Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Can't Have It Both Ways: Did She Break The Law or Is It True She Did Nothing Impeachable?

An editorial by The Nation, published yesterday online, attacks Sarah Palin's claims that the investigation into her conduct as governor 'cleared' her by quoting the investigation and reproducing the newspaper editorial in her home state attacking her claims of vindication. The newspaper editorial is well-written and hits the nail very nicely, but The Nation's editorial misses the mark slightly. While calling Palin out on her 'Orwellian' (in the words of the original newspaper editorial) lie about the findings of the investigation, the magazine editorial then states that Palin did nothing indictable or impeachable.

The investigation finds that Governor Palin, as governor, violated the state's ethics law. I understand The Nation is used to covering politics, in which violating the law is not the same thing as a crime (much like Wall Street), but in my view this is a fallacious idea. Forgive me a Randian moment when I say that violating a state's political ethics law while holding political office is a crime. Therefore, Governor Palin is or should be both impeachable and indictable on this charge. It's a law, isn't it? Didn't the investigation find that she violated it? This is an indictable offense, and one that she should be impeached for committing.

While I applaud The Nation for telling the truth about Sarah Palin's gubernatorial indiscretions as she tries to make dishonest claims of her 'vindication', I am disappointed that their editors do not equate breaking the law with impeachable or indictable offenses.

Friday, October 10, 2008

He's Friends With THEM!?!? (In Politics, Everyone Is Guilty By Association)

John F. Kennedy began his presidential campaign with the support of a coalition of corrupt politicians and mobsters with whom his father had done business in the 1920s, when he illegally imported whiskey into the United States from Ireland and Scotland and sold it to people like Al Capone and Carlo Gambino.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt held together his huge liberal coalition of Democrats and Roosevelt Republicans by pandering to the racist leadership of the southern wing of the Democratic Party. When Harry Truman took mild civil rights steps like desegregating the Armed Forces, the Democratic Party began to fall apart.

Richard Nixon (and Republican leadership since) associated with the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who have approved of terrorist acts against gays and abortion clinics. Ditto Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. George H.W. Bush could be lauded for keeping his distance from them during his first run for president... if he hadn't jumped into bed with them in his run for reelection.

Far right mouthpieces will tell you that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are different from
Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. I don't see how. If Jeremiah Wright were a white evangelical fundamentalist instead of a black evangelical fundamentalist, he'd fit right in with Robertson, Falwell, and John Hagee. Some of the things he has said about gays and Jews are very close to the Republicans' favorite preachers. The sticking point is twofold. 1.) He is black. 2.) He believes the American government has failed black Americans.

He is wrong in his prejudices against gays and Jews, but that isn't where Republicans disagree with him. No, they disagree with the area in which he is right: he correctly believes the American government has failed black Americans. Some of the things he has preached are basically true even where not literally true. I've written about that before. I still stand by what I said. In fact, my foremost criticism of Obama on the Wright issue is that he didn't stand by the man. It is true that political expedience dictated this decision, but Obama's willingness to disavow his supporters (Wesley Clark is another good example) is still disappointing. I admire the man as a politician, however. He certainly isn't mismanaging the things that Gore, Kerry, and Clinton idol George McGovern mismanaged on the political side.

The difference between Ayers and the zealots of the religious right is only that Ayers' zealotry was humanist rather than religious. Even as the Robertsons and Falwells of the world sponsor and incite 'domestic terrorism' to bring the rule of God, so Ayers did to bring what he believed was a truer democracy. As the Republicans would never speak of Robertson or Falwell as terrorists, because of their influence and affluence, so Democrats often associate with former radicals who have influence or affluence themselves. Politics require this. As above examples have shown, it is nearly impossible to succeed in American politics without unsavory associations of some kind and all politicians are equally guilty.

Charles Krauthammer brought up Tony Rezko again. Discussion of Tony Rezko is as meaningless or meaningful, take your pick, as discussion of Charles Keating. If you haven't watched the film, you should. If you are for McCain in these times of economic difficulty, then you should definitely watch the film. Find it online, it's easy. Google the Keating 5.

If you are disgusted by the political associations of the candidates, than even third party hopefuls will disappoint you. Some of Ralph Nader's friends and supporters have belonged to far left environmental groups with agendas like enforced population control, including mandatory abortions and sterilizations or licenses in order to get pregnant. The Libertarian Party draws heavy support from the membership of the Hell's Angels, Bob Barr may have been to a biker rally on occasion. Define irony: Alan Keyes is running on the segregationist AIP ticket. Which means he has to know some people lurking around nasty outfits like the John Birch Society and various cultural purity kooks.

The gist of all this is that if you are an independent or undecided voter and you believe that you can only vote for a candidate who is pure and unsullied by questionable allies, there is no one for you to vote for. Everyone has been sullied by someone you may not approve of, whether by Hagee and Parsley and Keating or by Rezko and Ayers and Wright. If you truly wish to vote, then do so knowing that the candidate for whom you vote will have friends you don't like.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dollars and Sense: Fixing Health Care

Being extremely liberal, it should come to no surprise that I have strong opinions in support of an effective and meaningful system of national health care. I understand the arguments against single payer, though I disagree with most of them. I believe that every administration in history has shown that it is willing to spend a fortune on its projects, so the argument that we simply cannot afford meaningful national health care is ridiculous. We can afford to fight two wars at once and send advisors to countries like the Phillipines and Colombia in the name of the 'Global War on Terror.' Perhaps if we eliminated the 'GWOT' as a major budget expenditure all of that money could be spent on health care. It's certainly worth thinking about.

Terrorism is bred by poverty, ignorance, lack of economic opportunity, and basic geopolitical conflicts between states and ideas. As such, it is not a problem to be directly solved itself but rather a symptom of the larger problems of the world. Terrorism is another form of international crime and it should be dealt with in that manner, rather than the wasteful use of military force. I do believe that nation building is required in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the best way to build a nation is to help the people build it themselves. If we build a nation in our own image, as we tried to do in Vietnam and Laos, the local citizenry will not embrace it. It will be ours, not theirs. So we need to reform our foreign policy and spend much of the money we are currently wasting on military operations at home.

Even the Republicans are talking about health care in this election, and John McCain's plan would sound good in the abstract if it were not for the fact that the two fundamental problems with our current system are not addressed. Costs are addressed, a $5,000 tax credit to buy private health care is great. It even has a chance of passing because it's the kind of pro-market move that Republicans like, and it means a tax cut of sorts, which Republicans also like. The problem is that, while costs are the biggest barrier to many people receiving health insurance, they are not even close to the biggest problem with the system.

The first problem with the current health care system is that the way the costs are shared. The employer-employee system of cost sharing puts an undue strain on business and only benefits the employees of businesses that can afford to match health care costs. I'm hardly the biggest fan of Corporate America, but business is necessary for our capitalist economic system. Even should we ever find the political will to step beyond liberal economics to a more Keynesian or Radical system, we will still need business and capital. A single payer system that eliminated the 'taxes' imposed on businesses by the current system would save American business more money than any corporate tax cuts the Republicans have to offer. It would also allow small business owners and employees to receive health care. Even a modified cost-sharing system with the government matching the contributions of both employer and employee would ease this burden and allow more employers to offer health care. At the very least, a program specifically set up for the government to match employee contributions for small businesses would relive the system of strain. Naturally, I favor more radical solutions and advocate single payer as the ideal. Single payer is the best system for solving the real problem of American health care.

The real problem is that we do not have a health care system, he have a health insurance system. Healthy people are required to pay for insurance, while healthy, to avoid onerous health care costs when they need health care. This means one pays every month whether one sees the doctor that month or not, to pay for the emergency room or urgent care visit three months in the future. The problem is that not all insurance is equal and that your emergency room visit may still carry a three hundred dollar co-payment, despite the fact that you have been paying for that visit for three months without ever visiting the emergency room. This is ridiculous. Many procedures and illnesses are not covered, under a variety of loopholes. Deductibles make the patient responsible for significant shares of the cost of a hospital stay of one week despite the patient never having stayed in the hospital before and yet paying for it every month. Out of pocket costs are frequently burdensome even with insurance. The system exists so that insurance companies can make money, and if the companies have to actually pay for too much medical care then their profits shrink. So high premiums, high deductibles, and a slough of co-payments are the defining marks of the system.

We have seen a significant financial crisis that has badly damaged our financial system, including massive insurance companies that chose to make extra money insuring mortgages. Keeping that in mind, can you see our current system continuing to work without large increases in premiums, deductibles, and co-payments with the insurance companies in such financial hardship and needing every dollar?

Dr. Arthur Garson Jr, MD, of the University of Virginia wrote a piece today that correctly defines many of the problems of health care that have resulted from our current system. Unfortunately, the solution offered is the same sort of political pap we have been spoon-fed by Washington for years. Dr. Garson recommends a multi-lateral commission in which doctors, insurance companies, and both political parties wrangle for five years (the number given is his) to try to find new ways to control health care costs. This is somewhat counter-intuitive, as a massive commission of this sort would generate its own costs for Dr. Garson's five years. During those five years, nothing would actually be done about the problem.

The insurance companies need to be removed from the health care management equation. Even if some version of our current system remains, a government definition of 'health care' needs to formulated and regulated. All companies wishing to provide health care must meet these standards. HMOs must be made to cover out-of-system care and PPOs must be made to cover necessary care of any kind when it becomes necessary. Bureaucratic costs must be controlled to lower premiums. Deductibles should either be disallowed or carefully controlled and co-payments should be reasonable. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General, and senior aides from the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House should be able to handle such a project far more quickly and efficiently than any blue-ribbon commission. Certainly, the insurance companies should not be made part of the regulation process. We have seen in other areas just what damage can be done by industry insider regulators.

The best solution is still single payer, and ultimately I believe it to be the desired solution. If pragmatism requires smaller steps, however, there are things we can do right away to address the problem. Waiting five years for meaningful health care reform is ridiculous if a more streamlined process can provide it in two or three.

In case the right waves the red flag of 'socialized medicine' in front of the centrist bull, keep this in mind: socialism is the idea that a society should care for its members and its members should care for one another. This philosophy is voiced by nearly every religion and denomination on the right wing of American politics. The simple fact is that the government is the embodiment of society's power and is responsible to society. The 'law and order' that the right wing is fond of advocating can only be enforced by the government.

The biggest problem American health care faces is crime and anarchy. Law and order will not be imposed from within, it must be imposed from without. If this leads to socialized medicine, good. If it doesn't, it can still lead to specific improvements. American health care needs a systemic policy, not a financial crutch or meaningless 'reform' of the existing system. Real health care reform must change the current system radically, or it will not succeed.