Saturday, January 10, 2004

Al Capone's Legacy
My father says that the insurance business is Al Capone's greatest legacy to the american public: we pay what they tell us to and they do to us whatever the hell they want.

The opinion was delivered as we discussed Brian's comparison between the American and Australian health systems--over at Crooked Timber--and some of the more conservative defenses of our market-based system. My father, my very conservative Cuban-Republican father, would support a national health care system.

After picking myself up from the floor (and reminding myself yet again about the old joke about what assumptions make out of you and me), I asked him how he had come to that decision.

It turns out that having had the unhappy chance to observe the Medicare system at rather close quarters during my mother's cancer surgery and treatment gave him some insights into the problem. While waiting for my mother in an assorted number of overcrowded emergency rooms, or fighting with snooty bureucrats on her behalf, he found himself considering the unthinkable: maybe a Canadian-style system would work a little better.

First, my father says that many of the problems he saw in emergency rooms other than those caused by violence could have been prevented if those people had some access to preventive care. Considering that emergency room care is by far the most expensive form of medicine, and considering that a lot of that coverage is paid for by the government, providing preventive care to all Americans, including pre-natal and childhood coverage, would save a bundle on emergency room services.

Second, he says that the Medicare bureucrats wield a lot of power, and that leads to abuses that, to this day, still leave him steaming. Their decision to give or deny assistance can be made on a whim; much better to remove it with simple across-the-board coverage. Easier to administer, too, he thinks.

But most importantly, he thinks it would restrict the power of the insurance companies. My father reserves Fidel-sized contempt for medical insurance companies, especially their ability to kick customers out of their plans, no matter how long the person has carried the insurance or how much money he or she has paid into it. At one point, he says, insurance companies took risks in exchange for their client's money; now they take the money and we take the risks.

However, he thinks there is little chance of even a basic national health system being implemented in this country; the insurance companies and their pet politicians have done a very good job of convincing the American public that it would be the end of civilization as they know it.

As for me, I find it amusing to hear people complain about the lack of choice implied by a national health care system. Tell me, what choice do you have now if your insurance company decides not to cover you? Shop for another one? If you have a pre-existing condition (and that is one of the most widely defined terms in medical insurance), good luck. If you are unemployed, good luck. If you are employed but your employer does not supply insurance, good luck. If you are employed but your salary does not run to enough, good luck.

In fact, if you are one of those forty million uninsured and uninsurables, good luck to you all. You'll need it. If you are employed and insured, double good luck. Because if you lose your job, or your employer changes the rules, you will be the forty millionth and one.

Friday, January 09, 2004

I Can Live With It
You are Form 0, Phoenix: The Eternal.

"And The Phoenix's cycle had reached
zenith, so he consumed himself in fire. He
emerged from his own ashes, to be forever

Some examples of the Phoenix Form are Quetzalcoatl
(Aztec), Shiva (Indian), and Ra-Atum
The Phoenix is associated with the concept of life,
the number 0, and the element of fire.
His sign is the eclipsed sun.

As a member of Form 0, you are a determined
individual. You tend to keep your sense of
optomism, even through tough times and have a
positive outlook on most situations. You have
a way of looking at going through life as a
journey that you can constantly learn from.
Phoenixes are the best friends to have because
they cheer people up easily.

Which Mythological Form Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Today I spent a couple of hours surfing through tv land. Some of you may be too young to remember, but there was a time when a news show was a NEWS-show and not a news-SHOW. When discussion was measured and commentary was erudite.

Goodnight, David. Goodnight, Chet. Goodnight, Edward. Goodnight, Walter. Goodnight, Charles. Goodnight, Eric. Goodnight, Harry. Good night, all of you who opened our eyes to the world, who believed that we were intelligent and curious and deserved to be well informed.

Some of us miss you, even if we only got to know you at the end of your careers or through grainy black-and-white footage. Those of you who are no longer with us....please, if you have any influence in heaven....send a plague of laryngitis to your unworthy successors.

Those of you who are...please speak up. There was a time when you were very brave. We need you to be again.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Added to the Blogroll
Whiskey Bar, because, well, because Billmon rocks.

Crooked Timber, because some of my all time favorites (hi, Ted!), hang their hats there these days.

And The Light of Reason, because, even though we probably stand on the absolute opposites of the sociopolitical philosophy scale, Arthur is pissed off at a lot of the same things I am--with considerable more eloquence!

Monday, January 05, 2004

A Whole Lot of Excuses and the Real Reason

One or two of you have asked me why I have not been posting. Well, therein lies a tale. Or a confession. Or something.

Let me give you the excuses first:

1. Way too busy. Has the grace of been true. One of my staffers was out for four months on maternity leave and I was doing her work as well as mine, as it wasn't something I could train a temp to do in a couple of days. I was also taking a photography class--B&W photography--with lots of darkroom time and a very demanding teacher.

2. Too unsure. Another one of those true excuses. I have been trying to figure out what I want to do with this blog. For a year I have careened all over the place, from photography to politics and back again, passing through too many kingdoms to count. The problem is that there are too many of you who do all this so much better than I that I felt redundant...not to mention derivative. That's not something I want to do.

3. Illness. Yep, that one too. A recurrent sinus infection plus several members of my family and close circle in and out of hospitals. Not fun, in caps.

4. Way too busy. Did I mention that one?


After several weeks of opening up blogger just to end up playing Bubble Popper 2 until 3 a.m., I decided to give myself the third degree. Wasn't easy, as I am one of the world's champion obfuscators, but I finally got down to the bottom of the pile.


I am afraid.

I am afraid for the future of a nation where we seem to have lost the ability to compromise. That's the essence of democracy, the ability to find common ground between opposing viewpoints; it often builds rickety gangplanks over abysses, but it works as long as people agree about the basics.

I don't think we agree about the basics any longer. We seem to be re-fighting all the major issues of the last two hundred years, from the Civil War to the New Deal. There is an influential movement to replace our secular Republic with a fundamentalist Christian nation, and a closely allied one that wants to roll back all social and economic progress and return to the wonderful days when a small, closely allied social group controlled most of the wealth in the country. They are influential and ruthless, and they have won over a large swath of the American population by playing on their fears and frustrations. The two institutions designed to protect the public, the Supreme Court and the press, seem to be asleep at the switch.

Mostly, I am really afraid of the amount of violence, or tolerance of it, that seems to be entering the discussion. The ease with which some people can suggest and sometimes demand the extermination of the other side, disguised as "fantasy" or "daydreaming" or "joking". Make no mistake: this is conditioning to violence, so that when it actually happens it seems expected and acceptable, somehow. Have you ever noticed how often words are used to prepare people for violence? That's the way of the mob; and that is these folks' intention.

I despair of anyone's ability to stop these people. And I don't want to be a target. Been there, done that. Hated the experience.

One of the things you learn in totalitarian societies if how to make yourself invisible to the powers-that-be and their minions. It goes like this: keep your head down; don't meet their eyes; keep your opinions to yourself. Take care of your own. I realized that I was gone into full defensive mode.

So there it is. I retreated cravenly into silence because I was afraid. I still am. But I've decided to die only once (you know the saying: a coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man only once?). To hell with it. To hell with them. This country is worth fighting for, in every way, small or large. If a single thing I say changes a single mind, I've accomplished something. If a single thing I do changes a single outcome, I've accomplished something.

To paraphrase my favorite tv vixen: watch out, people. The bitch is back.