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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

www.NationalView.org's Note From a Madman

June 25, 2008


For those of you who noticed, it's PANDERING, not PADERING. Sorry about that. -NG

Gas and Dollars

It's no secret that the falling dollar has been one of the top reasons for our soaring gas prices. Conversely, our rising gas prices have caused our formerly strong dollar to collapse. So, which came first - the falling dollar or the high gas prices? Which is the chicken and which is the egg?

Allow me to answer that question with another question: Who cares?

The bottom line is that gas prices are high. I am personally tired of hearing those on the Right making excuses for the meteoric rise in the fuel we use to get to work, play and the hospital (for those of us with health care insurance). The big excuse, of course, is that gas prices are right where they ought to be when adjusted for inflation.

That is, simply put, crap.

Gas prices are high. In June of 2001, when our dollar was worth more than a Euro, we were paying about $1.80 on regular unleaded fuel nationwide. That in itself was a great increase from when George W. Bush took over just five months previously from Bill Clinton. Two years later it was even lower at less than $1.60. Today the national average is hovering around $4.25 per gallon, and whether your inflation calculator can adjust that high or not doesn't matter - it's out of hand.

The price today is at least three times what it was when George Bush took office in 2001, and it's getting worse. Ask yourself this question: Are you earning three times more in income than you were in 2001? I know I'm not. (And I'm really, really trying!)

As a percentage of our income, gas has now taken a bite too big for many of us. Add to that equation the increase in our health care bills (going up to nearly 20 cents on every dollar), the cost of groceries and the fall of our homes' values one has to question what is left.

The Bush administration - a.k.a. The Administration of Diminished Responsibility - has done nothing other than to insist that we drill for oil in Alaska and on our own coastlines to cure our gas price ills. They tell us that we need to obtain our own crude oil from new, domestic sources. The mere fact that any "new oil" found wouldn't make a dent in out wallets for about ten years doesn't seem to matter to anyone other than the very few who are actually paying attention.

The Right wing has been pushing the "global marketplace" as a cure-all for everything that is wrong financially with America. As jobs go overseas at a seemingly unending pace and our dollar falls as compared to just about any other world currency, the "global marketplace" is killing us.

In other words, when it takes less Euros to purchase a barrel of crude oil than dollars, we lose.

Wasn't it just two years ago that George Bush came to the realization that "America is addicted to oil"? How will giving the addict more of the drug they need make them less dependent on that drug?

Ask yourself another question: If we were to give in to all of the Bush and John McCain's demands to allow drilling everywhere (with the exclusion of the Kennebunkport, Maine coast) who will make the profits? Allow me to make this a rhetorical question and answer it myself: Big Oil. They're not only going to sell it to us - they're going to put it on that open market and sell it to whoever will pay the most.

And we, the American people, won't see a dime of it.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

Throughout the primary, the harshest debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were over health care. Clinton’s plan was, as it has been since 1992, universal health coverage. Conservatives then and now called it “socialized medicine.”

Clinton lost the primary and with that loss, Americans may have lost their one chance for universal health care. Obama’s health care platform is not nearly as comprehensive as Clinton’s was. Nor, unsurprisingly, is that of Republican opponent John McCain.

Nobody wants to talk about the specifics of health care plans. When you get that brochure from your employer and are told, “Please read it over carefully,” do you?

But it’s in the fine print that Americans are going to get universal coverage, not in the rhetorical overview.

Republicans are uniformly bad on health care. I have heard McCain say repeatedly that not everyone needs health insurance.

Unfortunately, Obama has said much the same thing, only phrased differently; his plaint is that we can’t afford to cover everyone.

Those statements are both false.

Everyone needs health insurance coverage. And we not only can we insure everyone in America, we *must* insure everyone in America.

I don’t need a politician to tell me why everyone needs health care coverage. I’m living the kind of anecdotal tale the Clinton campaign routinely conveyed to the media.

Three weeks ago my father had a stroke after two months of dramatically failing health that seemed unattributable to anything specific. He had test after test, but no discernable reason could be found for his sudden precipitous weight loss and resultant extreme anxiety, despite a retinue of accomplished specialists.

The day after Memorial Day I hospitalized him because it was obvious he was dying.

Apparently, I was correct.

My formerly intellectually astute and physically virile father was having small strokes on an almost daily basis. He was also having bouts of atrial fibrillation, a dangerously irregular heart beat that can throw clots off into the brain.

The latter caused him to have a stroke while in the hospital.

Fortunately for my father, I had been able to admit him to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which is not just one of the best hospitals in the city, but one of the top ten in the country.

They saved his life.

But at a cost. While my father has fully regained his mental acuity, he is paralyzed on his left side, has a surgically implanted feeding tube until he can be re-taught to swallow on his own and weighs about 120 pounds when he should weigh closer to 200.

I have no complaints about my father’s hospital care; it was superb. The nurses, doctors, neurologists and other specialists who cared for him during the three weeks he was in the hospital were amazing.

But there was no step that could be taken without consent from the major health insurance company that insures my father, including his initial hospitalization. Once he was medically cleared to leave–still paralyzed and still with the feeding tube, an IV and a catheter–he had to go to a rehab facility that would take his insurance and take him in his debilitated and fragile state.

Were it not for the diligence and prodding and cajoling of the social worker at HUP, we never would have managed that transition and found a place for my father to go. He’s now in a good facility close to his home: somewhat shabby, but with solid care and attractive surroundings and with daily physical therapy. He is expected to make at least a partial recovery.

But again–at what cost?

The best five-star hotel in Philadelphian costs far less per night than does his shared room in the nursing facility. Before my father leaves the place–hopefully to go home–all his finances and much of my own meager ones will be depleted.

Americans pay a lot for health care–privately and federally. In fact we pay more per person than do the citizens of any other nation for health care. Most of us get far little for that money.

Over 42 million Americans are uninsured. Another 20 to 30 million are under-insured. That means more than one in five Americans doesn’t have health insurance.

Yet every American who works is already paying into the Medicaid system, which covers the elderly, people on Social Security disability and those on welfare. So it’s not just theoretically that you are already paying into the much-demonized “socialized medicine” concept touted by Sen. Clinton for the past 16 years.

In addition, though, most Americans are paying into private health care plans, either through their jobs or individually, which means most of us are paying double.

My HMO costs $870 per month. It’s an HMO–I get no specialty items. I have the basics, period, yet my HMO costs more than my mortgage. And I also pay into that larger system providing Medicaid for folks like many of my neighbors who are on welfare assistance. Like more and more Americans, I have a chronic, progressive illness and thus cannot let my insurance lapse or my “pre-existing condition” will make it impossible for me to get health insurance again.

Yet if my father and I moved to Canada, Mexico or Cuba–all within two or three hours flight time from Philadelphia–we would be fully covered for all our medical needs solely on the basis of the taxes we would pay.

We are already paying those same taxes here–and have been for decades like a majority of Americans–but we get nothing in return in terms of health care. Why not?

Every European and Eastern European country, the former Soviet bloc and Russia, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, two-thirds of South America, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, Dubai, UAE, Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia all have universal health care. The U.S. provides the equivalent of universal health care in Afghanistan and Iraq, under the occupations of those nations.

If you look at a map of universal health care there are just two big blank spaces: The U.S. and Africa, except for South Africa. The rest of the world is on board the universal health care express.

It’s easy to see why poverty-stricken, corruption-ridden, war-torn African nations have not yet been able to institute universal health care. But since Americans already pay more per capita than any nation on earth for health care and not everyone is covered, it’s difficult to understand why the concept of universal health care in the U.S. is still so controversial that Sen. Clinton was labeled a socialist for trying to institute it.

Here’s what Sen. Clinton proposed: Requiring that private insurers offer policies to everyone, regardless of medical history. Allowing people to buy into government-offered insurance plan instead of private plans.

Clinton wanted insurance affordable for lower-income Americans and promised to limit the cost of insurance to a percentage of family income. Clinton also included funding for subsidies for the under-insured.

Where Clinton’s critics, including Obama and McCain, claimed “socialism” in her health care plan was in the question of mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance, the Obama and McCain plans don’t.

McCain continues to assert that not all Americans need health insurance. Obama insists that people will buy insurance if it becomes affordable, but doesn’t have a plan to make it affordable.

McCain touts his party’s line on universal health care. Obama seems to believe–despite all evidence to the contrary–that we cannot afford to cover everyone.
Yet we can and we must.

Imagine a 20something post-college student no longer covered by his or her parents’ health insurance who thinks he or she doesn’t need it. After all–this person is in their 20s and healthy, right?

But then a catastrophic car accident or sudden diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease (a cancer mostly afflicting people in their 20s) or appendicitis requiring surgery happens.

Not only does that 20something man or woman get left with bills totaling thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, but if they don’t pay, we do. The evidence is clear: Someone always pays for health care for the uninsured. We pay in higher premiums and in higher taxes. Doesn’t it make sense to pay once and be covered, rather than twice and leave so many people uninsured, an accident literally waiting to happen?

No one is arguing that universal health care is perfect. But we already know that private health insurance coverage is far from perfect either.

Not every older American is going to have a stroke, like my father. And not every 35- year-old is going to be struck with a progressive illness that will eventually kill her or him as I have been. But over a third of Americans have a chronic health condition, from diabetes to high blood pressure to heart disease. Others will develop cancer or some other serious illness. Some will–blissfully–remain healthy into old age. But those latter are the exception, not the rule.

Obama is far closer to being on track with health care than is McCain. One way to underline the difference between himself and McCain is for Obama to re-drafting his health care platform, which most Americans say is one of their top concerns, after the economy. He has a friend with an excellent plan in Clinton.

McCain may have good ideas, but the idea that not all Americans need health care coverage isn’t one of them. My father is just four years older than McCain. Something the Senator should consider–not just for himself, with the best health care coverage in America, but for his constituents, many of whom have no coverage at all.

Every four years we renew the debate over health care. Obama–or even, though this seems far less likely, McCain–has the potential to end the debate once and for all by demanding what Americans have needed for decades and what nearly everyone else on the planet already has: universal health care.

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-Noah Greenberg