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Face The Nation

The failure of the American Health Care Act provides an insight that might be useful in combating neoliberalism. Paul Ryan centered his defense of ACHA around the notion of individual freedom. But there is a better view of freedom that the Democrats could offer: freedom from fear.

Ryan explained his view of freedom, the neoliberal view that freedom exists only in monetary transactions, in an appearance on Face The Nation March 12, 2017:

DICKERSON: How many people are going to lose coverage under this new —

RYAN: I can’t answer that question. It’s up to people. Here — here’s the premise of your question. Are you going to stop mandating people buy health insurance? People are going to do what they want to do with their lives because we believe in individual freedom in this country. So the question is, are we providing a system where people have access to health insurance if they choose to do so. …

The most important talking point in this whole interview is freedom; Here’s another example:

…[W}e’re not going to make an American do what they don’t want to do. You get it if you want it. That’s freedom.

What if you want it but do not have the money to get it? You are free not to get it. One of the problems with the ACA is that even with subsidies, people can’t afford a decent policy. A lot of people have a policy that doesn’t cover them sufficiently to prevent bankruptcy, or they have a policy but can’t afford to use it because of high deductibles and co-pays.

Ryan’s solution was to get rid of the Essential Health Benefits mandated by the ACA. These set the minimum coverage for any policy offered on the exchange. They include lab tests, drugs, maternity care, treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, and others. If insurance companies can issue policies that don’t cover these mandated benefits, they can offer cheaper policies. That doesn’t help anyone. It increases the number of people with policies that don’t cover treatment they suddenly need, and raises prices for others to buy fuller coverage.

Ryan and the Republicans think we only care about a few bucks we don’t have to pay an insurance company. They only value the freedom to buy and sell in unrestrained markets, as if anyone actually wanted to spend any part of their precious lives studying insurance contracts.

So there we have Ryan’s definition of freedom. You have the freedom to give money to an insurance company to buy any policy you can afford, and you can shop around for a policy that may or may not provide the coverage you eventually need, or you can take the risk of bankruptcy or denial of health care.

That’s a peculiar kind of freedom.

The Democrats have the possibility of offering a different kind of freedom: the freedom from fear that you and your family and your friends and neighbors and fellow citizens won’t be able to get health care when they need it. This kind of Freedom is the foundation of Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, so it’s well within the historic tradition of the Democrats, at least before their neoliberal turn. The outpouring of public hostility to the ACHA proves that this definition of freedom is much more popular than Ryan’s.

Another way to phrase this idea is that what people want is the freedoom to pursue their own projects, projects that they choose for themselves and that give them a sense of satisfaction. John Maynard Keynes thought that as the age of work came to an end, people would pursue artistic, intellectual and cultural pursuits. Maybe. Maybe it’s going fishing, learning how to weld, or following the Cubs. For maximum freedom, there are areas where people would rather have the government protect them from the “market”, rather than wasting time coping with yet another market, or living in fear of the consequences of not handling the market. I think his is an idea with a lot of general appeal.

If we raise taxes fairly, or reorder our budget priorities favoring defense contractors, we can all get good health care at a price we can all pay. That’s the kind of freedom I want: freedom from fear and freedom from the endless consumerism we have to endure because of the other version of freedom. Not to mention freedom from profit-maximizing insurance companies.

Ask Uncle Ed 2

Dear Uncle Ed*

I’m a white working class guy. I voted for Trump because I don’t think that government should help undeserving people. Especially women who pop out babies like Pez dispensers with different baby daddies so they can get welfare every month and their housing and food paid for. They are living large, while people like me are struggling to put food on the table. My neighbors who are less responsible than me are receiving nearly free insurance through Medicaid. They can go to the emergency room for a headache.

This has nothing to do with race. So, why do all the liberals just assume I am a racist? I just want to be treated fairly and have my hard work acknowledged.

Signed, Unhappy in Iowa**.

Dear Unhappy in Iowa

For starters, when you talk about women popping out babies with different baby daddies, it sounds like you mean African-Americans, just like Ronald Reagan did with his fables about strapping young bucks buying T-Bones with food stamps. This kind of talk makes it hard for Uncle Ed to completely ignore the possibility that maybe there is just a bit of racism here.

But since you don’t think it’s about race, you could use different words. Just think of the people in your extended family and your neighbors who benefit from those programs. Use language that is based on them instead. After all, the majority of people getting food stamps, welfare and Medicaid, and even Obamaphones, are white.

We probably agree that there are plenty of people who need the welfare system to work for them, like this woman whose body is broken after years of grinding labor.

Resident Christa Cossey found work at age 20 as a long-haul truck driver, a well-paid job for someone without a college degree. Now 51, she’s been on disability since 2008 because of ailments related to her years of driving: obesity, asthma, atypical chest pain, diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and arthritis in her neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. She also suffers from degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, and bulging discs in her lower back.

We also agree that too many people abuse the system. And you know as well as Uncle Ed does that every system can be and is abused. But let’s be honest. Some of the people abusing the system are your kin and your white neighbors. It isn’t just Black and Brown people.

Uncle Ed has another suggestion. Next time you go by the food court, look at the people cleaning up the tables and emptying the trash cans. Next time you see a garbage truck, look at the guys picking up that nasty stuff and muscling it into the truck. Next time you visit your grandmother in the nursing home, look at the aides who wash and dress her, who turn her over, and who hold her hand when she’s crying and you can’t be there. See how many of them are Black and Brown.

Ask yourself this question. Do you think these hard-working people aren’t just as angry as you are about the people in their own communities abusing the system? Do you think they don’t have family and friends who are on disability thanks to a cheating doctor? Don’t you think it makes them furious when they see white people cheating the system?

It’s true they probably don’t like the same TV shows you do, or the same music or the same movies or go to the same churches, bars and restaurants you do, and they don’t support the same politicians you do. Of course, they probably root for the same teams you do. But when it comes to money, they work hard and they care just as much as you do how the government spends their taxes. If it weren’t for that color thing that keeps you apart, they’d be your natural allies. Trump frequently asked them to vote for him on that basis, and a lot of them did, so you know that’s true.

The stuff you are complaining about isn’t about race. It’s about who works and who doesn’t. Don’t make it about race or you’ll lose your natural allies.

Uncle Ed suggests you look at the big picture: the overall economic system that’s beating you and your allies into the dirt, and that hasn’t given you or any other working guy a decent raise in decades. At root the things that got you to vote for Trump aren’t about race, they’re about an unfair economic system that forces millions of people to struggle to make any kind of living and abandons them when they get sick or get laid off when the plant moves to Thailand. It’s a system that serves you and your neighbors and your kin badly, and wallops Black and Brown people even harder. You need all the allies you can get.

You say that the current safety net gives undeserving people something you don’t get. For example, you have to pay for a lousy health policy while they get free Medicaid that’s probably better. When the Republicans repeal Obamacare, do you really think the replacement will be better for you? You know it won’t: you aren’t rich. Maybe secretly you hope the Republicans will set up a plan that gives you something other people don’t get?

Well, here’s the thing. There are never ever going to be any government programs or regulations or loopholes that give you something while denying it to groups you don’t like. That is unconstitutional. Even Trump can’t make that happen. I can promise you that the Coastal Elites will crush any attempt to do that in the courts, no matter how many Justices Trump appoints.

You have two choices. You can let the Republicans destroy the safety net that protects you and the people you think are deserving.

Or, you can figure out a way to do politics in your own interest without regard to who else might benefit, and at the same time limit the cheating.

For example, suppose everyone got Medicare at fair and reasonable premiums, maybe related to income, and you could buy private insurance to cover whatever Medicare didn’t. Our income taxes might go up to cover the cost, but the rich would pay more and that that would be fair. We’d probably have to do something more for really poor people. Whatever plan we come up with, everyone, regardless of merit, is going to be covered. That would get rid of most of the cheating.

One thing is for sure, you’ll find lots of allies among the African-Americans and Hispanics who want the same thing. With them and the liberals, you are a huge majority of voters. And that’s how you get what you need from both political parties.
=============
* This is part of a series in which I try to take Trump voters at their word and work out ways of responding. After I wrote the first draft, I ran across this essay in the Washington Spectator by Matt Hartman that clarified my thinking, and the current draft tries to reflect the ideas in that article.

** Closely follows this Washington Post article by Catherine Rampell, and this one by Sarah Kliff at Vox.

Thursday: Creep

Covers are often treated like poor relations in hand-me-downs. It’s not the performer’s own work, how can they possibly do the original justice?

Yeah…and then this. I think it’s an example of an exceptional cover. It’s one of my favorites. There are a number of other fine covers of this same piece — some are sweet, some have better production values, and some are very close to Radiohead’s original recording. But this one has something extra. Carrie Manolakos, a Broadway performer known for her role as Elphaba in Wicked, takes a breath at 2:19 and watch out. Her second album will release next month if you enjoy her work.

In Sickness and Health
Here, read these two stories and compare them:

Leaving you with the actual heds on these articles. How isn’t this simple extortion? You know, like, “Nice national health care system you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Cry me a river about corporate losses. Last I checked Aetna’s been paying out dividends regularly, which means they still have beaucoup cash.

If only we’d had a debate about offering single payer health care for everyone back in 2009 so we could say Fuck You to these vampiric corporate blackmailers.

Still in Shadow
A timeline of articles, analysis, commentary on the hacking of NSA malware staging servers by Shadow Brokers — no window dressing, just links:

15-AUG-2016 8:48 AM — https://twitter.com/mikko/status/765168232454037504 (Mikko Hypponen–Kaspersky tweeting discovery of Shadow Brokers’ auction of Equation Group code)

16-AUG-2016 7:22 AM — http://cybersecpolitics.blogspot.com/2016/08/why-eqgrp-leak-is-russia.html (Info sec expert Dave Aitel’s assessment on hackers responsible)

16-AUG-2016 7:40 AM — https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/765513662597623808 (Edward Snowden’s tweet thread [NB: don’t be an idiot and click on any other links in that thread])

16-AUG-2016 7:22 PM — https://securelist.com/blog/incidents/75812/the-equation-giveaway/ (time zone unclear)

16-AUG-2016 ?:?? — http://xorcat.net/2016/08/16/equationgroup-tool-leak-extrabacon-demo/

17-AUG-2016 8:05 AM EST — https://motherboard.vice.com/read/what-we-know-about-the-exploits-dumped-in-nsa-linked-shadow-brokers-hack

17-AUG-2016 ?:?? — https://www.cs.uic.edu/~s/musings/equation-group/ (University of Illinois’ Stephen Checkoway’s initial impressions)

17-AUG-2016 7:23 PM EST — https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsas-use-of-software-flaws-to-hack-foreign-targets-posed-risks-to-cybersecurity/2016/08/17/657d837a-6487-11e6-96c0-37533479f3f5_story.html

18-AUG-2016 6:59 AM EST — https://twitter.com/RidT/status/766228082160242688 (Thomas Rid suggests Shadow Brokers’ auction may be “retaliation” — note at this embedded tweet the use of “retaliation” and the embedded, highlighted image in which the words “Panama Papers” appear in red. Make of that what you will.[1])

18-AUG-2016 2:35 PM EST — https://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-shadow-brokers-nsa-leakers-linguistic-analysis (Two linguists suggest Shadow Brokers’ primary language is English distorted to mimic Russian ESL)

You know what this reminds me of? Sony Pictures’ email hacking. Back and forth with Russia-did-it-maybe-not-probably, not unlike the blame game pointing to North Korea in Sony’s case. And the linguistic analysis then suggesting something doesn’t quite fit.

[Today's front pages from USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, shared here under Fair Use.]

[Today’s front pages from USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, shared here under Fair Use.]

American Refugees
I read in one of my timelines today a complaint by a journalist about Louisiana flooding news coverage. Wish I’d captured the thread at the time; they were put out that the public was unhappy about the media’s reporting — or lack thereof. They noted all the links to articles, videos, photos being shared in social media, noting this content came from journalists.

Except there really is a problem. The embedded image here is the front page of each of the four largest newspapers in the U.S. based on circulation, total combined circulation roughly six million readers. NONE OF THEM have a story on the front page about the flooding in Louisiana, though three of them covered the California Blue Cut Fire. Naturally, one would expect the Los Angeles Times to cover a fire in their own backyard, and they do have a nice photo-dense piece online. But nothing on the front page about flooding.

The Livingston Parish, Louisiana sheriff noted more than 100,000 parish residents had lost everything in the flood. There are only 137,000 total residents in that parish.

Between the +80,000 Blue Cut Fire evacuees and more than 100,000 left temporarily homeless in Louisiana, the U.S. now has more than a couple hundred thousand climate change refugees for which we are utterly unprepared. The weather forecast this week is not good for the Gulf Coast as unusually warm Gulf water continues to pump moisture into the atmosphere. We are so not ready.

Longread: The last really big American flood
Seven Scribes’ Vann R. Newkirk II looks at the last time a long bout of flooding inundated low-lying areas in the south, setting in motion the Great Migration. This is the history lesson we’ve forgotten. We need to prepare for even worse because like the Blue Cut Fire in California and Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York, disaster won’t be confined to a place too easily written off the front page.

One more day. Hope to make it through.
_________
[1] Edited for clarity. Kind of.

Thursday Morning: Taboo You

Still on spring break around here. If I was legit on a road trip some place warm right now, you’d find me lounging in the sun, sipping fruity cocktails at all hours, listening to some cheesy exotica like this Arthur Lyman piece I’ve shared here.

Though horribly appropriative and colonialist, it’s hard not to like exotica for its in-your-face corniness. I think my favorite remains Martin Denny’s Quiet Village. It brings back memories from the early 1960s, when life was pretty simple.

Let’s have a mai tai for breakfast and get on with our day.

Urgent: Increasing number of hospitals held ransom
Last month it was just one hospital — Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid out bitcoin ransom.

Last week it was three — two Prime Healthcare Management hospitals in California and a Methodist Hospital in Kentucky held hostage.

Now, an entire chain of hospitals has been attacked by ransomware, this time affecting the servers of 10 related facilities in Maryland and Washington DC. The FBI is involved in the case. Is this simple extortion or terrorism? The patients diverted from the facilities to other hospitals’ emergency rooms probably don’t care which it is — this latest attack interfered with getting care as quickly as possible. Let’s hope none of the diverted patients, or those already admitted into the MedStar Union Memorial Hospital chain, have been directly injured by ransomware’s impact on the system.

The MedStar cases spawns many questions:

  • Was any patient’s physical health care negatively affected by the ransomware attack?
  • Given the risks to human health, why aren’t hospitals better prepared against ransomware?
  • Have hospitals across the country treated ransomware as a potential HIPAA violation?
  • Was MedStar targeted because of its proximity to Washington DC?
  • Was Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center targeted because its owner, CHA Medical Center, is South Korean?
  • Were any patients being treated at MedStar also affected by the OPM data breach, or other health insurance data breaches?
  • How much will ransomware affect U.S. healthcare costs this year and next?

Bet you can think of a couple more questions, too, maybe more than a couple after reading this:

Hospitals are considered critical infrastructure, but unless patient data is impacted there is no requirement to disclose such hackings even if operations are disrupted.

Computer security of the hospital industry is generally regarded as poor, and the federal Health and Human Services Department regularly publishes a list of health care providers that have been hacked with patient information stolen. The agency said Monday it was aware of the MedStar incident.

Apple iPhone cases emerge
After the San Bernardino #AppleVsFBI case, more law enforcement investigations relying on iPhones are surfacing in the media.

  • L.A. police crack open iPhone with fingerprints obtained under warrant (Forbes);
  • FBI will assist county prosecutor in Arkansas with iPhone belonging to alleged teen killer (Los Angeles Times); the method may be the same hack used on the San Bernardino phone, which was supposed to be a one-off (Network World);
  • ACLU found 63 other cases in which FBI used All Writs Act to obtain iPhone/Android smartphone data from Apple and Google (The Register).

Stupid stuff

  • In spite of screwing up not once but twice by releasing its racist, obnoxious Tay AI chatbot, Microsoft tripled down on a future full of chatbots you can build yourself with their tools. (Ars Technica) — Ugh. The stupid…
  • UK’s Ministry of Defense awarded funding to Massive Analytics for work on “Artificial precognition and decision-making support for persistent surveillance-based tactical support” (Gov.UK) — OMG Precog in warfare. Human-free drone attacks. What could go wrong?
  • Rich white guys queue up outside Tesla dealerships for days waiting to pre-order the new Tesla 3 (Vancity Buzz) — Vancouver, Sydney, probably other places I’m too arsed to bother with, because rich white guys.

That’s quite enough. Back to pretending I’m lying under a cerulean sky, baking my tuchis, cold drink in hand.