Friday, August 14, 2009

The Public Option; TILB Debates Government Spending And Socialized Health Care With The Left: Part I

A long Time TILB friend and hard leaning leftist that we will refer to as Batfish took up the baton for socialized health care and made an argument for why government spending is not, in fact, simply taking money from your neighbor (TILB blogged our original argument here for government spending and here for health care).

Below we present a back and forth between TILB and Batfish (and a few brief interludes by OB).

We edited down some of the volume of the content, but we believe the main discussion points remain intact. Without getting too defensive before the main course is served, we feel it's necessary to point out that Batfish often tries to lump TILB in with the GOP, which is not at all an accurate representation of our views. We just want that out there before folks read on and think Batfish's characterization of our views is accurate (it is often not). That said, his points still merit attention as they are deeply considered and indicative the way many well intentioned folks think.

Part I of our debate is below, with an initial focus on the health care debate. Part II to follow in the not too distant future. Let us know where you stand!

Batfish email to TILB and OB:
It's fun to watch the conservative movement kill itself. Please don't stop. And by all means keep on trying to say taxation is theft and there's no such thing as government spending. (Among other things...)

Planet Wingnuttia is getting more and more entertaining every day from here on Earth.

Demagoguing end-of-life counseling issues??? How repugnant. Health reform is unconstitutional? Riiiiight. Death panels? "Im losing my country?" My GOD you people deserve to lose this one. Your strategies pretty much guarantee it at this point. There will be a health care reform law. Mark my words. There has to be. The current system is broken, no serious person disputes that.

WTF is wrong with people? You guys cant possibly support all this right-wing populist anti-government nonsense, even if you have what you perceive to be a self-interest in doing so. There is no evidentiary support for hard core libertarian economics. NONE. You two are much, much smarter than that. There would be no "free market" that is actually also FAIR without a government as the trustee and participant - much more than just referee. You damn well know that. Cmon, you can do better. And yet .....

Whatever. Here's an investment tip: lots of people are buying popcorn right now. Keith and Rachel and John Stewart and Steven Colbert are delivering big time, not to mention Kos and Crooksandliars and the rest of the blogosphere. Butter and salt would make good investments at this moment too come to think of it. It will expand your property base which you can then defend through your novel constitutional interpretations, and then we'll buy MORE popcorn and win MORE seats in legislatures. The wingnuts will keep blowing their gaskets, we'll relish the entertainment value of it, then you can invest more in popcorn. See how it works?


[here TILB cuts down on some cut and pasted text and instead just provides the headline and links to a series of articles Batfish included in his email]

The 'Tea Party' nexus: Mainstream conservatives empowering far-right extremists who want a new civil war
By David Neiwert Tuesday Aug 11, 2009 12:00pm
NH Teabagger on illegal immigrants: 'Send them home with a bullet in the head'
By David Neiwert Tuesday Aug 11, 2009 5:00pm
"Death Panels" - How Rovian
August 11, 2009
by Dave Johnson
'Concerned father' on Fox: Obama's health-care reforms 'sentencing our families to death'
By David Neiwert Monday Aug 10, 2009 1:00pm
The Lies Never Cease To Astonish
August 8, 2009
By Dave Johnson
Whistleblower: Insurance firms ‘very much’ behind town hall disruptions
By David Edwards and Daniel Tencer
Published: August 11, 2009

Batfish sent a quick follow-up email with these two links and the text "Just getting started."
[there are many more articles Batfish sent us, but for the sake of space, we stop adding them here. If you'd like to see the rest of the links, let us know and we'll forward them to you. The sample we included is indicative in that it basically is left-leaning bloggers saying that right leaning folks are a) misframing the health care issue; b) ginning up false anger; and c) profit driven and/or corporate slaves]

OB brief interlude back to Batfish
Interesting. I have not heard most of those "lies" and probably agree that they are false, but have some truth behind them as government healthcare always ends up in some form of rationing, see Canada and France.

The biggest lie pushed by Obama is that his plan is "reform." It is not reform, but change. Reform would be a very different plan and a good thing, but he has to pander to many special interests, both corporate and union. While his plan has some reforms in it, it is not in whole reform, but a move towards a government run plan.
Batfish replied to OB with the following (this is what finally set TILB off):
A "government run plan" ........ so you want to do away with Medicare and the VA? Make our veterans duke it out on the private markets such as exist right now? Do you think they would have a problem with pre-existing conditions? Not pretty.

Personally Id support single payer. Much of the scare stories about rationing in Canada are false. Most Canadians like their system and think we are "off our meds" so to speak. ... The much-dreaded Michael Moore has covered all this but he's been censored out of the whole discussion, as has single-payer. That would be change as opposed to reform.

Anyhoo there is no easy answer to all of this, and no system is perfect but it's good to see some rationality here. Id just like to see the perfect not made the enemy of the good, and I think there is something to be said for noblesse oblige. The commons really does benefit all. The reforms currently under proposal take us in the right direction. There is a way to do this right and if we can have a functional conversation about it and dispense with all the hissy fits and pearl-clutching and fainting couches, we might just get somewhere.
TILB Loses their ability to stay above the fray and responds with the following:
There’s no such thing as a private insurance market, so who knows? Insurance, other financial companies, education, and defense are the four most regulated industries in America. Utilities are in the argument as well. I’d say three of those are amongst the top five most broken industries in our nation. Probably not a coincidence. [After sending that, we thought to come up with another industry that constantly comes up short for its customers. We came up with air travel, also an incredibly heavily regulated industry...pattern continues]
Batfish replied with a cut and paste article that we basically have to show in its entirety, because he later references it several times. We believe it frames the context of Batfish's beliefs fairly well:

Well if you are partaking in all the profit-making festivities, I can certainly see why you dont want the government involved. After all, what's wrong with lining up in the rain for volunteer care in animal stalls? Is this a great country or what?

Rachel Maddow Show: Wendell Potter on the Health Care Industry Putting Soaring Profits Before People
By Heather Wednesday Aug 12, 2009 11:00am

Rachel Maddow talks to whistleblower Wendell Potter about the health care industry's rising profits while more and more Americans lose their health care insurance.

MADDOW: Are you by any chance a health insurance company executive? No? Me neither. And you and I, therefore, even though I know nothing else about you, you and I have one thing in common for sure. We are both in the wrong line of work.

SEC filings show that between the year 2000 and the year 2007, profit of the country‘s 10 largest health insurance companies rose 428 percent. In 2000, they had $2.4 billion in profit. By 2007, it was $12.9 billion.

Now, of course, this is America, we are capital C “Capitalists,” nobody begrudges anyone a ginormous profit, particularly if they‘re serving an important national need, like providing health insurance to the American people.

So, while the 10 biggest health insurance companies were seeing their profits rise over 400 percent between 2000 and 2007, how were they doing at serving that important national need? How were they doing at the whole providing health insurance to the American people thing? Eww! Apparently, while they quadrupled their profits between 2000 and 2007, the number of Americans without health insurance grew by 19 percent.

That seems bad. But not for everyone - also by 2007, the CEOs of the 10 largest health insurance companies were taking home an average compensation of $11.9 million each every year, while the number of Americans without health insurance for whom a burst appendix can mean bankruptcy has gone through the roof.

It was the insurance industry that bankrolled efforts to kill the last effort of health care reform in Bill Clinton‘s first term. And now, the industry says they‘re OK with reform of a sort. They just want to make sure that they don‘t get any competition from a non-profit government-run insurance plan that patients could opt into if they didn‘t like what the private sector was dishing out. You know, if I was a health insurance company executive, I‘m sure I would want that, too.

Joining us now is a former health insurance executive-turned-whistle blower, his name is Wendell Potter, and he was the head of public relations for CIGNA, one of the nation‘s largest insurers. He‘s now a senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy.

Mr. Potter, thank you very much for joining us.


MADDOW: The leader of America‘s Health Insurance Plans, the industry association, says that the health insurance industry is being unfairly blamed as the president and Congress try to reform the health care system.

Do you think it is unfair to single them out for blame?

POTTER: I think that she‘s doing what she‘s paid to do. I think that the health insurance industry deserves a great deal of the blame because they‘re very much behind the town hall disruptions that you see and a lot of the deception that‘s going on in terms of disinformation that many Americans apparently are believing.

MADDOW: Why do you think it is that profits for health insurance companies have ballooned so dramatically over the past seven years or so? We‘ve seen since 2000 to 2007, we‘ve seen such a dramatic increase in profits. Why is that?

POTTER: Well, for one thing, since 1993, in particular, the amount of money that the insurance companies take in on premiums, less and less of that is going—they‘re using it to pay medical claims—in 1993, it‘s about 95 percent. In a couple years ago, it was down to just around 80 percent. So, that‘s one way.

Another is that they kick sick people off the rolls when they do get sick or when people get injured—either through, whether they have bought their insurance through the individual market or through small employers.

It‘s—and also, they‘re paying fewer claims.

MADDOW: Well, if the government were to provide a health insurance option to the public, for example, like a widening of Medicare so that anybody could opt into it if they wanted to do—could private insurance companies compete alongside a government-run non-profit plan like that?

POTTER: Well, they could, absolutely. I‘ve seen the health insurance industry change its business models many, many times. The insurance companies who operate now are very different from the companies that operated a few years ago. They adapt very quickly. And the one thing they know how to do is make money.

MADDOW: You worked for CIGNA for 15 years, you left last year.

What caused you to change your mind about what you were doing and to leave?

POTTER: Well, two things. One, it was kind of gradually. One instance or in one regard because I was becoming increasingly skeptical of the kinds of insurance policies that the big insurance companies are promoting and marketing these days. And they‘re really pushing more people into the so-called consumer-directed plans that feature high deductibles, and that is a leading reason why so many more people are in the category of the underinsured.

The other thing that really made me make this final decision to leave the industry occurred when I was visiting family in Tennessee a couple of summers ago, and I picked up the local newspaper and saw a story about the health care expedition that was being held across the state line in Virginia, in the coal mining area in southwest of Virginia. So, out of curiosity, I just went up there to check it out and was absolutely dumbstruck when I went through the fairground gates. This is being held at the Wise County fairground.

And what I saw when I went inside the fairground‘s gates were hundreds and hundreds of people who were lined up, waiting in the rain, to get care that was being provided to them by volunteer doctors throughout the state of Virginia in animal stalls. Other volunteers had come previously to scrub down the animal stalls to make sure that they were sanitary enough for these doctors to treat people who otherwise couldn‘t get any care.

MADDOW: And this is the system that the health industry has been able to construct and lead us into over the past—over the past generation and that they‘re fighting so hard to preserve now.

POTTER: That‘s right.

MADDOW: Wendell Potter, senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy, a man who‘s been through a very big change in his life in recent years—thanks very much for joining us, sir.

POTTER: Thank you, Rachel
Batfish followed up that email with this one, which we've edited down to take out another cut and paste article (leaving in the subject line, link, and last paragraph since it gives context to Batfish's final statements):
Even I am pretty gobsmacked by all this ... Wow.

Who are the Shouters?
by Hunter
Wed Aug 12, 2009 at 07:46:03 AM PDT

Standing two feet from the senator, Craig Anthony Miller, 59, shouted into his face, “You are trampling on our Constitution!”
You might ask yourself why, of all possibilities, reforming America's healthcare system is the thing that "tramples on the Constitution" or "leaves the existence of the Republic at risk." You might ask this, because you're probably not insane. But again, this matches what we've been seeing in every "deather" protest so far --people angrily denouncing government intervention and "socialized medicine" -- but they all love Medicare. They don't want government to supposedly decide who's too expensive to keep alive, with visions of "death panels" and the like -- but insurance companies are doing that now, all the time, and there's nary a peep about that. The opposition, in other words, doesn't know the first damn thing about the thing they're supposedly protesting.

The hostility goes back to what I was pondering in my Sunday essay: that the aggressive, furious attempts to even shut down the possibility of a political discussion is reminiscent of the anti-desegregation movement, a point that becomes noteworthy when you aggregate the motives of the "birthers", who loudly deny Obama's citizenship, the "teabaggers", who loudly declare that the same taxes they paid under Bush are tyrannical under Obama, the "deathers", who loudly assert that healthcare reform is secret plot to euthanize seniors and others that the government deems unproductive. None of these positions makes a lick of sense or has any evidence to back it up, but in large part it is the same group of hard-right, almost entirely white conservatives that believes all three at once. If you believe the shouters themselves, in their own words, the healthcare debate isn't about healthcare but about a conspiratorial government and the end of the Republic.

This is, by definition, a far-right position, and less charitably a batshit insane one, and that it has managed to make it so far and be featured so prominently is testament to just how completely the farthest of the far right has captured the Republican party.
At this point, as you might imagine having perhaps followed TILB for some time, we could no longer sit by idly and not respond. Finally the debate began to rage. We will save the bulk of it for Part II, but here are a few appetizers:

It’s kind of disappointing that the argument that the pro socialized health care crowd wants to address is not the argument of why putting the government in total control of something they already have shown an utter lack of ability at is a good idea. Everyone already knows the answer to that, so instead, they want to convince people that are reasonably upset that they shouldn’t be upset because some other portion of upset people are “organized”. I’m a little surprised that organized protest is something the left frowns upon, given that’s their bread and butter.

In any case, this has nothing to do with the core argument: the portion of health care that government is already in charge of is an abject failure so giving them the rest of the system is literally insane (per Ben Franklin, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting it to come out different). If Franklin's right, then this is insanity magnified: we’re not just doing it again, we're doing it bigger; we're giving the government more responsibility! I also think the argument that Obama made that health care is a “right” is an immoral argument. Goods and services cannot be a “right”. They are not inalienable. The only way to provide for that “right” is to take liberty from someone else to pay for it. It may be something we choose to provide, but it is anything but a “right.” This is the discussion that should be taking place, but both sides prefer distraction from it, especially the left given it will undress the reality that this is simply another (although on giant scale) unfunded mandate that will result in taking enormous gobs of earnings and savings from some people and granting it to others.
Batfish back at TILB
Well you argument is logically coherent but I maintain rests on unfounded assumptions. If Medicare and the VA are such abject failures why do people like them so much? Admittedly they are costly and I'll admit that nothing is free. But I have tried to address the redistribution problem by pointing out what is sometimes referred to as "mutual reciprocal advantage" esp. in the context of zoning laws. By your argument, all zoning laws are unconstitutional takings of private property. The Supreme Court long ago dispensed with that claim in the line of cases starting with Pa. Coal v. Mahon and its progeny, where the doctrine of mutual reciprocity of advantage supersedes the idea that anyone's property rights are being violated by zoning laws. All property owners benefit from an ordered system of managing real property. Similarly, all benefit from a system of health care that prioritizes services over profits. It doesnt eliminate profits, and what is being proposed is not total government control.

The "rights" debate is the subject of another conversation - for now it's well to ask why property rights should be more fundamental than other rights. If a corporation claims the right to prevent you from drinking water out of a public waterway because they have staked some private claim to it, have your rights been violated? If you then sue and get a court to enjoin a corporation against preventing you from drinking that water, have the corporation's rights been violated? Who owns that water in the first place, and are those ownership rights transferable? Does anyone own the oxygen in the air? How about the genetic information contained within agricultural crops that have taken millenia for indegenous farmers to develop? It's onething to speak in general principles and it's comforting to try to deduct universal principles from them, but it gets alot more complicated when you hit the -road with your rubber.
TILB, diving at the keyboard, began the responding volley with the following paragraph. The balance of the debate will be in Part II...
I don't think it's as complicated as you want it to sound. The air - a shared property - is not owned by any single person and thus can be reasonably regulated, though I have certain rights within the airspace above my property. Health care is not a shared property. If, as I believe you are saying, health care is subject to the same concepts as eminent domain, then I guess you advocate forfeiting your right to your own being if the government sees fit to take your being for public use. Not my cup of tea, personally.

Stay tuned for more in Part II. We are just heating up, I assure you.

Let us know where you stand.