Monday, December 21, 2009

My little take on public health care.

On the public health care option, which I am in favor of, just so you know why it's been such a huge struggle in a country that's supposed to be a democracy; where it has been clear from day one that the vast majority of Americans would like to get quality health care without having to declare bankruptcy. I'm sick right now as I write this. I appear to be on the mend. If this weren't the case, there is no way that I could afford to see a doctor. I am solidly within the majority of Americans in this case.

Now, if you watch Fox news or otherwise believe everything that you hear, please, before you send me the standard response-- check your facts. The majority of Americans want this (72% The majority of Americans have always wanted this. So if you're an American who believes in majority rule (democracy), you might keep that in mind. If you're plenty rich and can afford your own health care--insured or not-- you are in the minority, a tiny minority. If you pay for your own insurance now, and think that this will take care of you if you get sick, think again, and do some research. If you get sick, you will likely have to fight tooth and nail to get your insurer to pay the bills they have promised to pay. In the very least, they will delay payment as long as possible, hoping that you will either give up or die waiting, and that your descendants won't have what it takes to fight it out in court.

If there's nobody in your immediate circle of friends or family whom this has happened to, I'm surprised. It happens so often that it happened to the mother of our current president. She died of cancer in the middle of a fight with her insurance providers. Look around a little-- these cases are all over the Internet. Insurers refusing to pay medical bills is not the exception, it's the norm. In the case of big medical bills, you are more likely to have your insurance canceled because you misspelled your mother's maiden name, or forgot to report that you broke your pinkie finger when you were nine years old than you are to have your bills paid in a timely manner, or in a proportion that you were led to be believe would be of significant value. Next time your premiums come due, however, try paying them late, or pay just %70 of what's due, and see what happens.

A general barometer for the state of health care in any given country is infant mortality. If you think America is doing well with our health care, think again. "Infant mortality in the U.S. is worse than in 29 other countries, including practically all of Europe, Canada and Australia, says a report just out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If there's any good news, it's that the situation in the U.S. hasn't gotten even worse. Based on 2005 data, the U.S. ranked 30th in the world in infant mortality, compared with 29th in 2004 and 23rd in 1990. Back in the good old days of 1960, the nation ranked 12th.
Almost 7 infants die for every 1,000 born in America, a 36 percent rise since 1984. That's far worse than the lowest rates--between 2.1 and 2.8 babies per 1,000, reported by Singapore, Sweden, Hong Kong and Japan." ( )

So, if you're pregnant and there's any serious risks to the survival of your baby, you're better off as a citizen of Hong Kong than America. A lot better off, about three times better chances for survival of your baby. Are you a pro-life Republican ? Please factor that in to your concerns.

So, why has this been such a struggle to improve our health care in this country? Bill Clinton couldn't do it. He gave up. Decided to put his efforts elsewhere. He looked at the opposition from the insurance lobby, and the AMA-- and figured he didn't have a chance. It's an issue that is popular with the majority, but most politicians wouldn't touch it because the big money is against them. Big money cares about their own interests, not yours, not about the majority of Americans, it's not about ideology or about what's more American, more right, more just or more anything other than more money for themselves. And politicians are notorious for taking the easy stance on anything that makes them look good, because popularity is their currency, it's their power, and they can accomplish nothing without it.

Back when I was a reporter for a tiny, podunk newspaper up in Bellingham, Washington I had an unusual experience. Unusual for me, that is, but probably very common otherwise across America. More common I should think, when you work for a larger, respected newspaper.
I got sent out to cover a discussion on Dairy products-- out to some tiny town north of Bellingham. I didn't want to go. It sounded boring. Turned out to be quite interesting-- to me, although still challenging to write an engaging article about. I doubt there was more than thirty people in the room, mostly Dairy farmers and their families. Good eats. Lots of butter and bread and milk and cheese. The State Rep attending arrived early wearing a suit, looked around, then got back in his car and re-appeared a few minutes later wearing blue jeans and no tie. The gist of the story was about how the US dairy industry was being threatened by price fixing from foreign dairy markets who are government subsidized. There was some other stuff about foreign countries trying to trademark generic names like "cheddar" or "Parmesan". Not one of my best stories, but it was interesting to me. I was earning about 7 cents per word for every story I wrote. If I got lucky with a headline story: 10 cents per word.

The unusual part came afterward. I wrote the story, did a lot of research including contacting foreign markets to try to get comments to include in the story, got some interest but nothing I could use by deadline. I may have turned the story in to my editor, can't remember for certain, but in any case the story wasn't yet published. At that point I got a phone call from some corporate group I had never heard of. The call came in on my private, unpublished cell phone number.

I returned the call. It was a lobbying group centered in Washington DC, one of the bigger ones. They represented the dairy industry, among other interests (I looked them up). They wanted (if it wasn't too much trouble) a copy of the story I had just written. I told them I'd be happy to send them a link to read it online, just as soon as it was published. They didn't mind at all seeing the unpublished version, which I really didn't understand. How could that be of use ? Hung up the phone, a bit stunned.

If you don't know about lobbying groups, here's an article A lobbying group charges big money to exert influence on the laws that get passed, often they author some of the actual language of a bill. One of the top lobbyists in Washington "Jack Abramoff, now resides in Cumberland, Maryland, a guest of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. His prosecution on charges of giving illegal gifts and meals to lawmakers." Ok, so he got caught. What do you think the rest of them do ? Well, the "best" of them anyway. . . and by the way-- it's perfectly legal to take a reporter to lunch. Buy him a car. Buy him a house. Buy thousands of dollars of ads in the newspaper he works for. Buy Fox news. If a lobbying group in DC had offered me a decent salary at that time, I'd have been there in a heartbeat. I'd rather support US dairy interests anyway-- no conflict.

That's how a tiny minority interest with a whole lot of money convinces the Republican party reps that public health care is akin to Armageddon. It's easy. Republicans and Democrats are pretty steeped in an "us-versus-them" mentality anyway. If the Democratic pres says "Blue" you say "Red", it even works on some Democrats. Follow the money y'all, it's that simple. If you wonder why we may finally pass this health care reform bill after all this time-- it's because the #1 most influential lobbying group in DC is AARP, and the baby boomers, which still constitutes the majority of Americans, are all getting old. Older now than they were when Bill Clinton was i office. One of the biggest concerns for the elderly is affordable medical care, and most if us (them?) can still drag ourselves to the voting booth, or write a check to AARP, which owns the #1 and #2 top circulating magazines in the country. #3, Readers Digest (not exactly for the under 30 crowd) Has only one third the circulation of #2. Percentages drop precipitously below that. Arguably AARP is the most influential publication in America.

I'm too sick to keep writing. I must be getting old. Sometimes the majority of American's do get what they want, but one way or another, they buy it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Another batch of pendants

We made another batch of 25 art-glass pendants here. The last batch was here, and those are all sold out now. We made a few duplicates, and are gearing up to make more. An unusual number of errors slowed us down this time, but overall the process is probably improving. I'm happy with the outcomes and I'm much more involved in this batch than I was with the last. We have far fewer "rejects". I'm becoming convinced that some of our friends are in fact patrons of the arts. It's very heart-warming to be encouraged so, and recently one of our friends paid us generously for a larger framed print also.

Last time I photographed each pendant individually, this time I ganged them together in groups. I probably should have stuck to the original plan, because this time numbering the images for easy identification became an issue. No sooner had I uploaded what I had, but Sheryl decided to direct people to the older, sold out gallery so that people could see the chains. Well, good idea-- but confusing. Pretty much every step has gone about like that this time around, but I'm not complaining, because the artwork is finally selling again and in a form that I know people will enjoy. We sold six in the first hour or two, and would have sold more if we'd had more duplicates in the inventory. Also we're now getting special requests for certain images and likely we'll be able to do that too.

It took me a while to get used to the idea of selling my photos at one and three-eigths inch size, but they actually came out very sharp and viewable at close range. The medium itself is lending more towards a certain type of editing, and I am enjoying the process. Sheryl's art and my photography are selling at roughly the same rate, and that's kind of good too. We even have a few designs where we collaborated--- something I thought would never happen. We're excited about the possibilities and have been brainstorming other ways to be much more actively involved in the printing process and on through the final presentation. This is much different than the ways in which we relied upon outside corporations to print and do order fulfillment and virtually all customer service for the past few years. We've learned. We're still learning, of course, but we much prefer being in closer contact every step of the way.