How Obama's Health Care Deceptions Prove the Imbecility of Hope
25 February 2013
(Note: TypePad's system for posting links as highlighted text has inexplicably failed, a vexing malfunction that will no doubt soon be corrected. Meanwhile, to get this material online as quickly as possible, I'm forced to go back to the old, awkward method of including actual URLs in the text. My apology for the inconvenience.)
DESPITE MY NEW recognition that writing political commentary is a waste of time and energy, I can't promise to stop doing it. Old habits die hard – never mind I now sadly acknowledge H. sapiens sapiens is so determined to fulfill the biblical prophecies of human extinction, we are like some jumper who has already leapt from a bridge, ourselves on an irreversible plunge toward the bottomlessly toxic waters of environmental suicide.
Nevertheless the fact our species festers with such self-hatred it has destroyed its own future does not seem to relieve me from the obligation to produce new work. It is a paradox I cannot explain, a powerful certainty that writing and photography remain rites of redemption even amidst the ultimate holocaust inflicted by a failed species intent on murdering its entire planet. Perhaps such certitude is only stubborn egotism, a last spasm of (imbecilic) hope. But I believe it is something more, the final riddle of the Muse, an ultimate mystery into which death is the only initiation. Hence I'll soon be publishing the long-promised photo essay on Occupy Tacoma plus new and/or revised chapters of my memoir, all here in Outside Agitator's Notebook.
Given my age and uncertain health, I think it better to get those texts and pictures into print as quickly as possible. After 2014, Obamacare regulations force all lower-income Medicare recipients onto Medicaid, which in turn mandates the post-mortem confiscation of one's entire estate, for the details of which see the text and links in the concluding section below. As a result, all my manuscripts and photographs, which I long ago willed to a beneficiary able to archive them in a significant library, could instead be seized by the state and suppressed accordingly.
Immediate publication of the work in question will also ensure certain kinfolk cannot squelch the darker details of why I regard “family” as a synonym for pain, terror and betrayal. These include the circumstances of my conception (not an expression of love but instead a malicious act by my mother-to-be to ensnare a mate whose gender she despised); her attempts to murder my father and me five years later; my father's immediate response (a judicially terminated effort to abandon me in an orphanage); and of course the denouement, my subsequent rejection by most relatives as an unwanted reminder of the stigma that accompanies psychopathic violence and scandalous divorce. Such were among the formative events of my childhood, a succession of wounds from which the only possible recovery is acceptance and accommodation.
No doubt there are a few relatives who would like to delete the brighter, more optimistic parts of this memoir too. Included are expressions of gratitude for a seeming miraculous psychic rescue by a maternal aunt (the most decisive event of my life); for a series of healing relationships with remarkable females who befriended me in childhood or shared themselves as lovers during my adult years; and finally for the confirmation provided by occasional encounters with the resurrected Goddess – gifts of clarity that, given the expanded perspective of my closing years, enable me to redeem with newly discovered elements of structure, meaning and apparent purpose what I had long belittled as a personal odyssey of naught but ruin and despair. (I leave it to readers to decide whether the Goddess is objectively real or merely an imaginary character my psyche fabricated in compensation for my hateful mother.) In any case I think it is a story worth telling, potentially healing not just on abstract or theoretical levels but in everyday life as well.
Meanwhile I'll begin shifting OAN's focus more toward providing practical information that's useful to impoverished, elderly and disabled people like myself. This sort of material was formerly covered by most newspapers, certainly by all the better ones. But the definition of news – previously the duty of seasoned editors – is now dictated by the One Percent, the political and economic interests that own the nation's major media. And news that's important to lower-income people – for example, death-dealing changes in welfare regulations or instructions on how to build backyard gardens that will help us survive the coming famines – is now rejected either as dangerous or editorially insignificant. It is also snootily shunned lest it detract from the ever-more-deliberately elitist formats demanded by advertisers.
Breaking the resultant embargo – applying my formerly award-winning reportorial skills to light a few informational candles that might momentarily ease the darkness beneath the Obama Bush – is the one activity in which I may yet be of service. It is, admittedly, resistance for its own sake – small acts of defiance – assertions of existential freedom – that change nothing. But it's all I have left to give.
One of the most compelling reasons I am convinced we are a doomed species is how we react to the approaching apocalypse in exactly the same way an individual reacts to a diagnosis of terminal illness.
As Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously documented in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, such reactions have five stages. These are (with their pre-apocalyptic equivalents in parentheses): denial (the response of the vast majority, whether in the United States or elsewhere); anger (the chaotic, avowedly disorganized and therefore ultimately unsuccessful responses of political, socioeconomic and environmental activists); bargaining (the openly conspiratorial response of the Ruling Class, as in “if I steal all the wealth, maybe that will ensure my survival”); depression (the soaring rates of mental illness); acceptance (the point at which I seem to have arrived – and where, much to my astonishment, I'm finding an entirely new kind of empowerment).
That said, what I'm offering here today is already more than the usual recitation of atrocities and outrages. It is rather a carefully selected octet of linked reports that define the breathtaking Big Lies fostered by both the (genuine) Right and the (alleged) Left wings of The One Party of Two Names – the vast political machine that rules the United States, increasingly with zero-tolerance tyranny, always and exclusively on behalf the capitalist aristocracy aka the One Percent aka the Ruling Class – the robber barons who, especially now in this time of increasing scarcity and ecological desperation, are savaging the rest of us, the 99 Percent, at every possible opportunity.
In keeping with OAN's new direction, today's essay is particularly relevant to Medicare recipients and anyone (foolishly) hoping Obamacare will provide financial relief from the omnipresent threat of bankruptcy and death inflicted by capitalism and its Ayn Rand medicine – the system of genocide-for-profit unique to the United States.
Though it is something of an aside, I believe we should focus for a moment on the fact the deception and brutality that perpetuates the USian charade of freedom and democratic process has no precedent in history. Certainly there have been other regimes that combined Big Lies with police-state terror: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Pinochet's Chile all come quickly to mind. Moreover there have been so many more such despotisms during the 40 or 50 centuries since the emergence of patriarchy, it is now taken as axiomatic that liberty has never been more than an occasional spark of hopefulness in a near-infinity of dungeon-dark despair. But never before in our species' experience has a Ruling Class possessed such malicious cunning – its falsehoods engineered by entire institutes of scholars and psychologists – nor has such official deceitfulness ever before been defended by such irresistible technologies of surveillance and suppression of dissent.
Successful rebellion or even reform is thus rendered impossible. The nihilism of today's rebels – their rejection of ideology, their inability to agree even on short-term goals, their penchant for self-destructive acts – all these behaviors contradict any optimistic claims of revolutionary or reformist expectations. Indeed they confirm the real attitude of the USian 99 Percent is irremediable pessimism – heartfelt recognition, whether articulated or not, that hope is no more than imbecility.
Because capitalist dogma forbids consideration of the obvious connection between our collective hopelessness and the hitherto-unthinkable crimes of school shootings and similar sorts of massacres, we are denied the ability to understand these atrocities in their socioeconomic contexts. Thus the ultimate nihilism of a nothing-left-to-lose frenzy of murder and suicide is deceptively portrayed as an isolated, lone-gunman event. Its cause is reduced to an interaction of Second Amendment rights and the availability of firearms with the biblical prejudice and Ayn Rand policies that have eliminated mental health care or made it prohibitively expensive. But Truthout and Harriet Fraad courageously break this taboo by publication of “Mass Killings: Why American Men Are 'Going Postal'”:
“American white men and Asian men have lost the family wage and with it their hegemonic positions in what was once secure employment. The have simultaneously lost their dominant positions in intimate and family life...Mass killings became a new phenomenon in the 1980s when Reagan's platform of disempowerment of white, male workers, began.”
The implication – which even Fraad dare not express – is the common denominator of hopelessness makes the USian school-shooter and the Islamic suicide-bomber much closer psychological kin than we are willing to admit.
Meanwhile in “Lifting the Veil of Mirage Democracy in the United States,” Kevin Zeese and Dr. Margaret Flowers MD trace how these circumstances were imposed, describe how they are maintained and label them – correctly I believe – as “mirage democracy”:
“Elections are tightly controlled, rigged for the two parties by restrictive ballot access laws, a corporate-run debate commission that blocks third parties, gerrymandered voting districts, unverifiable computer vote counts and a mass media that does not cover alternatives to the corporate duopoly. US voting systems are among the least democratic in the world. They lack modern, more democratic approaches like universal voter registration, proportional representation and ranked choice or instant run-off voting. Only half the US public is registered, and only half of registered voters vote, so these mirage elections provide a less than legitimate government.”
While “Mirage Democracy” is framed in the obligatory Polly Anna optimism of USian activists, its stark conclusions actually confirm the depth of our powerlessness:
“Following a blueprint developed by Lewis Powell in his infamous memo to the US Chamber of Commerce, they built institutions over the next 40 years, including think tanks, lobbying firms and courts, to promote the market agenda and control the media and universities to prevent another outbreak of democracy...Those groups that directly challenge the system and cannot be co-opted by money or access are routinely infiltrated for the purpose of spying, dividing and destroying.”
In this context, the Democrats' 2008 campaign slogan, “change we can believe in,” may well be the most brazen example of Orwellian doublespeak in U.S. electoral history. The post-electoral transformation(s) of Obama the Orator into Barack the Betrayer not only prove the slogan to have been the biggest of Big Lies; the residual anger no doubt continues to fuel a lot of the non-racist antagonism toward the president. Similar betrayals are routinely inflicted on voters by the Republicans, for example Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's carefully concealed plan to win election as a moderate then – once in office – wage relentless war on unionized workers, women, sexual minorities and the 99 Percent in general. Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder used the same maliciously dishonest strategy and tactics of lies and ambushes. Such duplicity characterizes U.S. governance at every level, especially during its last eight decades.
Hence the bitter jest: “Question: how can you tell when a politician is lying? Answer: his lips are moving.” The same is said of bureaucrats and executives. But the reality is no joking matter. Our national hopelessness is intensified by our reflexive fear and loathing of government and our associated distrust of anyone so employed – a mind set now shared by USian citizens whether their politics are Left, Right or Centrist. As I commented on a Naomi Wolf report entitled “Obama's Secret Assassins”:
Once again – and more vividly than usual – we see the true function of governance under capitalism is protection of the Ruling Class, including serving as its death squad.
Indeed here is the one place – totally rational absolute distrust of government – Left and Right might unite...were it not for the insurmountable barriers imposed by the self-destructive anti-intellectuality that now defines Moron Nation.
Though I intended it as nothing more than a snarky remark – I did not even take the usual step of preserving it in my document file – it nevertheless earned me 52 thumbs-up clicks from other readers.
But it is not just our own USian local, state and federal governments we distrust. It is all government everywhere that has betrayed us. In every instance and in the name of every ideology, government promises to help us do collectively that which we cannot do individually. But then it invariably robs us, enslaves us and all-too-often herds us to our graves via poverty and ghettos and unjust imprisonment and unnecessary wars and genocide whether by death camps or abandonment and neglect – or most likely some carefully scripted combination of all these and every other imaginable negation of human potential.
Note in particular both the self-inflicted downfall of the historically youthful American experiment in constitutional democracy and the festering corruption within the Vatican, the oldest government on earth.
Such is the record, at least in the 3500 years since the fall of Knossos and its global commonwealth, of government in action. Deny it however vehemently you choose, the lesson is that not even the most well-intentioned solidarity and collective determination can protect us from the predatory greed of the individual.
Whether this is the fault of patriarchy or symptomatic of some deeper psychopathy, I know of no more damning evidence of our failure as a species. With any notion of liberation via government so utterly and permanently discredited, hope is not just imbecilic but insane. Add to that our decisive loss of any prospects for a better future – an irremediable loss we have inflicted on ourselves by our collective failure to purge ourselves of serial predators or at least subdue them with sustainable restraints – there cannot possibly have been a psychologically worse epoch in our species' entire 200,000-year history.
Beyond the obvious ineffectiveness of efforts to topple or ameliorate the oppressiveness of a state that has deteriorated to the point it serves only the most predatory members of its Ruling Class – just as history proves all states are destined to do – there are certain episodes and events that define the new USian reality with more clarity than usual.
One such circumstance is the impenetrable smog of Big Lies that, from the beginning, has obscured the truth about the (alleged) reform of the murderous business of denying health care to those who cannot pay for it and profiting obscenely from those who can. What facilitates these lies is the unavailability of the Affordable Care Act, 383,086 words of legalese and bureaucratic jargon in 1,990 pages – its form and content a classic example of censorship by presentation and price: an impossible $201.78, tax included, for the paper and ink (mostly the latter) to print one copy from my desktop computer.
Democrats and Republicans thus freed themselves to spew even the most brazen deceptions with little concern they might be challenged. But subsequent experience – including how my own health care costs have soared since the advent of Obamacare (never mind my Medicare provider is a non-profit cooperative) – has convinced me the Democrats' lies are far more injurious.
From the very beginning I understood “reform” as nothing more than an unprecedented Democratic Party payoff to Big Business and Wall Street, a bribery-rebate of inestimable profit for the health-insurance barons and an absolute guarantee there will never be an USian equivalent to the health-care-as-civil-right systems that serve the people fortunate enough to live anywhere else in the developed world. I saw too how its buy-it-or-be-punished mandate is a new form of enslavement by the One Percent.
But I did not anticipate how willingly the Democrats would participate in the de facto genocide of “shared sacrifice,” the Reverse-Robin-Hood euphemism by which we lower-income people are to be plunged deeper into poverty as the Ruling Class reaps its inconceivably expanded profits. Such is Obamacare: the means by which The One Party of Two Names ensures we live the rest of our years in fear our life-sustaining stipends can be slashed or eliminated at any moment.
Even so – if only because of my predilection to lean Left – I remained skeptical of most Republican anti-ACA claims until Truthout's recent publication of a Workers Action analysis of the government's own (mostly unpublicized) war against Medicare and those of us whose lives depend on it. Entitled “Obama's Shakedown of Medicare,” it confirms, with credible links as authoritative footnotes, the long-standing Republican accusation the president and his henchmen are robbing Medicare to finance ACA.
The conservatives, of course, don't tell us where the money is actually going – that the downsizing of Medicare is expanding the profits of the health insurance cartels and of Wall Street in general. But apart from that omission, the socialist and ultra-conservative indictments of “health care reform” are virtually identical.
Here is what the Workers Action report tells us:
“Obamacare’s Medicare 'savings'... (singles) out the Medicare Advantage program for hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, while also reducing payments to Medicare contractors by hundreds of millions of dollars (hospitals, clinics, etc)...Of course hospitals simply shift this cost burden onto the patients, who receive less care, while giving doctors greater incentive not to see Medicare patients. As Medicare is steadily defunded, a two-tier healthcare system is created, where wealthier seniors will opt for private insurance while the rest will get second rate treatment, undermining the popularity and universality of Medicare, and thus making it more vulnerable to further cuts.”
And here is what The Weekly Standard said last May in the report entitled “Obama's Senior Swindle”:
“The most politically brazen feature of Obamacare has always been its looting of Medicare. About half of Obamacare’s costs are to be covered with money taken from an already nearly bankrupt program for seniors. And the most politically perilous aspect of this ploy is Obamacare’s cuts in Medicare Advantage funding, which would cause many seniors to lose their preferred health plans.”
For those unfamiliar with Medicare, the Medicare Advantage program, originally named Medicare Plus, was set up by the Clinton Administration in recognition of the fact the dying American-Dream economy was shoving Medicare's 20-to-50-percent copayments far beyond the reach of lower-income elderly and disabled people. Intended to provide folks like myself with adequate yet affordable health care, it was a life-saving boon, especially when administered by non-profits like Group Health Cooperative, of which – disclosure – I am a voting member.
Then the Bush Administration expanded Medicare Plus into a windfall for insurance profiteers and renamed it Medicare Advantage – the advantage, of course, mostly going to the insurance barons and Wall Street. Rates soared accordingly, with non-profits like Group Health struggling to remain cost-competitive in a market now rigged to favor the profiteers. Predictably, the Democrats – ever obedient to the same dishonest imperatives that prompt the Republicans to reject their own proposals whenever they are embraced by the Democrats – instantly began denouncing Medicare Advantage as pampering seniors and disabled people by providing the alleged “luxury” of a few extra benefits like dental care and eyeglasses – a ripoff, the Democrats claimed, at taxpayer expense.
The Democrats thus target Medicare Advantage with the same sort of deliberately invoked envy and greed the Republicans routinely muster against unionized workers – never mind the Democratic attack was another characteristic betrayal of the poor, tantamount to the party's sudden backstabbing of welfare recipients in 1995.
(By the end of the Clinton years, half the Medicare Plus enrollees were definitively in the lower-income category, with incomes no greater than 200 percent of poverty. Medicare Advantage's beneficiaries were, by 43 percent in 2010, people with annual incomes below $20,000. See the pdf, Lower Income and Minority Beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage Plans, 2010. Available by Googling its title, it is a report by America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry group that therefore is not to be trusted. I cite its figures only because they approximate Kaiser Family Foundation data I saw in 2011 but could not find online even with a four-hour search.)
Again quoting “Shakedown,” which I urge all of you to read in full:
“In a political era of corporate dominance it was inevitable that doublespeak would become the official language of Washington, D.C. Now 'cuts' to social programs are referred to as 'savings,' while the destruction of these programs is 'reform'...The Medicare cuts are part of a larger 'reform' of health care in the United States, which ultimately serves to shift the cost of health care off the corporations, placing the burden firmly on the shoulders of working people.”
Or as “Senior Swindle” put it:
“Roughly 12 million seniors have chosen to carry Medicare Advantage. Most like it and want to keep it. They surely don’t want the funding for their plan cut by an average of $17,000 per senior over the rest of this decade, as would happen under Obamacare. They similarly don’t want to see the Medicare chief actuary’s prediction come true: that by 2017, enrollment in Medicare Advantage will decrease by half from what it would have been without Obamacare...But it’s not just Medicare Advantage beneficiaries who have cause for concern. Under Obamacare, other Medicare enrollees would struggle to find doctors, as (according to the Medicare chief actuary) Medicare reimbursement rates would drop below even Medicaid reimbursement rates by the end of this decade. Also by the end of the decade, the (Congressional Budget Office) suggests, Obamacare will cause 5 million people to lose their employer-sponsored insurance—almost certainly a lowball estimate.”
Then there's the in-depth analysis entitled “Obamacare: a Deception,” the history of which may be as revealing as its contents. The poet Franetta McMillian, to whom many thanks for sending me the text of the report, described its rocketing ascent and meteoric plunge into darkness:
“This was up on Truthdig's website for a hot minute, because the anonymous author of the article was nominated as 'Truthdigger of the Week.' I PDF'd it to read later, and now can't find it anywhere on the site. I know that things barely last for a blink on the interwebs...but the article's quick burial is almost enough to make me believe in a conspiracy of censorship. Anyway: it confirms my fear about the Affordable Health Care act. Like desegregation, it was set up to fail.”
(Well done, Franetta; good catch!)
Here is the most telling paragraph of “Obamacare”:
“The ACA was not selflessly designed with the intent of providing affordable and equitable medical services to those in need, but rather to acquire taxpayer money for the private insurance companies under the seemingly helpful guise of health care and the ideological excuse of personal responsibility. It takes money from ordinary people and gives it to a medical insurance industry that profits handsomely from this legally-enforced corporate welfare – all while keeping Americans locked in the same broken system that puts profit before patients. The law was essentially written by business executives from the industry so that special interests would not be upset and profits assured.”
And here is what, for lower-income elderly and disabled people, are undoubtedly its most wrenching disclosures:
“Obamacare not only rations health care by what a person or family can afford, but also has implications for Medicare patients. Hundreds of billions of dollars are siphoned from Medicare to help pay the cost of Obamacare. The health care provided to Medicare patients will decline with the reduced payments to care providers. Health care seems destined to be rationed according to the age and illnesses of Medicare patients. Those judged too old and too ill could be denied expensive treatments or procedures that would prolong their lives.”
This is even worse:
“(T)he ACA stipulates that the system will ensure that if any individual applying to an Exchange is found to be eligible for Medicaid or a state children’s health insurance program (CHIP), the individual will be enrolled in such a plan...Furthermore...states are advised to automate enrollment whenever possible by using existing databases for social services programs such as SNAP (food stamps) to enroll people who appear eligible for Medicaid but are not currently enrolled. Therefore, you could find yourself auto-enrolled in Medicaid against your will...(And) the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA 1993)... requires all states that receive Medicaid funding to seek recovery from the estates of deceased individuals who used Medicaid benefits at age 55 or older. It allows recovery for any items or services under the state Medicaid plan going beyond nursing homes and other long-term care institutions. In fact, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) site says that states have the option of recovering payments for all Medicaid services provided.”
Medicaid is welfare, with all its associated indignities. In other words, once enshackled by Medicaid, we are scarcely different from prisoners on parole. Our rights are radically curtailed; in some states we no longer have any rights at all. Even the most minute details of our lives are now governed by the whim of merciless, often sadistic welfare bureaucrats – all-seeing, zero-tolerance bullies whose administrative brutality makes fear the defining constant of our consciousness.
And not only are we to be flung onto welfare; if the “Obamacare” analysis is correct (and I believe it is), when we die the government is now able to seize the entire contents of our estates – house, land, personal property, insurance policies – literally everything we own at the times of our deaths. Indeed we are to be reduced to the property-less condition that defined medieval serfdom. For writers and artists like myself, this virtually guarantees the permanent suppression of our unpublished or unexhibited work. For all of us so indentured, its seizure of funds could mean there will not even be any insurance money for funerals. Like antebellum slaves, we are stripped of any pretense of postmortem dignity. Our bodies could be buried in unmarked graves, our ashes flung into Dumpsters, our relatives and friends denied the scant comfort of ritual farewells.
Thus – even unto desecrating our corpses and reaching beyond the tomb to afflict our survivors – does capitalism persecute its victims, punishing us for the poverty we could neither avoid nor escape.
LB/19-25 February 2012
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.