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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Is It Always Greed That Triumphs Over All?

I was one of those optimists who cheered when the new Health Care bill was passed and signed into law last year. I know, it certainly wasn't perfect - far from it. But I honestly believed that it was a starting place and that we could expand the good parts and fix the bad ones and gradually, hopefully, wind up with something that looked sorta, kinda, like health insurance that everyone could afford. And I am do want to clarify here. This was never a health CARE bill - it was and is only a health INSURANCE bill.

But it is a year later. Implementation has begun. People who know stuff have been reading all the fine print. The new Republican majority in the House has been taking a budget axe to the thing. And I am becoming more and more dismayed the more I learn.

I get that the thing was about compromise to get it passed. I do. But it seems that the compromises were always about greed and never about what was best for the actual people this bill affected. And you can be sure that the people making the decisions were not and never would be affected by this. Congress is automatically exempt from every single piece of legislation they ever pass. Yup, you read that right.

I won't go into a recitation of all the crap I've been reading lately of all the failures of this bill to do what it pretends to do. Google is your friend. But here is a little story.

I have some friends - a young couple with two young children ages one and three. This young couple both happen to each be very talented artists. But as you can well imagine - making a living doing art is a stretch even when the economy is not in the tank so each of them does another job in order to earn money to support their family. Last year, the wife made a big decision to leave a paying job and work full-time at home so she could spend more time with her children, the youngest of whom had a life-threatening episode shortly after her birth. She came up with a creative business that she is doing in her basement and now employs two part-time workers to help her with the work. The husband is just finishing up with his apprenticeship to be an electrician - a four-year grueling stint of school and work that leaves him little time for his art, but he continues his painting after the kids are in bed and after his long days.

As you might well expect - health insurance for this family is not very good. They have some through the husband's work. But the youngest daughter has already had a major health problem. So they are considered "high risk" and after his apprenticeship he will have a difficult time finding work unless the employer who supported his apprenticeship is willing to hire him permanently. That is not a done deal at this point.

In the last few weeks, their older child has had a couple of normal, childhood accidents. She got her thumb caught in a slammed door. It's broken. It took an ER visit and two visits to two different orthopedists to get a decision whether to put a cast or just a splint on her tiny thumb. (She got the splint). Then, just a week later, she was playing on a chair, somehow tipped it over, and smashed her face on a picture frame. That required another trip to the ER and four tiny stitches in her forehead. And just three weeks before this happened, the husband had a first-time ever migraine episode/panic attack that was apparently brought on by what his neurologist told him was 'lack of sleep, overwork, and stress'. Gee, ya think?

So...where is the health INSURANCE for this family? I had arrived at their home just after the older child's second accident to find the wife sobbing as she tried to get the baby ready, wondering how they were going to pay the medical costs for all this stuff, the child wanting to know why her mommy was crying, and I am holding both of them thinking yes - why is this happening? This is the richest country on the planet and only here! If this family lived in Canada...or England, France, or Germany...or even CUBA for crying out loud, she would not have to ask that question. She would not have to worry about the money. Her husband would not have to keep doing a job he doesn't particularly care for so he can keep a piddly amount of health insurance for his family. He could spend all his time on his wonderful, exquisitely detailed and yes, saleable paintings instead of crawling under houses in the middle of a Montana winter. She could take time off from her business to care for her babies instead of having to take them to day care because she has orders to get out and they need the money to pay the doctors and the hospital - EVEN WITH THE INSURANCE!

This business of every single person in Congress only looking out for their personal bottom line - what's in it for them in the form of campaign cash - instead of what's in it for the good of the country is so apparent right here in this one little story. The sad part is that this one little story is not the most extreme, nor is it the most heart-rending, nor is it unusual. It just happens to be the one that is happening right here to someone I know right now this minute. I'm sure you know someone too. Or you are someone.

I guess my question is when are we going to demand better of our politicians? We sigh and complain. But then we just shrug and walk away because "that's just the way things are". Well, they don't have to be that way. We say, well, we don't have any choice - they are all corrupt. That is only partly true - we currently don't have any choices because we don't organize around making other choices available. A well-organized campaign can be done - if you don't believe me just ask Senator Lisa Murkowski! She not only defeated a well-funded Tea Party candidate in her own party - she spent most of her campaign cash on advertisements that taught the electorate in Alaska just how to properly fill in a ballot for a write-in candidate so that all the votes for her would be correct and would count in the face of what was sure to be legal challenges. It can be done!

So if we truly believe that our politicians are corrupt - we need to figure out a better one - fund them ourselves so that special interests (read big corporations and rich jerks) don't, and get them elected. And then, we need to stay involved by continuing to contact them with information about the issues and demand that they vote the way we want them to. (Another of my pet peeves - pols who vote the opposite of what their constituents want and claim they were sent there to do just that!).

So get active - if there is a fair elections group in your district, community or state - get involved. Let's get the private money out of elections and make them publicly funded. That's the only way to overturn the Citizens United decision. If you think your Rep or Senator isn't doing the job and you aren't happy with the opposition - get your friends together and find a different candidate to run against both of them. And get out the vote! We have the lowest voter turnout of almost any democracy. We complain about who gets elected - but less than half, and in many cases only a third of people actually vote. If everyone votes - the outcomes might just be really different!