Meh Culpa

Re: Universal Health Care. My questions for Senator Sherrod Brown

(AmericaBlog took questions from readers today, which will be transported to Senator Sherrod Brown for review.  With any luck he’ll answer a few good ones.  I hope he doesn’t mind a little familiarity.  I used his first name because I hadn’t heard of him. Well, it’s actually more interesting than his surname. 🙂 )

Greetings, Senator Sherrod.

I would like to know how a person who qualifies for and uses an indigent health care plan can afford to get well. For instance, let us say that a person with a chronic illness might be able to work with the right drug cocktail. Since,according to law, drug companies must provide patient assistance for those poor enough to qualify, imagine that this person has improved using an indigent health care program. He has become more functional so he would like to contribute to society.

Bravo.

Unfortunately, he faces a few hurdles. For one, being out of work for a long time, as often happens with the disabled or chronically ill, doesn’t look so nifty on a CV, and while it’s difficult for a healthy person to find work nowadays what with the unemployment rate being so high, a disabled person will have that strike of a lengthy unemployment against him.

Let’s give him a little luck here. Let’s say this person obtains a fairly good job: his wages begin at entry level, yet once his health insurance kicks in, he must pay the going rate for medications and insurance coverage. Unless he’s taking generic medications, and even then, the cost of his medication is prohibitive.

He then realizes he’s experiencing the ultimate health care Catch-22: if he keeps working for as little money as he makes, he won’t be able to pay the co-pays for doctor visits or buy his medication; without medication, he will become too sick to work; and his health will suffer because he won’t be able to see his physician. He might even develop a life-threatening condition in the meantime.

How do you propose to help people such as this man afford their health care? I’m sure you’re aware of insurance companies’ tactics. If they have to take a customer with a pre-existing condition or a serious illness that arises while the customer is covered, those companies will make sure he pays a much higher rate than anyone else.  If it comes to pass that this man cannot be denied health insurance because of his chronic illness, who will make sure his premiums are truly affordable? (I don’t buy into the competition scheme because I think insurance companies could pull an Enron or develop secret cartels like OPEC. ) Who will decide what is “affordable”–even with a public option? Will demographics, such as cost of living, be taken into account? Will a person’s debt be factored into the mix? Will a person living in San Francisco pay the same rate as someone in, say, Mississippi?

And *why not* single payer? I mean, we already have single payer: Medicare. It’s easier and it works.  Or we could have a combination: single payer with an option to go with private insurance like people do in the UK. (By the way, most Brits *like* their health care system.)

Frankly, I do not trust the insurance companies to initiate or complete true reform. I think we’re witnessing the same song and dance they’ve fed us like pablum us since Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman (http://cthealth.server101.com/why_doesn%27t.htm). We did the same thing with the auto industry–trusted the Big Three to change and allowed them to dictate terms–and look where they are now. We need to stop bending over backwards for these companies. They don’t deserve it.

I realize that our nation’s leaders are chary of single payer in part because so many people in the insurance industry would lose their jobs and that wouldn’t help the economy. But why not retrain them and/or give them jobs doing mostly the same thing in the public sector? Why is Congress so short on answers and ideas? Why not look at the countries with the best health care and try those on for size? We’re number 37 in health care, for goodness sake! Behind third world countries! We’re behind Colombia! Can you believe it?!

As I see it, our nation’s leaders would rather pay for wars, help the Wall Street gangsters (who then made out like bandits), and protect their own campaign dollars. What does that say about us as a nation that we put up with such morally reprehensible derangement? What does it say about the Legislative and Executive branches of our government that politics is almost always more important than our own people?

Thank you for reading, Senator. If you’ve gotten this far you’ve got quite an attention span. 🙂

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September 21, 2009 Posted by | automakers, bailout(s), banks, Congress, corruption, Economy, Executive branch, political parties in the US, politics, recession, Senate, unemployment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My letter to “Organizing America” the former Obama campaign site

(Written while unsubscribing, as a protest.)

I am not a Democrat.

I was a Democrat for a little over 30 years–until Diane Feinstein started acting and voting like a Republican. I told her I would never vote for her again and I won’t.  My point? Barack the president seems to have forgotten the promises he made as Barack the candidate. I have never seen such timid leadership in my life. No, wait:  the Democrats have behaved in such a manner all the way through the Bush administration. They kowtowed to the Republicans (who played serious hardball) while there was a big, wistful to-do in the MSM over “bipartisanship” that never happened because the Republicans were nasty and excluded the Democrats from almost every opportunity to make a difference. Perhaps the Democrats and Barack the president believe they should take the alleged high road and refuse to behave as the Republicans did.

With all solemnity, I adjure you… Now is not the time to abandon progressive ideals because a minority of crazy, hard right, radical Republicans–who don’t have much of a party left, mind you–are playing up the rhetoric and the lies and inflaming the wingnut populace against the president’s erstwhile agenda, inciting the crazies to riot and possibly to assassination.

Elegance and grace will not give us single payer and/or a public option or even decent health care. Besides, it would appear Barack the president and the rest of the Democrats have given up on both. If events unfold as I see they might, the insurance companies will realize even more profits if health insurance is mandated. How middle class and lower class Americans will pay, I don’t know. Tax deductions will not help. They are actually rather worthless. Americans need real help, upfront.

I cannot tell you how sickened I am with the current state of affairs. Single payer (with an option to retain private health insurance as is possible in the UK) is the right thing to do. Allowing Blue Dogs to mark this territory and bark orders to the rest of us is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and slightly insane into the bargain. While Teddy Kennedy was alive, you had a majority and you could have passed a good bill that contained both. Now all you have is mush.

What we Americans needed was an FDR on the economy and an LBJ on civil rights and health care. This administration hasn’t come close to giving us either one. What I see is a money-grubbing party that’s still beholden to big business, a party without backbone.  It’s appalling, truly.

And it’s not just health care. Barack the candidate was worrisome when he voted on FISA. But Barack the president has abandoned all principle on warrantless wiretapping as well as in legal cases concerning Guantanamo detainees, doing precisely what the Bush administration did before him, or worse. Barack the president did not seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He has left it to Congress, whose members will do nothing, ever. Barack the president has set up another Guantanamo in Bagram, and created an environment where anything will go by alleging that because Bagram is not on American soil (WTF?! It’s a US air base! Does that mean McCain isn’t really a US citizen? Hmph.), people detained there will have no right to habeas corpus let alone any Constitutional right to due process within the US legal system.  Barack the president still allows extraordinary rendition.  Barack the president has allowed the same people who destroyed the economy (think Wall Street investment bankers, Goldman Sachs, the New York Reserve, and the Fed) to retain control over the economy. Nothing has changed in that respect. Barack the president doesn’t want to do anything about the Bush administration higher-ups who approved torture and created an ethos where it could thrive and become even more twisted than Gen. Miller and John Yoo originally planned. Barack the candidate wanted to remove us from theaters of war while Barack the president is digging in in Afghanistan.

Barbara Boxer might give me hope, but it’s not yet clear she won’t do what she’s told by the White House, by the so-called Democratic leadership, or by the insurance and drug companies. But Barack the president and the rest of his administration? No, I have no hope at all.

I’m writing in the hortatory subjunctive now:  Look to your principles once more, recall the promises you made and work to fulfill them. Think of the people who voted for you, Barack & Company. Think about why they voted for you. It wasn’t simply your “soaring rhetoric,” you made promises that voters wanted kept. I urge you to reconsider your path, which thus far is filled with so many broken promises (after only nine months!). Remember that we who voted you and other Democrats into office can just as easily vote you out of office. Or, as in my case, simply not vote at all. There is no one worth voting for anymore.

Ignore me at your political peril. You will fail otherwise. A pity, but it’s true.

Sincerely yours–

September 8, 2009 Posted by | 2008 presidential race, Abu Ghraib, Afghan War, Afghanistan, Bagram, banks, Bush administration, civil liberties, Congress, corruption, Defense, Democrats, Due process, Economy, far right, Federal Reserve, Foreign policy, gay rights, Geneva Conventions, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, human rights, Iraq War, Obama, Obama administration, politics, Republicans, torture, Treasury, US Constitution, war crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Get Your Populist Rage Here: AIG to pay $165 million in bonuses

(UPDATE below)

Under Geithner and Summers, the government claims helplessness, but I don’t think they are helpless.  And they had to know this was coming.  The government–meaning we taxpayers, y’all–owns 80% of AIG, so how could they not know?  It was back in the day that these bonuses were set up for the same guys who played with swaps and derivatives and left AIG  teetering on the brink of disaster. The company was essentially bankrupt.

But that’s not all.  According to the NYT:

A.I.G. had set up a special bonus pool for the financial products unit early in 2008, before the company’s near collapse, when problems stemming from the mortgage crisis were becoming clear and there were concerns that some of the best-informed derivatives specialists might leave. It locked in a total amount, $450 million, for the financial products unit and prepared to pay it in a series of installments, to encourage people to stay.

After this, two more bonuses are to be paid in July and September to the tune of $220.4 million.  AIG’s CEO, Edward M. Liddy, has written to Geithner saying the salaries of these execs in the Financial Products Division have been trimmed to $1, but who the heck cares?  AIG was brutally mismanaged and this sort of payoff, this heinous payoff, is part and parcel of that folly. Of course,  Liddy argues that AIG is contractually obligated, and furthermore without bonuses these “talented” execs who caused the problem would walk.

I say: let ’em go.  Liddy’s position is morally bankrupt and pretty stupid.  There are more talented execs where those came from.  MBAs are everywhere, dontcha know.  Look in the unemployment lines.

I also say the government should take over AIG–because taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth when shareholders aren’t wiped out,* execs earn hundred of millions in bonuses and get to keep their jobs.

When will we ever see a return on OUR investment?

Like, never.

We’re going to be asked to give up portions of so-called entitlement programs, such as Social Security, which income is the only thing between many elderly women and bone-scraping, marrow-sucking poverty. In early January Obama said he wants to overhaul both Medicare and Social Security.  So we get Universal health care, but not really?  How does that work exactly?  Whence comes the money?

Don’t get me wrong, I think health care is a human right.  We citizens have made a contract with our government** in which we give up some rights (say, by paying taxes) and by doing so receive something in return from our government. The old theories considered that receiving social order was enough, but they imply that everyone acquires equal benefit, or as Hobbes would say: the “right to all things.” (Ha.)  If health care is a right, I don’t think government is working as well for everyone in the United States as it is in other industrialized nations.  Last year, about 75 million people in the US didn’t have enough insurance or they didn’t have any at all.  Imagine what that statistic is now that so many people are unemployed.  (<—- Scary, but elegant graphic.  Makes me want to move.)

So, yeah.  I don’t think AIG has a right to exist as an autonomous entity any longer. I think the leviathan has gorged itself aplenty and should be absorbed by the government. We have more important ways to spend our money–by taking care of our own.

UPDATE: Robert Reich on AIG, an excerpt:

The bonuses are part of employee contracts negotiated before the bailouts. And, in any event, Liddy explained, AIG needs to be able to retain talent.

AIG’s arguments are absurd on their face. Had AIG gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy or been liquidated, as it would have without government aid, no bonuses would ever be paid (they would have had a lower priority under bankruptcy law that AIG’s debts to other creditors); indeed, AIG’s executives would have long ago been on the street. And any mention of the word “talent” in the same sentence as “AIG” or “credit default swaps” would be laughable if laughing weren’t already so expensive.

This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that’s “too big to fail” and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. To whom should they be accountable? As long as taxpayers effectively own a large portion of them, they should be accountable to the government.

But if our very own Secretary of the Treasury doesn’t even learn of the bonuses until months after AIG has decided to pay them, and cannot make stick his decision that they should not be paid, AIG is not even accountable to the government. That means AIG’s executives — using $170 billion of our money, so far — are accountable to no one.


* Funny how that works.  In a normal capitalist world, shareholders would lose their investment when the company goes under.
** Remember John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

March 15, 2009 Posted by | bailout(s), Economy, Executive branch, Obama administration, politics, recession, social theories, Treasury, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments