Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kill the Bill, Start a New Party

Last night I listened to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interview environmentalist Sunita Nurain in a brilliant conversation that begins to crystallize some things about the Obama administration that are disconcerting.

Both Goodman and Narain grope to understand why Obama, from whom so much was expected, is failing in leadership quality on the order of George W. Bush. Narain describes Obama's improvement in terms that if Bush was a kindergärtner then Obama is no more than a first grader in terms of climate change policy.

Narain's most brilliant prose is in the phrase that the world's problems "are all in small stories". That describes the issues in the United States as well.

As we triangulate Obama policy across other issues we find the same pattern.

Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake warns us of the dire consequences that will result in the passage of the Lieberman emasculated Health Bill [please follow the link to the entire argument - it is compelling and important]:
I believe that if the Senate health care bill passes as Joe Lieberman has demanded it–with no Medicare buy-in or public option–it will be a significant step further on our road to neo-feudalism. As such, I find it far too dangerous to our democracy to pass–even if it gives millions (perhaps unaffordable) subsidies for health care.

20% of your labor belongs to Aetna

Consider, first of all, this fact. The bill, if it became law, would legally require a portion of Americans to pay more than 20% of the fruits of their labor to a private corporation in exchange for 70% of their health care costs.

Consider a family of 4 making $66,150–a family at 300% of the poverty level and therefore, hypothetically, at least, “subsidized.” That family would be expected to pay $6482.70 (in today’s dollars) for premiums–or $540 a month. But that family could be required to pay $7973 out of pocket for copays and so on. So if that family had a significant–but not catastrophic–medical event, it would be asked to pay its insurer almost 22% of its income to cover health care. Several months ago, I showed why this was a recipe for continued medical bankruptcy (though the numbers have changed somewhat). But here’s another way to think about it. Senate Democrats are requiring middle class families to give the proceeds of over a month of their work to a private corporation–one allowed to make 15% or maybe even 25% profit on the proceeds of their labor.

It’s one thing to require a citizen to pay taxes–to pay into the commons. It’s another thing to require taxpayers to pay a private corporation, and to have up to 25% of that go to paying for luxuries like private jets and gyms for the company CEOs.

It’s the same kind of deal peasants made under feudalism: some proportion of their labor in exchange for protection (in this case, from bankruptcy from health problems, though the bill doesn’t actually require the private corporations to deliver that much protection).In this case, the federal government becomes an appendage to do collections for the corporations.

Mind you, not only will citizens be required to pay private corporations. But middle class citizens may be required to pay more to these private corporations than they pay in federal and state taxes. Using these numbers, this middle class family of four will pay roughly 15% in federal, state, and social security taxes. This family will pay around $10,015 for their share of the commons–paying for defense, roads, some policing, and their social safety net share. That’s 15% of their income. They will, at a minimum, be asked to pay 9.8% of their income to the insurance company. And if they have a significant medical event, they’ll pay 22%–far, far more than they’ll pay into the commons. So it’s bad enough that this bill would require citizens to pay a tithe to a corporation. It’s far worse when you consider that some citizens would pay more in their corporate tithe than they would to the commons.

And, finally, while the Senate bill does not accord these corporate CEOs a droit de seigneur–the right to a woman’s virginity the night of her marriage–if Ben Nelson (and Bart Stupak) get their way, it would make a distinction in this entire compact for how the property of a woman’s womb shall be treated.

Single payer for the benefit of corporations

And for those who promise we’ll go back and fix this later, once we achieve universal health care, understand what will have happened in the meantime. The idea, of course, is to establish some means to get people single payer coverage (before Lieberman, this would have been through a public option or Medicare buy-in) and, over time, expand it.

In fact, this bill will move toward single payer, too–though not the kind we want. For the large number of people who live in a place where there is limited competition, this bill will require them to get health care through the oligopoly or monopoly provider. It’ll work great for the provider: they will be able to dictate rates. But the Senate bill allows these blossoming single payer providers to keep up to 25% of the benefit in profits and marketing costs, and pass little of that benefit onto citizens. If we make private corporations our single payer, how are we going to convince them to cede control when we ask them to let the government be the single payer?

The reason this matters, though, is the power it gives the health care corporations. We can’t ditch Halliburton or Blackwater because they have become the sole primary contractor providing precisely the services they do. And so, like it or not, we’re dependent on them. And if we were to try to exercise oversight over them, we’d ultimately face the reality that we have no leverage over them, so we’d have to accept whatever they chose to provide. This bill gives the health care industry the leverage we’ve already given Halliburton and Blackwater.

Howard Dean's arguments are equally compelling:

And we find the same pattern in education policy where Arne Duncan's Race to the Top is an educational cure that is worse than any disease education may have.

It is time to begin looking for alternatives to this train wreck of a presidency. For Liberals, progressives, and Libertarians the empty Republican party vessel may be worth retrofitting into a party that incorporates the best candidates and ideas of such a coalition to contend in 2010 and 2012 with Presdential, Senatorial and House candidates worth voting for.

It looks as though Schools Matter is making the same case.

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