Monday, August 24, 2009

Healthcare Reform, Part 4: The Screwfly Solution

Part 1: The Self Licking Ice Cream Cone

Part 2: What if Sarah Palin was a Liberal?

Part 3: If You’re Not Part of the Solution…

I smell a rat.

Rats are canny creatures. Sly and slick and cunning. They hide in the dark corners of the world, afraid of the light, rarely venturing out into the open, feeding on the scraps. They are cowardly little bastards with little loyalty and no honor – honor is a human trait, rats have no need of it.  Rats are opportunists and the ultimate survivors.  Rats will even eat each other, if it is convenient – and it often is.

You know how you can tell they’re about?

The rats, I mean.

There are little telltale piles of rat dropping in the corners and cupboards.  Trails of turds. Gnaw marks where the damned things have chewed into your food supply. You hear them up there at night, scampering through your attic, chittering in the dark – but you rarely see the foul creatures.

Get enough of them and people start to get sick and die.

You can put out poison. You can put out traps.  You can buy a cat.

But somehow they are always there, in the shadows.

Spreading disease and misery and plague.


Back in June, Karl Rove, former senior advisor and deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush, penned an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal outlining five points the Republicans needed to pursue in order to “stop socialized health care.”

Rove stated that “if Democrats enact a public-option health-insurance program, America is on the way to becoming a European-style welfare state.”  He offered no proof of his statement, neither substantiating the oft sited trope that the nations of Europe actually exist in a welfare state, or that the US is actually in danger of becoming one. Then Rove went on to explain 1) That reform was unnecessary, because there was already sufficient competition in the health insurance business, 2) Reform will undercut private insurers and pass the tab onto the taxpayer, 3) government run health insurance would “crater” the private insurance market, 4) it’s too expensive, and finally 5) the public option puts the government between the public and their doctors.

Rove’s opinion piece forms the core of the current opposition almost point for point.

And here, once again, we find the rats hiding in the shadows.  This slimy son of a bitch was the dean of NeoCon University, otherwise known as the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, and he was skulking behind every single significant scandal in the Bush White House. When the heat closed in on him, he slipped away like a big old wharf rat down a sewer pipe and landed slimy and stinking in the laps of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal where he sits, wiggling his whiskers and leaving little brown droppings, whispering in the ears of conservatives. Rove is a master of Information Warfare.  He is the king of doublespeak and the Washington Spin Cycle and he’s back there, in the shadows, pulling the strings just like he always has. 

Don’t believe me?

Read the WSJ article linked to above, and then think about how many times you’ve heard conservatives use those exact words.  Run a couple of Google searches on those phrases and check the dates – it won’t take you long to find Rove’s pudgy forearm jammed firmly up the ass of the GOP sock puppet.  Read his website, and his posts, and see how long it is until you hear Rush and Anne and Sarah and Beck saying exactly the same thing. 

Oh, I’m not postulating some vast right-wing conspiracy headed by Herr Rove.  But what I am saying is that there are hidden conservatives who pull the strings and have since Reagan. These people could care less about healthcare reform – the only thing they care about is beating the Liberals. If there is anything they fear more than terrorists and having their homosexual dalliances made public, it’s Liberals.  Nothing repulses them more. They see everybody as the enemy, but especially Liberals - that’s why so many conservatives drive hummers and carry guns, just in case the gay bunny hugging welfare staters try to invade their homes.

I ran into a guy I know yesterday. He’s a conservative and deathly afraid of Obama, the Democrats, and Liberals in general. We got to talking about healthcare reform, needless to say he opposes it.  And his arguments were almost word for word traceable right back to Karl Rove and his article in the Wall Street Journal.  My friend is afraid of healthcare reform – even though he is the exact kind of American who would benefit most from it.  See a year ago his wife lost her job, and along with it their healthcare benefits.  He was unemployed at the time.  For a long time, the only healthcare plan they had was “don’t get sick.”  He, more than anybody, ought to be supporting healthcare reform. 

Instead he’s been tricked into opposing it.

And that, right there, is the mark of a true master manipulator like Rove.

Forty years ago, the great science fiction writer, Dr Alice Sheldon (AKA James Tiptree Jr.) wrote a frightening story called The Screwfly Solution.  The story is about an alien invasion and the genocide of the human race – except the aliens don’t use death rays and nuclear bombs and giant tripod walkers. Instead they alter the perception of human males and trick the men into thinking that women are evil and dangerous and ungodly. The aliens appear as angels to the men.  This results in the rise of a new religious movement, one that believes Earth was a paradise before women were created – and that it will be a paradise again after they are gone.  The adherents, and soon all men are adherents, begin murdering women without even knowing why.  The implication is obvious – when the women are gone, the men will soon follow.  The aliens use human nature against itself and let the men do their dirty work for them.  All the while the aliens remain hidden in the shadows.  In the end, the protagonist sees one as she lays dying in the deep woods – and realizes that she’s looking at an alien real-estate agent.

The pundits and the manipulators, fueled by hidden money and rabid ideology, have turned Americans around on themselves. The very people who have the most to lose, who would benefit the most from a public option healthcare plan – people like my conservative friend - have become its most bitter enemies, and they don’t even know why.

The very people who have no coverage are enthusiastically defending a healthcare insurance system that won’t even let them in the front door. 

On his website, Rove has a section called Straw Man Watch, where he turns the President’s words around 180 degrees.  He quotes Obama:

In fact, whenever America has set about solving our toughest problems, there have always been those who've sought to preserve the status quo by scaring the American people.

Rove says nothing, but leaves the obvious implication that the president is creating a strawman argument – a fantasy that doesn’t exist. It’s an obvious attempt to discredit the President, and simultaneously give credence to himself and the anti-reform movement - without having to actually come out and say it. 

Watch and see how long it is until you hear conservatives using this exact phrase. Strawman.  Oh, hey, that didn’t take long at all, did it?

But the truth of the matter is that the President is exactly correct in his observation, there are those - Palin and Steele and Beck and McCaughey and Rove himself along with the Republican Old Guard – who are doing exactly this. Exactly. I.e. attempting to scare the American people into preserving the status quo – McCaughey, Palin, and Steele’s talk of “death panels” strikes right at the heart of senior citizen’s fears. 

Conservatives aren’t debating anything – they’re engaged in a campaign of lies and half-truths, solely in order to discredit the President.  Solely because they see him as the enemy and for no other reason. And they’ve duped a large segment of the population into their war, and those folks are going to get used the way cannon fodder always gets used.

Why would they do this?

My dad says, “follow the money.” 

Follow the money.

Dad’s right, follow the money, and when you do you’ll find layers of lobbyists, and men in $3000 dollar suits, and paid mouthpieces, and slimy little rats.  And when you follow the trail of rat droppings, you’ll find they lead directly to the health insurance companies.

The simple truth of the matter is that in the Untied States of America, access to healthcare is under almost complete control of the insurance companies.  Access is a de facto monopoly.  In his WSJ opinion piece, Rove claimed that there were over 13,000 health insurance agencies in the US and that fact alone provided sufficient competition to keep costs down and the industry in check.  Wrong, provably wrong. Obviously wrong. Utterly wrong. Indeed if it were even vaguely true, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place.

It is nearly impossible to tell one insurer from another.  The coverage and costs are identical in almost every single comparison – it’s a lot like the price of gas at the pumps, you can shop around, but in the end the difference in price is pennies on the dollar and you’re either going to pay or you’re going to walk.  There’s a reason for this (in both cases as a matter of fact), the insurance companies collude to set their prices and coverage. There are letters of agreement between insurers that guarantees the status quo – all you have to do is look at how claims are handled if you have more than one insurer.  You’ll have to do some digging when you get the claim report, but the information is there.  The reform oppositionists talk about choice. What choice? You pay or you walk. You buy into your employer’s health plan, or you do without.  You get no say in which plan they choose. When it comes to healthcare in the United State, choice is an illusion – and an easily discredited one at that.

If the healthcare plan currently before Congress passes, the people who stand to lose the most, in fact the only people who stand to lose, are the insurance companies.  They stand to lose billions up front and trillions over the next decade. 

For the insurance companies and their stockholders this is a matter of life and death – and they are willing expend billions (which they’ll later recoup from their customers) in order to survive in their present form. They’ve engaged in an aggressive campaign of information warfare, they’re funneling obscene amounts of money into it, they’re calling in favors and buying lunches and greasing the wheels of government and piping up all the rats they can find to carry their message.

Some examples:

The Numbers Are A Lie!

I’ve heard this line repeated over and over. I heard it yesterday from my conservative friend, I’ve seen it in comments under media reports, and I’ve heard it from the usual TV rats.  The numbers are a lie.  The Administration says that 47 million Americans are without healthcare coverage. The common response from anti-reformists, such as Julia Seymour of Business And Media Institute, is that those numbers are inflated by illegal aliens, people who can actually afford their own healthcare, and people who qualify for government healthcare in it’s current form and haven’t signed up. It’s also commonly claimed that 45% of the uninsured will have coverage again within four months, just as soon as they find new jobs.  The anti-reformists often claim that the actual number of uninsured may be as low a 8.2 million.

Do you see it? I do.  I used to do this for a living. It’s information warfare.  See how it’s done? Illegal aliens.  The dirty brown Mexicans are stealing our healthcare! Conservatives are already afraid of illegal aliens, using them as a stalking horse in the healthcare reform debate is a stroke of medium tactical brilliance.  Nobody asks for proof of this statement – conservatives are already sure that it’s true. It’s a simple step to make the next jump, the numbers are a lie because they include 20 million illegal aliens. Simple and effective. Two birds, one stone.

There’s just one little problem with that math, the 47 million figure comes from US census bureau data, and while you can quibble over the exact number and who exactly should have healthcare coverage in the first place – the simple truth of the matter is that either the Census Bureau’s data is trustworthy or it’s not.  And if it’s not, then we’ve got some major, major problems – starting with voting districts.  Also, note that the 47 million figure is substantiated by a number of other supporting data points, such as the number of uninsured showing up in emergency rooms, or the numbers of senior citizens crossing the borders into Mexico and Canada to fill prescriptions, or the number of children in schools with untreated maladies. And, in fact, the 47 million figure looks to be pretty solid. 

But 47 million is a big damned number, and left unchallenged it just might shame Americans into taking action.  After all, conservatives took us to war over the deaths of a mere 3000 Americans, 47 million uninsured Americans translates into the deaths of tens of thousands each year.  Many of them children, and you know how conservatives feel about children. 

The insurance companies are no different in this regard than Big Tobacco, who spent billions of dollars and decades of sustained effort trying to blur and discredit the numbers of people who died each year from their products.

But in the end, the numbers were right after all.

We Don’t Want Government interfering in our healthcare!

Well, yes. 

Unless it’s to tell women what they can or cannot do with their reproductive systems, then, of course, it’s OK.

And unless it’s to dictate when someone can be removed from life support, then, of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to turn healthcare matters over to a judge.

And unless it’s to dictate who shall have access to birth control education in the schools – or even at the pharmacies.

And unless it’s to stop a girl from getting a vaccine to prevent her later death from cervical cancer.


But other than that, we don’t want no stinking government in our healthcare!

What conservatives actually mean when they say they don’t want government involved in their healthcare is that they want freedom of choice – just as long as everybody else doesn’t get it.

Government run healthcare will make me lose my current coverage.

Here’s something funny, you know what else will make you lose your current coverage?  Losing your job.  Keeping your job, but having your employer take a nosedive, profit-wise, and decide as a cost cutting measure to ax your benefits.  Keeping your job, but having your hours reduced so that you are no longer “full time.”  Leaving your job for a different one. Starting your own business.  Working for a small business. Getting injured.  Getting sick. Having one of your kids get sick. Having your insurance carrier decide to drop your coverage without warning or appeal.

Guess who can’t lose their healthcare coverage?

No, I mean besides Canadians.

People who are covered by…wait for it, waaaaait for it…the government. You know, like Veterans and Military Retirees and those on Medicare.

Which takes us to

The government can’t run a healthcare program.


Which is why I prefer to use my VA benefits and military retirees benefits and civil service benefits over my civilian healthcare coverage.

Because it sucks so much more than dealing with the insurance companies.


Government Run Healthcare will cost too much!

And then we won’t have enough money left over for all those stealth bombers and new littoral class combat ships and predators and NSA wiretaps and those secret CIA prisons and so on.


When conservative congressmen talk about fiscal responsibility, what they actually mean is that they’re not getting a big enough piece of the pork. If healthcare reform was an assembly line of F-22 Raptors built in a red state they’d be all for it and damn the cost.

The healthcare insurance industry can reform without government interference.


The reason healthcare costs are so high is because of malpractice lawsuits.

Nope. Sorry. Completely specious argument. Once again the numbers don’t bear out the claim.

Several years ago Texas passed a tough law strictly limiting medical malpractice “pain and suffering” awards to $250,000. The number of lawsuits dropped to near zero.  Medical costs are higher in Texas than anywhere else in the country.

The high cost of medical care is a reflection of the high cost of medical insurance. And seriously, when the insurance companies are telling you that the high cost of insurance is because you keep, you know, using it and not because of their own overinflated business pactices – well, I’d take that shit with a big grain of salt.

We discussed the real reason why insurance costs are so high in part one of this series.

America has the best health care system in the world.

Actually, we’re number 37 according to the World Health Organization.

You’ll note that when it comes to healthcare and life expectancy, we’re behind one hell of a lot of socialist countries and pretty much all of the “European Welfare States.”  The good news is that we soundly kicked Fiji’s ass in healthcare.

They’re rushing the reform bill through Congress!

We’ve been talking about healthcare reform since the Clinton Administration, but yeah, whew, I can hardly keep up.

Obama wants to kill Grandma.

Remember the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip?  In one episode Calvin is confronted with a pop quiz, he doesn’t know the answer so he just starts screaming out random phrases, Lewis and Clark! The War of 1812! Titanium! and like that.

Every time I hear Palin randomly shouting sound bites I think of that cartoon.

Seriously, this bullshit is an indicator of just how utterly desperate the opposition is. They really don’t give a shit about healthcare reform – they just hate liberals so damned much and the mere thought of a major victory makes them want to piss their pants.  They’re down to shouting out anything they can think of to block the administration.

Here’s an example for you: Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said on the House floor, "One in five people have to die because they went to socialized medicine! Now I've got three daughters and a wife. I would hate to think that among five women, one of them is going to die because we go to socialized care." 

(3 daughters + 1 wife = 5 women apparently.  Or is there another woman in there, Louie?  Whoops, you haven’t taken any trips to Argentina lately have you?)

Because, in Canada, England, and well, pretty much all of those other 36 countries above us on the WHO list, the mortality rate is one fifth of the population annually. 

One fifth.


Government Run Healthcare is Socialism!

Here in Alaska, bastion of the Palin Conservatives, I guess we’ll be giving up the Permanent Fund – you know, money derived from a state owned corporation that taxes private companies and redistributes the wealth to the people. 

Funny how we red state Alaskans are all about socialism when it comes to PFD payout time, isn’t it?

I guess conservatives will be giving back their official George W. Bush stimulus checks now, huh? And returning their Social Security payments.  Refusing their Medicare and VA benefits as a matter of principle too, right?  I guess they’ll be refusing the protection of their military and police forces, refusing to drive on the roads, or use the Postal System, or any of the thousands of other services provided by the government.

It is pretty damned obvious that the vast majority of Americans are ignorant when it comes to how their representative democracy works – and they had that in school.  Most wouldn’t know socialism if it jumped up and bit them on their collective ass. In their minds socialism, Marxism, communism, atheism, and Canada are all the same thing.

Need proof?


Conservatives keep floating healthcare cooperatives as a viable alternative to the Public Option.

Healthcare Co-Ops?

Seriously here folks, when you propose a communist alternative to avoid a socialist solution to a capitalist problem – you really have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.



If you can’t see why you’re being manipulated by people behind the scenes at this point – well, nothing I can say will convince you.

But you might want to buy some rat traps. And I’d steer clear of anything that looks like an angel.

Just sayin’.


  1. Reid needs to get off his ass, put the original plan back on the Senate floor and let the Republicans filibuster.

    Obama has made a honest attempt to reach a bi-partisan agreement, and every time something is droped now the Republicans want more.

    Several errors in my opinon in your post, although they don't amount to much.

    The Conservative controlers, who had Reagan and Bush II firmly under thumb, are not afraid of either terrorists or Liberals. They stand a much higher chance of getting killed by a drunk than a terrorist.

    Their fear related to liberals has only to do with more of their money might be taken in taxes, you know returning to the 91% top rate of that arch liberal Eisenhower.

    'When the head of the AFL-CIO sits down with President Nixon for lunch, the little guy in this country is in trouble' I've no idea who said it and I'm certain it isn't a correct quote but the idea is there.

    The Conservative goal, and it has been stated as such, is to remove all government progams for the citizen since Hoover. Including getting regulation off the back of industry so it can work right.

    Anyway, you are one of the first places I turn in morning, usually with my second cup of coffee.

  2. FYI the first place I check is e-mail to see if I have a job offer.

    (actually I feed the cat)

    I lost my job of 34 years last September, but am one of the lucky ones as my package included health insurance, my best friend at work is a few years junior in both age and time in job and got zip. He has two high school aged kids.

  3. I probably shouldn't read this with breakfast, as unlike the previous commenter I haven't yet had any coffee.

    I agree with much of what you've said over this four-parter, but you haven't gotten to the important bit: what do we do?

    Rational discourse seems right out. Shooting people is attractive, but probably not a good idea. Moving to a socialist, I mean civilized, country sounds appealing. But I kind of like a lot of things about this one - how do we fix it?

  4. yea and verily. The Public Option is the compromise. The good thing is that, other than the Blue Dogs, much of the Democratic Party has finally found a clue and became very upset when the president floated the idea that maybe the Public Option could be negotiated. To take a page from the opposition, you can't negotiate with terrorists or dictators.

  5. Jim, you keep knocking these out of the park. Damn your eyes.

    Seriously, though, well-said.

  6. Karl Rove is evil and must be destroyed.

    That is all.

  7. well written - you sound kinda worked up about this

  8. Part 5? You mean I have to wait???

    Mark - "worked up about it"? We should all be worked up about something that puts such tremendous control over our lives, careers, relationships in the hands of corporations interested only in the bottom line.

  9. Painfully obvious that none of these neocon pundits have ever tried to get health insurance on their own without the benefit of an employer or the gub'ment picking up all or part of the tab.

    Let me educate them. I have been without insurance since 2001. I am a middle-aged woman, in relatively decent health, with the normal issues that come with this time in life. The only times I have been to a doc since 2000 are for really nasty sinus infections and emergency dental work. The rest of the time the plan was "don't get sick..."

    I have worked as an independent contractor or small business employee for most that period, provding I was employed at all. There is very little support for small business owners to provide insurance plans either at present.

    Insurance for me from the average carrier would run me between $350-400 per month, just to have a plan with a $1,000-$4,000/year deductible. Dental? don't get me started.

    On MY pay? Yeah, right.

    More later. Lunch is over.


  10. Ok, the estimated deficit without Obamacare is 2 trillion dollars next year.

    How are you going to pay for another 1 trillion on top of that?


  11. What I most think about on the topic of health care, is a tow truck driver whose mother had died a few days before I met him.

    He once had a son. The son racked up a hospital bill of $100k before dying a week after he was born. That was several years ago, he still hadn't finished paying for it, and probably never would. And now he couldn't afford to go to his own mother's funeral.

  12. I am still twitching after visiting my father and his wife this weekend. It was exactly what you say in this post -- I listened to Karl Rove come out of his mouth (and to a lesser degree) hers. No matter what I said, I heard Karl back.

  13. Phiala said...Part 5? You mean I have to wait???

    The answer is obvious: Move to Canada. The population of Nunavut is only 1 person/23sq miles. Lots of room for you. Bring a nice warm blanket though.

  14. Nunavut? Not quite what I was thinking. Internet access is an absolute requirement, you see...

  15. Sadly, I have zero hope that whatever comes out will make any real change. The systems are too entrenched and there will simply be endless churn and turmoil over implementation which will result in massive amounts of new bureaucracy and rules and limits and whathaveyou as the systems will be required to "work together" - hah!

    Look at how well medicare is run for a view of the future. It hands out medicine but many things are so messed up that there are companies out there thriving just by being the middlemen between the medicare bureaucracy and ordinary people.

    I sure hope with a fresh start something truly useful will emerge but quite frankly I am not holding my breath.


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