Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Health Care Letter to Mr. Obama

"If the corporation is a 'person,' what kind of person is it?" Sketch by Laurie Menard

Dear President Obama,

In your speech to Congress on September 9, you said, “Insurance executives don't do this because they are bad people. They do it because it’s profitable.”

Question: With respect, how did we come to this place, where those who injure others in a for-profit scheme, or system, remain in our good graces, to escape a designation as “bad people?” And when did making a profit become a justification for policies that injure American citizens?

Mr. President, what would America look like today had Lincoln said, “Well, the slave masters don’t do it because they are bad people. They do it because it’s profitable.”? What if he had said, “If you’re starting from scratch, then liberation from slavery would probably make sense. But managing the transition would be difficult. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive.”? How would that work for you, Mr. President, had the federal government not recognized the essential immorality of slavery, that is, bad people doing bad things to innocent people? We’d be in pretty sad shape, it seems to me.

And we are in sad shape now, with regard to health care. While 44,000 Americans die each year for lack of access to health care, the CEO of United Healthcare hustles off with a compensation of $3,241,042 million, and he remains in our good graces. If 44,000 Americans died by terrorist attacks in one year, would we be so blind to the true character of the terrorists? No. But deaths for lack of access to health care hugely outnumber deaths by terrorist attacks. I ask you: who are the bad guys, Mr. President? Who are the worst of the worst terrorists?

It seems to me it is time to act on a vision for an ethical and moral America, and that means recognizing the character of an industry for what it is, before we decide how to deal with it.

Perhaps we have a very different hierarchy of values. In mine, profit, wealth and power are not above the moral, human values of care, respect, equality and justice. To my mind, any person, CEO, corporation, or politician that places private wealth above those more human values, and injures others in the process of conducting business, is a bad person. Sure, nobody’s perfect, but unless we are willing to shame the underlying mentality and character of people who do bad things on a grand scale, how can we ever eliminate their power to injure and control us?

Perhaps it is time for us to examine the notions that permit the suffering caused to others by the quest for profit: the notion of “greed is good,” for example; the notion of entitlement to wealth, undeterred by conscience, that is, “it’s not personal, it’s only business;” the notion that wealth connotes virtue, no matter the corrupt, inhumane practices that might have produced it.

I understand that you have met insurance executives and perhaps found them to be charming and intelligent. But please consider what the Canadian psychologist Robert Hare has brought to our understanding of human psychology, a check list of personality and behavior traits common to psychopaths. I do believe these traits are not only common to criminal psychopaths, but also to professional sociopaths in business and politics:

superficial charm
grandiose ego
conning or manipulativeness
pathological lying
lack of remorse or guilt
lack of empathy
failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions.

These are traits fostered and nurtured in the business world, on Wall Street, and even in politics, are they not? Isn’t it time we question “values” that promote sociopaths into successful careers, where they feel free to injure the rest of society for their own selfish ends?

Mr. President, you also said you want to be the last president to work for health care reform. You want to fix the system. I believe you, but it saddens me to see your being undermined by your own good, practical nature, your desire to work with the system we’ve got and the people who profit from it. I am sorry to say, this path will not make you the last to work for health care reform; that can only happen when we see a REAL alternative to the current system, in order to eliminate the corrupt power of insurance companies. Without an option that would provide health care for minimum wage workers, the homeless, and the jobless, that is, all human persons, America will remain a cruel place to live for millions of people. Only a national healthcare system, like that of Canada, or France, or even England, will do the job.

You say you don’t want to eliminate the insurance companies. But you must know that’s a spurious concern, one that ignores the fact that in countries with national health care systems, insurance companies still exist.

Please stop making nice with the bad guys, Mr. President.

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