Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What health care in America hinges on

We are in the midst of a great national debate about how to make health care affordable; almost nothing is more important to working-class Americans. “For the health of the nation, both physically and economically, we need a system with a public option,” Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, wrote recently in the Huffington Post. “And we need it now.”
But whether working families get it now depends to a large degree on Mr. Obama’s personal popularity. And now comes Gates-gate, this latest burst of fake populism from the right. Waving the banner of the long-suffering working class, the tax-cutting friends of the top 2% have managed to dent the president’s credibility, to momentarily halt his forward movement on the health-care issue. Thomas Frank - Wall Street Journal
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In most situations there is one thing the whole business depends on or revolves around. I call that thing the "hinge".

In analysis, finding the hinge is the shortcut to the center of a mass of inchoate information.

In action, identifying the hinge is often finding the "fulcrum" with which to move the world and finding it can bring huge rewards with little input of effort.

The world's latest economic crisis, for example, was brought upon us by very clever people who had discovered that the "hinge" of our financial system was that there was really no meaningful relation between the actual value of assets and what you could charge for them if you transformed them to a gaseous state.

Despite the near collapse of the system they had gamed, many of these clever people are still laughing... because they had also discovered another hinge... the "too big to fail, if you have enough friends in Washington" hinge.

I have been meditating on the plight of America's left as universal health care, entangled in the pantomime of our checks and balances, is once again circling the drain.

I have been searching for the "hinge" of the absurd impotence of American progressives.

I think that I may have found said hinge in a simple technical phrase that keeps bouncing off my neural walls: "working poor".

The contradiction between working and simultaneously being poor in the world's richest country.

Here is how Wikipedia defines the term "working poor":
Working poor is a term used to describe individuals and families who maintain regular employment but remain in relative poverty due to low levels of pay and dependent expenses.
Barbara Ehrenreich, the writer who has probably done more than anyone to put a face on working poverty, has this to say in her book, "Nickel and Dimed":
When someone works for less pay than she can live on ... she has made a great sacrifice for you ... The "working poor" ... are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.
Here is what she wrote in the New York Times:
The human side of the recession, in the new media genre that’s been called “recession porn,” is the story of an incremental descent from excess to frugality, from ease to austerity. The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction.
So, where is the hinge to the sheer uselessness of American progressives?

The hinge is that, at its most critical moment, the entire debate about universal health care in America has been diluted, if not derailed, for over a week by an unpleasant, though bloodless, encounter that a Harvard professor had with a police officer.

All this, while millions of working Americans, both black and white, are being treated like shit every day of their lives.

"Treated like shit": surely an exaggeration?

Check this from the Guardian:
It was July 2007 and Potter, a senior executive at giant US healthcare firm Cigna, was visiting relatives in the poverty-ridden mountain districts of northeast Tennessee. He saw an advert in a local paper for a touring free medical clinic at a fairground just across the state border in Wise County, Virginia.

Potter, who had worked at Cigna for 15 years, decided to check it out. What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements.

For Potter it was a dreadful realisation that healthcare in America had failed millions of poor, sick people and that he, and the industry he worked for, did not care about the human cost of their relentless search for profits. "It was over-powering. It was just more than I could possibly have imagined could be happening in America," he told the Observer.
Now, it appears that the policeman and the professor are going to the White House to have a beer with the President of the United States.

A nice chilled lager, a manly handshake, a photo opportunity, this, while, as the Canadian National Post newspaper writes:
The U. S. Congress, corrupted by a failure to impose campaign finance reform on special interests, from unions to wealthy entities, appears to be unable to pass laws to provide even a modicum of fair, universal health-care coverage for its populace.
So that is the "hinge" in American progressive politics: what passes for a left in the USA is obsessed with racial, gender, ecological and identity politics, while Americans, of all races and all possible sexual preferences, are mercilessly overworked and underpaid. They are being exploited and treated no better than excrement and left to the mercy of right wing demagogues, all while the President of the United States takes time off to soothe the ruffled feathers of a professor and a policeman.

Frivolity, corruption and decadence are the hinge. DS


Mike Doyle said...

Watching Democratic Senators interviewed on TV yesterday their calm indifference was amazing - a theme picked up by Matt Tiabbi's latest post (http://tinyurl.com/kjn322).

Then there was the return visit of Remote Area Medical to Wise, VA this past weekend. It passed with little coverage. Where's the outrage? Imagine if Obama had shown up to talk to the 'patients' getting healthcare in sanitized cattle pens at the County Fairgrounds. The perfect photo-op to my mind but not to Obama!

Decadent indeed! as you've said before.

By contrast I read this morning that a steel mill boss in China was beaten to death by angry workers when he announced that the factory was going to be sold and tens of thousands of jobs would be lost (http://tinyurl.com/m9u4s8).

It is far more important to maintain that exemplar of capitalism, a CEO of a health insurance company and 'earning' tens or hundreds of millions of $, than it is to ensure everyone gets healthcare.

The central myth: the poor in the US are poor because they are lazy; the fabulously rich are rich because they worked hard. Any other narrative is shouted down with the 'class-warfare' or, worse yet, "socialism".

The US is a cargo cult democracy.

Mike Doyle said...

Regarding the resistance of the ruling class to universal healthcare (e.g. HR676) perhaps the crucial 'hinge' there is the right-wing abhorrence for the creation of another human "right"; an economic right - healthcare. If things get too unsightly among the poor (e.g. RAM at Wise, VA and other US - http://tinyurl.com/3btffm) then better downsize the blemish and expand Medicaid and frame it as welfare or charity but never as a human right.

To use another mechanical device analogy:
"There is no one of the many ingenious appliances of mechanical science that is more appreciated or more successfully employed than the wedge; so subtle and imperceptible are the forces needed for the insertion of its "thin end," so astounding the results which its "thick end" may ultimately produce." - Lewis Carroll (Rev Charles Dodgson)

As the Blue Dogs see things, the thin end is single payer/universal healthcare but the thick end is full blown socialism. Next thing you know the working class will want jobs and decent wages. We can talk about and ameliorate the various forms of discrimination without opening the door to socialism.

bailey said...

Great post, David. Made me just sad and quiet after reading it, made me think of Katrina.

Only response I have is to relay two extreme but strong facts of American life; Greed and lack of solidarity.

oldfatherwilliam said...

Cargo cult democracy, huh? I think Doyle has nailed it at least as far as concerns the most of us. And Lewis Carroll also nailed it with " it's always jam tomorrow, never jam
today." That quote was paraphrased, please forgive, but nothing changes much, folks. The only large popular institution I can remember that never abused it's membership was the Grateful Dead. Also, sure gonna miss David Seaton.