Thursday, August 20th, 2009

The Last of the Hot Summer Town Halls: How We've All Been Fooled By The Health Care Debate

Confronting DorganAbnormally interesting town hall meetings have caused some in Congress to make their August events invitation-only. This tactic, a favorite of the Bush administration, has been bemoaned by the right as cowardice. Senator Byron Dorgan, who puts the D in the Red State of ND, went ahead and held meetings anyway. I went to a few to see what the fuss was all about. (Hint: It's not about health care.)

If our Congress can be measured on a scale of feces (and it should), Senator Byron Leslie Dorgan is closer to adorable rabbit droppings than, say, the diseased swine diarrhea that is Michele Bachmann (R-MN). A three-time senator, Dorgan is the author of Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America. One of only eight senators to vote "No" on 1999's financial deregulation, he is now famous for saying: "I think we will look back in 10 years and say we should not have done this, but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past."

Despite his brave stand on behalf of his flock during a period of unchecked growth and dumdum optimism, many now say outright that they do not trust him. Also, he blogs for the HuffPo. Best of all, Dorgan is fit, nearly svelte, a graying, trustworthy John Edwards, a man for whom flat-front L.L. Bean slacks were invented. Because who wants to trust health care reform to some fatso?

My first stop was the Mayville Senior Citizen Center. It's a tiny ag town between Fargo and Grand Forks along the Red River. Not 20 miles the other side of the river is Minnesota's 7th Congressional district, represented by Collin Peterson (D-MN)-who you may have recently heard is in a bit of trouble after saying he doesn't do town halls anymore because "Twenty-five percent of my people believe the Pentagon and Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the Twin Towers down."


All week here, during old people hour (i.e., the nightly news) on the TV, commercials from the Club for Growth were in heavy rotation. The commercial's gist: "Old people will be forcibly put down unless they oppose reform." During my drive to Mayville, Excellence in Broadcasting® is on and Rush was giving "just the facts" on the H.R. 3200 bill.

On the way back, it was Hannity. Both mentioned "death panels."

33 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

Pleats are morally suspect, yes.

This was really, really good, Abe.

KenWheaton (#401)

Another good piece. Liked it so much I even Tweeted it. Though as it's missing the usual shouting points, I don't know that the shouting shouters to my right or left will get past page one.

Now, would you please buy my new line of t-shirts. On the front, they read "Ken Wheaton: One-Man Death Panel" On the back, they read, "I'm the Decider."

For a small fee, the shirt can be customized with your name.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I already have a marine corps "kill em all – let god sort em out" one so… I'm at my quota for death message wearables. sorry.

KenWheaton (#401)

Pfft. The Marines. Like they know from death.

Offtopic trivia, but that original quote wasn't from a Marine; it was a 13th century Papal emissary explaining why all 20,000 of the Christian men, women, and children of the town of Beziers needed to be butchered (because a few of them were the wrong kind of Christian).

Later promoted to Archbishop!

Abe Sauer (#148)

That is very cool to know. It is just one variation on a theme of shirts. There is a AF base here and the "Peace through superior firepower" one is popular. "when it absolutely, positively, has to be destroyed overnight" is another. "gun don;t kill people. Marines do." also popular.

Shoot me, please. I've said this time and again on Gawker, Jez, Wordsmoker, Buttercup, The NY Times, Salon,Slate, your grandmother's sideboard….oh hell.

If America's reputation wasn't already eroded/rotted/clotted with slime mold/cracked by stress fracture….etc…etc…after 8 years of Bush…what do you think the world thinks of you now? People too stupid to take take of themselves. People literally too stupid to understand that maybe wiping their asses and washing their hands after they shit might be a good idea. People who will be keeling over coughing blood in subway-crowded ER's as the flu gets them in a way in shouldn't have, had the right precaution been taken.

I had something funny to say. But I can't now. 'Night.

Rod T (#33)

Maybe the left spends too much time online and not enough time "doing things"?

ecgroom (#570)

I Tweeted it before you! ;)

mattymatt (#495)

Oh I was pleased to discover that this article continues after the first page — I was reading the RSS feed and it just cuts off at "death panels." You might want to consider putting an indication in the RSS feed that the post continues at such-and-such URL.

zidaane (#373)

Excellent again. Charles Kuralt with attitude.

cdnpoof (#233)

I really liked that. I can't say that I have much hope for u poor bastards. It is just so fundamentally bizarre that you don't have a national health system that I can't even wrap my head around it.

I am mighty suspicious of this canadian that went south for health care he couldnt get here. If he cant get it here then its gonna cost shitloads in the states. Was this a rich guy? Cuz rich people (around the world) are always travelling for health care. Farah went to germany (germany!) for god's sake.

Allz i know iz: canadians dont like to pay for healthcare and if we do decide to do it we can do it here. We actually have private clinics. So take that FreedomWorks. Makes u wonder why this canadian didnt just go to a private clinic or hospital here.


KenWheaton (#401)

Our laws regarding Botox are much more lax!

HiredGoons (#603)

My theory: the Candaian went to Mexico.

This is so good, I feel kind of bad about pointing out that it's 'by AND large', not 'by IN large'.
But what's good for Robert Gibbs is good for Abram Sauer.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh god. Yes. Can I claim that's how they really say it here BECAUSE IT'S TRUE. How embarrassing. I'm turning on the Editor Choire Bat-signal now.

Ron Obvious (#351)

"I think we will look back in 10 years and say we should not have done this, but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past.” Your naivete is touching, Senator.

Flashman (#418)

Yup, these reports from ND keep getting better and better. I really appreciate the obvious respect you have for all of these people, even the crazies.

North Dakota has a strange place in my heart, as I was thrown in jail there for 3 days (Montrail County Courthouse in Raymond); it is the last bit of US soil I set foot on, and unless I apply for a waiver it will be the last. I was driving home for Christmas 1997 and intending to take a shortcut from Sask. down to Ontario. The border guards found an old baggie with some weed *dust* in it, and that was it. The funny thing was, they were totally fucking me over for life but were just so *nice* about it. A surreal experience – strip search, cold shower, orange jumpsuit, the works.
Jail was really just damn boring, but the food was good – homecooked by the old ladies who watched over us at night. And the only reason it was 3 days was because they wouldn't let me call my bank in Montreal to raise my daily withdrawal limit, so I had to be taken 3 times to the *one* ATM in town, at a gas station on the edge of town, in my orange jumpsuit and prison flipflops, to take out money for my $1300 fine, 100 dollars at a time. Then, finally, once I'd paid it off they took me back up to the border, wherupon I drove 36 hours NONSTOP over Lake Superior to make it back to the family home in time for Christmas Day – got there at 3AM on the 25th.
Such a sad, bleak and empty place, but yeah, good people.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Polite, yes. "Good?" Not all. And weed. Lord. ND hs the highest rate of binge and teen drinking and the highest DUI rates in the US but you even mention weed and… People react like it's crack. A recent frisbee golf event used a "420" joke in its promotion and when the locals were told what that meant they went ape. sigh.

Abe Sauer (#148)

BTW: to prove my point. here is, no joke, a story from today's local paper. it's #1 on the most rread list:

"Police recovered a lone marijuana plant this morning along the Red River in south Grand Forks.

"It's really just one plant, not like a major grow or anything," Sgt. Dwight Love said. Officers responded around 8 a.m. after receiving a call that someone had found the plant in a pot by the river near the lift station on the east end of Desiree Drive. Love did not provide any other details. Police are investigating, but Love wasn't optimistic about solving the case.

"We really don't have much," he said.

Mindpowered (#948)

There's a potted pot plant joke in there.

Flashman (#418)

Yeah – I was even mentioned on the local TV news the next night, along with some kids from Florida who were also busted the same day, on the way back down south from Vancouver.
I still have nightmares from time to time involving accidentally (getting on the wrong train, or being on a plane that's diverted) winding up at a US border crossing. Jail in ND was I guess as pleasant as it could be, but feeling so tiny, powerless and humiliated sure sticks with you.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Christ. Allow me to let you folks in on a secret:

The insurance industry is the ultimate and only winner of any health care policy that does not run all or part of itself through the government. And even with government involvement, the insurance industry wins.

Let me ask you: do you trust the insurance industry more than the government? Yeah? You DO? When was the last time you voted for anyone in the insurance industry?

Every last ounce and inch of this is abject silliness. All bullshit. Health care is fucked up because there are too many people, too many sick people, not enough resources, too high costs, too much demand for the services of professionals who charge ridiculous sums for their work.

Do they deserve these ridic sums? Probably. It's impossible work. Do malpractice suits drive up costs? Sure. But not nearly as much as you're led to believe.

This is a problem based on too many fucking people fighting for too few fucking resources. No amount of jimmy-jammy with the "health care system" and "cost" is going to solve or save it. None.

Christ. You don't need death panels. The market will handle that.

And, as for "paying for 'it'"? That's pretty darn American Way.

BoHan (#29)

Karen, I don't have the background in MalMed that you do, but I would question a shortage of resources. I think what you mean to say is that there is a shortage of resources that will voluntarily work within the current cost structure to provide the services that are needed most. And that is what insurance reform should address. Anedoctally, I do not want to ever meet another ex-nurse shilling as a pharmaceutical sales rep when he or she should be working the trauma unit at the County Hostpital, and on my 20 mile drive to drive every day, I do not want to see another billboard for liposuction, bariatric surgery, expensive heart disease treatments that can be paid for only by millionaires, cosmetic dentistry, or snoring issues. There may be a shortage of general care, but it has been created by the insurance industry driving medical professionals out of the treatment areas where they can do the most good.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I agree with this assessment. Accords with my experience.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I agree too. But there is a true shortage of resources in some ways. For example, rural clinics are striving to stay open and serving areas that are hundreds of miles from a true trauma center. Women drive 150 miles for an OB visit or prenatal care. To he tune of thousands of $ many rural hospitals fly in "locums," or docs that will do ER work for a week or so at a time. There will always be some kind of shortage because as an economic "system" there is no end to the "need."

brent_cox (#40)

Take the posterboard slogans from the Shouty Weepy Angry Righteous People at the Town Hall/Howard Beale Parties and strike "government" and insert "insurance industry". Like, "Do you want the insurance industry making decisions over your health care?" or "No way I'm letting the insurance industry accessing my bank account!" Or just take out "insurance industry" and insert "unimaginably scary thing" and hope it's Happy Hour.

ToWi (#1,057)

excellent story

Abe Sauer (#148)

I know it's going into the weekend but I wanted to add an addendum here:

Regardless if any of this sickly nation gets healthcare, one group that loves all this right/left socialism "Freedom!" hullaballoo is the crooked regional operators whose corruption largely goes unchecked because everyone's too concerned with the paranoid fantasy of whether or not we'll be the Soviet Union tomorrow. A perfect local example is former North Dakota Insurance commissioner Jim Poolman. In 2007 Poolman resigned to go private after, according to the Washington Post, taking thousands in contributions from an insurance industry PAC just before, coincidentally, pushing "the coalition's efforts to… alter long-standing prescriptions for how much money insurers must keep in reserve — a crucial variable that can influence their profits." Not surprisingly these changes would leave the insurance policy holders in a weaker position when filing claims. Of course, this WaPo story came out in June 2009, two years too late. The national legislation Poolman helped push is still being shepherded toward passage by many other similar regional insurance commissions and such. Of course, because local papers are devoting reporters and inches to "Health Care Town Hall Mobs!" these guys are robbing the unwatched hen house.

I linked to two things in this piece that I cannot recommend highly enough. One is the Biz Week piece demonstrating the nuts and bolts of EXACTLY how United Health and similar groups have insured they win either way and the Atlantic piece from a guy who lost his father laying out a consumer-based approach and how our divorce from ever seeing bills is so important.

Print them out and read them on the beach over the weekend and cry yourself to sleep.

joeclark (#651)

Again: We don’t do paginated articles in the modern Web. Find another way not to earn money.

Bittersweet (#765)

Excellent article, Abe. I always enjoy reading your stuff. Even though it taxes my brain to have to turn pages online. *whimper*

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