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Healthcare’s Integral Role In Functioning Democracy March 23, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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So much rhetoric and misinformation has come out of the healthcare debate that we are today a country deeply divided. But, though conservatives have used the passage of healthcare reform to argue that freedom in America is on the decline, I believe we have made incremental steps closer to true democracy and freedom today.

Conservatives say that the new law is a form of government socialism; but I fail to see how putting limits on insurance companies so that doctors and their patients have more control over care can be considered socialism.

The law that President Obama signed today is not a government takeover of healthcare. If this law could be considered socialized medicine, every single American would have free and equal access to healthcare, through a government agency that administered all facets of public health. This simply isn’t the case. The new law does not take responsibility of administering health away from the precious insurance companies; it simply sets limits on how irresponsibly those companies can treat consumers. Have no fear, conservatives: The United States is still the only industrialized nation in the world without universal healthcare for all. The patchwork system still lives.

People who argue against the right for healthcare also argue that those who lose their health insurance, or have never had it in the first place, are always responsible for their plight. They believe that people don’t get sick unless they bring it upon themselves… and that no one loses his or her job (and therefore, his or her employer-sponsored insurance) who doesn’t deserve to be unemployed. Coming from a state with nearly 13 percent unemployment, I believe this argument for “personal abdication of responsibility” is becoming more difficult for them to use.

Most interesting to me, however, is the assertion that the law is somehow undemocratic.

I would argue that the right to healthcare is a necessary component to functional democracy. How can individuals exercise their freedoms if they are denied access to care necessary to maintain and protect their health — the most basic and fundamental of resources?

How can individuals without access to needed care be active participants in democracy?

How are we truly a democracy when our citizens are denied equality?

How can we claim to the rest of the world that we hold life precious and are some kind of example of humanitarianism, when we scrutinize spending money on our citizens’ health so much more than we do our oversized military budget?

How did democracy come to mean that the rights of individual consumerism supercede wise collective decisions?

Lack of healthcare is the greatest of injustices. Our current system of arbitrary, profit-driven care denies the individual the full expression of self, and the ability to make use of any other granted right or privilege. What use is personal liberty if the foundation for it — life and health — is unattainable for so many?

In fact, if I may quote founding father Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence and a member of the body that wrote our Constitution: “If we’re going to have a successful democratic society, we have to have a well educated and healthy citizenry.”

Which dovetails nicely into my final point. As a society, there’s no doubt that we value access to quality education for all. But, like healthcare, the right to public education is glaringly absent from our Constitution. In fact, the United States’ law guaranteeing education for its citizenry wasn’t passed until two centuries after our Constitution went into effect. And, while this right is one we take for granted in 2010, it was heavily debated with as much rancor as the current healthcare debate has exhibited.

As a society, we need to place equal emphasis on nourishing our bodies as we do on nourishing our minds. And let us not forget, that as societies advance toward greater democracy, the rights of their citizens expand. Let that be our happy fate.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Do The Right Thing: Healthcare Reform Must Pass March 16, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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As Congress readies itself to vote on healthcare reform this week, it’s time to reiterate why this country needs reform — and yes, even the abandoned public option — NOW. And we can’t wait for the Republicans to get on board because they simply never will: They like the money they get from the insurance and pharmaceutical lobby too much.

Why now, why this? The current system, the status quo, does not work.

1. It doesn’t work, either for the 12-50 million “collateral damage” Americans the conservatives seem to believe are disposable — or for the 280 million people who already pay a fortune in personal insurance, or co-pays and deductibles, or out-of-pocket treatment, or COBRA. Americans are increasingly underinsured, trapped in their jobs because they have a “pre-existing condition”, or arbitrarily dumped or denied when they require expensive life-saving treatments. If you argue that our system works, you’d better hope that you don’t find yourself out of a job or in the all-too-common position that you require the mercy of an insurance board looking for reasons to deny coverage so it can save a few bucks.

2. If the argument that covers human compassion/basic morality/haves vs. have-nots/social responsibility doesn’t mean anything to conservatives, then yes, let’s talk economics. If the 45 million or so uninsured are suddenly insured and able to obtain regular medical treatment, how many jobs do you think such a massive shift might generate in the middle class? And… isn’t competition supposed to be a good thing in the free market? Doesn’t the classic argument follow the idea that competition keeps prices down, quality high, and innovation moving forward? And there’s the argument of economic value. The United States already pays by far the most money per capita in the industrial world for medicine, yet tens of millions are uninsured and we have the highest medical mortality rate in the first world. The return on investment in our current system is abysmal.

3. When profits and care are forced to compete, the consumer loses to the shareholder. For example, Anthem (Blue Cross) just had a $3 billion profit last quarter in California. But because of high unemployment, people are dropping expensive insurance plans, resulting in a smaller risk pool. Result: Anthem’s premiums are going up a minimum of 39%. Welcome to deflation everyone! Deflation is invariably linked to higher unemployment and lower wages, but it’s out of alignment for a company like Anthem which stockholders to please. It’s not a sustainable situation for Anthem, which will have to cut costs (i.e. deny healthcare services to its customers) to remain highly profitable.

The Right, which so recently entrusted our government into the hands of the inept, now suddenly is exhibiting an anti-governmental tick, resulting in an argument that all government (and its initiatives, such as healthcare) is evil, all taxation to pay for the common good (except for the military) is theft, and that all regulation (except that which protects Wall Street executives) is tyranny. Tea partiers don’t worry about loss of life or predatory healthcare corporations because they don’t care about practical effects, only ideological consistency.

But what these free market extremists don’t understand — or are paid by the corporate benefactors to ignore — is that we don’t need to give up individual liberties in order to allow the state to provide greater security in healthcare:

There is no reason why “the state should not assist individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance, where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks, the case for the state helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.”  — Friedrich von Hayek, Austrian economist whose work is often cited by the Right.

Do what needs to be done, Congress. The American people can’t afford to be cannibalized anymore by corporations pretending to provide them care. Pass healthcare reform!

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party February 8, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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A few thoughts regarding this past weekend’s National Tea Party Convention:

R.I.P.: I think it’s a shame that the original tea party movement is dead. Oh, of course it lives on through the disaffected neo-cons who will use it to fuel their discontent and as a way to become relevant to themselves again. But the original intent of the tea parties, begun by Libertarians and Independents, was to push for a move away from the two-party system that has a chokehold on our country and to fight the structure that rewards candidates and lawmakers when they become beholden to corporate interests, returning to the Constitution. Now that the Republicans have effectively hijacked the movement, the original reason for them being is dead. The tea parties now stand for something completely contrary to their original ideology.

Welcome Back, Jim Crow: By far the most shocking thing to have come out of the tea party convention was the suggestion by opening night speaker Tom Tancredo that the law that kept African Americans from voting be reinstated, because the absence of segregation-era literacy tests could be the only explanation as to why Barack Obama was elected president.

And then the audience applauded enthusiastically.

Palin 1: It’s no secret I’m not a fan of Sarah Palin. But it says something about both Palin and the for-profit tea party movement that she accepted $100,000 for her keynote address that slammed over-spending and greed, at a convention that was largely shunned by other politicos because of allegations of profiteering. Palin’s conduct in this and other instances would lead me to believe she agrees with Mark Twain: “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”

Palin 2: Palin especially loves to talk in vague, vapid terms about “ideas” and “foreign policy” and then refuse to elaborate. Then Palin, who couldn’t even finish her first term as governor of nowhere, had the temerity to offer “advice to the guys in D.C.” She is light on knowledge but big on hate, half-truths and anti-intellectualism: There’s no more dangerous combination.

The Usual Suspects: I’ve read that this convention was the movement’s attempt at maturity. Maybe so. But it was amusing/disturbing to still see many people — with undisguised hate — questioning “Barack Hussein Obama” and the matter of his citizenship, or applauding those who did. The overtly lunatic fringe may have been discouraged from coming by the $549 price tag to attend the NTPC, but the classed up crazies were still very much in evidence.

House Calls February 5, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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Healthcare reform is on life support. And the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves.

Today, Obama conceded that healthcare reform might die on the Hill. While some others said he appeared resigned to failure, it’s not what I saw — at all. I saw a man essentially saying to his fellow Dems in Congress, “You don’t want to unite and push this through because you think it’s too hard and too politically risky? Fine. Let down your constituents and your country, and take the gamble on whether they’ll forgive you.”

While it wasn’t exactly forceful, it’s a step in the right direction. Ever since the Massachusetts senate election two weeks ago, the only thing dejected Congress Dems have done is throw their hands up, cry over their lost filibuster-proof majority and whine that maybe they should abandon their efforts for now in favor of… what, I don’t know.

OK, yes, they have made it more difficult for themselves. They had a year to put together and pass a healthcare reform bill and failed to come to a consensus. Now they face Republican filibusters, but last time I checked, they still enjoy healthy majorities in the House and Senate and can make this work if they get on the same page and show some muscle. Already, some progressives have started to take up the rallying cry — notably not led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Leadership is needed and someone else, perhaps, needs to take up the mantle if Pelosi and Reid are unwilling or unable.

It’s time for the Democrats to resurrect reform, reconcile their issues, work together, and believe enough in their own ability to do the right thing. To parlay a favorite phrase these days: Healthcare reform is just too big to fail.

And regarding the Republicans: If 41 Republicans believe they can stop the Democrats from passing any bill — a ridiculous claim but one the Dems have apparently swallowed — then they have now made themselves part of the solution. With great power comes great responsibility, Republicans. What’s your healthcare reform plan? Or has working on behalf of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies become too lucrative? I think I know the answer, but they deserve to have the chance to prove us all wrong.

Corporations are People Too February 4, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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According to the Supreme Court, money is speech and corporations are people. Yes, I’m a little late blogging about this (despite a spirited, 40-post debate I hosted on Facebook last week shortly after the decision) but what difference does a few days make? The harm has been done.

While the bizarro pairing of the ACLU and Fox News, which both supported the 4-3 ruling by Republican members of the Court to overturn portions of the McCain-Feingold bill, is ironic, the overall implications are disturbing beyond belief. It may be, no mistake, the most harmful decision since Dred Scott.

By effectively removing limits on corporate campaign donations (under the guise of who can put out political ads and when), the Court says that corporate and labor entities may spend millions of dollars convincing voters that their candidates are “of the people;” and of course, once in office, elected officials are beholden to those who put them there. Many of our problems in the United States already stem from the fact that money, not individual constituents, rules in Washington today. Now we’re about to usher in a new era of Chicago-style politics in which your vote and my vote will become completely meaningless in the face of Big Money.

This is not the way our Founding Fathers visualized democracy. There can be no adequate representation of the people as long as the government is set up to protect corporate interests over individual interests. The road to fascism is paved with corporate money masquerading as free speech.

As if that’s not bad enough, other countries head up many corporations operating in the United States. Can you imagine foreign influence on U.S. elections? There’s nothing to stop foreign governments and corporations from playing American politics with this new playbook.

It seems to me that by attempting to preserve free speech, the high Court has set into motion the law of unintended consequences. Or perhaps not so unintended? “The people get the government they deserve.” – Alexis de Tocqueville. Is this really what we deserve? If not: Fight back.

The Fear February 2, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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Following Obama’s first SOTU address last week, and his stated intention to repeal the deeply flawed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, some people have been in an uproar. Oh, yes, there’s been talk about how “open homosexuality would threaten unit cohesion and military effectiveness” but really, isn’t this mostly about fear?

Let’s not forget: gays already serve in the military, although they are forced to lie about who they are. Gays are just as able and willing to fight for their country, and have done so through the ages. To survive in the military, one is required to prove himself/herself capable of its rigors, and this they have done. To imply that once gay men and women are allowed to disclose their sexual orientation without recrimination, that the military will suddenly become a hotbed of… well… bed hopping and unwanted propositioning, is insulting to our people in uniform. Shouldn’t we simply expect of them what we expect of everyone else, military or civilian: that they exhibit professionalism while doing their jobs?

I’m sure there are those who will feel uncomfortable serving in close quarters with people they know to be gay; but some of these people may also not welcome the possibility of sharing a foxhole with women and people of other ethnicities. And let us also not forget that the military has a checkered history dealing with straight sexuality. Tailhook comes to mind, but women are constantly at risk — still — for abuse, rape and harassment from straight men and the military’s accepted culture of hypermasculinity. I can only infer that straight males are threatened by the fact that gays may be as brutal to them, as they themselves can be to women and gays.

It’s fear, plain and simple.

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