Category Archives: “Health” insurance

After the protests…


The protests of today and tomorrow are mostly to psych ourselves up. When they’re done, we need to start the real work of opposing the new administration on whatever issues carry the most energy for us. They want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act? We want a single-payer, government-supported healthcare system — no need for a middleman, raking in undeserved profits. They want to make voting even harder than it already is? We not only want to make it easier, for all adults, we want to get rid of the Electoral College and initiate a new, more democratic primary system. Etc…

The biggest lesson of Trump’s election is that we need a more democratic electoral and legislative system on all levels of government. See my recent blogpost “How to move forward politically” for more on how this could be done. We don’t have the greatest, most democratic political system ever, as recent articles by international election monitors have demonstrated. It could be much improved. And, though it’s tantamount to heresy to suggest it, we don’t have to follow the Constitution (as sacred as the Bible to most Americans), which was written by the 1% of its day to protect their interests against “mob rule” (democracy). Proportional representation is not only a lot more democratic than the provincial, gerrymandered system we have, it puts the focus on issues rather than personalities. We don’t need any more personalities, especially show-business ones like Reagan and Trump. (We don’t need anymore dynasties either, à la Bush, Clinton, or Obama.) Winner-take-all’s a loser, too. I want my vote to count, even if my #1 choice doesn’t make it.

In short, there’s a lot of work to do, and we need to get started on it.

P.S. Let’s not get bogged down with either/or arguments about strategy and tactics, like “work on this issue in preference to this one,” or criticisms about each other like the ones I saw in my local paper this morning — letters to the editor criticizing the pussy hat phenomenon. We don’t all express ourselves the same way. That’s okay. Drop the judgment, especially when you’re thinking of directing it at someone who’s basically on your side.

Go get ’em, tigers!!

Social and political deterioration in the U.S.

I don’t usually find important articles or editorials in my local paper, but this morning I found two. The first, “Causes Found for Higher Death Rates” by Noam Levey of the Tribune Washington Bureau says that recent studies show “higher-than-expected death rates” among middle-aged whites. This symptom of social deterioration – not found in other developed nations – is caused by “stagnant progress against heart disease and other common illnesses,” increased drug and alcohol abuse, and an increase in the number of suicides among whites in their 40s and 50s.

“The problem was worst in several states stretching from Appalachia south and west across the Deep South. Mortality rates were 60% to 76% higher than they would have been if the trends of the 1980s and 1990s had continued in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

By contrast, the gap between expected and actual mortality rates was smallest in New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Illinois.

‘There is clearly something going on that is troubling,” said Samuel Preston, a University of Pennsylvania demographer who headed a 2011 National Academy of Sciences panel that looked at life expectancies in high-income countries. ‘It points to a serious national problem.’

Evidence has been emerging for years about worrying life expectancy trends in the United States, as women and men in some parts of the country died younger than their counterparts did a generation ago. The focus on middle-aged whites intensified when a pair of Princeton University economists – Nobel laureate Angus Deaton and Anne Case – published a blockbuster article last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that since 1999, death rates had increased specifically among non-Latino white Americans ages 45 to 54.

Researchers haven’t found a similar problem among African-Americans and Latinos, though a health gap between whites and nonwhites remains. Nor has the problem emerged among working class residents of Western Europe or other industrialized nations.

‘The question is: Is it the social safety net?’ Case said in an interview. ‘Are working class people more protected in Europe? Is it universal health care?’

To explain the reversal in decades of progress among whites, Deaton and Case pointed to a dramatic increase in deaths attributed to drug poisoning, suicide and alcohol-related liver disease, which killed twice as many working-age whites in 2014 as in 1999.

Commonwealth Fund researchers, working with the same data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked beyond those causes, and also found a marked slowdown in what had been a steady improvement in death rates linked to illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease. ‘Mortality rates for middle-age whites have stopped declining or actually increased across a broad range of health conditions, including most of the leading causes of death,’ the authors wrote.

The states showing the worst trends have high rates of poverty as well as some of the highest rates of smoking and obesity in the country. They also historically have had among the weakest health care systems, with high rates of people lacking insurance and having poor access to medical care.

The deterioration of the American political system over many years of political corruption, fixed elections, and politicians ignoring the wishes of their constituents – at least as reflected in nationwide polls – has led to both extremely low voter turnout and a latching on to anything that seems to promise change. Eugene Robinson, in an editorial in today’s Washington Post, focuses on the latter phenomenon, as evidenced in voter enthusiasm for only two of the current presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Robinson, alarmed, describes Trump as “a populist tycoon, with zero experience in government, who vows to round up and expel 11 million people” and Sanders as “a self-declared socialist” completely out of the recent mainstream of the centrist Democratic Party.

“As individuals,” Robinson says, “Sanders and Trump are hardly cut from the same cloth; one rails against billionaires and one is a billionaire. Their supporters probably wouldn’t mix well at a cocktail party. But there’s a reason these are the only two candidates who regularly fill basketball arenas with passionate, standing-room-only crowds: both call for fundamental change. There are even specifics on which Trump and Sanders agree. Both denounce free-trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying they depress U.S. wages and send jobs to other countries. Sanders supports universal single-payer health care, which he describes as ‘Medicare for all.’ Trump wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act – a position every Republican candidate is required to take – but has also been a consistent supporter of universal care, though he doesn’t specify how he’d bring it about. Trump and Sanders are also both skeptical of the establishment consensus about America’s role as the world’s policeman. Sanders would use military force only as a last resort, while Trump would let Vladimir Putin take charge of cleaning up the Syria mess if he wants to.

Perhaps most significant of all, Trump and Sanders both portray traditional politicians as bought and paid for by powerful monied interests. Sanders rails against big banks, powerful corporations, and wealthy plutocrats who bend the system to their will. Trump speaks from personal experience, blithely telling audiences how he regularly wrote big checks to politicians in both parties to buy access and influence.

The system is rigged, these insurgents say. Your elected leaders are working for themselves and their puppet-masters. They couldn’t care less about you. Sanders’ solution is a grass-roots ‘political revolution.’ Trump, to the extent he offers concrete proposals, seems to promise the muscular use of presidential power. But both have touched a raw nerve, and our political parties had better pay attention.

As the caucuses and primaries begin, the RealClearPolitics poll averages show that 36% of Republicans favor Trump and an additional 10% support other candidates who’ve never held elective office. On the Democratic side, 37% of Democrats say they favor Sanders. These numbers show that there are huge numbers of Americans whose voices aren’t being heard, voters who are tired of half-measures and unkept promises.


The 2012 election: part of the insanity

The 2012 election: part of the insanity

If you read the paper, watch TV, or talk to most of your friends and family members, it’s easy to get sucked into the “reality” of the 2012 presidential and Congressional elections. If you step back even just a bit, however, and view the frenzied hoopla with a longer lens, you may see, as I do, a bunch of big dogs fighting over some bones and a multitude of little dogs, excitement and fear in their eyes, hoping to pick up some of the leftover scraps. Not a pretty picture.

Does it have to be this way? Is this kind of conflict and hierarchy based on power just “human nature”? That’s what most of us appear to believe, just as we accept the two-party political system that’s always done just what the “founding fathers” designed it to do – keep “the mob” (the people) from wielding any meaningful political power. Good cop/bad cop – they’re all still cops, and they don’t have your interests at heart.

If you look deeper, you’ll see that it’s a matter of culture. The culture that we’re brought up in forms our so-called “nature” and our beliefs. And cultures can be changed and created.

Our culture has become increasingly violent, as economically and politically powerless people distract themselves with movies, music, and video games full of the same death and destruction meted out in faraway lands by our armed forces, defending not our freedom, but that of big corporations and the dominant economic and political elite. Others in our country and around the world fall under the spell of fear-based, hate-filled fundamentalist religions that deny rights to women and non-believers. A few in our country go even further into insanity, and, taking advantage of our “right” to possess as many automatic weapons as we want, kill or injure ten, twenty, or thirty innocent people. We’re starting to experience the dystopia of science fiction novels – it’s surreal, it’s insane, and it’s unnecessary.

Why did our culture turn out this way? Because it’s based on fear and suspicion, extreme individuality, and lack of care for others and the natural world. Its capitalist materialism forces it to ignore its more spiritual and humanist values.

But culture can be changed, and values re-ordered. Human beings are as capable of caring and cooperation as they are of unreasoning fear, greed, and violence.

How can we start to make a change? By putting what we value most at the top of our agenda – in our minds and hearts, and in our behavior. What do you give your attention to? Ranting, hateful political speeches that may be just an attempt to con and deceive you? What do you support? A continuation of a political system dominated by money and designed to keep you powerless by giving you almost no meaningful choices? This year you get to choose between a centrist candidate who will do nothing to offend corporate interests like Big Pharma, the insurance industry, and weapons manufacturers benefiting from the no-end-in-sight “war on terrorism,” and a right-wing candidate who in addition represents the same trickle-down economics and lack of regulation that caused the economy to fail in 2008, not to mention government control over women’s bodies and the probable end of the separation of church and state.

I’m tempted, by fear, to vote for the first guy (Obama), seriously tempted. By doing so, however, I would be signaling my acceptance of an illegitimate political system and my support of a candidate who, despite his election-year populist rhetoric, has no intention of addressing the real needs of the people of this country. This is the guy who wouldn’t even allow discussion of a single-payer healthcare system in this country, guaranteeing a healthcare “reform” that changes little and guarantees continued profits to drug and insurance companies. We don’t need health insurance – we need health care, funded by a truly graduated federal income tax.

By voting for Obama I would be living a lie, going down a road I already know is wrong.

What’s my alternative? I have none at the moment, other than writing these words, bearing witness to the truth as I see it. That’s the kind of honesty I think we should all start with. Do we want more of the same, or something worse? What do we want? What do we value? How can we move in a better direction, toward world peace; an end to hunger, homelessness, and species extinctions; global cooperation to address global warming; equal education; and guaranteed health care? Those are the things I care about, and I doubt that I’m alone.

None of those things are going to be discussed at either the Republican or the Democratic conventions; neither will they be among the goals of another Obama or a Romney administration.

Working through the system doesn’t work. Refusing to go along with it and trying to set something else up might.

Move away from the insanity. Refuse to accept the unacceptable. Do what you know in your heart is right, even if it doesn’t change things in the end. Don’t worry about the end – just take care of right now (the means are the ends).

Voting is easy, but is it responsible? Isn’t there something else you could do that would better express your beliefs?

Rooms in the House of Insanity

We all live in the House of Insanity to one degree or another. It’s not a real house — its walls, built from mistaken beliefs, can topple in a heartbeat. And it’s a little different for each of us. How free we each are from these delusions affects our peace of mind and our actions — a big deal — but in the end we’re all in the same soup together. I won’t make it, whatever that means, if you don’t too.

You can probably help me with some of my false beliefs. We can all use a little of that kind of help. But I’m hoping I can help some of you, who may be ingesting “the news” without background information or a sense of irony. I’m eager for more of my brothers and sisters to look behind the curtain at the even-more-insane-than-we-are folks trying to pull our puppet strings.

Two examples from today’s paper will give you an idea of what to look for.

First, the easy one: a beauty contest in Israel for Holocaust survivors, has been entered by 300 women. Beauty contests are ridiculous to begin with, but beauty contest/Holocaust. How did anyone ever come up with such an insane conjunction? The Israeli government must be really desperate for propaganda to support its agenda…using innocent people (who’ve suffered enough) and being sexist to boot.

The second one’s a little more complicated. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled Obama’s “health care” act constitutional, claiming that it’s okay to financially penalize people who don’t want to buy health insurance. They’re calling it a tax, something the government has a right to do, completely ignoring the fact that never before have U.S. citizens been forced to buy a particular product from a private company whether they want it or not. Now, unless you’re old enough to be on Medicare or qualify for Medicaid, you’re going to be financially penalized either way. (And the Court’s ruling on another aspect of the bill ensures that fewer people will qualify for Medicaid.)

This isn’t health care, or an improvement on the previous system. It’s highway robbery for the benefit of the insurance and drug industries, and obviously not constitutional. (Where’s the “freedom of the marketplace”?)

We shouldn’t expect anything else from a government dominated and run by the corporate elite for their own benefit. This isn’t a “liberal” decision on the part of the court, nor is the legislation “liberal,” whatever that word’s come to mean. It’s conservative, in the sense of benefiting the rich and penalizing workers and other ordinary folk. And the “conservative” side? They’re so mean they don’t even want folks to have that much! They’re for kicking sick people who don’t have the huge amounts of money they do to pay for health care to the curb for real. There might be a dollar or two of government money spent on the new scheme, and God forbid that should happen.

Health “insurance” is about profit for a few, not health care, and it has no place in a real health care system. Why should anybody be profiting from (preying on) people’s ill health? All that’s needed is for high-income folks to pay their fair share of taxes, so that we can have a single-payer, government-provided health care system like the ones in most other industrialized countries. You pay your taxes, and your doctor visits, hospitalizations, prescriptions, and ambulance rides are free — along with other “services” like education, libraries, etc. Equality — the same for everyone. Some of the countries with this kind of system — and much better health statistics than ours — are much poorer than ours. Our statistics, like our infant mortality rate, are lousy. And they’re not going to get any better with this “new” system.

But you won’t get a clear analysis of any of this in a mainstream newspaper or on the TV news — just the confusion of all the folks so smugly (and deludedly) hanging out in the House of Insanity, plus an extra dollop more to make sure you don’t see through their game.

I may sound mad about all this, but I’m not. What good would that do? As I said earlier, none of it’s a surprise — this is the kind of thing you get in a system like ours, run by the profit motive over all. It’ll change as soon as enough of us get hip to what’s going on and decide we want something different. Hopefully, the offerings on this site are a step in that direction.