August 14, 2009

Socialized Medicine? I Wish!

A majority of the American people support single payer healthcare, according to any number of polls. People want a better system and truly universal coverage. Yet Congress has refused to seriously talk about it. Why? I can only surmise that the insurance and pharmaceutical lobby is too powerful to allow that option. By that I mean that their money is corrupting the political process because the Democrats and Republicans alike are in their pocket. It is clear that the desire of a few mega-corporations to make huge profits overrules the need for all Americans to receive the health care they need.

Now it appears that even the small reforms that are left on the table are in danger because of disruptive behavior of right wing zealots. That just shows that compromise is no way to win this battle. Obama could rally millions behind him with real enthusiasm if he would advocate for Single Payer, the only meaningful reform. Instead he is losing momentum, as his plan gets weaker by the minute.

I am wondering why I should support a plan that accomplishes so little, other than insuring that we won’t have another chance at real change for decades, maybe not in my lifetime. On the other hand it really galls me that right wingers can torpedo any reform with intimidation tactics. I can guarantee you that if the left acted like that, the billy clubs would be out, the tear gas would be flying and people would be hauled off to jail, before they could say “corporate death panels”.

Make no mistake, everything the right wing is saying, untruthfully, about this plan is actually just what the insurance companies are doing now in the name of profits. Care is rationed in two ways. People who cannot afford insurance are denied care until they are in a life threatening situation and then they are relegated to a 2nd class system. Faceless insurance company bureaucrats deny care, often arbitrarily in order to save money. Anybody who has tried to argue with an insurance company knows that sinking feeling of being unable to break through the red tape to find somebody who is willing to listen and able to rectify an error. Anybody who has tried to read the small type in their policy and keep up with the ever changing restrictions on what care you can get will also understand. Socialized medicine? I wish it were true. What we have now is anti-social medicine.

Meanwhile budget cuts are decimating the government programs that we do have. Medicaid and state programs can’t meet the need. The political system is geared towards those with money, so programs to help the poor, however well meaning, tend to get cut when times get tough. Of course that is when they are needed most. And that is when the government starts acting like private insurance, restricting who can be on the program and how much they will pay providers.

Medicare is in better shape because it covers everybody over 65 and thus has a good political base of support. However it has been weakened in the last few years by bringing in private insurance companies, who take the “good risks” and leave the rest. The refusal to negotiate prices makes it impossible to control costs.

Isn’t it appalling that people are being forced into bankruptcy and losing their homes because they get sick? Even with insurance. Our current system is upside down. It will pay for the small stuff, but if you get seriously ill, the “insurance” leaves many with bills they cannot hope to pay for the percentage that the policy doesn’t cover. In the meantime, just paying the premiums is beyond reach for many.

Healthcare in the US is a scandal that should not be tolerated. By any measure of health, the US is in worse shape that any other industrialized country, and worse than some in the third world. And for that level of care, we pay more than any other country. The only people who benefit from this system are a few executives and shareholders of a few giant corporations, whose only interest is making money off of suffering people.

Congressman Norm Dicks just wrote me a letter pointing out that, “there are more than 46 million Americans who have no health insurance coverage at all, and another 14,000 who are losing coverage every day during the current economic crisis. The other discouraging aspect of this growing problem is the enormous amount of money that is spent on health care in our country - almost twice as much per capita than any other industrialized nation.’ These are truly alarming numbers. It is alarming that knowing these facts, Congress is looking like it won’t do anything that is going to solve the problem.

Physicians for a National Health Program FAQs

Demonstrators Disrupt Health Care Forums (AP 8/8/09)

Are Liberal Netroots Groups Helping Obama Fail? (Truthout 7/30/09)

Obama gives powerful drug lobby a seat at healthcare table (LA Times 8/4/09)

The Incredible Shrinking Health Care Reform (Norman Solomon 8/5/09)

January 12, 2009

Hamas’ Changing Position

The following article by Phan Nguyen talks about what Hamas’ position really is, as opposed to what most of the news coverage, at least in the US, portrays. This is incredibly important in order to understand what the parties involved hope to achieve. After all, why should Hamas give up any negotiating points in the absence of any concessions from Israel?

Of course, what is needed right now is an immediate unconditional ceasefire and free access for humanitarian workers to alleviate the disaster area that Gaza has become.

The current attack on Gaza amounts to collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza. Israel says they want to dismantle Hamas but they guarantee increased hatred of Israel and, sad to say, increased terrorism.

Beyond that, most Israelis and most Palestinians would agree to a two state solution. The details are what has to be negotiated but the Israeli government appears to be in the grip of rejectionist hardliners and refuses to seriously negotiate. The main sticking point, of course, is the presence, and continuing expansion of, Jewish settlements in the West Bank. When the settlements were first established in the 1980s, many observers predicted that they would be a destabilizing influence that would make any solution much more difficult. This is exactly what has happened. The settlers have become a powerful political force in Israel. Naturally, having established themselves in the West Bank, they don’t want to move. But their presence breaks up Palestinian territory into an impossible patchwork of areas separated by Israeli settlements, roads connecting the settlements with each other and with Israel and now the so-called “Security Wall”. Many have compared this situation with the Bantustans created by the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The US involvement is another complicating factor. By uncritically supplying Israel with $3 billion per year in aid and weapons, the US government is actually standing in the way of a solution. On the other hand, if the US were to insist on serious negotiations, it could use the aid as leverage to strengthen moderate Israelis and push both sides to make the concessions necessary for a “durable” solution.

Hamas’ Changing Position
By Phan Nguyen

When discussing Hamas’ position towards Israel, it’s important to recognize that like any other group, Hamas is not static. It changes with the conditions on the ground and with popular sentiment.

It is ridiculous to continuously refer to the Hamas charter of 1988 in order to detemine Hamas’ stances in 2008.

In 1988, Israel did not accept a 2-state solution. In 1988, the US did not accept a 2-state solution. However, in 1988, the PLO was calling for a 2-state solution, but in 1988, the PLO was not considered a legitimate negotiating party. In 1988, there was no Oslo. In 1988, official IDF policy was to “break the bones” of Palestinian nonviolent demonstrators. In 1988, Israel was just beginning to learn that there really were Palestinians.

Since then, as it has become more apparent that Palestinians were willing to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” (whatever that means), the question has been modified from “Do you support Israel’s right to exist?” to “Do you support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state?” And if Palestinians concede to that (which will require accepting that Palestinians will always be second-class citizens in Israel, and there will be no acknowledgement of the Right to Return), then the question will probably change to something even more convoluted, like “Do you support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with a cherry on top?” Meanwhile, Israel will make no concessions, using the “right to exist” question as a requirement prior to any negotiations.
It is important to stress that the whole “right to exist” argument is a canard to avoid bilateral negotiations. Israel already exists, regardless of whether Hamas recognizes it. Hamas is incapable of destroying Israel. If you tally the number of rockets and mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, you will find that each rocket or mortar shell has a 0.2 to 0.3% chance of killing someone. At the rate in which Hamas and other militant groups been launching projectiles, it would take 1,925,000 years and 2,750,000,000 rockets and mortar shells to kill all the Jews in Israel. That’s assuming that Israel’s Jewish population doesn’t increase. And of course we would need to factor in the limited range of the projectiles, which would require Israel's non-growing Jewish population to all congregate in the western Negev by the year 1927008 CE, give or take a few years.*

In other words, this “right to exist” argument is a distraction from a possible practical solution to the conflict. It’s Israel’s way of saying, “I won’t negotiate with you until you agree to all my terms.” If that’s the case, what is there to negotiate?

“Right to exist” is an abstraction. Israel doesn’t even accept Israel’s own right to exist, since it can’t make up its mind where its territorial borders are. Just take a look at the path of the West Bank wall—they must have taken a wrong turn in Albuquerque or something. And look at Israeli maps and Israeli textbooks.

Israel and the US never recognized Hamas’ win in the 2006 Palestinian democratic elections, and have since then sought to undermine Hamas’ role as a governing authority by arming and training Fatah to defeat Hamas, by imposing a siege on the 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip, and now by waging a one-sided war against Hamas along with destroying Gaza’s civil infrastructure and population.

If they really want to “moderate” Hamas, they should give Hamas reasons to moderate.

We should not accept the parameters of discourse established by our opponents (AIPAC talking points, for example). If we were speaking their language, we wouldn’t be talking about peace and justice but engaging in mind-numbing sophistry. Most “pro-Israel” arguments are non sequiturs, and they need to be acknowledged as such. We will not negotiate with Hamas until they recognize that Pepsi is the choice of a new generation.

Okay, all that aside, if you’re still looking for proof that Hamas’ positions are a lot more nuanced and a lot more flexible than how its opponents want to portray it, you can find some info here:

But you know, there will always be some smartass who, after you give them mountains of incontrovertible evidence, will act like they didn’t hear a thing you said, and then quip, “But what about the Hamas charter?” – as if that’s some sort of zinger.

* (Forgive my quick and sloppy math)