Archive for Romney

Obromneycare, Dead Peasants and the Limits of Liberal Imagination

Posted in Capitalism, Economy, News, Politics, USA with tags , , on July 3, 2012 by Z


 The Supreme Court has reached a decision.  Obromneycare + individual mandate have emerged from their rather cushy gauntlet intact.  How?  The penalty for the uninsured has been classified as a tax.  (See Correntewire for an excellent summary of Roberts’ legal gymnastics).  Discussion of Obromneycare’s constitutionality or lack thereof has been covered quite well elsewhere, so I’m going to do something else.  First, a brief summary of my own experience with the individual mandate in Massachusetts, where we’ve been living with the Romneycare to which Obama has attached his “Ob”:

For a while, I was covered by a subsidized plan because neither of my jobs offered insurance and my annual income was just under the cutoff point (300% of the federal poverty level).  Then I finished graduate school and moved to full time at one job, gaining insurance through my employer.  The tanking economy took a toll on that employer, which led to a reduction in my hours – which caused me to lose full time status – which allowed human resources to decree that I was no longer entitled to full time benefits – which meant my insurance was no more.  Luckily, I was able to keep three of my original five days a week at that job, and still had weekends at my other job, giving me a patchwork full time schedule, but no benefits.  I couldn’t go back on the subsidized plan, because my income was now too high.  At the same time, the cheapest available private plan that satisfied Romneycare’s holy writ cost more than double what I’d paid for the subsidized plan, and nearly double what I’d paid through my employer.  Obviously, I couldn’t afford it, and even if I could, I’d never have been able to pay the outrageous deductible if I had needed any care.  I then found that the penalty (properly called a penalty and not a tax here in Massachusetts) was lower than the cost of the cheapest plan and thanked the stormin’ mormon that I would be allowed to not buy a terrible, useless and expensive product, but could simply pay an arbitrary fine for the privilege of living with no health insurance.  Thanks, Mitt!  When tax time rolled around, I dutifully filled out my state return, waiting anxiously to see the outcome of the still relatively new healthcare schedule that would determine the extent of my fine.  I was surprised.  A handy chart through which I was obliged to search until I found the entry under my zip code informed me of what the state deemed an affordable payment for health insurance for my income group in my area.  The schedule I was filling out then spilled the beans: because the cost of the cheapest available plan exceeded the state’s notion of an affordable payment in my zip code at my income, I was off the hook.  No penalty.  Of course, I was still without insurance.

What lessons can we extract from my experience?  First of all, Romneycare, touted as “universal” by both Romney (that is, past-Romney.  Present-Romney has sworn to slay the beast he now retroactively did not spawn.) and current Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is anything but.  Large groups of people throughout the state are deemed unable to afford the most affordable plans produced by the vaunted private sector, but are not sufficiently impoverished to warrant the attention of the state.  My situation is not unusual.  Depending on the overtime, I’m quite firmly in the 32-35k range, and the mixing and matching of part time positions is not at all strange in this era of underemployment.  It’s worth pointing out that Commonwealth Care, the group of subsidized plans here in Massachusetts, is available to a larger income group than Medicaid will be nationally under the ACA, meaning that even more people nationally than in Massachusetts will slip through the middle and be uninsured despite the new law.  In short, there’s nothing ‘universal’ about any of this.  There’s really no need to discuss the difference between care and insurance, as anyone interested in this issue is already aware of the health insurance industry’s apparent business model (“Find a way not to pay”).  The horrific deductibles many of the Romneycare spawned plans feature make the plans themselves so insubstantial, they serve no recognizable purpose other than fulfilling the minimum requirements necessary to avoid the penalty.  When I had to look into these “plans” a few years back, I found that some of them didn’t even offer prescription drug coverage, though it looks like that, at least, has been (partially) corrected.  If you’d like to see for yourself, just head over to the MA HealthConnector and shop around.  Have fun.  In effect, what the Massachusetts reform has accomplished is to establish a requirement that enables health insurance providers to sell bad products to a captive market.  At the same time, it allows those (like me) with whom private business would rather not deal to go without.  Private insurers therefore have free reign to sell barely there insurance to whatever groups of consumers they feel comfortable selling to, and leave the rest of us out to dry.

By creating a captive market, the ACA (like Romneycare) will basically carve out a fiefdom for the health insurance industry.  Purchasing terrible coverage under threat of a penalty (or tax) with no coverage amounts to nothing more than a legal obligation to fork cash over to an unaccountable private entity.  It’s downright feudal.  Which brings us to…


Dead Peasants

 While working on my master’s degree in a field in which I would later fail to find work, I developed an interest in agrarian history, which led me to the work of historian Thomas Bisson.  One of Bisson’s lesser known works is a book called Tormented Voices: Power, Crisis and Humanity in Rural Catalonia, 1140-1200.  The book was inspired by and largely based on research from a collection of peasant complaints regarding uncustomary abuse, violence and seizure of property and possessions.  Bisson frames the complaints within a narrative of the attempted expansion of seigniorial authority by local lords.  Within many of the complaints themselves, one can see the origins of some modern practices, including what has been called “Dead peasant insurance,” a practice in which a company will take out an insurance policy on the life of an employee.  Bisson makes several references to a woman named Ermessen who complained that she and her husband were forced to pay their lord 5 sous because their son had died.  This has nothing to do with health insurance (it’s really more about life insurance), but it does get at the diseased frame of mind we’re dealing with.  “Dead Pesants” is also a great title.  Bisson’s lords and knights set about trying to impose new fees, fines, dues, etc. on their peasants and used violence and systematic humiliation to force compliance.  The peasants complained to the Count of Barcelona (and later, the King of Aragon) hoping something might be done about their local lords.  Eventually, the King did take action, though this action occurred in the context of an ongoing struggle between royal and local authority, so how much weight the peasant’s complaints had is uncertain.  In any case, there is a clear parallel between the neo-feudal concept of dead peasant insurance and the neo-feudal health insurance dues now owed to the likes of Lord Aetna and the Holy Order of the Blue Cross & Shield.  Unlike in 12th century Catalonia, however, the current seigniorial overreach of the health insurance industry is not being done behind the back of a royal authority that might one day oppose it.  It is instead the result of collusion with that authority.  The ACA represents official sanction for the private management (and profit) of (and from) a properly public function.  It is legitimized neo-feudal rentier capitalism.


The Limits of Liberal Imagination

 The ACA represents the present limits of both liberal political will and imagination.  I suspect that conceptual constipation and lack of historical memory play a role in this quagmire.  Why else would the allegedly liberal wing of the democratic capitalist enterprise, the would be heirs of 1789 or at least 1776, have no better ideas than pressing for dues and rents from debt incumbent serfs, the way their old foe the feudal nobility did?  The situation would be hilariously bizarre, if it weren’t so transparent and sad.

Delusional hysteria isn’t the exclusive property of the parties Republican and Tea.  There’s just as much making the rounds amongst the Dems.  If those shaking from terror and screaming “Socialism!” in the ACA’s general direction are deluded and dead wrong (and they are), then those cheering about how it’s a step toward single payer are just as ridiculous.  By funneling cash into the pockets of insurance providers while simultaneously making them an integral part of a formally legislated healthcare plan, Obama & friends have created a barrier to single payer.  Should we ever have such a plan here in the US, it will need to be forced on a more, not less powerful insurance lobby.  It will exist despite, not because of, the ACA.  That polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans favor single payer really makes one wonder why the liberal imagination doesn’t seem to encompass this popular idea.  I once thought this could be explained via the usual logic regarding lobbyists and corporate money, but it’s more than that.  It’s a failure of imagination.  The ACA is the ultimate expression of a world view incapable of looking for solutions beyond the boundaries of the neoliberal consensus.  One might even argue that the individual mandate itself is an admission that American capitalism as it now exists has failed.  Private insurers have failed to achieve universal insurance in the “free” market.  The solution?  Don’t rethink markets – use the state to force people into them!  This represents an intellectual as well as a material failure, in that the initial, material failure (the existence of the uninsured, insured people denied claims) is compounded by a failure of imagination (“Private insurance didn’t work.  Try it again harder.”).  The ACA and in particular the individual mandate are at their core the self-cannibalization of American liberal capitalism.  The capitalist component is forced to eat a bit of liberty to sustain itself.  We’ve already seen this in other more obvious areas, such as the NDAA, the crackdown against the Occupy Movement, etc.  It is more and more apparent that liberals, shackled as they are to neoliberalism, will not be able to save liberty from capitalism.  Only the real left can do that.

Bad Faith 2012: They aren’t out of touch, they’re just not talking to you.

Posted in Bad Faith, Elections, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2012 by Z

The conventional wisdom regarding both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (according to their respective opponents in the left and right wings of the American neoliberal party with two names) is that they’re “out of touch.”  This is a very appealing explanation, especially in the case of Romney with his alien demeanor and cavalier country club financial sense (bet you how much, Mitt?).  However, there’s a better explanation.   They just aren’t talking to you.  The conversation taking place between candidates, pundits, etc. not only during election years, but all the time doesn’t require input from the American public.  It fact, it doesn’t even want it.  This conversation is about our future, but it isn’t one we’re actually invited to; it’s merely taking place where we can hear it.


When Mitt Romney stood in front of a crowd of his loyal followers at a palatial mansion and suggested that everyone should be able to live “like this,” many rightly pointed out that the very suggestion was absurd.  Of course it’s not possible for everyone to have a mansion with a household staff and all the ridiculous luxuries associated with that lifestyle (it’s especially impossible for the members of the household staff).  Yet, the people who pointed this out missed the point.  Mitt knows full well that not everyone can live his lifestyle (again, especially not the household staff).  So what’s the secret that renders this insane attitude comprehensible?  Simple – if you think his statement was strange, he wasn’t talking to you.  He was talking to people who can live “like this.”  He was talking to people who do have the wealth, the connections and the desire to live “like this.”  The household staff, for example, are not included when Mitt says “everyone.”  Neither are most of us.  We aren’t the people in whose interests he wants to run the country, and we don’t have what he needs to get where he wants to go.  Consider also his laughable suggestion that young people borrow money from their parents to start a business.  “Is he serious?” many asked.  Well, yes he was – he just wasn’t talking to you.  How can you tell?  Easy – because either you don’t have enough money to lend your children to enable them to take his advice, or if you’re young, your parents don’t have enough to lend to you.  Or, and this is certainly outside of Mitt’s experience, you do have the necessary capital, but don’t want to be a business owner.  If any of these things are true, Mitt wasn’t talking to you.  In Mitt land, the solution to your problems is to become a business owner.  If your class, your interests or your financial situation prevent you from doing this, Mitt doesn’t think your problems need solving.  You are a non person.


Barack Obama may take a slightly different approach, but offers the same result.  He’ll talk to us – I understand we’re meant to hope for change, or some such – but his policies, as noted elsewhere, are more or less the same as his predecessor’s.  Keep hoping, I guess.  The nice boss (Obama) talks to his employees while he exploits them, while the traditional boss (Romney) is content to let the rabble believe he’s talking to them.  Meanwhile, the neoliberal policy agenda marches on.


Public political discourse in the US remains confined to a ruling class.  This ruling class is more eclectic than it once was, as it includes both the traditional 1%er types and a class of professional politicians, but in most cases debate about policy remains firmly in the narrow neoliberal frame long laid out for us.  This is because the people participating in this debate don’t want our input.  We are allowed to fool ourselves into believing that we’re included, but the truth is that we’re spectators.  We can observe this public discourse through the mass media, but our input is neither welcomed nor necessary.  The position of the general public is not unlike that of a household servant.  The masters of the house, our employers, are arguing over how best to run their household, including how to treat us.  We are in the room, we can see and hear the discussion, but although we may convince ourselves that we’re involved, we are not.  Our access to the political process is largely coincidental at this point.  We can see it on TV, but attempting to contribute in the traditional way is a bit like yelling at game show contestants.  The folks on Wheel of Fortune can’t hear you, and neither can your political class.  Not only that, they aren’t even talking to you.


The (Oval) Office

Posted in Elections, Politics, USA, Web Satire Round Up with tags , , , on February 13, 2012 by Z

These have been floating around the net for some time now, but I thought I’d post them anyway in case someone somehow missed them.









So…. American right, tell me again why you think nations should be run like businesses?  If nothing else, these visual one liners have influenced my thinking about empire, in that the current American Empire is remarkably like The Office – a more persistently marketed knockoff of a British original.   (Quick – someone find out if Italy produced an office themed sitcom in the 50s.  If the pattern holds, it should be really funny.)

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this primary stuff later, as Mitt “the banality of evil” Romney, Newt “the unbearable lightness of being a douchebag” Gingrich and Rick “Santorum” Santorum keep at it.  Until then, remember to …

Yes, this one is old too.  Perhaps I should have updated it to read: “Hope you don’t get executed without trial.”

In the event that I have more to put up here regarding elections, I think I’ll take a little inspiration from the last post and call it “Bad Faith 2012.”