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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Health care, youth and age

[More than 5000 people have visited this site in the last seven days. Most of you visited because of a fradulent email comparing President Obama to Hitler, which has been circulating under my name for the last five months or so, and whose circulation has dramatically increased this month. You can read its full history here. Quite a few, however, have appreciated what they found and apparently intend to return.]

Since we have had so many interesting comments about health care, I am going to begin with that subject before moving on to something else.

I am sorry, to begin with, that the reader who described himself (I think that's the right pronoun) as a "career civil servant" has so little respect for his, and my, profession. Actually his comments illustrate the biggest problem surrounding the health care debate: the American people's colossal ignorance of the most basic facts. This is not altogether surprising. TV news has a notoriously short attention span and hardly ever provides enough information to understand a complex issue, and it is very easy to pass through even a leading university today without learning much of anything about the workings or history of government and public policy. In this case the relevant facts are as follows. The US government already runs two health care systems, Medicare and the Veterans Administration system. Both are extraordinarily cheaper than privately provided care. Nor is there any real need to worry that the proposed public option will be any different. Although I myself did not know it until yesterday, the public option in the bill being considered by the House of Representatives is simply an extension of the Medicare system to the general population. Here is the text of the letter which the progressive caucus in the House sent the White House last week--short, to the point, and far more informative than 99% of the media coverage on the subject.

Dear President Obama:

Thank you for continuing to work with Members of Congress to draft a health reform bill that will provide the real health care reform this country needs.

We look forward to meeting with you regarding retaining a robust public option in any final health reform bill and request that that meeting take place as soon as possible.

Public opinion polls continue to show that a majority of Americans want the choice ofa robust public plan and we stand in solidarity with them. We continue to support the robust public option that was reported out of the Committees on Ways and Means and Education and Labor and will not vote for a weakened bill on the House Floor or returning from a Conference with the Senate.

Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates-not negotiated rates-is unacceptable. A plan with negotiated rates would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal ofproviding choice and competition to keep rates down. The public plan with set rates saves $75 billion, which could be lost ifrates are negotiated with providers. Further, this public option must be available immediately and must not be contingent upon any trigger.

Mr. President, the need for reform is urgent. Every day, 14,000 Americans lose their health care coverage. We must have health care reform that will effectively bring down costs and significantly expand access. A health reform bill without a robust public option will not achieve the health reform this country so desperately needs. We cannot vote for anything less.

We look forward to meeting with you to discuss the importance of your support for a robust public plan, which we encourage you to reiterate in your address to the Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday.

Lynn Woolsey
Raul Grijalva

The comment which I posted yesterday reminded me of another health care story which I heard about seven or eight years ago, involving my late friend William Strauss, the co-author of the books on generations and eras of American life upon which so much of these commentaries are based. For the last 25 or so years of his life Bill earned his living as the co-founder and co-producer of the comedy troop the Capitol Steps. The troop employed about 25 people and provided health insurance under a group policy from a private insurer. (Unfortunately I can't remember which one it was.) In 1999 Bill was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but was given a new procedure called a Whipple, and spent at least a week in the hospital. He was initially declared cancer free, but within a few years tumors had appeared in his liver, and he had several near-fatal chemo treatments before he eventually died in 2007. (See my obit under December 2007.) Anyway, a year or two after the initial surgery, Bill told me an interesting story. The insurance company had informed the Capitol Steps that their group premium was going to be doubled or tripled--I can't remember the exact details, but it was a huge increase, big enough to make it impossible for the company to function. Their intention was obvious: to recover the entire cost of Bill's initial treatment. Fortunately he managed to drop out of the plan, easing their concerns, and get health insurance through his wife, a public servant. Had he not done so, he would either have gone bankrupt, died years earlier than he did, or both. I am sure that story is not unique.

I am beginning to see a need to collect citizens' stories about health care, and I hope that any readers here who have any that they feel are significant will also share them in comments. If that is sufficiently popular, I'm thinking about putting up a whole new blog devoted solely to posting them.

The gentleman who pointed to the lack of community spirit in the United States in comparison to other Anglo-Saxon countries (or, he might simply have said, other advanced countries) had an important point. I suggested in another forum that the Europeans, in particular, take civic responsibilities more seriously because they actually experienced the effects of Nazism first hand and know how important it is to provide basic services and a real safety net. The United States was 50 years behind Germany and about 30 years behind Britain in getting social security. More importantly, it's clear that through the New Deal era and the High that followed,a substantial Republican minority (though far from the entire Republican Party) never accepted the expanded role of the government. Then, sadly, in the 1960s, the whole issue of providing for less-well off Americans became hopelessly entangled with racial issues. The antitax movement, I am sorry to say, succeeded in much of the country because it was a movement against giving any kind of benefits to undeserving minorities. In much of the South that even translated into a prejudice against now-integrated public schools. Now President Obama and some Congressional Democrats are trying, amidst a very hostile climate, to restore some sense of public responsibility.

On another front, I began reading last night a most remarkable book, Packing the Court, by the political scientist James Macgregor Burns. While so far I have read only the first few chapters, it has already inspired quite a few reflections.

I got to know Professor Burns two years ago when I spent a year as a visitor at Williams College. He was then 89, and just had his 91st birthday. He was showing no signs of age, however, a point that is more than confirmed by this book, which does a brilliant job of condensing the entire Constitutional history of the United States into a relatively short space. I shall probably have more to say about its content when I have finished it, but one fascinating point is already clear: it is an example, like much of my own work, of how profoundly we can all be shaped by our youth.

Burns himself tells how he heard in February 1937 of President Roosevelt's plan to pack (in effect) the Supreme Court by adding six new justices--one for every justice who had reached the age of 70 without retiring. He and most other scholarship students, he reports, favored the plan. During FDR's first term the Court had struct down the National Recovery Act, the first Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Guffey-Snyder Coal Act (which regulated that basic industry), and a state minimum wage law. The ability of the "nine old men," several of whom had been born before the Civil War, to overturn the will of the President and Congress in the midst of a national emergency, appalled many Americans at the time, and created something of a scholarly backlash. Several scholars argued that the framers had never intended to give the federal courts the power to overrule federal legislation. The young James M. Burns evidently accepted that argument. What is more interesting is that he accepts it still, 70 years later--making him virtually the only American I know who would make that argument.

Although he obviously has strong convictions on this point, Burns is much too scrupulous a scholar to bend the evidence. He briefly but succinctly goes over the debates in the Constitutional convention and during the ratification process on this point, and certainly did not convince me that the Founders unequivocally shared his view. And although I must wait to finish the book before going into this in any more detail, it seems to me very arguable as to whether on the whole the Supreme Cout's power of judicial review has been a good or a bad thing. Yes, the Court overturned both much of the Reconstruction legislation that tried to give former slaves equal rights and much important work of the New Deal (although it retreated, partly because of some fortuitous vacancies, after FDR lost the court packing battle, and did not invalidate Social Security, the Wagner Act, or federal wages and hours legislation.) But I, like Burns, am marked by my youth, and I grew up under the court of Earl Warren, William O. Douglas, and Hugo Black, which outlawed segregated schools, established the Constitutional rights of defendants, and eventually even legalized abortion. (That last decision, I have come to believe, was a mistake. Abortion in 1973 was already legal in some major jurisdictions, including both New York and California, and I think that abortion rights would be more secure today had the issue been left in the hands of legislatures.) It is not easy to see how many of those changes--especially integrated schools in the South--would have come about without the Court, but at the same time, it is true that liberals came to rely far too much upon it. In addition, the Court became a rallying point for conservative activists, whose persistent efforts to establish a right-wing majority are now bearing fruit.

Burns's book, at any rate, is a great inspiration to me, since it suggests that I too might have as much as 30 years of productive historical work ahead of me--and the nation benefits from hearing such a voice, an echo of an earlier time, whose relevance may in fact be returning.

It is perhaps because Burns, like myself, is an academic, that he has had no trouble sticking to the beliefs he formed so early. In my case, the Vietnam War made me a skeptic about American third world interventions, and nothing that has happened since has changed my mind. Movers and shakers, alas, tend to change with the times. In 1962, a new foreign service officer just out of college was posted to Vietnam. Full of energy and self-confidence, he asked to be appointed the provincial adviser in Ba Xuyen province in the Mekong Delta, with a population of over one million people. This was the era of the strategic hamlet program, and Vietnamese officials immediately assured him that they had completed several hundred hamlets. When he insisted upon seeing them, however, he discovered that quite a few of them were simply neighborhoods in the largest provincial towns, while others had not had any actual work done on them. The problem, he remembered in the 1980s, was that the distribution of aid to the provincial government was tied directly to the number of completed hamlets they could report. (One of many parallel stories about today's Afghanistan can be read here.

The name of that young foreign service officer was Richard Holbrooke, who today is the President's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have been hearing a good deal lately about Afghanistan from people who have spent time on the scene, and their reports, combined with the news, suggest that the situation there is much worse than the situation in South Vietnam in 1962. While everyone agrees that the Afghan people do not want or like the Taliban, they also agree that the Taliban is by far the most dedicated and organized political force in the country. Operating in Afghanistan is a logistical nightmare without secure supply lines, and the country is simply too large and American forces too small to create a NATO presence among the whole population. The main excuse for our involvement, as stated by Secretary Clinton and by Holbrooke,is to prevent the Taliban from taking power in Pakistan, but since 1) much of the Pakistani government has always wanted the Taliban in power in Afghanistan and 2) the Taliban has grown exponentially within Pakistan since we drove them out of Afghanistan, I am not convinced that that argument makes any sense. Holbrooke's 1985 oral history effectively described his own frustration at trying to get the reality of the situation across to higher ups, including President Johnson. While I have no specific information on this point, I am afraid today younger Americans may be having the same trouble with him.

This post has already ranged widely, but I shall make one more unrelated comment. During the election campaign last fall I had one recurring thought. Every time I saw, or heard about, a small child, it occurred to me that if Obama won--as he did--the youth of America would grow up without seeing anything odd or unusual about a black President in the White House. Sadly, I see now that I was wrong. The disgraceful, hysterical response to the President's decision to make a brief speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday shows that many parents are failing a basic test of citizenship: to teach their children some essential respect for our government and those who have been elected to it. It is already clear that, like Lincoln and Roosevelt, Obama will face paranoid, utterly unreasoned opposition, derision and hatred until the day he leaves office. Yet those examples show that such opposition need not prevent the President from doing what has to be done. Meanwhile, despite their parents' opposition, some of today's youth will grow up to revere the first President whom they remember. Three years ago, James Macgregor Burns explained to me that his family were rock-ribbed Republicans.


Grey Tissues said...

I am glad that you clarified that you did not write any part of what is being attributed to you on the internet. You didn't write any part of it, did you?

You are obviously an educated man. There are many statistics on both sides of the health care debate. But I must say this: Nevertheless, for a college professor to inform me of "what is correct" by referring me to either the Progressive Caucus (now there is an objective view!) or anecdotal stories is well beneath that professor, and it is well beneath my being convinced.

With all due respect, it seriously diminishes you in my mind, and I will take whatever I read from you in the future with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

Your last comment is quite stirring. I am amazed at the hysteria surrounding Obama's speech to children on Tuesday. Parents on facebook urge friends to ask their children to walk out of class during the speech. School superintendent offices are inundated with calls from disturbed parents. Yet, what is the gist of this "socialist" speech of which they are afraid, though other presidents have also given it to children? Stay in school. Assume responsibility. Do your best. Set goals and make plans to achieve them. For this he is harassed and compared to Hitler and his Youth movement. Using children to make a political point by removing them from class is more like the Hitler Youth movement than anything I've seen. Children are innocent and should not be made pawns in a political debate. Rather, I say listen to the speech. Record it and listen to it with your children. Go over the facts with them. Do not promote ignorance but closing your ears. Help the children to understand we must discern truth from fiction, right from wrong by listening and basing our actions on what we understand from it. If Obama is wrong, let the truth speak for itself. If he is not, don't distort the truth. The amount of distortions of fact I have read lately disturbs me greatly. The hype and hysteria is almost frightening. TV and radio "journalism" has fallen to a new low when they promote a hysteria to drive ratings. It's all show but with a real, tangible and tragic result to our nation. I am a journalist who takes pride in a balanced presentation of fact in the news I write for a daily paper. It is not for me to decide how the people should interpret the news. It is for me to present facts on both sides of the issue without bias. Is it easy? NO! But I do it every day. I am proud of that fact. And then I see these freakish examples of stupidity under the guise of truth and it makes my stomach sick. I say to your readers we must put a peaceful end to this fraudulent onslaught against logic and reason and let truth prevail. Listen. Discern. Act. It seems even the religious right has forgotten one of their own most precious teachings in 1 Thes. 5:21 in which is written: "Prove all things. Hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil." Thus, spreading a falsehood is evil. Closing your ears and preventing your children from understanding is wrong. Be responsible for what you forward in your next email. Don't just blindly send something that is false. Research. It's the only way.

Anonymous said...

...I wrote this last comment about the religious right...I am a religious person with a balanced perspective, a Sunday school teacher in fact, with neither right wing nor "liberal" views. Do not take offense to my use of scripture.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I am a critical thinker, a person who feels that I am above political parties and refuse to associate myself with them. I have begun trying to uncover fraudulent email from the right wing and prove them false. I am actually glad I got this one, because it has uncovered your blog. I like the way you explain yourself and it is enlightening to see such a thoughtful response to current events. I applaud you and will be reading your posts from now on. Thanks for taking the time to write them.

ben burned said...

Respect is earned, plain and simple, as is trust. When you see the President of the United States purposely circumventing Congress by surrounding himself with "Czars" who help make and implement policy and you listen to a President who basically does not know what is even in the proposed health care bill but actively promotes it because it is basically in line with his agenda of more government then he garners neither respect or trust. When the Senator, 5 days before the election, proclaims that he is about to fundamentally change the United States of America
then no wonder after he orchestrates the takeover of our banking system, taking over 2 of 3 of the auto manufacturers and wants to take over the health care system that people do not trust him. When he says that he wants to have a "citizen security force"
as strong and as well funded as our own military, then why would anyone possibly be concerned when he wants to start, ever so gently,
working on the minds of the most impressionable part of our society, the children? In history, we've seen this before and it did not work out well for anyone concerned. Do we really want to go down that same road knowing where it leads? I do not!

KD said...

David, thanks for weighing in on this issue. I am amazed and not a little saddened by the inability of citizens to do their homework and think for themselves. Too many think it appropriate to decide monumental questions of public policy by referring to their favorite source of information, wherever that is on the cultural spectrum. The reality is that everyone gets desparately ill at some point in their lives. Yet many--and, I propose, an equal number of conservatives and liberals--will find that saving their physical existence destroys their financial health. Bones and tissues prove to heal more predictably than credit ratings or retirement accounts.

As a newly retired military member, I spent almost 30 years protecting a nation that sees no problem in letting the sick also become the poor. At the same time, my family and I were (and still are) the beneficiaries of "universal health care." And, yes, it is a federally-run program (TRICARE) that, like any HMO, has its share of bureaucratic inefficiencies. The point is not that my health coverage, or any such plan, is perfect. The point is that I do not worry about my access to reasonably good health care, or about the impact on my financial future.

Now, as for "Grey Tissues," I think there is little to say. Disagreement with a position obligates the critic to offer an alternative view of the meaning of events. Nor is the exchange of views about convincing another of anything. Those who relie on others to "convince" them deserve what they become. Only if the exchange of ideas causes one to question assumptions on all sides, do additional research, and move towards an internal "consensus" of their own analysis can they begin to articulate their criticisms and their alternatives in a thoughtful way.

But I know you have been in the arena far longer than I, and handle these situations as the professional you are.

So, that's my view from 7 hours ahead. Two days on the ground here in the Magic Kingdom and things are already a chocolate mess with the school. But we will find our way, and I will be in touch soon with an update.


Anonymous said...

Follow this interesting link to a humorous view of the "freak out" over Obama's speech.


Unknown said...

At 5:45 one sunny Friday morning in the early nineteen nineties, a few months after my mother died from a botched surgery for a brain aneurysm, I was on my way to my job as an independent software contractor (with no benefits) at Smith Kline in Upper Marion Pennsylvanian. I paid attention to the empty roads although my thoughts were on my father who at that moment was in Barnes Hospital in St. Louis recovering from open-heart surgery. Would that be botched too? I saw one white sports car coming up 320 to my left off the Schuylkill Expressway as I entered the intersection on a green light. I realized the car was speeding and was not going to stop for its red light and tried to get out of the way. The car came through the driver’s door of my car fracturing my pelvis in seventeen places, breaking three of my ribs, sending shards of glass down my ear canal, the windshield into my face, and totaling my car, which I had just paid off at long last. When my car stopped moving it was facing the opposite direction in which I’d been traveling.

A deaf mute stopped to help pull me out the passenger door. I lay in the road and I could not stop screaming. It seemed to take forever for an ambulance to come and I remember looking at the pant leg cuffs and shoes of an assortment of men. The first day in the hospital I went through the entire allotment of medical coverage from my automobile insurance. I was divorced and on my last month of law-mandated Cobra coverage. The second day my Cobra policy began picking up the hospital tab. At the end of the month Cobra expired and my injuries rendered me ineligible for the private coverage I had arranged for. I had a long rehabilitation—from bed to wheelchair to walker to crutches to cane—but no medical insurance and no hope of acquiring any right away.

My attorney sued the driver who hit me. After years of litigation the case was settled (when I was finally released from doctor’s care) for a six-figure amount that essentially left me with nothing. The lawyer took forty percent and the rest went to bills.

Upon settlement, my car insurance immediately doubled. Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance state therefore my car insurance company split the cost of the settlement with the other driver’s insurance company. My attorney advised me that it was illegal to up my premium in an attempt to recover this expense but I was too physically and emotionally spent and entirely too broke to engage the attorney again to sue the car insurance company to reduce my premiums. I ended up switching to another car insurance company, and minimum coverage, which I could barely afford given that I could only work so many hours, if at all, and I now had car payments again, having had to buy a new car. I needed better car insurance protection, lacking health insurance, but it was out of reach.

I did not know when I was released from doctor’s care and settled the court case that I was facing a ten-year period of renewed rehabilitation expenses. Because of the way my hip healed I had a tendency to bring on excruciatingly painful tendon injury if I slipped or over-exerted myself. Sex was totally out of the question as even the most modest hip thrust would cause severe pain and put me back on crutches. For five years I was too depressed and worried about my new medical bills to even think about meeting someone so this wasn’t really an issue. I was able to get health insurance finally by giving up my contracting business and becoming an employee of a company, which reduced my income by half. But at least I had health insurance. I still had tremendous pain and though I sought medical help continuously I did not find someone who could relieve the pain and most of the therapies that helped me somewhat were not covered by my insurance or payment was severely limited.

There is a very happy ending to this story that came about partly because David Kaiser taught me to write when he was my dissertation advisor but it takes more than 4,096 characters to relate.

Anonymous said...

David - thank you for another compelling Sunday night read. I am looking forward to what our President has to say to America's schoolchildren. My young nephew starts Kindergarten on Tuesday, and I like the idea of a President encouraging our children to work and study hard in school, and to do their best. Young children still hold the President in some awe, and should be influenced by a positive, traditionally-American-values statement to them.

I'm sorry that 'benburned' holds this President in such low esteem and that "Grey Tissues' is contemptuous of a "college professor" apparently holding a position on something, and worse yet, a progressive viewpoint.

Well, cheers that you are a forthright liberal, a progressive. We are fortunate to read and ponder your views on a regular basis.

And thank god some of these readers can tell you to shove those ideas somewhere else - isn't it nice that these freedoms are protected - and that others of us have the right to agree with you and tell them that THEY have the wrongheaded ideas?

We have a good, true leader - and he won the right - fair and square - to lead this nation through at least January 19, 2013. Of course I voted for him, and still support his leadership. I, of course, am waiting for all the Democrats to be liberals and lead us away from the terrible years of Cheney-Bush. But I'm pragmatic enough to work through small, measured gains, and will continue to fight my side's rightness in the 2010 elections.

Dr. Kaiser, please don't give up the liberal fight, and please do continue to share your generation-based perspectives on our history - past and future, as William Strauss and Neil Howe might have said.

I think some study of what 1934 looked like is about due, as we begin to contemplate 2010.

Wes Volkenant

Brate said...

It doesn’t seem to me as healthcare cant be made to feel luxurious. My experience with the elite health care services defines a very different story. Right now, I am engaged in Elitehealth.com concierge wellness program which is designed for healthcare at concierge level. They are providing me medication with care at the highest level of comfort. Their wellness program allows me to have a direct access to my personal physician via phone and email, but also in the emergency situation which I had because of having a heart attack, physician came home and also were present in the emergency room to expedite my care. They provided me a patient care concierge who managed all my transportation and accommodation. All this meant a lot to me when it comes to health. So, a concierge level hospitalization is a boon to me, and many other who are desiring to experience.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with the president giving speechs to the children. I do have a problem with them providing a lesson plan to the schools on how to get the children more involved and how they can help the president meet his various goals. I agree with an earlier post, record it and go over it with your children.

I basically disagree with your position on helping the poor etc. I think since the 60s we have made the poor more dependent on government programs and have created an environment that keeps them and their families locked into a downward spiral with no way out. If I choose to help the poor, the sick I want to do it on my own by giving to our local charities and churchs. I don't want my support taken forcibly from me. We Americans are a giving people who don't like to be told who to give to or be robbed by the government in order for them to continue to fund these programs.

Anonymous said...

Lets look at the facts not all the spin that comes from Washington and seemingly a few other places.

The President made a number of promises during the campaign that were to provide confidence to those contemplating their vote.

He would work in a bi-partisan way,
he would insure than legislation would be on the internet for at least 5 days to be read before a vote.
He would only take public monies for his campaign.
He would have a transparent Presidency.
He would not allow lobbyist to fill cabinet positions.

Since the health care debate he has time and time again said that we will have a choice but fails the intellectual honesty to also tell you that it will almost be impossible for private insurance companies to stay in business thus putting everyone on the government roles!

He has asked citizens to send "fishy" e-mails to the Whitehouse.

His Cash for Clunkers made so many promises that haven't been kept that dealers are suffering. The electronic access to the money initially said "this computer and all of its records become property of the government once you click accept". This was changed when there was an uproar but nothing was ever said about those that accepted the unconstitutional terms.

He as no other President in the past has done, politicized the census by grabbing control.

He has created 30 Czars that answer to no one but him skirting the senate confirmation process of key high level officials.

Many of his appointees have either had to resign or decline the appointments because of unethical activities, or failure to pay federal taxes.

In my mind this President feels that the end justify the means and his attempt at propaganda by manipulating the press is in itself reached a new level even for Washington.

I don't trust this President because he hasn't been honest, he hasn't kept his word and he has shown that he will sink to new lows to get his agenda through.

He recently invoked religion into the health care debate by calling a group of clergy, but no conservative black pastors were included! From campaign workers children in the crowd feeding him questions to having Acorn bus people in to shout down 80 year old citizens that are not mobs but just scared. This is a president that I cannot trust from his dealings with criminals in Chicago to the shady deal on his house, to not giving more than $200 to charity until he was a serious candidate for President, this is a man that may talk the talk but he sure doesn't walk the walk and putting our children in his hands is simply ridiculous. They have already altered the work book for students because it stepped over the line, do you really believe that there is no attempt at selling his agenda to our children?

I'm sorry but the preponderance of evidence based on what he has already done tell me that only a fool would let him speak to our children.

Wake up America look at the facts, one thing on it's own may not be a problem but when you study the pattern, and there is clearly one it tells me that I have one choice but to tell my children that this President will say and do anything to win and shape America in his image not the constitutions!

Anonymous said...

He has created 30 Czars that answer to no one but him skirting the senate confirmation process of key high level officials.

If I hadn't seen 30 years of right-wing disinfo in action, statements like this would stun me. Nowadays, in the immortal words of Elvis Costello, "I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused."

The time to fret about circumvented Congressional oversight was decades ago. Choose your starting point: The Korean War. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Iran-Contra. Bush the Elder's deployment of half a million troops to Saudi Arabia after Saddam's Kuwait adventure. Practically EVERY covert operation undertaken by the "intelligence" apparatus. Practically EVERY "national security" fiasco launched by the Bush/Cheney gangster syndicate. Read some Andrew Bacevich for a succinct and damning summary of Congress' abdication to the executive.

"Czars" are nothing new, and for all practical purposed have been tacitly endorsed by the Congress -- for the more or less explicit reason that they ARE undemocratic: They're supposed to be some kind of national-level action figure who can "get things done". I'd take the sudden objections to "czars" seriously if right-wingers had shown ANY misgivings about the most atrocious "czardom" of all, the guy who's supposed to wage the War on (Some) Drugs. That little crusade has really worked out splendidly, hasn't it?

Now, since I have also seen 30-odd years of Democratic stupidity and spinelessness, I'm not surprised that the "leaders" of the majority party are (again!) blindsided by the right-wingers' lies and ferocity. All these town hall meeting antics are standard gambits out of the right-wing playbook, but we're supposed to believe that the geniuses in the national Democratic Party simply couldn't forsee them. Or even more hilariously, Dem mouthpieces assure us that the home team is just biding its time, waiting for the GOP troglodytes to go that last step too far, at which point the citizenry will flock to the banner of the commonweal. I don't know how many times I've heard the Big Stall rationalized as "keeping our powder dry".....

Folks who voted for Obama (and I'm one of them) shouldn't be surprised, either. If you paid attention to what Obama said during the campaign, you knew that "change" would be little more than the standard nibbling around the edges that the Dems have been trying to get away with for decades. And if Obama's words didn't get through to you, his choices sure as hell should have: Clinton. Biden. Geithner. Summers. Might've been Daschle, too, if he hadn't been just a wee bit too obviously owned by the health care lobby. Can anyone honestly claim that these creatures are the vanguard of "change"?!?!

The national Dems don't fight for anything because they don't believe in anything. Just like their supposed "opposition", their only meaningful constituency is the 1-2% at the top of the heap. The Naderites are correct: The parties are two factions of the Unified Corporate Party.

I think the American political system is just about done. It was never that great a structure to begin with. But it's becoming impossible to deny that it can no longer cope with external reality. There's been no meaningful attempt to deal with our unsustainable resource habits. The Cold War ended 20 years ago, yet now we spend more on a military of very dubious utility. There's not the slightest prospect that this is going to change.

I suspect it may be time to turn away from national politics altogether, work in one's local community, and hope that the whole system falls apart in a manner that isn't too catastrophic.
-- sglover

Anonymous said...

Wow. I thought Hope'n'Change would betray his most fervent supporters and sell out on the "public option", but I figured he'd spend a little more than five minutes of by-the-numbers foreplay to do it. I supposed it's a virtue, somehow, when one capitulates efficiently.
-- sglover

David Kaiser said...

SGlover, I think you saw a different speech than I did. He didn't capitulate--it was up to them to offer something better, which they can't. There's a long way to go yet.

Rosemary, I think lots of people would like to hear the happy ending.

Anonymous said...

He didn't capitulate--it was up to them to offer something better, which they can't.

Folks who compare Obama's tenure to FDR's have this much right: With a solid Congressional majority and a thoroughly discredited opposition, Obama has had an extraordinary opportunity to do bold things. And how does he lead off last night's speech? We musn't tamper with the bits of the system that work. Never mind that, by every imaginable metric (not least the straighforward cost/benefit balance sheet measures), the American health care system is deeply pathological and unsustainable.

Sure, the Republicans don't have anything better to offer. So what? That doesn't matter! All they need to do is forstall a reform that really would work. That reform is the "public option". (Why do you think the health insurance "industry" has always fought against it with such determination?!?!) Seemed to me that Obama made it pretty clear that he's NOT going to fight for what the "industry" fears.

Obama's playing the same old gutless game of half-measures that the Dems have been dabbling in for most of my adult life. There'll be no bold action from this administration, so I guess we're just going to have to hope that the Empire isn't quite as unsustainable as it really seems to be. Does this seem very FDR-like to you? Obama's already blown the main chance.
-- sglover

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, it was not President Obama's speech to the school children that was at issue. It was the lesson plan that called for supporting President Obama..."students should write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." Does that not sound like an indoctrination tactic?

Oh, by the way, when George H.W. Bush made a similar speech, sans the lesson plan, the Democratic controlled congress launched a formal investigation. Where was the outrage then? Did you blog about that hysteria?

I also resent the implication that resistance to President Obama and his massive expansion of government is somehow based on race. When confronted with true racism, my guess is you cower away and say nothing. Did you call it racism when President Obama, admitting he knew none of the facts, went on the record siding with the african-american professor and calling the white cop stupid? Did you blog about President Obama's 20 yr. membership at Rev. Wright's church, or did you give him a pass?

As for healthcare reform, I can't speak to the VA, but medicare operates so "efficiently" b/c the gov't forces Dr.'s to take patients and sets arbitrary prices. We, as "paying" customers, are actually charged MORE for our care to offset the losses Dr.'s take on each Medicare patient. And, if you believe the VA and Medicare are such wonderful programs, tell me why congress doesn't simply join one of those programs, instead of having there own, gold plated program. (They could change the rules to allow themselves access.) And why do they refuse to give it up if/when they build a new program for us? It's because the new program will be good enough for us, but not good enough for royalty!

Mike Augeri said...

Mr. Kaiser, you said above that ".. I myself did not know it until yesterday, the public option in the bill being considered by the House of Representatives is simply an extension of the Medicare system to the general population." Can you site an explicit source? Also, doesn't Medicaid already provide some level of coverage to the poor that can't afford insurance? Can Medicaid be expanded to provide the coverage that Obama wants? It might be preferrable to expanding Medicare since it is a decentralized system, which might assuage the opposition opponents have to a centralized system.

Mike Augeri said...

ben burned said "...he [Obama] orchestrates the takeover of our banking system..." Get your facts straight ben - the bailout of the banks and financial institutions was initiated under the Bush administration. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was signed into law by Bush on October 3, 2008. Even the Bush administration realized that if nothing was done the economy of the United States was going to collapse.

Luke said...

My grandparents sent me the discredited e-mail this morning. I was underwhelmed by the content of the email but happy to find an excellent blog in the process. God causes all things to work together for good, I suppose. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Because you have great respect for an office, does not give automatic reciprocation to having great respect for the man/woman in that office. A Man/Woman makes an office realize potential and success, not the other way around.

Kate said...

Rosemary, I want to hear your happy ending & celebrate whatever success and good fortune have resulted from your determination and perseverance.

David, thanks for the pleasant surprise. I was expecting hysterical extreme propaganda. Thank you for not being a mean-spirited zealot spewing misinformation and hate.

Anonymous said...

Like so many in academia you don't know what's going on in the real world professor. Medicare is not a wonderful healthcare plan. I must carry a supplimental policy to cover the big gap between what medicare pays and what my doctors actually charge. And when you look at the billions, yes, billions with a B, of dollars in fraud and waste associated with medicare how can you expect the government to run a program for the entire country? Let's fix the few things that are wrong with our health care system but leave the rest of it alone!

heath said...

great blog! I'm so happy to read something intelligent about this whole historical debacle called the 21st century.

I got here cause I felt like reading snopes.com for giggles.

I'll be back!! keep up the good work.