing and being heard. That was the original idea anyway.

Unfortunately, our traditions of civil debate have fallen on hard times. The dominant impression emerging from these town halls today is one of disorderly and contentious brawling, with the loudest and most obnoxious behavior, rather than the most reasoned arguments, taking center stage. It has been alleged that those corporate interests who have the most to lose from reform have carefully organized crowds of vocal antagonists, some of them paid, to travel from meeting to meeting and disrupt them as they go. It has also been alleged that pro-reform groups have similarly organized highly visible and vocal supporters of their agenda. But the lingering impression is that the anti-reform voices are at present the shrillest and seize the floor the most tenaciously.

The fact is there are many people who attend these town hall meetings, both pro and con, who are willing to listen and engage in constructive debate with their representatives. But they are not the ones in the spotlight when the press goes after its sound bites to present on cable and network news. The press is looking for the most exciting and hopefully most shocking footage they can get. That's what sells the news. The action seems to be with the detractors so that's where the attention goes. I contend that there are an equal, if not greater, proportion of those who attend are in fact in favor of some kind of health care/health insurance reform, but that's not the lingering impression that remains. American audiences appear to want conflict and disorder more than sanity and reason.

The representatives who lead these town halls are shouted down and over so much that they often can't get a word in edgewise, much less engage in constructive debate. Some have retreated from actual town halls altogether, instead addressing groups who have invitations only or holding telephone town halls, where the callers are carefully selected.

Very conservative citizens are not the only ones in American history to be disruptive. The anti-war movement of the Vietnam era, and the visible and vocal protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, for example, were also often loud, obnoxious and unruly. Bad manners have never been confined to the right.

The saddest part of the protests and the surrounding media circus is that democracy is suffering in the process. This is not only going on in town halls but also in the halls of Congress, where bitterness and contention appear to have replaced thoughtful debate. When we, as citizens, can no longer come and reason together then our whole civil society, as well as our form of government, is in trouble.