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Archive for January, 2008

Everyone is talking about the elections, the primaries and the candidates. The media conglomerates are in a tizzy over who said what, comparing each front-runner to the next, and making predictions over who will ultimately win the chance to make a run for the White House.

The “issues” of this year’s race have been defined and we see many of the Usual Suspects return to the docket:

  • Iraq / Iran / war
  • The economy
  • Health Care
  • Abortion
  • Climate Change
  • Immigration

Today I’ll pick Health Care and run with it.

So what’s the debate? Or, a more interesting question that is on my mind is, “What are the limits of the debate?”

Currently, when talking about health care, you have republicans making references to some magical free market influences and all of the front-runners are in favor of a “consumer-based system” of some kind. They toss around buzzwords like “deregulation” and extol their stalwart efforts to avoid “raising taxes.”

Democrats say different things and have different suggestions, but the “debate” never leaves a narrow channel of discourse. The Dem. front-runners talk about health care for all, a laudable goal. Their buzzwords are “government subsidy” and “repealing” or “ending” the Bush tax cuts to pay for their plans.

A few Dems share ideas with their counterparts across the aisle and push the notion that their plans are superior because their solutions offer a healthy number of health insurance choices for the American consumer. The tacit capitalist assumption here is that this large number of choices will promote competition and therefore keep the costs of health care reasonable.

Sure, there are some fringe views and different plans of attack regarding the Health Care Problem, but of course, the entire debate is predicated on a huge assumption: Paying a private company for health insurance is a necessary and legitimate practice.

Completely absent from the debate are challenges to this notion. Furthermore, any mention that our health care system is in shambles because of the extraordinarily high costs of paying a third party for a service they almost never make good on is just as taboo. There is no call by any of the front-running candidates to tear apart this illegal, corrupt and immoral institution despite the volumes of evidence we can all read about or, worse yet, may have experienced in our daily lives.

The story is typical: Americans pay their hard-earned money to these health insurance companies assuming that, when tragedy strikes, they will be covered. They will be safe. Of course, as hundreds of studies and thousands upon thousands of personal experiences have shown, the truth of the matter is quite the opposite. I’d even go as far as to say the average health insurance consumer is being cheated and outright abused. Anyone who has had to take an insurance company to task for an inappropriate denial of coverage or an outlandish bill will know exactly what I mean.

But we can’t bring this up. This isn’t an acceptable position to take within the “debate.” Instead, we’re supposed to choose the plan of a presidential hopeful that promises to drain the least amount of money from our pockets and marrow from our bones.

According to the limits of the discussion, the insurance companies have a right to exist… their function and place in society is assumed valid and useful even despite the horrendous track record of abuses, corruption and fraud that can be found with just a cursory examination of any of them. The moral issues… the human rights issues… are irrelevant and quietly dismissed before they can enter the discourse.

Maybe it’s time to change the scope of the discussion. There couldn’t be a better opportunity to put pressure on the candidates than now, while they are still duking it out amongst their peers for a shot at the title. Once the Primaries are over, each side will rest comfortably upon the ability to highlight the “differences” of their plan with their opponent and any thought of addressing the underlying assumption I’ve mentioned here will likely be lost entirely.

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I heard something very unexpected the other day on the way home. I was listening to NPR and caught a blurb taken from Bush’s speech regarding the Israeli/Palsetinian conflict. He mentioned the typical shit: Palestinians needing to stop their violence against the Israeli “defense” forces. Israel needing to halt any “unauthorized” new settlements. I made careful note that this was an unfortunate departure from the earlier rhetoric that called for an end to all new settlements. Essentially, Bush was once again providing a way for Isreal to shirk its obligations to the Palestinian people.

I felt my blood warming up in disgust as tends to be the case whenever I hear one of his blunderous performances. And then I heard something odd. A single word… that, for all intents and purposes, had no reason to appear in a Bush speech on the Mideast conflict.

He uttered the word, contiguous. Specifically, he said, “The vision of a Palestinian state is one of contiguous territory…. Swiss cheese isn’t going to work when it comes to the territory of a state.” Now, for anyone with any understanding of what Israel’s been doing for the last 40 years, these words are huge. “Swiss cheese” is a very good analogy, in fact, and to have Bush stand up and say it “isn’t going to work” means that I may have to concede that I, for once, agree with the guy. As much as it hurts me to say this… the guy is right this (one and only) time.

Now, do I think his speech will actually bring about an end to the apartheid-like condiditons that Israel has been imposing against the Palestinian people for the last 40 years? No. But… but… this single speech may spark the chance for a new vocabulary to enter the discourse, and that chance, while remote, is very significant. After all, sometimes finding the right words is all one needs to shift the thinking of those who might otherwise prefer to keep their eyes and ears closed.

Here’s hoping.

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