Monday, August 31, 2009

Murky Waters

I used to have some respect for Senator Lisa Murkowski. Although she has had a (right of) centrist voting record she did seem to be more interested in having an honest and thorough take on issues. While there was a lot I didn’t agree with, it is the way politics should work. Things have changed since she has been elevated to a republican leadership position. I suppose she now has to engage in partisan politics to keep climbing that ladder, but it doesn’t serve the citizens of Alaska or of the US to engage in the tactics of fear, distortion, and outright lies as she did here in Soldotna on Saturday.

I do suggest that everyone visit the site, an independent organization that, well, checks the facts about various claims that both political parties make. Not surprisingly, Factcheck has been a bit busy refuting the misinformation about health care reform that the conservative media and the repubs have been spreading these past few months. They occasionally have caught President Obama stretching the truth too, but nowhere near the pace and toxicity of those from across the aisle and perpetuated by Murkowski.

About 400 folks showed up at the Soldotna Sports Center for Lisa Murkowski’s town hall meeting on Saturday. The Senator began with her observation of how polite the audiences have been in similar sessions around the state. With one exception, the crowd followed the rules set out – no interruptions and no shouting. There wasn’t a gun in sight, although one speaker did imply that an armed revolution was in the works.

Despite voting against letting a version of the bill out of her committee, Lisa said that she still had an open mind about health care reform, but aside from those words, the morning was more-or-less an opportunity to swiftboat health care reform and stifle any sort of meaningful debate.

The literature that was passed out was informative, but was slanted to lead the reader to one conclusion – that any sort of health care reform will break the bank and cut the level of care we have now. The first two charts demonstrated the exponential growth that the nation will spend on health care in general and government programs like Medicare if there were no reforms. So far, so good, these stats are not new; something has to be done. The population of the US is rapidly aging and no one argues the fact that health care costs, as high as they are now, will soon explode as the baby boomers become enfeebled.

The propaganda began on third graph that listed federal spending and the national debt. The stimulus, bailouts, TARP and cash for clunkers were highlighted as the big-ticket items, along with an estimate of the cost the proposed health care bill as the major contributors to the budget deficit. Absent from the list were the staggering costs of the Iraqi war, Homeland Security, the missile defense program (that doesn’t work), and the loss of revenue from the tax breaks given to the super rich. Upfront costs for the wars will exceed a trillion dollars by the end of this fiscal year – but that doesn’t include the costs of replenishing equipment, paying for health care of wounded veterans, paying the interest on the borrowing the money to fund the war. The estimates now are that by 2017,the wars will have cost $3.5 trillion dollars.

Using Murkowski’s estimates for the cost of health reform, for the price of Bush’s wars, we could have had complete coverage for all for the next 25 years without paying another dime. No wonder she left out that little detail.

The next section cherry-picked and out-of-context statements from the Congressional Budget Office about the costs implications of the health bill – federal spending will go up, the deficit will increase, some will lose their private coverage, and employers and small businesses will face higher taxes. Absent were quotes from the same office that noted that costs to individuals would go down, and that more people would be covered.

Another Murkowski graph takes issue with the estimate that 47 million Americans are uninsured. It grants that only 12 million of that 47 million cannot afford it. It claims that 6 million are eligible for a company sponsored plan, but haven’t purchased it (could it be that they too can’t afford it?), some 9 of those 47 million make over $75K/year (and implies that they can afford it, but are choosing not to?). Nearly 10 of the 47 million are already eligible for a government sponsored plan, but haven’t enrolled. Another 9 million are not citizens and may or may not be eligible. Of course, the implication is that these are illegals, but there are millions of legal aliens in the country that are entitled to receive services – think students, guest workers, refugees, legal immigrants and family members of citizens that have legally entered the country. This became an opening for the xenophobes in the audience and sure enough a person announced that the health bill covers illegals

Despite the very plain and clear language of the bill: Nothing in this bill shall allow federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the US, Lisa agreed with the man who spoke. Lisa also completely ignored that current law already prohibits illegals from participating in government sponsored health programs. But Lisa chose to stir the crowd up and play into the fears and paranoia that so define too many of the residents of the Kenai.

As Murkowski answered questions, it removed any doubt that her mission, and the mission of republicans is to sabotage health reform. She kept saying that Obama was ramming this bill down our throats by insisting that we move forward with the bill this summer and fall. One attendee did point out that we’ve been trying to reform health care since Truman was president, so it really wasn’t like all of a sudden. Lisa owned up to the fact that unless some sort of deadline was put forth, probably nothing at all would be done –but that still didn’t change her tone or language.

Two of the random people chosen to ask questions told Lisa about their personal problems with the current system. One lady, a victim of a stroke, noted how difficult it was to see a new doctor as so many will no longer accept new medicare patients. She asked Lisa what she could do a she is not able to receive treatments for her condition. Lisa couldn’t/didn’t offer her any advice, but used the opportunity to deride Medicare and warn that this was in store for everyone if we went with the current bill. The other lady, a young mother, said that both she and her husband worked, but didn’t have health insurance. One of her children had severe allergies and that her family simply could not afford the medication. She spoke of the humiliation of being asked about payment before her child could be seen as she was holding her barely breathing kid. She asked Murkowski what she could do. Again, no actual answer from Murkowski. It took another person from the audience to stand up and tell the mother to see her after the meeting to let her know of the specific services available in the community.

We all know of how many of the local working families deal with these catastrophic medical costs – a spaghetti feed and a donation jar at the convenience store.

Let’s get this straight. Right now we have rationing of health care. If you are poor, if you are disabled, if you have a catastrophic illness, if you need long-term care, if you lost your job, or if you are elderly, there’s a good chance that you are not getting the treatment you need. Yet, Lisa, the republicans and the conservative media are telling us that the bill will ration health care. Of course, what they don’t say is that for 20 of the past 22 years, the Republicans have controlled congress and for 20 of the past 28 years, have had the presidency. It is because of their votes that Medicare and Medicaid have been underfunded. The only major health care bill passed during this time was the prescription drug provision that created a huge donut hole where retirees purchase prescription drug services and have minimal amounts and catastrophic costs covered, but leaves a huge gap in the middle that has to be paid out of pocket. The big winners have been the pharmaceutical industry. Has the public forgotten that the republican answer to health care reform has always been to cut services? But they are now pulling a tactic from the Democrats playbook and telling those who are easily frightened that these new reforms will cut services. Hmmm…only if republicans get their way.

Another person in the audience mentioned that essential services like fire and police protection are essentially a form of socialism. The public pays for it and we all receive services. The police and fire departments don’t ask you if you have insurance or how you are going to pay as they come around to help you out. The person said it just made sense to have that same sort of system for health care. Lisa responded by railing against the government bureaucracy – there’s no way that government could be more efficient than private industry. She must have forgotten about the Medicare Advantage program that Medicare contracts out to private business. Medicare Advantage offers the same care as Medicare. Oh, the cost? 14% more than Medicare.

This blog entry is way too long, but I have only given a brief overview of the meeting. What continues to be the most frightening is that the crowd – and that apparently would be the majority of the people in the central peninsula - have accepted as fact every lie and distortion the republicans and the conservative media have put out on this topic. I am not naïve and am quite aware that the Dems have done their share of propaganda too. As I said at the top of this blog, go to and check to see if those claims people are making really are true.

My own opinion is that we as individuals have caused a lot of our own problems. Many preventable illnesses have been brought around by our sedentary and gluttonous lifestyle. Why should my tax dollars go into treating those who smoke and now suffer from respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer? Diabetes and other debilitating illnesses can largely be prevented by diet and exercise. We all have a responsibility to live healthy. From there, why do we pay doctors by procedure? The more tests they perform, if needed or not, the more they make and the more the health industry makes and the more it costs us all.

As JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I would be willing to pay taxes for universal coverage for those who don’t smoke, stay within 15 % of their weight range, and exercise regularly. Aside from meeting the healthy lifestyle criteria, I think everyone who wants a national health policy needs to contribute to it – albeit on a sliding scale. I think those who volunteer for the military or Americorps or Peace Corps should have further reductions in costs. Full time students shouldn’t have to pay a dime. Anyone should be able to opt out and take care of your own insurance if that’s what you want. I think certain costs should be excluded – such as most cosmetic procedures (but including reconstructive costs for those disfigured by accidents and burns of course). Families should have up to two children covered for free, but then fees would kick in when families exceed that. After all, an increasing population is exacerbating the high costs of health. With all of that and with a restructuring of how we deliver services, it won’t solve all of the problems, but it would be a huge start and would add the notion of personal responsibility into the mix. Nothing more American than that.

And personally, I don’t want to end my life as a vegetable hooked up to obscene life-support mechanisms. Aside from the huge and wasted costs associated with it, don’t let the death panel scare tactics keep us from having discussions about dieing with dignity. How come the ‘Christian’ right wingers are so afraid of dieing a natural death? Are they having doubts about going to heaven? Maybe they have a good reason for they are Christian not by deed, only by cheap words. “JC is my personal savior, now can we get back to torturing, making war, polluting, cheating and imprisoning the poor and other such conservative values?” My mother, who has voted republican in every election and who has attended church religiously her whole life, and put her faith in action by volunteering at soup kitchens, put a death with dignity clause in her living will. She did this when she was in her 50s, well before this issue became such a scare tactic (she is in her late 80s and still with us). But we see how the radical right has made this a ‘moral’ issue with the Terri Schiavo case.


Anonymous said...

Was it Dr. Nels Anderson who spoke in favor of single payer health care and was booed down? Murkowski sure gave the man short shrift. He explained that he and his wife paid over $1300.00 per MONTH for health insurance and this with a $10,000.00 deductible....In other words, in any or every year that they use that deductible their costs are over $25,000.00 per year. Shortly after the man was shouted down, Murkowski thanked the crowd for being so polite.

Souldotna said...

Dr A did not speak. A man from Kenai spoke about how well the various European socialized systems work and he was booed. Lisa responded to him by pointing out how expensive taxes there are and how bad she claims the canadian system is. Of course neither political party there is trying to do away with their system - while still evolving, folks there do not want to have our system. And Canada does not have our deficit. 8/10 audience members spoke out against reform. But a lot of those also spoke against the insurance companies and the high costs of the current way. Go figure.


Anonymous said...

It's extremely unfortunate to hear souldotna expressing that he holds the exact same opinion as several wingnuts that health care is only justified to be doled out to those who 'deserve' it.

Health care for him seems, as he puts it, guaranteed, he is by his own judgement, one of the deserving elite.

And who gets to decide who doesn't merit the same kind of care? Souldotna again. In his infinite wisdom, (hack caff, ahem), he's able to lay out just who is or isn't worthy. He can tell, and he's decided that he will make those choices about who can or can't be provided coverage.

What utter brain-dead crapola.

One can see where this is going, who gets care?

Those who are approved. 'Good' people, those like 'us'.

Who is refused? 'Bad people'.

Who decides who is 'bad', the 'good' people.

Nice work, souldotna, you're carrying water for the eliminationists and the bigots, the racists and the xenophobes. That kind of social engineering experiment is right out of a eugenicists dream.

You've given a big boost to the notion that the common good is only good for the chosen, the deserving chosen, and by manipulating your hate, it's ok to condemn those you arbitrarily choose to hate. Those you choose to hate, (pick a criteria, any criteria'), they aren't deserving of the hand of the commons. You can arbitrarily remove them.

Can I swear here?

You deserve a blue streak of swearing admonishment.

That language I would use would be as nothing compared to the obscenity you offer up in the form of your very poorly conceived 'opinion'.

Whatever progress you may have thought you made towards being a more progressive and enlightened individual committed to holding a reality based view?

You just slipped the rungs and have fallen back to the bottom.

You should be ashamed.

Follow the obvious path of that foolish nonsense you spouted and you'd see that there's a good chance it would bite your hand.

All of you who think you're superior to others are going to die, the lucky ones will just get old and pass peacefully, the unlucky ones will contract disease or become disabled and die of horrible suffering.

If you're real lucky, operating on souldotna's illogical philosophy, the 'good' people will have judged your particular suffering as deserving of relief.

If you're unlucky, they will have branded you a 'bad' person to be left to their own devices.

Wonderful sentiment, souldotna.

Empathy and compassion for only the chosen.

The 'rest' can take a hike.

You're a peach, eh?

You're proposing a heinous and absurd obscenity.


Souldotna said...

Whoa...Please, be a bit more specific. What exactly don't you like? Give some actual arguments that support your points. As a read and re-read your comment, there is nothing but some vague notion that what I suggest is 'crapola'. What exactly do you have a problem with?

I do have an open mind. Show me that I am wrong. But do offer substance not just a lot of air.


Anonymous said...

is your reading comprehension ability that impaired?

Your quote about your 'opinion' is clearly addressed in my comments.

Sure thing, act like you can't fathom what is being said.

You start with fat people and smokers, they're undeserving of equal treatment in your world.

But you can't stop with fat people and smokers, next up are all those 'others' who can be categorized by the 'good' people and judged to be 'bad' people.

Let's see, the young sexually promiscuous sufferer of SDTs, they deserve their misfortune, AIDs sufferers?, they must be irresponsibly 'gay' and deserve their fate too, eh?

Pick a disease or illness, choose who contacted that illness or disease and categorize their behavior as 'good' or 'bad' and you can cut those undesirables out of equal treatment.

Welcome to the Middle Ages, plague you say? ...must be 'God's punishment.

Let me know when you and the other members of your perfect group get done with the classification of 'bad' people, and then read up on the plans by the eugenicists to perfect the ideal race.

You and they have much in common.

Yes, health care reform for you and yours, but you want to build in the choice of who to deny it to based on arbitrary categories of who 'deserves' to be treated as equals.

Screw those who aren't a member of your self-identified elite, they aren't as deserving as you.

If you still want to act like you can't understand what the problem is with your opinion, you're play acting.

Souldotna said...

Glad to see that buried in the insults and attitude of your last comment there was a point: you don't agree with my opinion that we begin reforming health care by providing sliding scale benefits to those who make healthy decisions in life. Of course, all of the other assumptions that you made come from the conclusions that you jumped to and are not based on anything I actually wrote.

Here are some ground rules for comments. Keep it polite. Keep it to the point. If you disagree with something, that is fine and good. Just clearly say what it is you disagree with and why you do so. Get your own blog if you need to blather on.

What do we want from a health care system? I think a healthier society. As responsible citizens, we should be doing all we can to keep costs down. And what better motivation for those who are obese or are smokers to get around to doing what they know is good for them. Those who get speeding tickets, or a couple of accidents, or have drunk driving issues pay considerably more for car insurance. Their behavior causes problems. The same idea should apply with health care, shouldn't it?

Your point about STDs does raise a good challenge to my opinion (although I haven't heard of anyone getting a STD through overeating or smoking). Maybe your idea is that even healthy people get STDs or other diseases. True dat.

I never wrote or implied that treatment for these or other conditions should be denied.

But getting people to be as healthy as they can be isn't evil.

And I'm serious, be polite and be succinct or you will be silent on these pages.

Anonymous said...

Because of your limitations on length of comments, this is coming in two parts.

Part one,

you're still pushing a false and very potentially damaging wingnut meme.

you're playing into a philosophy that plays off of the wingnut meme of 'individual responsibility'

Except it, you're not going to control who is or isn't effected once this false 'meme' takes hold.

For you it starts with what you call fat people and smokers.

Who do you think is going to determine which fat people got fat by neglectful overindulgence or which are fat because of genetics?

Once this regimen could be instituted, what makes you think you could control it?

Anytime you grant power to cut 'undesirables' from the herd, someone will abuse that power.

And they will abuse it in ways you're not even admitting.

What's next once you start down that slope?

The rape victim would be denied, said rape victim could be said to have 'dressed provacatively' and hence deserves their fate.

Whoever ends up in the seat that passes the kind of judgement you are endorsing will abuse that judgement you grant in ways you're ignoring.

Let's go back to your 'fat people'.

In the USA, the poor are unable to obtain healthy food because of pricing. In order for the poor to feed a family, like it or not, they have to buy starches and processed crap. It's been documented time and time again, that the poor just can't afford to eat healthy.

Yet, under your 'personal responsibility' meme, those people are now responsible for a situation they have no control over.

You'd condemn them along with the rest.

The whole history of that 'individual responsibility' meme should show you that. You should question that meme just because of who most often pushes it.

And who pushes it the most? Those who have got theirs who don't want to give up their elite status.

You're carrying water for your opposition. You're working against your own better interests and you're blind to the trap you're creating.

That whole personal responsibility meme starts with one thing, (like smokers and fat people), and morphs out of your control.

Any time the self-appointed 'good people' can brand the 'bad people', those 'good people' abuse that and start going after whoever they choose to demonize at any given point in history.

Anonymous said...

Part two:

You have read a little history, right?

You're suggesting we experiment with a philosophical train of thought that has been proven any number of times through history to be fundamentally a very absurd basis for decision making in the public sphere.

You can threaten to silence those who take the time to refute your ill-conceived opinions,

but that hasn't made your opinion any more credible or worthy of serious consideration.

That's just a mechanism you employ to attempt to ignore the obvious.

And the obvious is that health care reform shouldn't be dependent on 'wellness' issues.

I'm not arguing against the need to promote wellness, it's just that wellness shouldn't be brought into play to condition how healthcare is reformed.

Reform health care, do it right, do it for everyone's benefit.

You want to tackle wellness issues? They should be a topic we address, they shouldn't be injected willy nilly as some reason to hold up health care reform.

Wellness shouldn't be wielded as some qualifier to moving ahead on health care reform.

One should not depend or rely on the other. Trying to tie them together as if they should somehow be interconnected should never be suggested, let alone promoted.

You evidently don't see that the wellness campaign is being used by the corporate industry to promote maintaining the status quo, maintaining exactly the kind of regime they want to protect, which is exactly the regime health care reform aims to correct.

The insurance industry would like nothing more than to continue to be granted the power to say, you aren't 'well', so you don't get insurance. You have a 'condition', so we aren't going to treat you.

The insurance companies would like nothing more than to be handed the tools to enable them to decide who's 'good' and who's 'bad'.

They like nothing more than to be given the tool you offer them here, the tool to decide who gets health care and who doesn't.

And souldotna, you're playing right into their hands.

You've bought into the false meme. A meme that was spawned and dragged into the national discussion of health care reform simply to obstruct the chance we might have to achieve meaningful health care reform.

And there you are, eagerly doing their bidding. Blind in your zeal to impose your own short sighted judgement into who deserves care or not.


Souldotna said...

It's been a busy couple of weeks in SOLdotna, and I haven't had the time to respond to Freeper's most recent comments.

Check out today's NYT piece
about how our indulgent way of life drives up the cost of health care.

Freeper is right about there being a slippery slope. If there was a requirement to maintain a healthy lifestyle to qualify for free/reduced health care, society would have to vigilant that abuses didn't creep in. A good example could be if that your genetic heritage was predisposed to certain conditions (Tay Sachs comes to mind). That shouldn't be any sort of barrier to getting health care.

Personal responsibility a wing-nut meme? Wow. So, we should all just do whatever and have no care about the consequences? That's more than a bit enabling isn't it? As I look around at the problems that could be reduced if we all just were a bit more responsible, I find your position to be ludicrous.

Language can be a precise or ambiguous instrument, and of course, all shades between. Freeper, you like assigning words and conclusions to me - but they come only from you and the conclusions that you continue to leap to. Fat people, for instance is your phrase, not mine. As long as we are there, no genetic disposition induces obesity without the intake of calories that provide the source of bulk. And the typical American lifestyle of junkfood and no exercise (and often made worse by smoking) accounts for 3/4 of our health care costs.

One more note - in inner cities, the poor do have less access to healthy foods. Often the only places to buy food are corner convenience stores where the prices are high and the selection is poor. Certainly we cannot look at the problem without addressing other issues. Like an ecosystem, one problem is often caused by something else.

Anonymous said...

literally and figuratively you've chosen to ignore the pertinent discussion and taken only a couple of comments out of context in an attempt to exculpate yourself from your several errors.

You say you didn't bring up fat people? Gluttonous and sedentary lifestyle? Diabetes?

Tell anyone you want that your inferences aren't specific, but you aren't fooling anyone with your lame attempts to weasel out of what you offered.

As to your attempt to fall back on your skewed statistics concerning chronic disease, chronic disease is simply a disease that is long-lasting or recurrent.

To attempt to simplify chronic diseases and link them wholly to some myth that they are largely or wholly preventable through some 'personal responsibility' action that individuals can take is moronic idiocy and shows a lack of comprehension.

When the CDC says chronic disease accounts for much of our health care costs, they aren't inferring what you hope to infer, and they aren't endorsing the distortion Pollan is pushing.

Cancer, arthritis, diabetes and the several other most prevalent chronic diseases aren't going to be eliminated or significantly reduced through any process of individual personal responsibility.

Our whole food and drug industry regime would have to be completely overhauled. That's public policy that has to be addressed, not telling somebody that they don't deserve health care because of some imagined choice of lifestyle that you think condemned them to disease.

It's just not that simplistic, and the only people that buy into that simplistic reduction of reality is the uncomprehending gullible believers in myth who want an easy way out.

As to the ability to afford good nutritional food and the poor, that's not something, as you try and fail to characterize as something limited to 'inner cities'. It's not 'access' to good food that is the problem, it's that good food costs too much to compete with cheaper processed foods.

The best solution for health care reform is a single payer system without qualifiers, that means the same coverage and the same level of care be made equally available for everyone, ....everyone, regardless of any preconditions you might ill-conceivably choose to arbitrarily impose.

You want to push wellness or 'personal responsibility'?

Try doing it without making it a condition of providing affordable and adequate health care to every American.

When you attempt to link the one to the other, you're carrying water for the obstructionists.

Simple as that.

You can attempt to argue that isn't what you're all about, but the truth is not tempered by your attempts to place yourself somewhere outside of the reality.

If you're not a party to the solution, it doesn't matter what you attempt to claim where your motives arise from, if you're not a party to the solution, you're a party to the problem.

You're wishful weaseling isn't going to change that reality.

Wellness constraints being included as a 'condition' of health care reform is an obstructionist right wing meme.

In the end, you failed miserably to justify eithr your means or your ends.

Souldotna said...

Hey Freeper - we agree on a lot of things. I think a single payer system is the way to go, especially in such an ideal place where we all recognize that we bear a responsibility to keep costs down by leading healthy lifestyles.

Reducing the price of health care as an incentive to lower the costs that we all have to pay in one way or another, is part of the responsiblity we all should have to have a functional society.

It seems as if you have a bit of a god complex though. You are right because you say you are right. With that sort of an attitude it becomes easy to close your mind to logic and sense.

But you ideas are more than a bit whack. Diabetes for instance is almost largely the result of lifestyle choices. Look at the villages here in AK, as the diet has changed and soda pop and junk food have become prevalent, the rate of diabetes has skyrocketed. Cancers and joint issues are also directly related to lifestyle choices (and with cancers, with environmental issues). Add heart and respiratory diseases which are overwhelmingly lifestyle related and your arguments make about as much sense as the typical winger and their death panel claims.

You go on about not being part of the solution is being part of the problem, and I agree with that. And owning up to simple facts of economics, if we want the costs of health care to go down, we need to reduce the demand on health care.

And the best way to do that is to take a bit of personal responsibility for taking care of our own health. Eat right, get some exercise, stop smoking. Why could you have a problem with this concept?

That concept works for other issues. Want to reduce our energy dependence? Stop driving so much, turn down your thermostat, stop living in McMansions that consume more natural resources than necessary,and you should live closer to where you work...all personal choices that we all can do. If you are not doing any and all of these things, you are a big reason we have wars for oil. If you are not living a healthy lifestyle, you are part of the health care problem. There is no legitimate reason not to make healthy choices for yourself, your family, your community and your planet.

This thread is now closed.

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