FYI: Healthcare Factoid Number 1

August 14, 2009

FYI – for Yanks’ information, of course. But first, a recap and a warning.

As you’ll all be painfully aware, a form of “debate” – as the media loves to call such things – has been roaring across America. Gangs of heroic thugs have been turning up at meetings called by Congressmen and women who are tasked with communicating the details of “health care reform” to their truculent constituents.

Swastikas have been daubed on the offices of some, while others have turned up to shout “Death to Obama!” and still others have decided to take firearms along to beef up their constitutional rights.

Of course, while these gangs bleat about the dangers of “big government” and “death panels” of doctors dealing death to old ladies, this campaign is largely an elite fabrication. There would be no mass alarm about panels of demonic bureaucrats sacrificing granny if Sarah Palin had not blogged:

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.

Many of the protests, and the talking points wielded by questioners in the meetings themselves, have been crafted by astroturf groups (organizations set up by wealthy funders to resemble grassroots democracy while actually achieving distinctly undemocratic ends). Groups like Americans For Prosperity (sic) or Conservatives for Patient’s Rights have sprung up in the aftermath of Obama’s 2008 election victory – seeking to achieve for the far right what simply can’t now that it has been soundly rejected in the political arena.

Americans for Prosperity may be the most brazen of all – trying to harness the seemingly endless community of paranoid Americans to kill any healthcare reform. At the same time, its staff are mobilizing for what it calls a “hot air tour” doling out hot air balloon rides to the American public to bring home their message that climate change is all a bunch of liberal-fascist boo-hickey.

AFP, unsurprisingly, takes large amounts of money from the owner of Koch Industries (if you’ll pardon the pun) which, amazingly enough has highly profitable “refining, oil pipelines and chemical units” including Koch Carbon who are “world leaders in the trading, marketing and terminalling of petroleum coke, coal, salt, slag, cement, clinker, ocean freight, magnetite and
other related commodities.”

Yet AFP will raise a few hundred gun-toting constitution-wavin’, plumber worshipping patriots to create the very faint resemblance to a “debate.”

In the same way that the patriots’ darling Sarah Palin has conjoured a debate involving “two sides” by making demonstrably false and inflammatory comments about “death panels,” the hot air tour will make it look like the heartland  is dead against cap and trade. The media will play along, loving the story of two impassioned “sides” fighting it out for the “democratic” spoils, while commenting that Obama’s lustre is fast fading (only 55 percent approval! Dang, that’s almost twice what Bush enjoyed for most of his second term. Is it because he is black?).

So I think what we can see here is a fairly professional and cynical insurgency being waged by the American right, now excluded from many corridors of power and, belatedly, discovering the joys of the Town Hall (apologies to the beacon of democratic discourse that is Townhall.com notwithstanding).

Naturally, in a deepening recession, which comes after a jobless recovery, there are plenty of potential recruits for the far right jihad, and radicalization is proceeding apace.

We should all be worried. The defeat of health care reform, or even its dilution from the already pathetically weak compromise suggested by Obama, would deeply compromise his credibility in climate change negotiations in December. We do need him to rise to his campaign commitments – on this of all issues.

That’s why the Democrat fightback has to be totally committed – grassroots even. I don’t have any love for the Democrat Party organization, and its response to the astroturf healthcare campaign has been weak.

Obama’s political machine has politely asked supporters to show their appreciation of legislators efforts (which incidentally are going to fall well short of the single payer healthcare system advocated by Obama before his election). They can also access a snazzy website full of painstaking refutations of the Palin charges, amongst other myths.

This tends to evoke the probably apocryphal comment made by Lyndon Johnson while running for Congress that his opponent enjoyed sexual congress with pigs. When the sanity of that strategy was questioned by a neophyte, Johnson allegedly responded “I know. I just want to make him deny it.”

Well, the Republicans have the whip hand in the classical Johnsonian sense. When the White House Reality Check website has to carry a video vignette denying that reform “would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors” (Logan’s Run style, naturally) – then there is a palpable momentum issue at stake.

That’s not to say that the issues shouldn’t be presented thoughtfully, with civility and accuracy, but that the dirtiness of far right politics makes such tactics something of a luxury. The fight over climate change will be this, and more, particularly if the economy continues to flatline, which all indicators suggest it will.

Now, for the factoid as promised in the title.

For the attention of Mr ________, _____ Rapids, XX, USA

Dear Mr _______,

It has been brought to my attention that you may be under the illusion that Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms will create panels of doctors and bureaucrats who will have the power to decree your personal extinction.

This is false. Of course decisions will be made about which drugs are available based on cost. All health care systems wrestle with this problem, whether government owned or not. In your current system, for example, the majority of Americans struggle to pay for expensive insurance, which may or may not be honoured by the company with which you are contracted when you really need the best medical care.

That’s called rationing. It’s what the market does. That’s why Americans are fatter than Europeans, die younger and experience more chronic disease before their deaths. Our rationing, while deplorable, is at least the product of a government elected by the people, which does not exist purely to turn a buck.

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but the fact that you fail to see the massive amount of rationing which goes on in your society and, let’s be honest, the death panels of insurers who deny treatment to poor saps like you, is deeply tragic.

Yours bemusedly,

_______

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