Swans Commentary » swans.com October 5, 2009  



Blips #91
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery





"No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear."
—Edmund Burke (1729-1797), A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1756
"It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable."
—Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), The Passionate State of Mind, 1954


(Swans - October 5, 2009)   TWO WEEKS AGO, I alerted our primary care physician to Jan Baughman's cartoon and my two pieces on health care, asking him to share the cartoon with his co-workers at our local Health Center. He contacted me back with a short sentence: "I couldn't agree more and will share it with my co-workers as well as statewide network." Mark Apfel is a good doctor and by this I mean an excellent physician and a fine and compassionate human being. He's been a long-time advocate of a single payer system -- some kind of "Medicare for all." He once explained to me the bureaucratic nightmare and treatment restrictions that our current private insurance labyrinth imposes upon him and his profession. One insurance company will cover one prescription drug but not the other, one particular treatment but not the other, forcing the physician to select the treatment and the drug depending on the particular insurance company from which the patient gets coverage. Furthermore, each private health insurance company has a network of health centers (hospitals, clinics) and physicians. If a patient wants to go to a health center that is not part of the network, tough luck -- the co-pays are jacked up exorbitantly. Talk about freedom of choice!

I RECALL the first time I visited the Anderson Valley Health Center a few years back to get a complete check-up (had not had one in years). I filled out a questionnaire and tended my health insurance card to the front desk. They took a photocopy of it, gave it back, and I waited for the examination. Once thoroughly performed, I stopped by the front desk. I think they charged me a small amount of money, maybe $10 or $15, before sending me on my way. A few weeks later Jan heard from the insurance company -- the policy comes from Jan's employer and is addressed in San Francisco. The company objected to my having gone to a clinic in Boonville instead of a health center in San Francisco. Why would one choose to drive 115 miles to a small rural clinic? It looked suspicious to them. It took forever to have them accept that I was indeed living in Boonville. We had to prove it with the help of electrical/phone bills and the like, which still were problematic because the bills were in Jan's name, not mine. (We've long figured out that clerks can't type my last name properly.) Kafka would have loved living in contemporary America!

DOCTORS TAKE AN OATH to do no harm and to tend to the health of their fellow humans. When a fellow does not have health insurance, any decent, humane physician will still attend to that fellow's illness -- and chances are that the fellow will visit the physician once illness (or accident) strikes. So what to make of all the bills floating in Congress that specifically state that "illegal immigrants" won't be covered and won't be permitted to get health insurance even if they can afford it? How fair is it to the physicians who will make no difference between an "illegal immigrant" or someone who has no health insurance, and those who are lucky enough to be covered? For most physicians, especially in rural communities, the status of the patient is irrelevant. Care will be provided. I remember when I was a kid back in France -- my grandparents' family doctor would come regularly to the house when necessary. We had health insurance but still my grandmother always insisted on giving the good doctor a dozen eggs or a chicken, an old tradition from a time when rural doctors were seldom paid with cash but were given food, wine, clothing, etc., to compensate for their services. Paid or not, good doctors are always on call.

HOW HYPOCRITICAL it is that our immigrant fellows are once again stigmatized and discriminated. After all, here in the Anderson Valley not one vineyard would be able to survive without the labor of these hard-working men and women. Not one! (This is a situation that is being repeated all over the country.) Society needs them; society exploits them; society abuses them; and society discriminates against them. All the while, physicians care for them as best they can. Our society? Check again Jan Baughman's last cartoon, and her entire series. They speak volume about our society and our culture.

IGNORANCE CAN BE forgivable but sheer deception by knowledgeable people is a crime that, if real justice had any meaning in this country, should not be left unpunished. That common people with legitimate grievances and real, concrete anxieties lash out at the government is understandable. That, manipulated by what's known as astroturfing, media pundits, politicians, and especially PR firms (see below), they oppose and reject any kind of health care reform is also understandable. Leaving the libertarian, gun-toting or not, folks aside, these people spilled their venom and fears based on the perceptions that were fed to them by powerful influence-meddling groups. Uninformed -- or rather misinformed -- they are, but they are not criminals (at least not yet). They ought to be excused...though not ignored. They are a reminder of an ideological orientation that is well represented in the country -- remember, Obama won 28 states only. They have not accepted the so-called "mandate for change" and are well represented in the House and the Senate.

STILL, THEY ARE manipulated and powerful interests are channeling their set of beliefs. They get their marching orders from media pundits such as, to cite a few, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily (an insufferable personage and rabid "Birther" I reviewed with much pleasure in my 2006 Blips#36 -- worth reading for a good laugh), and a sprawling phalange of extreme right-wing commentators in the Blogosphere. These are demagogues who ply on real anxieties of the populace and through fear mongering they incite anger against the "hated government," but they are the message transmitters, not its creators. Keep in mind that for these people government, as Lew Rockwell once wrote, "produces nothing on its own," and "it is impossible to deny that it is a parasite on society."

THE MANIPULATIVE MESSAGE is crafted by influential think tanks like, for instance, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, and social conservative groups such as the Christian Evangelical Focus on the Family founded by James Dobson, or the secretive Fellowship (aka, "the Family") led by Douglas Coe, the "stealth Billy Graham," which includes many US representatives and senators. (To learn more about The Fellowship, read Amy Goodman's August 12, 2009, Democracy Now! interview of Jeff Sharlet, the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.)

IN OCTOBER 2008, one month before the presidential elections, James Dobson, considered as possibly the most powerful Christian Evangelical in the U.S. (he was instrumental in the selection of Sarah Palin on the McCain ticket), had his political activist group Focus on the Family Action -- an organization that according to its Web site is involved "in the moral, cultural and political issues that threaten our nation" -- issue a "What if" letter that spelled out what would happen if Barack Obama came to power. It was entitled "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America" (Google search). The letter writer provides "a picture of the changes that are likely or at least very possible if Senator Obama is elected and the far-Left segments of the Democratic Party gain control of the White House, the Congress, and perhaps then the Supreme Court." It begins:

Dear friends,

I can hardly sing "The Star Spangled Banner" any more. When I hear the words,

O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Now in October of 2012, after seeing what has happened in the last four years, I don't think I can still answer, "Yes," to that question. We are not "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Many of our freedoms have been taken away by a liberal Supreme Court and a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, and hardly any brave citizen dares to resist the new government policies any more.

FOLLOWS A LONG litany of catastrophic outcomes, from the Supreme Court (taken over by the "far Left"), to gay marriage (legalized), abortion (government funded), pornography (on daily TV), gun ownership (banned), military warring adventures (abandoned), taxes (through the roof), Conservative talk radio (censured), Christian publishers (out of business), education (home schooling, teaching of creationism forbidden, acceptance of homosexuality, and the like...forcing good Christians "to emigrate to other countries"), and on and on. (The letter addresses 34 cases of malevolence by the Obama administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress.) You can read a gung-ho summary from where else but WorldNetDaily, and you can read the full 16-page letter on the same site (PDF). (Amusingly, once the damage was done and the message(s) sent to the troops, Focus on the Family did not feel it necessary to keep that letter on their Web site. It has done its job; time to move on to the next case... Still, I would strongly recommend that you read the entire letter. It's a small PDF file, about 70kb. Read it. We ignore these people (and life on this planet) at our peril.

I LEFT OUT the part of the letter regarding health care intentionally. Here it is, in full:

Health care

(26) Health care systems: The new Congress under President Obama passed a nationalized "single provider" health care system, in which the U.S. government is the provider of all health care in the United States, following the pattern of nationalized medicine in the United Kingdom and Canada. The great benefit is that medical care is now free for everyone -- if you can get it. Now that health care is free, it seems everybody wants more of it. The waiting list for prostate cancer surgery is 3 years. The waiting list for ovarian cancer is 2 years. Just as the Canadian experience had shown prior to 2008 with its nationalized health care, so in the U.S. only a small number of MRIs are performed -- down 90% from 2008 -- because they are too expensive, and they discover more problems that need treatment, so they are almost never authorized.

(27) Limited care for older Americans: "The land of the free"? Because medical resources must be rationed carefully by the government, people older than 80 have essentially no access to hospitals or surgical procedures. Their "duty" is increasingly thought to be to go home to die, so they don't drain scarce resources from the medical system. Euthanasia is becoming more and more common.

EUTHANASIA, RATIONING... Who else has brought that message to the populace, courtesy of the main media, 75 percent of whose revenues depend on advertising, many of them coming from insurance companies and Big Pharma? What about Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives? Here is Gingrich on national TV (August 4, 2009):

Look at what Dr. Emmanuel has said, the president's advisor who has certainly implied a willingness to consider euthanasia, and then you look at the historic record of euthanasia. You know, should Down syndrome children be at risk of the government, or should their lives be protected?

If you read the "communitarian standards" that Dr. Emmanuel describes, then it certainly sounds very foreboding and very threatening, and I think you can suddenly get people engaged in conversation and in debate who would not normally be engaged in it.

"GET PEOPLE ENGAGED in conversation and debate..." Three days later, Sarah Palin was talking about "death panels" in front of the cameras and later on Senator Grassley (R. IO) -- a member of "The Family" and a member of the "gang of six" within the Senate Financial Committee that has come up with a status-quo bill that does not include single payer or even a public option -- was telling his constituents that, "We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma." Meanwhile, Dick Armey, the former Republican House Majority Leader, was hard at work to manage the message and up the ante through his organization named FreedomWorks -- an outfit that has been one of the foremost enablers and organizers of the angry Town Hall crowds during this past summer, lighting the match, creating the fires, and assiduously adding fuel to the combustion. Founded in 1984 -- it used to be named Citizens for a Sound Economy, whose first chairman was none other than Representative Ron Paul (small world!) -- FreedomWorks promotes the usual hard-core libertarian policies: lower taxes, less government, more freedom. Those are the people whose forefathers opposed the creation of Social Security in the 1930s and who fought tooth and nail against the creation of Medicare in the 1960s. They have been long supporters of the efforts by successive Republican administrations to privatize Amtrak, the US Postal Service, and of course Social Security on the premise that government is inefficient ("the government is the problem, not the solution").

SO IT'S NOT SURPRISING that when Newt Gingrich was asked his reason for not supporting a public option, he smilingly answered with a sibylline question of his own: "Do you trust the government?" -- which is truly the height of hypocrisy knowing that the opponents of a public option keep arguing that private insurance companies could not possibly compete with a health insurance managed by the government! In other words, the private sector could more efficiently manage the USPS, Social Security, Amtrak, etc., but could not compete with a health insurance program run by the same "inefficient" government. To think that this kind of absurdity brings hordes of angry protesters to the streets is mind numbing.

MORE OMINOUSLY, there is another group of people that is deeply involved in the creation and packaging of the manipulative message. In my last Blips, I mentioned the power that industry lobbyists brings to bear on Congress, but I left out the hidden army of corporate PR people who shape the debate to benefit the industry and Wall Street on the backs of all of us. Enter Wendell Potter who prior to his current status -- he is a senior fellow on health care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin -- was the head of corporate communications and part of the Legal & Public Affairs division of CIGNA, a major for-profit health insurance company. He worked in the industry for two decades and knows a lot about the shenanigans used to crush any decent and reasonable health care reform, which by definition would cut into the profits of the industry. Remember folks, sick care is all about profits. In an address delivered on September 14, 2009, at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., Potter talked about "the millions of dollars that special interests are spending on PR activities to accomplish the same [lobbyist] goal and that are vital to successful lobbying efforts."

HE EXPLAINED how special-interests front groups, fully financed by the industry and largely hidden from the public, defeated the Clinton plan in the 1990s, killed the Patients' Bill of Rights, helped discredit Michael Moore's movie Sicko, and time and again through "devious and often sinister campaigns to manipulate public opinion" work to increase the profits of the industry. Remember what I reported two weeks ago: While the average premiums paid to large US health-insurance companies have shot up 87 percent in the past six years the profits of the top ten insurance companies have multiplied by 428 percent during that same period.

REGARDING THE NUMBER of PR people churning out talking points for the lobbyists, the media, and the political class, Wendell Potter could not be more specific when he wondered, "What does this all mean for our country and our democracy?" He said:

During my 20 years in corporate communications and public affairs, I participated in the steady growth and influence of largely invisible persuasion -- and at a time when newsrooms are shrinking and investigative journalism seems to be vanishing. The number of PR people long ago surpassed the number of working journalists in this country. And that ratio of PR people to reporters will continue to grow. The clear winners as this shift occurs are big, rich corporations and other special interests. The losers are average Americans, most of whom are completely unaware how their thoughts and actions are being manipulated to achieve corporate goals on Capitol Hill. [see full article, "How Corporate PR Works to Kill Health Care Reform."]

TO SUM UP: The deceit, disinformation, and manipulation begin in the industry's board rooms; are tailored by PR firms that are fully paid by the industry; are passed on to the lobbyists, the media, and the ideologues (whether religious fundamentalists or libertarian right-wingers); and are picked up by the demagogues on talk shows (radio and TV), the Blogosphere, and the astroturfers to whip the populace into a frenzy of fear, which is transformed into street anger and threats of violent reactions. Emotional irrationality takes over. Legislation is defeated or badly watered down. Profits are saved (and increased). Mission accomplished!

I WISH THAT in this tiny space, Swans contributors would devolve more time to expose the fallacies that these nefarious reactionary networks expound -- "the sprawling archipelago of conservative groups based in and around Washington," in the words of Scott Shane ("A Critic Finds Obama Policies a Perfect Target," The New York Times, September 25, 2009). Have we not had enough of 35 years of vile and destructive reactionay politics?

MEANTIME, tomorrow, and the days thereafter, Dr. Mark Apfel, will wake up and tend to the health of his local flock, whether insured, non-insured, or so-called illegal immigrants. Days go on, as nights do, and so long as we are alive, the fight for reason, humanness, compassion, and equity will prevail -- at least in our ranks.

 . . . . .

C'est la vie...

And so it goes...


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La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.
Supporting the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a 
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About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery on Swans (with bio). He is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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This Edition's Internal Links

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/desk091.html
Published October 5, 2009