Thursday, March 25, 2010

Constitutional or Not, Isn't It Wrong to Force Everyone to Buy Private Insurance?

I understand the Republicans are hypocrites and right-wingers are nuts about this healthcare thing. But I find it troubling that so many liberals are mocking the idea that mandating that every American purchase private health care is unconstitutional. I'll be honest. I haven't taken the time to research the legal issues regarding this. Nonetheless, it just bothers me that everyone has to do this or face a penalty.

We all have to buy auto insurance, but we don't all have to own a car. Right, I know, sometimes people really do have practically no choice but to own a car, but my point is simply that there is something less sinister about forcing people to buy auto insurance if they want to drive. Everyone needs health care. I can't imagine anyone who can live there entire life without needing health care of some sort. And anyway, this law doesn't say, "IF YOU WANT TO ACCESS HEALTH CARE ... YOU MUST ..." It says, everyone, EVERYONE, must buy it from a private company - no public option, sorry. Imagine if your town had no public transportation, but everyone was forced to buy a taxi pass. Imagine if your state had no public schools, but everyone was forced to pay tuition to private schools.

Many people are uninsured and that leads to multiple problems and expenses and increases in the cost of healthcare because, for example, people seek care in emergency rooms and then can't pay their bills, or they don't get the care they need because they can't afford it. In order to alleviate some of these problems or blunt the worst of them, we must all buy Anthem, or Kaiser, or Aetna or Blue Shield or some other policy from a company raking in billions in profits, AND if we don't, we get fined?!? What a crappy mandate! Give your money to these corporations, it may help some people and may lower some healthcare costs, we aren't completely sure, but either way, give your money to them or we'll fine you.

That may or may not be constitutional. That may or may not be reform. That is not progressive, so don't call it that.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Reform: Somewhat Good or Very Bad

Either way, I don't understand why this is seen as a "historic moment" except to those who simply want Democrats and/or our current President to have a victory against Republicans, right-wingers, and/or tea partiers, regardless of substance. Since Democrats tend to be to the left of Republicans (though the whole political spectrum moves rightward without real agitation from below), I suppose a victory over the right-wing is a good thing. What I can't get over is how this so-called victory could have been a far more substantial victory for American's healthcare and how this victory - touted as "historic" and cheered on by so many politically powerful liberal groups - may make real substantive change more difficult.

Health insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions or to children, eventually. If someone gets sick or files a claim, insurance companies won't be allowed to drop them. Poor Americans will have help paying for health insurance - which is good since they will be forced to buy it. There will be increased competition, though it isn't clear that competition does anything to bring down costs. Those are all debatably positive, but rather mild reforms, particularly compared with the bad in this bill and with what we could have had.

However, what is to stop health insurance companies from raising premiums by 1000%? Nothing. What is to stop pharmaceutical companies from chargins $500/pill? Nothing.

We could have real healthcare reform; not health insurance reform. There is no reason why President Obama and the Democratic leadership could not have delivered, at least, a public option. It is popular with Americans, and Obama ran his campaign, in part, on support for such an option and was publicly supporting it all along. A supermajority was an obstacle for awhile, but then that smoke screen fell apart. Yet, now we have a bill that will force Americans to buy coverage from private health insurance companies, which continue to rake in billions and raise premiums, and does nothing significant to control costs or CEO bonuses.

Now that we have this enormous piece of legislation with private insurance as central to the whole plan, and a lot of Democratic political capital gone, does a public option or anything better stand a chance? With liberal organizations like MoveOn and liberal politicians like Dennis Kucinich cheering this on or at least dropping all opposition and telling everyone else to fall into line, can we look to our liberal Democratic politicians and those liberal/progressive organizations with a small amount of power in Washington to really fight for improvements to this legislation? This looks bad. We may have given up something great for something maybe ok, and that makes something somewhat good actually very bad.

Sure, as merely a peon in this empire of a "democracy" I may have to cut my losses on this one, but why should I excuse those politicians and organizations who have real power inside the beltway? Maybe there are some positive things in this legislation, that is not clear, but either way, I know we could have and should have had something better. President Obama and Nancy Pelosi could have delivered something far better, and instead they decided to cut deals with big, multi-billion dollar industries, just so they could get their "Mission Accomplished" moment for this president and this political party. Well, I'm not a Democrat. I'm a human being who despises and fears illness and poverty and pain and hates the fact that the richest country in the world still has to settle for wealthy industries buying wealthy politicians while the rest of us cheer on or despise our political theater, but still get sicker.

A lot of people I respect, and even love. like this legislation and are happy that it is going to pass. A lot of people I can't stand hate this bill and think Obama is a socialist Nazi. I personally think they're both wrong, and I hope the former will understand and accept my humble opinion. I myself could be wrong, my friends, and I genuinely respect your opinion. I hope the latter will stop watching Fox News and wake up, or otherwise shut the hell up.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

J Street's Goal: Peace and Security, but Not Justice

J Street, the more moderate pro-Israeli group that serves as a bit of a counterweight to the right-wing AIPAC, is publicly opposing Israel Apartheid Week and connecting it to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement. They argue as follows:
The BDS movement, whose dogmatic, counterproductive approach underlies “Israel Apartheid Week,” aims to delegitimize Israel’s very existence - making no distinction between West Bank settlements and Israel proper, and refusing to support a two-state solution that results in a viable Palestinian state and a secure, democratic Israel that is a homeland for the Jewish people, living side by side in peace and security. The BDS movement’s lack of support for a two-state solution puts it well outside the mainstream of the entire political leadership of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States.
This is incredibly revealing. In order to have a "secure, democratic Israel that is a homeland for the Jewish people" Palestinians must be treated as second class citizens. Because underlying the BDS movement is simply the demand for equal treatment and justice for Palestinians. Here are the simple demands made of Israel:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

One state? Two states? More important than those questions is ensuring that all the people in the region have human rights. If Israel surviving in its present state requires denying those rights to Palestinians, then we really should delegitimize the state. If that changes, then defenders of human rights around the world can debate one state versus two states, but until then the injustice exists, and it should be countered.

Furthermore, until Israeli authorities use the same state power they bring down on Palestinians day after day also, or instead, against Jewish settlers taking over West Bank land, the "West Bank settlements and Israel proper" (which seems to grow every few decades) cannot be separated. Some supporters of the State of Israel may talk about living side-by-side with Palestinians in peace, but until the actions of the State of Israel demonstrate that commitment, it is a hollow statement.
We also reject comparisons of Israel to South African apartheid. The analogy clearly implies that Israel is illegitimate, that it deserves a wholesale boycott, and suggests a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would be some sort of solution to the conflict, when in reality, it is a recipe for further violence, strife, and insecurity.
Interesting how a paragraph seeking to distance Israel from South Africa sounds so similar to the kinds of arguments made by white South Africans during apartheid. As Avika Eldar wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
One of the myths among whites in South Africa was that "blacks want to throw us into the sea." Many of apartheid's practices were formally based on security, mostly those involving restrictions on movement. Thus, for example, at a fairly early stage, black citizens needed permits to move around the country. During the final years of apartheid, when the blacks' struggle intensified as did terrorism, its practices became more severe.
Today there is less violence, less strife, and far less insecurity in South Africa. Why couldn't that happen in Israel/Palestine? Are Arabs inherently violent? Are Jews?

The J Street statement continues:
The BDS movement wrongly places the entirety of blame for the conflict on Israel. Responsibility for the conflict does not rest exclusively with either the Israelis or the Palestinians, and moreover, this conflict will never be truly resolved if one side wins only at the other’s loss.
If the Palestinian side has ever won anything, please share. Anyway, the BDS movement is about equality. If that is a victory for any side, it is only the side of justice. Again, the J Street statement reveals more than intended. Supporting Israel as it exists today requires support for grave injustice; countering that means Israel loses.

Of course, Palestinians and their various leadership bodies have made statements and endorsed practices that may be worthy of condemnation, firing rockets into civilian communities and blowing up buses are awful acts; but on the other hand, Palestinians are not occupying Israel; Palestinians are not oppressing Israelis; Palestinians do not receive billions of dollars from the United States; Palestinians do not have nuclear weapons. Making the argument that there are two sides and those of us who care about human rights shouldn't pick one over the other, or should condemn each side equally ignores the reality, asymmetry, and history of the conflict. It is tantamount to arguing that black South Africans were responsible for the conflict there.
The approach of the BDS movement only serves to deepen Israel’s sense of isolation and thus harden Israelis against the compromises necessary to achieve peace, undermining the regular and inspiring cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. This is singularly unhelpful particularly as the United States works to re-launch negotiations and as the window of opportunity for achieving a viable two-state solution grows ever smaller.
Do you want to know what isolation feels like? Try living in the Gaza Strip. Hardened to the compromises? Like slave owners in the American South who eventually fought a war instead of making the "compromises" necessary. Well, I'd say J Street would do more good to speak out against that hardening, and if the U.S. actually works on negotiations with a real chance at justice for Palestinians, I have no doubt the BDS movement will find ways to be more helpful; but as long as the U.S. government continues to send billions to Israel even as its leaders continue to build walls and allow settlements, the BDS movement ought to focus on helping the growing movement among Arabs and Jews to end Israeli apartheid.
Therefore, we strongly oppose Israel Apartheid Week because we believe that it employs inflammatory, inaccurate language, misrepresents the complex truth of the conflict, undercuts debate, alienates significant numbers of students, and advances the agenda of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
J Street ought to identify exactly what it finds "inflammatory" or "inaccurate" so that advocates of Apartheid Week can address these claims. Of course the situation is "complex." Oppression and injustice often involve complex politics, history, and social circumstances; but we're all intelligent enough to recognize when injustice exists.
We’re proud to continue J Street U’s “Invest, Don’t Divest” campaign, which gives pro-peace students a concrete alternative to the BDS movement and an opportunity to invest in their campus debate, in their communities, and in the Israelis and Palestinians who will bring about the positive change needed to finally achieve two states and real peace and security for all.
Still the emphasis is on security and peace, but peace without justice is simply not the goal of the BDS movement or Israeli Apartheid Week. If it is J Street's goal, then they should acknowledge that openly.