Follow The Money

In the 1960’s the Black Panthers upset the California political establishment by showing up at the state legislature armed to the teeth.

They didn’t shoot anybody. It was political theater designed to illustrate their point of view that “power comes out of the barrel of a gun.” Indeed.

It’s probably true that if you and I are in a serious dispute, and one of us has a loaded gun and seems willing to use it, that’s the one with the power, and the one most likely to “win” the argument.

But in the current national conversation (or screaming match) about improving our sick national health care system, logic, compassion, morality and the will of the people are no match for the weapon wielded by the medical-industrial complex:


Big pharma and the insurance companies have a lot of it, and they are throwing massive amounts of it into their effort to stop anything that might reduce their obscene profits. It’s working pretty well, as one liberal/progressive/Democratic proposal after another is removed from the discussion.

At the outset the one simple idea that is most likely to reduce cost, cover everyone and free us all from the indentured servitude of employer-provided insurance — universal government-run single-payer (or “Medicare for all”) — was simply taken “off the table,” with no discussion or debate whatsoever.

The Obama Administration fell back to advocating a “public option” plan, which would allow people to choose between their existing plan (if they even had one) and a public plan. The public plan would have been similar to Medicare, and would have operated without having to make a profit, which means it would have been less expensive by a wide margin. This was decried as a “government takeover” and is now not likely to make it into the final version of whatever reform bill is passed.

Next comes the notion of “insurance co-ops.” This is the worst idea so far, because co-ops are sort of ad hoc groups of consumers who band together and try to provide each other health insurance. They will not be able to compete against existing Big Insurance because it will take decades for them to get the membership necessary (an estimated 500,000) to spread the risk widely enough. In the meantime they will be snuffed out by the established industry.

And anyway, Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in Congress are already saying they won’t vote for co-ops, either.

Here’s what I think, and I’m pretty sure I’m right: The corporations who stand to lose in any major reform of the health care system are simply paying to keep it from happening. They are able to legally bribe elected officials in the form of campaign contributions. And they are hiring media and PR consultants to confuse and frighten the electorate into demanding that the government “keep hands off my Medicare!” With their billions in cash they are able to control the debate from inception to the final vote in Congress. They don’t need guns. Their wealth is their power, and I am starting to wonder if there is any defense.

I mean, according to early polling Americans wanted universal single-payer health insurance by a margin of two to one. Now after a year of misinformation and specious arguments everyone is mixed up and angry and doubtful and suspicious, and if that’s not enough to turn the tide against reform, our elected officials have been given a a few hundred million dollars by the very industries they are expected to regulate, so how the hell do we expect them to behave?


Recommended reading (these guys say it so much better than I):

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11 Replies to “Follow The Money”

  1. I accept the notion we are fucked and only a miracle will save us. And I don’t believe in miracles.

    1945 to 1970 was a good ride. Unfortunate for all of us the bad guys figured out how to drive the stagecoach, bus, jet plane.

  2. Bill – Things certainly look bad, don’t they? And yet we really can’t give up. I like Krugman’s advice:

    …true transformation, it turns out, requires a lot more than electing one telegenic leader. Actually turning this country around is going to take years of siege warfare against deeply entrenched interests, defending a deeply dysfunctional political system.

    It will give us something to do in our golden years.

  3. In a sense, Healthcare Inc. also has a gun pointed at us. They claim to have the power of bestowing life or death through medicine. Their message is that public medicine would be as good as pulling the trigger on a gun.

  4. kStyle – You’re right! The insurance industry is killing one person every thirty minutes by means of refusing to sell coverage, denying the claims of sick people and stopping treatment of insured claimants. I almost wish they would pull a gun and shoot somebody. At least then we could all see they are criminals.

    (Please note I said “almost.”)

  5. I wonder what form fighting for our democracy against the corporations will take. Hedges mentions protests, but they don’t seem to help much these days. What a shame this all is.

  6. Ron – Bringing the crazy, as usual.
    Wren – A few hundred thousand of us marching on the same day in cities around the country in support of universal single-payer might give our Dem representatives a little breathing room…

  7. One way is to vote everyone out of the House in 2010, with people who promise not to run again and promise to vote for a specific bill that already exists for everyone to see.

    At the same time, we vote out every one of the 33 or 34 U.S. Senators running, replacing them with new Senators who promise to vote for the bill that already exists for everyone to see.

    Yes, it’s a silly fantasy.

    Why not start moving Medicare down to younger and younger ages, going month by month until the age reaches 50, say, in 2015? It’s a pussy solution, but it’s something.

  8. Caravana – I like your second idea. It makes the change that we need, but phases it in so nobody gets shocked by the cold water. The Republicans would consider it a Trojan horse, of course, and no one can vote for a horse, of course… (Along these lines, you might want to take a look at Thom Hartmann’s Cash For Geezers essay.)

    But your first idea is just a variation on the right-wing meme that they use whenever they know they are on the wrong side of an issue, or the losing side of an election: “Everything’s bad on BOTH sides! Don’t vote for anyone! Throw ALL the bums out! Needs more study!” Not to mention that so far it is not illegal in an American election to promise the voters that you are going to do a certain something if they elect you, and then not do it once you’re elected.

  9. The plea of MY “throw them all out” is a bit more narrow than the typical right-wing plea to throw them all out.

    My plea goes like this: “When we are elected, we will accomplish ONE piece of business — we will pass this ONE bill, just as you see it — and we will then sit around for two years to make sure the bill gets put into effect, and then we will retire.”

    There’s nothing in this plea that says “everything’s bad on both sides.” This plea says that ONE thing needs to be done and will be done. This plea says that a particular issue does NOT need more study, it needs the specific ACTION you see right here in writing.

    Would it be a bad thing to have two years of no other federal legislation, aside from one healthcare bill whose implementation is monitored from day to day for 18 months or so?

    I guess that’s the right-wing aspect: the idea that it’s possible to live without the constant churn of new laws and regulations tumbling down every hour of every day.

    Like I said, mine is a silly fantasy, but silly in a different way from the typical right-wing fantasy, and not as dangerous.

  10. Caravana – Yes, I see now that your plan is much more progressive, and bears no similarity to other “vote every single one of them out” plans. (But they still won’t be legally bound to keep their promise.)

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