Posted tagged ‘Health Care Reform’

Won’t Get Fooled Again…and Again.

August 3, 2011

As readers of this blog know all too well, the debt ceiling “cuts” just passed are, for the most part, much less than meets the eye, particularly in the immediate future.  But, of course, the debt isn’t the issue and never was.*

No. Not even in a little bit.

Rather, all of the last month or so was a set up for this:

Thousands of Tea Party movement activists are expected to descend this month on town hall meetings across key battleground states as part of an intensifying campaign ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Their priority is a plan to slash Medicare costs proposed by House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which could gain momentum now that a debt-limit deal between President Barack Obama and Congress has made potential Medicare cuts a centerpiece of the deficit debate.

A new congressional committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by November 23 is expected to focus on Medicare, and the program would see automatic cuts if the committee failed to reach agreement, or if Congress did not approve its recommendations by December 23. Market values of companies that depend on Medicare spending fell more than 10 percent in a sell-off on Wall Street after the agreement.

“The August town halls are going to be, potentially, a referendum on Democrats who don’t care and Republicans who’ve dared to offer real policy solutions, particularly on things like entitlements,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the small-government advocacy group organizing the initiative.

Freedom works is, of course, this grass-roots organization.

Which means that one can readily translate the phrase, “real policy solutions” as “transfer payments from most of America to the richest few.”

But of course, these are the serious people in this discussion.  Just ask them:

“The Ryan plan is the only one out there so far, and what we need is an adult conversation with all politicians talking about the real issues,” [said Kibbe]

Yeah:  like those adult conversations that attended the discussion of health care last time around.

Also, note the big lie at the heart of this claim:  (a) that the Ryan is a “policy solution” despite the fact that it neither saves any real money on either the budget nor in health care spending society-wide  (as opposed to federal spending on health care);  (b) that it is the only plan out there; and (c) that it has anything to do with fiscal prudence.

Not exactly, as Jon Chait writes at the link above,

…this more modest deficit reduction would mask a very large redistribution of wealth–and not the kind Republicans always accuse Democrats of trying. The tax cuts, which include reductions in the top rate, would overwhelmingly benefit the rich. The spending cuts, which include a huge reduction in Medicaid spending, would primarily affect the poor.

So calling the House Republican plan a deficit reduction scheme is a very misleading description of its likely effect for the first decade. You’re better off calling it a regressive redistribution plan that happens, as a side effect, to reduce deficits by a small amount. Or you can just call it “flimflam,” like Paul Krugman did.

And, of course, that’s what has always been the goal:  to repeal the New Deal, and transfer to the kind of folks funding Greedhead Freedom Works all the wealth thus no longer wasted on the undeserving poor, the middle class, and, hell, just about everybody.

So: our job is to show up, and shout — in person, in letters to the editor, and in communication to our representatives, relevant committee chairs and the White House:  no tax cuts in any deal.  Tax reform as a 1-1 or better fix for the deficit reduction to which we are now, sadly and prematurely, committee;  and touch neither Medicare/Medicaid nor Social Security.

We need to say it over and over again:  cost controls as part of a Medicare reform package are fine (as Krugman himself argued for in the first round of Ryan nonsense).  Amazingly, that’s just what happens to be one of the major ideas within the one truly serious policy plan out there on this subject, the health care reform package already passed.  It’s why IPAB exists, for one thing, and it’s why, as David Leonhardt pointed out, President Obama and his allies constructed a health care approach that turns on taxation of the rich to cover the cost of a program vital to the middle class and the poor.**

I urge everyone who has raced to conclude that Obama is no better than the GOP alternatives to go back to that Leonhardt piece and remember why that’s simply bullsh*t.

Obama, for all his errors and his damnably frustrating inability to make the bully pulpit ring, believes in the New Deal.  He grasps the importance of economic equity not simply as a matter of justice, but as a hard pragmatic necessity if we are to create a sustainably wealthy society.  He has defended the importance of government and governance in the maintenance of truly civil society.  Your modern GOP does not accept any of that.

I remember trying and failing to talk Naderite friends out of their “the two parties are the same” nonsense in 2000.  We cannot survive doing that to ourselves in 2012.  And, just to get started, this summer we’ve got to shout down those who shout to sell out our parents, our children, our communities and ourselves to fund the mansions of the rootless rich.

*except for the truly credulous.

**BTW — one of the best pieces of media news of the last several years is that Leonhardt will take over the Washington bureau of The New York Times as of this fall.  He’s in the Village but not of it, and if he leads the Washington coverage of the Times as well as he’s performed on his own economic beat, that’s a very good thing.

Image Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Schlemihls [A Loser] in the loneliness of the room, before 1938

Why Friends Don’t Let Friends Cite The Atlantic’s “Business and Economics Editor”: Further to the Megan McArdle is Always Wrong chronicles.

July 24, 2010

Update: Greetings to everyone coming here via TBogg, Susan of Texas, Eschaton and Brad DeLong — and my thanks to those good folks for the links.  A special thanks, of course, to Ms. McArdle herself, who tweeted this very post, apparently authored by “some idiot.” She has forgotten, I think, that here in Boston, that’s an epithet of glorious memory.  This idiot welcomes readers from wherever they come.

Though if I were just a little snarkier, I would add that being insulted by McArdle calls to my mind the experience of being attacked by the British Tory parliamentarian Sir Geoffrey Howe, as described by Roy Hattersley Denis Healey:  it is like being savaged by a dead sheep.

Update 2: Welcome everyone coming over from the GOS, Post Bourgie, Rortybomb, C&L, and Richard Eskow/HuffPo.  Rortybomb  and Eskow dramatically expand the takedown — reccommended.   I know I’m missing others  — for which I apologize; I’ve been a little swamped by the response to this one.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The old joke* about Richard Nixon asked “How can you tell when he’s lying?”

The answer:  “When his lips move.”

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that something similar must be said about Megan McArdle.  Perhaps lying is too harsh a word — but the serial errors that all fall on the side that supports her initial claims and that recur again and again in her work suggest to me that something other than mere intellectual sloth and sloppiness is the driver.

Ordinarily, such a record wouldn’t matter much, especially in journalism.  In theory, a series of clips as riddled with error as McArdle’s would end most careers in high prestige journalism.  Hot Air might still find a use for you, but The Atlantic?

But the problem is that McArdle is useful:  she advances an agenda — that which comforts the comfortable — and she does so with what I think is truly her original talent, the capacity not to notice the ridicule and ferociously dismissive debunking that she so often attracts.

Being able to be wrong in a form and fashion that aids the powerful, and possessing the ability not to mind a life that must be thus lived in willing embrace of error…now that’s a trick.

But it is one that does real damage to the republic, as the post that aroused this latest bout of McArdle-bashing demonstrates.  In it, McArdle seeks to discredit Elizabeth Warren as a potential leader of the new Consumer Finance Protection Agency to be set up under the just-passed financial reform bill.

To do so she tries to impugn both the quality and integrity of Warren’s scholarship, and she does so by a mix of her usual tricks — among them simple falsehoods;** highly redacted descriptions of what Warren and her (never mentioned) colleagues actually said;*** and descriptions of Warren’s work that are inflammatory — and clearly wrong, in ways she seems to hope no one will bother to check.****

You can see the footnotes for quick examples of these sins.  Here, I’ll confine myself to pointing out that in this post you find McArdle doing the respectable-society version of the same approach to argument  that Andy Breitbart has just showed us can have such potent effect.

To see what I mean, you have to follow through two steps: how McArdle constructs her picture of a feckless, partisan and dishonest Warren — and then how she generalizes from it.

Partly, McArdle relies on the strength of her platorm.  As “Business and Economics editor of The Atlantic” she routinely writes in assertions that we are to accept on her say -so.

(As an aside — this argument from authority is never that strong, and, as McArdle demonstrated very recently, can descend to pure, if unintended, comedy (go to Aimai’s comment at the bottom of Susan of Texas’s post), its flip side is that  different.  Everytime someone gets something thing wrong in a consequential way, the loss of trust should advance, ratcheting up with each such error detected, to the point where it becomes the safest default position to assume that someone — McArdle, for example — is always wrong till proven otherwise.)

But back to the anatomy of McArdle’s campaign. I’m going to focus on just one example where McArdle asks us to believe that her argument is strong and supported by the literature — without quite fessing up to what her supporting material actually says.  As part of her sustained campaign to deny the significance of medical bankruptcy in the US, she writes,

A pretty convincing paper argues that the single best predictor of bankruptcy is simply how much debt you’ve accumulated–not income, job loss, divorce, or what have you.  People who declare bankruptcy tend to have nicer stuff than others at the same income level.

The problem here is that the paper does not actually say quite what McArdle implies it does.  She’s mastered here the trick Sally Field played in Absence of Malice — she’s managed to come up with a sentence that is accurate…but not truthful.

In fact, should you actually take the trouble to read the cited study (by UC Davis finance prof, Ning Zhu) you will find material like this:  “households with medical conditions are twice more likely to file for bankruptcy (33.5 percent) than households that do not have medical conditions (14.8 percent)…;”

And this: “Having medical problems increases the households’ filing probability by 7.6 percent and one standard deviation of increase in employment tenure is associated with an increase of 9.2 percent in the filing probability. Such changes represent 48.40 and 58.60 percent deviation from the baseline probability….;”

And this “our results provide qualitative support for both the adverse event and the over-consumption/strategic filing explanations.”

To be fair Zhu concludes that overconsumption — spending too much on housing, cars and credit cards account for more of the total burden of bankruptcy than medical events, divorce or unemployment, as McArdle wrote.

But as McArdle completely failed to acknowledge, Zhu does so while using somewhat more stringent standard for counting medical expenses as a factor in bankruptcy than other scholars employed — as he explicitly acknowledges.  He concedes the continuing significance of medically -induced bankruptcy.  He acknowledges what he believes to be a weak underweighting of that factor (because some people pay for medical expenses on credit cards).  And he notes that a number of other studies, not limited to those co-authored by Warren, come to different conclusions.

In other words:  McArdle correctly describes one conclusion of this paper in a way that yields for its readers a false conclusion about what the paper itself actually says.  And look what that false impression implies:  if  medical bankruptcy is a trivial problem, society-wide, then Warren can be shown to be both a sloppy scholar and, as McArdle more or less explicitly says, a dishonest one as well.

And that leads me back to the thought that got me going on this post.  It seems to me that what we read in McArdle here is a genteel excursion into Andrew Breitbart territory.  Like the Big Hollywood thug, she misleads by contraction, by the omission of necessary context, by simply making stuff up when she thinks no one will check (again, see the footnotes for examples).  And like Breitbart, she does so here to achieve a more than on goal. The first is simply to damage Elizabeth Warren as an individual, to harm her career prospects.  Hence ad hominem stuff like this:

Her work gets so much attention because it comes from a Harvard professor.  And this isn’t Harvard caliber material–not even Harvard undergraduate.

Which neatly sets up this punch line:

..this woman is now under consideration to head a powerful new agency.  If this is how she evaluates data, then isn’t that going to hamper her in making good policy?

But there is a larger goal as well.  McCardle hasn’t given up, as the GOP hasn’t either, on the idea of simply undoing all that the Obama administration has managed to push past the outright lies and bad faith arguments of the right.  So here she does her bit for the cause, taking every attempt to sideswipe health reform:

Obviously, this was also held out as an argument for PPACA, [the health care reform bill] making an implicit promise to the American people which I believe to be false.

So Warren is the target, and there is no doubt that McArdle is trying by any means to discredit her to the public — but the larger ambition here is to discredit major reforms undertaken by the Obama administration in a kind of guilt by association. (See, e.g. the connection some GOP leaders are making between Shirley Sherrod and the negotiated settlement in the discrimination case brought by African American farmers and the USDA.)

McArdle is much more housebroken than many of her fellow travelers of course.  She knows which fork to use (or perhaps better, that particular ocean margin from which the right people secure their salt).  People who would not dream of taking Breitbart seriously still quote McArdle as a seemingly respectable source.

But she’s doing the same kind of work.

Caveat Lector.

And with that, I’m done with McArdle-world for the summer.  Just not worth suffering the Ceti Eel infections that result from too frequent a return to that particular planet.

(In German!  It sounds even more fun..)

*of the “hurts too much too laugh, but I’m too big to cry” variety.

**She cites as her first reason to disbelieve the most recent study in which Warren was one of four co-authors that the response rate to the study questionnair was, at 20%, too low to rule out sample bias.  In fact, as the authors report on the first page of the paper to which McArdle linked in an earlier post that their response rate was 46.5%.  Remember: the default position is that McArdle is Always Wrong.™

***E. g. McArdle rights writes that Warren and her colleagues “defined anyone with $1000 worth of medical bills as having a medical bankruptcy…”  This is how Himmelstein, Thorne, Warren, and Woolhandler actually described their criteria: “We developed two summary measures of medical bankruptcy. Under the rubric “Major Medical Bankruptcy” we included debtors who either (1) cited illness or injury as a specific reason for bankruptcy, or (2) reported uncovered medical bills exceeding $1,000 in the past years, or (3) lost at least two weeks of work-related income because of illness/injury, or (4) mortgaged a home to pay medical bills. Our more inclusive category, “Any Medical Bankruptcy,” included debtors who cited any of the above, or addiction, or uncontrolled gambling, or birth, or the death of a family member.”

That is: once again, what McArdle wrote was accurate inaccurate — but not true. Per commenter perspicio below, and in more detail from commenter Nylund.  Warren and her colleagues in the 2001 paper set $1,000 in uncovered medical bills as the threshold, one they raised to $5,000 in their 2007 study.  Big, big difference between a total bill, in part or entirely covered by insurance, and true out-of-pocket costs — and one which McArdle simply ignores.  Naughty, naughty.

****E.g. — she writes of Warren’s book, co-authored with Amelia Warren Tyagi, “that Warren simply fails to grapple with what her thesis suggests about the net benefits of the two-earner family.  ….. Warren kind of waves her hands and mumbles about social programs and more supportive work environments.  There is no possible solution outside of a more left-wing government.”

Except, of course, Warren does not say anything of the kind.  Instead, of the indebtedness trap that captures two income families, especially after divorce, the two authors write this stirring socialist slogan:  “If a family does not have the income to qualify for a loan at a reasonable rate they should not get that loan” (italics in the original; The Two Income Trap, p. 152.)

It is true that Warren and Tyagi suggest a number of possible policy changes to make the overall landscape of work, family and finance more equitable, from changes to the law on predatory lending to suggestions for child care subsidies.   But here’s their final thought, a rousing demand for Castro-esque intervention into the daily life American families:  “…families need to safeguard themselves” — which is followed by suggestions that range from switching to cheaper preschools and opting to buy or even rent houses smaller than those that put you at the edge of one’s financial capacity.

Warren and Tyagi argue, that is, that individuals should make defensive financial decisions to shield themselves from sudden catastrophic changes in their income.  Wouldn’t John (or Jane) Galt applaud?

Also, I have to say that in this context, this is the measure of McArdle’s character, her moral quality.  There is chutzpah here,  given how little tangible intellectual accomplishment as McArdle can muster to compare with Warren’s resume, and more when she speaks Warren’s mumbling or hand waving in the conext of a paragraph in which the ellipsis above fills in as follows: “Admittedly, I don’t quite know what to say either, but at least I can acknowledge that it’s a pretty powerful problem for the current family model.”

But while we can admire the bravado here, sort of, at bottom this is exactly the kind of petty character assassination that McArdle performs so well, and to such nasty purpose.  A mumbling, vague, imprecise Warren is obviously no one to run an important agency…and thus the post-long mission of character and career assassination is advanced.  Loathesome.

Image:  El Greco, “An Allegory with a Boy Lighting a Candle in the Company of an Ape and a Fool” c. 1600.

The Education of Scott Brown…1/3rd term Senator edition.

March 30, 2010

Our very junior senator weighed in with an attempt to play in the big leagues today, and it wasn’t pretty.

Senator (sic) Brown put his name on top of what seems to have been a pre-packaged generic GOP attack op-ed in the Boston Globe, titled,”The Health Care Fight Is Not Over.” (h/t BarbinMD over at GOS)

Well, he got that part — and just about that part alone — right.  (To be fair, he did spell “Scott Brown” correctly as well.)  The fight isn’t over.  Next up are things like the public option, which the insurance industry seems to be begging Congress to pass, and or Medicare buy-in, not to mention an ongoing effort to replace fee-for-service with a less incentive-misaligning payment scheme.

But the piece itself is almost a type specimen of the GOPs one trick (a sadly effective one):  it is nothing more than the usual list of plaints, trumpeted as high crimes and misdemeanors.  Everyone of them has been painstakingly debunked, but the trick is to keep on repeating it — the caged-monkey faeces-flinging tactic– until the debunkers weary, and the falsehoods get to parade around the public square unmolested.  All it takes is a willingness to check your brain in a jar by the door, and it becomes easy to do this.  And sadly, my own senator (for a while, Brownie baby, just a little while), has shown himself ready, willing, and able to do just that.

Shall we fisk?

BY ELECTING me to the US Senate, the people of Massachusetts sent a clear message: Washington needs to get its priorities straight.

Err, no.  They sent a message that even a Cosmo centerfold who has Lot’s view of the instrumental use of daughters could beat out the worst candidate in living memory.  Don’t overthink what got you to that big dome, dude.

After my election, Washington politicians began an aggressive push to bend the rules and force their unpopular health care bill on an unwilling nation.

Err, no.  Health Care Reform had already passed both houses of Congress by the time Brown was elected.  And even after months of disinformation, the reform measure was just about equally balanced between yeas and nays.  “Divisive” — yes.  Unpopular in the conventional use of the term?  No. (It’s also worth noting that some measure of opposition to the bill came from those who thought the measure was not strong enough, and that, as the link above demonstates, the law has so far proved more popular than the bill, with a majority of Americans supporting what was, after all, a relatively modest and essentially conservative change.

They went into secret negotiations to make up their own rules…

Err, no.  Six committees, a year of debate and deliberation, extended negotiations with leading Republican Senators (remember the gang of six?), multiple votes and a supermajority in the Senate…not to mention a nationally televised and webcast health care summit that featured every major player in Congress on the bill, GOPer as well as Democrat, all led to a bill that passed through absolutely conventional methods.  The House passed its bill; the Senate passed its bill; the House then concurred with the Senate bill and by majority vote affirmed that measure.  It was just the way they draw it up in civics class.  And if Sen. Brown is decrying the use negotiations to sway votes by way of legislative sweeteners, the “backroom deals” so calumnied by the pearl-clutching set of temporary GOP Goo-goos, then he might want to opt out of the appropriations business altogether (and abandon whatever hopes he retains of being elected to a full term).

…and eventually found a way to circumvent the will of the people by using the reconciliation process to ram through their health care bill.

Err, no.  Last I heard, folks kind of liked getting rid of those backroom deals that so offend the nostrils of our squeaky clean new senator — the Nebraska pay-off an all that, not to mention the student loan reform that increases the money available to folks struggling to pay for college while reducing the federal deficit.  There was, of course, nothing untoward or unprecedented in the use of the reconciliation process to permit a majority of the US Senate to make minor fixes to already approved legislation.  After all, the GOP did it plenty when last they controlled Congress, those will-of-the-people cheating scoundrels.

For the last year, the American people have been shaking their heads at the closed-door meetings, sweetheart deals, and special carve-outs. It has been a very ugly process, and caused many Americans to lose faith in their elected officials in Washington.

Err, no.  Most folks in America have had little concern with minutiae of DC process.  And as for ugly?  No more — or rather, much less — than this, which truly does represent bad process and fiscal irresponsiblity, GOP style.  And as for passage of the bill affecting  faith in elected officials…well, rather more if you are a member of the party of no, than the folks who actually, you know, tried to do the jobs for which they had been elected.

This bill constitutes a massive increase in spending that our country…

Err, no.  See this.

…can’t afford

Err, no.  See this.

Instead of reforming the health care system and bending the cost curve down, we are doing the exact opposite.

Ahh, that “cost curve.”  This is simply false.  The law is imperfect — the more so because of unified GOP opposition on tactical, rather than policy grounds.  It became an insurance reform rather than a fundamental change to the health care delivery system, which, to be sure, is needed.  But the law contains significant pilot approaches to cost-cutting and thus represents a major federal measure to put downward pressure on cost increases (got that?).  Does more need to be done…absolutely — but returning to the status quo ante ain’t going to cut it.  (Nor will the GOP rationing-by-death approach.)

For starters, we can work in a bipartisan manner to repeal the worst parts of this bill.

Uhh.  No we can’t.  This is too dumb even to bother digging up links with which to ridicule this with.  We’re in “All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten” territory here.

We should replace the worst parts of this legislation with solutions that would actually lower costs and improve the quality of care — such as allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines, measures that will prevent waste, fraud and abuse, support for increased prevention and wellness programs, and reforms to limit costly litigation and defensive medicine.

Oh FSM, this again.  See what I mean about monkey faeces?*  OK — state opt ins already exist in  the form of the health care exchanges.  The phrase “waste, fraud, and abuse” must be available on a programmable function key available to every politician who doesn’t want to specify exactly what he/she is going to cut — but the bill contains oversight mechanisms and a number of technological fixes that address some of the low-hanging opportunities in reducing waste/fraud — note the administration’s emphasis on electronic medical record keeping as a core example.  Tort reforms are a convenient shibboleth, a GOP standard that has been repeatedly shown to be at best a minor component of health care cost growth.  Trotting this out shows Brown isn’t even trying; this is just a standard-issue bit of blather that for some reason the Globe accepted as authentic opinion.  The cross state-lines argument is similarly a red herring.  Some cross-border transactions are already enabled in the law  in the exchange mechanism — which retains the crucial element of host-state and or Federal regulatory control.  Lose that, and we’re back to situations worse than the status quo ante, as Ezra Klein has tirelessly pointed out.

Individual states should have the flexibility to solve the health care problems in a way that is best for their specific state, similar to the approach we took in Massachusetts that has resulted in a state-specific plan that covers 98 percent of our citizens without raising taxes.

Err, no.   I mean, for one thing the federal plan is, as President Obama pointed out just this morning, largely modelled on the Massachusetts plan — which suggests that we are onto a pretty good thing.  And second, we’ve seen what state-specific approaches do.  That’s what we’ve had for last umpty-ump years, and it’s left us with a system in which medical costs are soaring out of control while more and more Americans join the 45 million or so uninsured each year.  This is what we’re trying to fix, bozo…and not any sentient being’s idea of a solution.

This disastrous detour of a health care bill as distracted the attention and energy of Congress for the past year.

Huh?  Scotty, my Senator.  If the small matter of the ongoing trainwreck of 18 percent of the US economy that is failing at twice the cost of our nearest competitor nation to deliver outcomes that match those of our international peers is not smack in the middle of something to which Congress is supposed to devote attention and energy, I don’t know what could be. If it is too much for you, then do us all a favor and resign a job that is clearly beyond your competence.

Now, it is time to listen to the people and focus on their top priority: jobs.

Uh, Senator Brown?  Have you noticed that there is some kind of a connection between the health care sector and the labor market?  You haven’t?  You should.

It would be a mistake for the administration to try to ram through other items on the liberal agenda when so many Americas are struggling. Americans want their government to fully focus its attention on the economy and getting our citizens back to work.

Beyond the walk-and-chew-gum problem referenced above, I assume you mean such liberal agenda items as this, or this, or this — that last being only a modest down payment on the jobs concern, but still.

Only when we start heeding the will of the American people can we begin to restore faith in government, and it all starts with commonsense, practical solutions that will put Americans back to work and get our economy back on track.

Ahh, now we get to it.  When in doubt, give up on anything approaching an actual rational statement, and channel the quitta from Wasilla.

The op-ed is in fact more valuable than its individual parts are risible.  It gives us a clear reading of the intellectual capacity of our new senator.  There is not one original phrase in the entire piece, and most of what is there is simply wrong.  You could replace Scott Brown this; work on the speech synthesizer just  a bit; and no one would ever know.

*See, e.g. this from GOP Senate election chief John Coryn of Texas, in a memo leaked to, among others, CNN:

“On the trail, it’s critical that we remind people of the fact that it was Republicans who fought to force insurance companies to compete with one another over state lines for Americans’ business,” Cornyn writes in the memo. “It was Republicans who fought to reform the junk lawsuits that raise medical costs and lower quality by forcing doctors to practice ‘medicine.’ It was Republicans who fought for policies that protected Americans with preexisting conditions and it was Republicans who proposed health care reforms that didn’t cut Medicare by $500 billion and raise Americans’ taxes by $400 million.”

To put it another way Brown got the word, and the Globe got suckered (and I’m hoping it was that, and not connivance) into publishing what is in essence the GOP Politboro line of the day.  There is nothing in this column, that is, that suggests that Scott Brown himself has an original thought or an informed opinion about one of the most important pieces of legislation of the last several decades.  Not an inspiring sight…but not a surprise either.

Call Your Senators…

January 28, 2010

Per this post here and that post there.

Here’s a link to the phone number for every Democratic Sen.  You know what to do.

Image:  John Leach, “Fabianus offers peace or war to the Carthaginian Senate,” from A Comic History of Rome, c. 1850.

Health Care Reform and 9/11, or yet another way to demonstrate that the GOP and its allies are moral imbeciles.

January 23, 2010

I remember September 11, 2001, very well indeed.  That morning, I’d walked across 12th St. at Sixth Ave. to grab a quick breakfast at Joe Jr.’s.  I even remember what I had:  a toasted bialy with raspberry jam and a cup of coffee.  I was chatting with a couple of other guys at the counter about the Monday Night Football game the evening before — the Giants at Denver.  See — I remember.

Then a guy who looked as if he had lived way too hard during the sixties opened the door and said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Tower…and we didn’t believe him.

I walked out of the diner about five minutes later, looked to my left…

….you know what I saw.

I didn’t stay to the end.  I knew that I was watching people die, and I could not just stand there in the middle of Sixth Ave. — The Avenue of the Americas! — as that happened.

The official figure is that on that day 2,976 innocents died.

It was horrific — a disaster, a tragedy, and a crime.

For the sake of those almost three thousand dead, with the aim of preventing such a loss ever again, the United States went to war, twice.

We have committed an astonishing amount of treasure to those conflicts — about one trillion now, and counting — and  we have asked hundreds of thousands of Americans to serve in truly difficult circumstances to defend us from harm.

We have received that last full measure of devotion from thousands of those Americans — 5,344 members of the uniformed services as I write this — all in response to the loss of those three thousand  taken from us on September 11, 2001.*

Now, in January 2010, we are debating a question that seems far removed from the stark horror and terror of 9/11.

We confront once more the question of whether or not an American’s access to health care should, in this country at this moment, be something every American can expect.

We all know where we are, confronting a Senate bill that is deeply flawed.  It is compromised in a dozen different directions, and it does not deal with several of the root problems in the health care complex that the United States must some day solve.

But, but, but… at its core it does this one thing:  it provides  health insurance to 30 million Americans who do not now have it. Whether or not it can be improved by one legislative maneuver or another, it still does that.

We know one thing about the lack of coverage.  It kills people.

The latest Harvard Medical School Study estimates that 45,000 Americans die each year from lack of coverage.

You can see where this is going, I’m sure.

Thirty  million people is about 1o percent of the population of the United States. One tenth of 45,000 is 4,500.  But of course, it’s worse than that. The US Census estimates that about 46 million Americans lack health insurance each year.  That thirty million who would benefit under the Senate bill account for about two thirds of that total.

If we cannot find a way to pass the Senate bill, with or without changes…if we can’t get this through, then those thirty millions will remain uninsured.  Some of them will die each year as a result.  If the Harvard study is right, that number could be as high as 30,000 Americans gone who did not need to go.

Even if you think the Harvard study may overstate the death toll, then give the number a haircut — say cut it almost in half — and you still have some 18,o00 Americans dead each year from financial arrest.  Six 9/11s.  One every couple of months

We were willing to go to war; we are still willing to spend billions each year on the fight; as a nation we accept the necessity of sacrifice, of the loss of good women and men cut off in their prime, to respond to the criminal tragedy that was 9/11, with its 2,976 men and women killed.

We’re losing many times that many every year that we could save right now….and yet the GOP and its allies think it is more important to win a political battle than it is to prevent this annual massacre.

I don’t accuse our friends across the aisle of a willful desire to kill their fellow citizens in their thousands.  Rather, it is willed ignorance — that’s where I bring them in guilty.

Theirs is a careful not-knowing, a skill that allows them to unsee the unglamorous and unnoticed missed infection here, the unmedicated heart failure there.

But the outcome is the same, and the current attempt to derail the health care/health insurance reform measures available to us now makes those who are doing so accessories before the fact — co-conspirators — in all those unnecessary deaths.

That’s what blocking health care means.  Leave aside the compelling policy argument, all the practical reasons why this makes sense:   if you knew that there was some action you could take to prevent 9/11, what would be the moral cost of choosing not to do so?

That’s what the GOP should ask itself;  that’s what the perfection-at-any-cost wing of my own Democratic party needs to remember.  That’s what the rest of us should be dinning in our neighbors ears:  Those who for financial interest or partisan advantage are lying about health care now are committing perhaps another 9/11 every two months.

Year after year.

We need to get this done now.

*Not to mention, of course, the journalists, contractors, coalition military and above all, civilians who have lost their lives in these conflicts.

Image:  Nicholas Maes, “Christ Before Pilate” (Pilate washing his hands), before 1670.