Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Days of Rage: The Health Care Debate. (0135, Wednesday, March 31, 2010, Bangkok time and date)

If the debate over what has been billed as "health care reform" before the House vote Sunday, March 21 was often bitter and divisive, it has, if anything, become worse in the days since.

Some of the worst excesses can be condemned and dismissed quickly. A member of Congress was sit on and called a "nigger," another was called a faggot, yet others received threatening phone calls and faxes, one Representative's address was posted on the Internet along with a message for those objecting to the legislation to drop by and "thank" him -- except the address belonged to his *brother,* whose gas line to his outdoor grill was cut, and bricks were hurled through windows. Among the worst of the worst was a threat posted on YouTube by a guy, now under arrest, threatening Republican House Minority Whip Cantor and his family with harm or death.

All of this is despicable. Reprehensible. Hateful. In many of the cases, laws were clearly violated -- reasonable laws to most of us. And we need to utterly reject such actions, from every quarter and from whichever side of The Great Divide they come. I assume you noticed that the actions above involved targets in both parties.

Now what? Well, though the House and Senate have both signed off on the legislation and the President has done likewise, the fight really has just begun. To wit: there are two lawsuits challenging it, suits filed by various state attorneys general. Constitutionality is an issue in these suits.

One argues that the law violates the commerce clause, which enables Congress to regulate commerce between and among states, though (according to this argument) not within a single state; medical insurance is not sold across state lines. That seems straightforward on the face of it, appearing to trump -- and invalidate -- the legislation. However, there's apparently nothing preventing a single company setting up headquarters in, say, Chicago, then establishing branches or subsidiaries not only in Illinois (in the case of Chicago), but in any other state(s) as well. Does that make that company's business subject to the interstate commerce clause? I don't know, and apparently there is no precise Supreme Court precedent. Proponent argue that it is subject to the commerce clause, pointing out that claims are often paid across state lines. Another component of this suit is that individuals will be required to buy medical coverage. Opponents argue that it's unconstitutional to require us, by law, to buy a product or service offered by the private sector, and further argue this has never been attempted before.

I gather both suits also argue that the legislation violates the principle of state sovereignty, a controversial issue in just about any state, though more so in some than in others. I should point out that I have to rely on news reports for my information, and I'm not clear that both suits actually involve this principle, though I'm virtually certain that at least one does.

There are some points to keep in mind as we sit here trying to peer into the crystal ball to divine how all this might come out. First, this legislation isn't about health care reform -- it's about health care insurance reform. One's an apple and the other's an orange, though just as apples and oranges are both fruits, health care reform and health care insurance reform are indeed related, as both center on, well, health care (obviously). Second is this business about rationing and death panels. These require some detail.

Medical care is already rationed, and long has been.

This is most obvious in times of widespread natural disaster, when there's not enough of anything to go around for all the sick and injured, and doctors (and other medical personnel) have to make triage decisions -- "who needs it the most and the fastest?" It is also effectively the case within the medical insurance sector; adjusters decide what to pay for and what not to pay for. If an adjuster decides not to pay for something and the insured person can't afford it, then he's out of luck -- not treatment/medine/surgery/etc.

The government panels? They are to try to discover the most efficacious treatment. The law specifically prohibits them from making medical decision, further specifically leaving that up to your doctor. Further, nowhere is there a single syllable empowering a government panel to summon Granny to learn whether she's getting a death sentence. There was even a case of a protester berating a guy who is apparently -- please note the word "Apparently" (I'll explain in a moment) -- a victim of Parkinson's disease. The protester has since apologized and expressed remorse, to his credit. It's still worth watching the video:

Whatever happened to the "civil" in "civil discourse"?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reconciliation and the U.S. Congress: A Study in Hypocrisy; and other Joys

Just watched a great video on YouTube about reconciliation, that legislative process through which, in theory, differences in Senate and House legislation are ironed out. While reconciliation was meant to be used only for budgetary matters, it has been used for other things.

Thing is, when the Democrats are IN of power, they *like* reconciliation, which requires just 51 votes in the Senate rather than a super-majority (as it's rather amusingly called) of 60 to ram legislation through. When the Democrats are out of power, they *hate* reconciliation. But don't go congratulating the Republicans; they're indistinguishable from their Democrat buddies when it comes to reconciliation. Just watch the video:

Then there's the matter of health insurance for employees of the federal government. No one will seriously dispute (I hope) that if workers in the private sector deserve I*some* sort of coverage through their work, then so do federal employees. But it sort of depends on what we mean by "*some* sort of coverage," doesn't it?

I mean, did you know that under circumstances the EX-employees of a federal employee can continue being covered. Or, more startlingly, so can -- get this (Dave Berry ought to write about this) -- so can an ex-SPOUSE.

The last time I worked in the U.S. was mid-1990, after which I returned to These Asian Climes. I can just see myself calling up my former employer in Texas and saying, "Hey, the game's changed, and I want medical coverage again from you guys. By the way, remember my wife? I want her on the plan too. What's that? No, we're not; we split in 1994 -- but I KNOW MY RIGHTS and you BETTER cover her!"

It gets better (if you define "better" in a really, really weird way). I ran across the main page for federal employee health insurance. Of course, when you start following the links, things become mind-numbing. But on the main page (URL to follow) you see there are two basic groups, one by geographic region, the other by service (fee-per-service plans), and the employee can choose either approach. Fair enough. The employees are also divided within each of those groups into two sub-groups: postal employees, and non-postal ones.

I pulled up the pages for each under the geographic plans. I scrolled down to the very first listing under Texas, and saw that of a biweekly premium totaling $194.30, the part the employee pays is . . . are you ready for this? . . . $28.17. That's a princely 15%, folks -- actually, a tiny fraction shy of that. "So," you ask, "who pays the rest of the taxes?" Do you pay federal taxes! Go look in the mirror and congratulate yourself for winning the gold in the Premium-Paying event.

Here are the links to the main page, then to the one where I found the above example: (main) (postal)

You might also want to look at's page on Congressional benefits. While members of Congress don't get *quite* the perks some think they do; certain ones have an average retirement income from *just there government service ("service," ha-ha) of dollars shy of $61,000. That's right: 61 G-notes, more than a lot of working stiffs make at full-time jobs (if they have one, that is).

I read sometime ago that members of Congress can get full medical coverage for -- as I recall -- a puny premium of $503 per year. And if a Representative or Congressman needs to have the finest heart surgeon, so be it. (A few actually refuse this benefit, to their eternal credit, in my opinion.)

A final beef, probably my personal Number 1: amendments to a bill that have ZERO to do with the bill, especially OINK-OINK-bring-home-the-PORK! amendments.I wish the Founding Fathers had written into the Constitution that if an amendment wasn't CLEARLY related to a bill, then nope, it couldn't be stuck on.

Snuffle snuffle oink oink.

Monday, March 1, 2010

President Washington and Party Politics

In his farewell speech September 17, 1796, President George Washington spoke some truths about, and to, the then-new country, the United States of America.

In President Washington's mind, as he stressed in his address, he though one factor we had to guard against was sectionalism -- as he couched it, the Atlantic versus the West and the North versus the South.

Of course, anyone with even a vague knowledge of American history knows that a mere 65 years later, the North and South put that to the test.

But what of today, when the divides aren't so much geographical -- though those do exist -- as much as ideological, reflected in the current deadlock between our two main parties.

David Ignatius, Op-Ed columnist for the Washington Post (clickable link), has written a thoughtful column titled "The U.S. is at a crucial point in defining its direction" (clickable link). Below is the reply I posted in the comments.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
President Washington warned in his farewell address in September, 1796 against party politics coming to dominate our national political life, a warning we well could heed now, when "The Wall of Washington" -- our own version of the Berlin Wall -- dominates that life.

It would be quite salubrious for our body politic, in the form of a joint session of Congress with the President and Vice-president in attendance, along with all Supreme Court Justices, in the audience -- not on the podium, but in the audience -- to have that farewell speech read out to them. Read out as a reminder of what, supposedly, we're about. If President Washington got it wrong, well, then, there's little hope for anyone else, over 200 years after he spoke so sagely, perhaps most directly to us in this paragraph:

""""The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Well, today's parties certainly are "sharpened by the spirit of revenge," and need knocked back, slapped down, into their respective places -- i.e., necessary parts of a whole to provide a whole government for America.

They've both lost sight of that; hence, the Tea Party et al.

Who to deliver such an address? I would propose to invite Mr. Vaclav Havel, former C
zech dissident then President, after his country's Velvet Revolution, for a "Havel Redux," a reprise of his brilliant speech to a joint session of Congress some 20 years ago, but reading Washington's speech. The entire speech.

After 9/11, we got some sense of ourselves through no small measure of the the words in "What Is an American?" that wonderfully sympathetic late 18th-century essay by a Frenchman-turned American, Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur.

Sometimes an outsider can see us better than we can see ourselves.

I wonder if Mr. Havel would have the stomach for it, though. . . .
3/1/2010 2:34:37 AM (time posted at the Washington Post)