Friday, August 14, 2009

Canada – Health Care Done Right

In the almost-30 years I have been visiting Canada on a semi-regular basis (Mom remarried and moved there in 1980), I have always been struck by the utter lack of a certain kind of fear and anxiety by its citizens. Although always subject to the unpredictable whims of euro-capitalism, there is a peace of mind that prevails in Canada which can only be attributable to one thing: an excellent system of health care – both in payment and delivery. People are not only are healthier in Canada; they feel healthier. And it shows.

It’s pretty simple, really. Here’s how it works for your average, everyday visit to the doctor. Any resident of the province of, for example, Ontario walks into the doctor’s office, showing their OHIP card. They get an office visit with the doctor. They leave. The doctor submits the visit to the Ontario Ministry of Health, probably electronically. The OMH pays the doctor. Visit, payment; visit, payment; visit, payment. All day long.

No scrutinizing and copying of health insurance cards; no giant health insurance bureaucracy poised to deny coverage; no co-pays; no high deductibles. In the bigger picture, none of the fear and anxiety of the accident or illness that will lead to financial ruin. This leaves Canadians to worry about those other important variables in life – jobs, relationships, kids, education, progress. But not health care. That is their national commitment to themselves and their future. Health care is their right.

Are there problems in the system? Sure, there are. And, when things don’t work, the political system responds and heads will roll. The enemies of health care reform in the U.S. have made sure that you’ve heard anecdotal stories about long wait times for this or that. This morning, my copy of the Toronto Star reported that a guy who was working full-time to reduce wait-times had been sacked. If there is a problem (I am not taking the U.S. wing-nuts’ word for it), this is how it is supposed to work. The effectiveness of health care delivery becomes political and things get done. Try getting some satisfaction out of a fat-cat insurance company dragging its feet approving your expensive hip replacement. Good luck with that.

As always happens when the health insurance industry is threatened in the U.S., the checkbooks are open for anyone willing to provide fodder for their lies. Canadians telling health care horror stories in the U.S. media are like anti-black African Americans and anti-feminist women – they are all extremely well paid to take the positions they take. The fact is that no Canadian in their right mind – not one – would trade their government health care system for the craziness of the U.S. "system" of social Darwinism, gold-plated doctors and giant health insurance vultures.

"It is awfully tempting – painfully so – to feel superior to the United States over its national debate, and I use the term irresponsibly, on health-care reform," writes one apparently reasonable columnist in my Globe and Mail this morning. Indeed, we are the laughing stock of the world, as loopy people paid by lobbyists or simply misled by wing-nut squawkers who know better try to besiege those in Congress brave enough to hold town hall meetings in the midst of a campaign of organized disruption. If you want to see the difference between the astroturf ridiculousness of people "fighting to get our country back" from the elected African-American guy and the real thing, try proposing the dismantling of the health care system in Canada. Then you will really see the people rise up to keep what they have.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Winning John Torinus’ Money

In the Journal Sentinel this morning, we learn in a wire-service story that Ben Stein – the former Nixon economic advisor and sometimes-droll comedic actor in Ferris Bueller, Wonder Years, Win Ben Stein’s Money and, unintentionally, in his own Expelledhas been bounced from his biweekly perch on the New York Times business page. His crime? Stein was caught whoring it up for a company pushing economic snake-oil. The Times editors apparently decided that Stein’s snooty save-the-rich musings were too much coming from a free-credit-report scam pitchman, with or without the guitar.

It was an interesting story to appear in the Journal Sentinel. Even after finally admitting that it jettisoned 92 employees, including almost all of its fine-arts writers, the paper continues to employ its own highly-conflicted business columnist, John Torinus. The list of Torinus’ publicly-known conflicts that would prevent him from offering objective, fact-based opinions on anything runs long and deep. And it shows in his columns, which are not so much opinion as week-to-week campaigning on issues dear to him and his short-sighted business cohorts, such as high-deductible health insurance.

Unlike Stein, who at least has his deadpan movie/TV routine to facilitate his sell-out, Torinus is not for sale. His conflicts are that of his own self-interest and political connections, which is worse. If it wanted to, the Times could have kept Stein on and scrutinized his columns for any hint of recommendations that people send $30 a month to a murky company in exchange for nothing. It is impossible, though, to separate Torinus’ WMC talking-pointed pap from his personal, corporate and political agenda.

Torinus’ column might be more tolerable if the Journal Sentinel would at least let its readers know just how conflicted he actually is. Instead, the J-S informs us of just two of his non-paper interests (he is "chairman of Serigraph Inc. of West Bend and a founder of BizStarts Milwaukee"), making it look like he is just a hard-working businessman trying to make it in this harsh government-regulated world. Hardly. He continues to serve on the board of the WMC, which has been fairly active in recent years buying Supreme Court seats to make them safe for their narrow notion of business interests. He happily beats up on Wisconsin’s business climate for right-wing think-tank the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (Question: If the Wisocnisn business climate is so bad, why are those who complain the most about it still here?). He is also a reliable contributor to Republican candidates for office.

None of this is mentioned in the newspaper as it continues to spend more of its shrinking newshole (not to mention payroll) on predictable right-wing advocacy. Of course, the more astute reader would realize that someone who advocates the elimination of the state corporate income tax (at a time of crisis for state revenue) and considers health-care reform a "burden" (when most small businesses are screaming for it), as he does in today’s column, is hardly an impartial observer of economic trends.

Why not just put a WMC logo and a "paid advertisement" notice on his column and be done with it?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Journal Sentinel: Death by a Thousand Cuts

It’s daily-newspaper subscription-renewal time here at the Plaisted household. The Journal Sentinel Inc. wants $75.05 to deliver its dwindling product to my doorstep (what once landed with a thud now floats to the ground like a wounded butterfly) every morning for the next six months. Hmm...what to do, what to do....

This week’s purge of some of the paper’s best veteran writers is not a good sign. Coverage of the arts took a disastrous hit in this round with the loss of Dave Tianen on music, Tim Cuprisin on TV/radio, Tom Strini on classical music and Damien Jaques on theater. I assume they are folding that local arts tent altogether – look for more wire-service Brittany updates on the back of the Local page (for as long as they keep up the facade of separate sections). The business page is losing its most high-profile voice of diversity, Tannette Johnson-Elie, and they are going to have to find someone else to shill for the school "choice" industry with the loss of Alan Borsuk. Even the Letters editor, the lovely and talented Sonya Jongsma Knauss, is getting shit-canned or reassigned.

The decimation of the paper’s staff has had a dramatic effect on the simplest of journalistic tasks. I was shocked this morning when I saw a story on page 3B about the preliminary hearing for a man accused of shooting two police officers in Walkers Point early this summer – an event that caused quite a bit of hysterical coverage when it happened. The paper couldn’t even get a reporter to the courtroom to cover the hearing in person.

  • "A Milwaukee police officer testified in court Friday that he felt a burning sensation and immense pain in his shoulder and leg after he and another officer were shot on the city’s near south side, WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported."

Wha? As "WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported"? "In testimony recorded by Channel 4..." the story continued. "Burton was bound over for trial and pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to on-line state court records." Where the hell was the J-S reporter? Obviously not in the courtroom, from which newspaper reporters have always reported their stories since the beginning of time. What is going on here? The entire article was apparently generated from the reporter’s desk, as he (Jesse Garza) watched TV and CCAP’ed the proceeding on the internet. This isn’t reporting – it’s tweeting. The late, great courthouse reporter for the paper, David Doege, would never have put his name on such impersonal, second-hand drivel.

While the paper abandons any pretense of basic crime reporting and arts coverage, it is more than willing to hand over acres of its shrinking editorial real estate to right-wing nuts like Patrick McIlheran, Mike Nichols (who doesn’t even have a desk there anymore), and nationally-syndicated cartoonists like Michael Rameriez (including gems like repeating wing-nut talking points about who doesn’t have health insurance). It seems the Kings of State Street think they can make it through another Packer season (there is a reason why, in the midst of all this staff-cutting, they maintain five Packer beat reporters) before they have to face the ultimate consequences of the deadly combination of the death of the newspaper-industry economic model and their own bad decisions and incompetence.

The reasons to keep this charade I have going with the local newspaper are getting fewer and fewer. Just because I need a newspaper in my hands while I drink coffee in the morning, is that worth throwing more money at an institution that is committing corporate suicide right before my eyes? And what good is it if the paper is so thin and the substance so worthless that I am done with it before the first cup is cold? Besides, can’t I get something still-decent like the New York Times delivered? (Answer: Yes.)