Archive for March, 2010

I’ll Pass on the Party Hats and Whistles, Thanks

March 23, 2010

As of last night, the House of Representatives has passed sweeping health care reform. The deed is done. Not really, of course; the bill must go yet again to the Senate, where—despite the euphoria of Democrats—passage is not assured. And if it does, the issue still won’t be settled; several states are planning to fight against the law in court. But the vote is seen by a key moment for both sides, with leaders of both arrogantly claiming to tell us that real Americans are on their side. We’ll see who is right over the course of the next several months and the next election cycle. I suspect that in this, as just about every other issue and election over the past several years, the divide is passionate but pretty even.

(I’m relieved that, whatever the outcome, the Democrats did not resort to the “Deem and pass scheme.” Even had I wholeheartedly endorsed the bill, it would be a tragic betrayal of our values if our leaders were to circumvent the essential democratic process with some procedural chicanery.)

I’m decidedly ambivalent about the whole issue. I’d hoped to write a series of posts exploring the issue in depth while the issue was hot, but other demands and priorities prevented that. Perhaps I’ll still get around to it in the not-too-distant future. Suffice it for now to say that I do strongly believe we need serious health care reform. I support the idea of some form of universal health care, though I find some merits and would be willing to give a chance to some form of a “consumer-driven” system. I hope that the bill accomplishes what its supporters claim. But there are many troubling aspects to this bill that I fear may come back to haunt us.

The Right has been rabid in their denunciations, as can be expected with virtually any Democratic effort. But if you put aside the reflexive cries of slippery slopes, socialism, totalitarianism, and the bungling nature of government, there are some substantive issues. The costs of the bill and the potential to balloon the debt if everything does not go precisely as planned is something which does trouble me. And while I do see the logic of requiring everyone to be in the risk pool by having insurance, I do think that there is a legitimate issue regarding the constitutionality and the ethics of requiring everyone to own insurance simply for existing.

It isn’t just the conservatives who are concerned. In the today’s email message from Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Network of Spiritual Progressives, there was many caveats in the praise for the victory

it’s also ok to acknowledge that this bill does not represent most of what we really want. It is the biggest give-away to the private insurance companies in decades, forcing 30 million people to buy health insurance whether or not they want it without putting any significant price controls in place, so the insurance companies get a huge new group of health insurance purchasers and can (and will) raise their prices just as they have done in outrageous ways in the past decade.

Ralph Nader, dismissed the bill in the New York Times as “a major political symbol wrapped around a shredded substance…It is a remnant even of its own initially compromised self. Chris Hedges referred to it today in Truthdig as “a bill that will do nothing to ameliorate the suffering of many Americans, will force tens of millions of people to fork over a lot of money for a defective product and, in the end, will add to the ranks of our uninsured.”

I suspect that the Democrats have used up their only opportunity to fix health care. I don’t think there will be the chance to revise things over the next few years; after labor that difficult, what you see is what you get. I guess we can only hope that their gamble pays off.

Air Pollution and “Draconian” Environmentalism

March 6, 2010

I’ve been having a lot of personal and online conversations about environmentalism with self-described conservatives lately, and noticed an interesting trend. All agree in theory with the root concept of environmentalism. They all agree that we need to be good stewards of the land, air, and water upon which we rely. But they still bristle about environmentalism, because they see it as “restrictive.” The agenda of the movement has been referred to by such terms as “draconian,” “coercive,” “autocratic,” and “repressive.” According to their philosophy, environmental protection and stewardship should be advanced through non-coercive and non-punitive means.

It’s a wonderful idea. Sadly, it doesn’t work in the real world. Exhibit A: Utah. Our conservative legislature has persistently maintained an attitude ideologically opposed to regulation, insisting that individual agency is the best method of environmental stewardship. This year, the only bills related to pollution or the environment making headway through the Utah legislature are a message bill discouraging federal legislation based on the “global climate conspiracy” (despite opposition from BYU and U of U scientists, who are apparently part of the nefarious global climate cabal) and bills whose purpose is to enable increased extraction of fossil fuels in Utah—fuels the consumption of which contribute to air pollution. And the fruits of this attitude and agenda? Utah can lay claim to the worst air quality in the nation.

Many people of all stripes are sincerely concerned about the environment, and make laudable efforts to minimize their environmental impact on a voluntary basis. Despite the fearmongering of the Right, no one supports a green police a la the absurd and insulting Audi Superbowl commercial. But without any sort of restrictions— “coercive” though some might consider it—there is too much incentive for society collectively to pollute the public commons upon which we all rely for life. There must be rules based on an understanding of the the limitations of the ecosystem which prevent us—”draconian” though that may seem to some—collectively from damaging the environment (and ultimately each other). Unrestrained consumption/pollution and the sort of sprawling exurban communities which maximize automotive use, and which conservatives seem to favor, are simply unsustainable in our geographic circumstances. Some combination of pollution tax, restriction on polluting activities, and reorganization of our communities is imperative if we want to avoid the increasing harm to human health associated with air pollution. Given that government is the only entity which has the authority to do these things, the Reagan mantra is wrong: government is in part the solution. The idea that government has no role in using its power to prevent people from harming others by their consumption decisions? That’s the problem.