Saturday, July 25, 2009

Self-Selected Doom

Is there actually going to be a future worth having? Nobody knows. But if certain things continue as they are, it doesn't look good. We can make changes that at least take a stand on the kind of a future we want.

There's a lot of media doomsaying on health care reform. But as President Obama said, doing nothing pretty much ensures doom--for the health and well-being of millions, for the ability of the country to progress to a good future, because the course we're on now leads to economic and moral disaster.

Read Paul Krugman's latest column in full to cut through the media crap. Here's how it starts:

"The talking heads on cable TV panned President Obama’s Wednesday press conference. You see, he didn’t offer a lot of folksy anecdotes. Shame on them. The health care system is in crisis. The fate of America’s middle class hangs in the balance. And there on our TVs was a president with an impressive command of the issues, who truly understands the stakes."

Mr. Obama was especially good when he talked about controlling medical costs. And there’s a crucial lesson there — namely, that when it comes to reforming health care, compassion and cost-effectiveness go hand in hand."

What kind of a future do you want? Compassionate or cruel? Prosperous for many or for only a few? This is the choice America is about to make. Or more specifically, one important choice among several we are facing this year.

But without health care reform, you can kiss the rest of it goodbye.

As for why there is such doom and gloom at the moment, the answer is the usual: big money, politics and media--and their insidious interrelationships.

Nate Silver has a complementary analysis:

" Firstly, the media environment has become very treacherous. There's been all sorts of piling on, for instance, about last night's satisfactory press conference -- this is almost certainly the most sustained stretch of bad coverage for Obama since back when Jeremiah Wright became a household name after the Ohio primary.I don't think the media has a liberal bias or a conservative bias so much as it has a bias toward overreacting to short-term trends and a tendency toward groupthink. The fact is that there have been some pretty decent signals on health care."

He continues: The media likes to talk about "momentum". It usually talks about the momentum in the present tense -- as in, "health care has no momentum". But almost always, those observations are formulated based on events of the past and sloppily extrapolated to imply events of the future, often to embarrassing effect: see also, New Hampshire, the 15-day infatuation with Sarah Palin, the Straight Talk express being left for dead somewhere in the summer of 2007, the overreaction to "Bittergate" and the whole lot, and the naive assumption that Obama's high-60's approval ratings represented a paradigm shift and not a honeymoon period that new Presidents almost always experience."

It's good to be reminded by someone other than me that when it comes to Barack Obama, the media has an almost unblemished record of being wrong.

Still, we don't yet know if the House will pass a bill before the August recess, or what the Senate will end up doing by then. Silver doesn't think health care reform will be hurt much during the recess, but nobody knows. Those playing against reform for political advantage, or for attention, or because they are so short-sighted that they can't see its overriding importance, could take control of the debate. They did so last time.

Nobody knows if anything we do will really create a better future or prevent a worse one. But if Americans allow real health care reform that values health more than the profit of a few to be killed again, a certain kind of doom will be self-selected.

But we can select the kind of future we want. Let Congress and the media know what that future should be in health care.

La salute non si paga: Health is not for sale.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul."
--Rabelais. Photo: Latest Hubble image of the Eagle Nebula.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Health Care Hoo Haw and Reality

I did something Wednesday that apparently few commentators on President Obama's press conference did: I watched the press conference and listened to what was said. In the comparatively few minutes of television commentary I heard afterwards, I heard at least three statements that suggested the speaker hadn't been listening.

We can sympathize to a degree: these TV folks are trying to get their headlines and video clips, sound bites and opinions together during the press conference, which doubtless interferes with actually attending to it. But only to a degree.

I heard commentators state what President Obama should have said, apparently oblivious to the fact that he had said it. I heard a commentator speculate on a fact which the President stipulated to as part of his answer.

As usual then, President Obama was speaking over the heads of the media to the American people. He again paid them the compliment of not talking down to them, but stated his case clearly and in detail, especially on the subjects of health care and its relation to government spending and debt.

So in case you missed it, here is part of what the President did say:

"This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

So let me be clear: if we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate we're having right now."

"So let me be clear: This isn't about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every Member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings. This is about the woman in Colorado who paid $700 a month to her insurance company only to find out that they wouldn't pay a dime for her cancer treatment - who had to use up her retirement funds to save her own life. This is about the middle-class college graduate from Maryland whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs, and woke up from emergency surgery with $10,000 in debt. This is about every family, every business, and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades.

This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer. They are counting on us to get this done. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down. We will pass reform that lowers cost, promotes choice, and provides coverage that every American can count on. And we will do it this year."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"La salute non si paga":
"Health is not for sale."

attributed to "Italian workers" by Kim Stanley Robinson in Blue Mars.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Giant Leap

With a lander that looks like an aluminum foil junk sculpture, and using all the computing power now contained in a cell phone, Apollo 11 reached the moon and forty years ago today Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on ground not on this Earth. I'd spent the day being driven through Colorado hills that looked to me as desolate as the moon, before watching this moment on live TV (I don't recall if it was Cronkite I saw then, though I've seen that footage since.) And as I'll never tire of telling you, a couple of years ago I shook the hand of the first man on the moon, making my personal physical connection to the universe beyond our fragile planet. Here's Wired's guide to other information and events.

California Future's Day of Infamy

Assuming the reported California state budget deal is announced today, July 20 becomes a day that will live in infamy. Robert Cruikshank wrote Sunday at Calitics: "And so the budget drama hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Democrats have caved and given Arnold Schwarzenegger what he wanted - a cuts-only budget that does massive and lasting damage to the state of California, to the people who live here, and to our collective future. It's taken 31 years, but Howard Jarvis is finally going to get the wholesale destruction of public services he always wanted."

David Dayen followed up at Calitics with a post titled A Complete Blindness to Long-Term Consequences, and I name the class, age and race victims at American Dash.

The irony is that this is happening when we finally have a President who understands the self-destructive stupidity of this course, and is trying to reverse it. Less than ironic is the likelihood that other states will copy this approach in their own budget crises. In the short run, the Terminator's deal may well counteract or at least weaken any economic stimulus in California resulting from federal action. Dayden writes: By siphoning off almost $1 billion in gas tax funds slated for cities and counties, not one pothole in California will get filled this year. With the loss of $1.7 billion in redevlopment funds, not one project like affordable housing will get initiated. And by taking $1.3 billion in local property taxes, lots of city and county employees, particularly in public safety, will end up out of work. It's really robbery on a pretty grand scale, and it will offset any economic recovery through stimulus funding throughout the state. "

It's also going to cause immediate chaos, especially in education. But in the long term, this budget deeply wounds the California future, and thereby the American future.

Update: The deal was announced late in the day, though not in detail. Meanwhile, another piece on how these cuts will end up costing California more later, and these are just the direct financial costs.