See Sicko

I believe Sicko opens today nationwide, so be sure to see it over this long weekend.

Ari Melber responds to a criticism of the film from Dean Barnett. You remember Barnett; he’s the twit who thinks fertilized eggs are people, but soldiers aren’t, and of course women are merely major appliances. Barnett makes the knee-jerk assumption that Moore made the film to elect Democrats.

Melber points out that Moore probably is harder on Hillary Clinton than he is on George Bush in this film. I’ll let Melber continue (emphasis added) —

These are not the kind of stories that prime people to think of partisan affiliations or presidential campaigns. If anything, the genuine human struggles in “Sicko” raise questions about our society that run much deeper than what passes for political discourse today.

Why does such a rich nation let people suffer and die without health care? If we truly value the Americans who risked their lives on Sept. 11, why do some struggle without treatment for injuries they sustained while trying to keep us safe? And in the toughest challenge for American exceptionalists, why do so many other countries do a better job of providing care to all of their citizens? (Specifically, 36 countries, according to the World Health Organization.)

These questions probably won’t send people running from the theater to endorse a particular health care policy. Yet “Sicko” could drive the public to demand a realistic national debate on how to achieve quality care for all Americans, and to reject the recurring political attacks on the people working toward this admirable goal.

The recent personal attacks on Moore – and other health care reformers, such as former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) – are in line with the vacuous scare tactics that have stifled health care policy long before the Clinton administration attempted reform. The detractors typically don’t offer solutions or engage reformers’ ideas. They don’t join the vital debate over how our public policy should value every human life. They just defend the status quo and launch personal attacks.

This brings us back to Mr. Barnett’s Politico column. It offers a conservative’s supposed concern that the intricate politics of “Sicko” will backfire on Democrats (why would he care?). Then it recycles the canard that Edwards should not help the poor because he is wealthy. (By that logic, Americans with good health care shouldn’t help anyone else, and cities with solid homeland security shouldn’t collaborate to defend more vulnerable areas.)

But after 800 words, Mr. Barnett fails to say anything about health care policy, or whether the Sept. 11 rescue workers deserve assistance or whether the U.S. should even try to improve our world health rankings. The column, like so many attacks on health care reformers, ignores the issues and gloomily accepts America’s dismal health care condition – and then labels Moore as the pessimist. “Smart politicians would avoid him like the plague,” concludes Mr. Barnett.

Here it’s painfully obvious that Mr. Barnett didn’t see the movie or didn’t get it. The issue is not how “smart politicians” position themselves – the public could not care less. The issue is what our nation can do about a health care crisis that leads to the needless suffering and death of our fellow citizens. They are the ones who have to avoid a real “plague,” since they can’t count on decent treatment when they get sick.

I’ve read a number of reviews that complain Sicko is one-sided and that Moore doesn’t always explain where he gets his facts. To this I say, first, that the more you know about what’s going on in American health care, the more you realize the “other” side is indefensible. Second, Moore said very little that I hadn’t already learned in my own research. I can’t swear the film is without factual error, but overall the way it portrays U.S. healthcare is accurate. Moore may be guilty of oversimplifying — the Canadian and British health care systems do have some problems that aren’t discussed in the film. But Moore is also an entertainer. This is a theatrical film, not a presentation for policy wonks.

But most of the bad reviews I’ve read amount to sputtering defenses of the status quo and personal attacks on Michael Moore. What the critics never ever do is honestly address the problem of people who can’t get insurance, or our crumbling emergency rooms, or our dismal health data. They just make excuses.

Clarence Page writes:

Numerous congressional proposals have offered wider, less-expensive and more-reliable coverage than Americans receive from our current patchwork, employer-based system.

But no matter how workable, practical or desirable the proposals may be, the insurance industry reliably shoots them down. Armed with billions of dollars for political campaign contributions, spin doctors and attack ads, the industry has largely steered the nation’s health care debate for decades.

Mr. Moore evens things up a bit. He uses the same pop culture that brings you Paris Hilton and American Idol to offer something truly valuable: a vision of a better American health care system than the one we have.

The fact is that whatever truncated national discussion we’ve had about health care going back as far as I remember has been entirely one sided. It’s the health care industry saying we have the Best Health Care in the World, and if you don’t agree you must be a Communist. End of discussion.

He offers something else that most Americans never see: how easily anyone – including visitors – can access good public health care in Canada and Europe and how satisfied those country’s citizens are with their systems. Critics predictably charge Mr. Moore with sugar-coating his view of the other countries, particularly Cuba, where Fidel Castro’s government still affords superior care to favored Communist Party elites. Nevertheless, having witnessed health care in each of the countries Mr. Moore visits, I think he got it about right.

In Canada and Europe, customer satisfaction is high, despite the drawbacks. Defenders of our health care status quo come up with one horror story after another of long lines, waiting lists, rising costs or rationed care. But they don’t like to talk about the long lines, waiting lists, rising costs or rationed care that Americans face in our existing system. Mr. Moore’s movie does.

Nobody’s system is perfect. But despite the smear job that conservatives over here give to British health care, for example, stalwart conservatives over there aren’t mounting much of an effort to change it.

If the film does nothing else but get people to realize it doesn’t have to be this way, it has done its job.

See Crooks & Liars about a hit piece on Sicko in the Los Angeles Times.

Fear Itself

Following up this morning’s post on impeachment: I admit at times I’ve been ambivalent about the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. This is not because I don’t think they deserve it. It was not necessarily because I thought it politically risky for the Democrats. The biggest reason is that if it were done and did not result in conviction and removal from office, then it were better not done. Because that would amount to exoneration. Conviction and removal require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, not just a simple majority, so unless some Republicans vote to convict it ain’t gonna happen.

But I feel the time to act has arrived, especially regarding Mr. Cheney.

As I wrote in comment #4 to this morning’s post, my primary concern is restoration of the balance of power and the integrity of the Constitution. This is the goal from which all other goals — including withdrawal from Iraq — flow. I don’t think in terms of what Bush and Cheney “deserve” — I leave such things to the law and karma — nor do I much care if they are punished for the mess they’ve made of America. What’s important to me is to make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that they are wrong. They are wrong about executive power, about the role of government, about the justice system, and about pretty much everything having to do with the Constitution and the civil liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.

What’s important to me is that we send a clear signal to posterity that this will not happen again.

Remarkably, a blogger who fancies himself a libertarian linked to the morning post with the comment, “Yup … there’s no wrath like that directed at those who don’t toe the Netroots line.”

Here’s the Netroots line. It begins “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” and ends (currently) with “Amendment XXVII: No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

And make no mistake, m’dears — this is what is on the line. It’s not about partisan squabbles, or who’s going to win the next election. It’s about preserving what has been the bleeping political foundation of our nation throughout its history. If you don’t see that, “libertarian,” open your eyes.

There is more than a whiff of abuse of power and criminal activity surrounding this administration. Particularly after the recent revelations about Dick Cheney, I’d say the White House stinks out loud these days. Even conservatives are putting together damn strong articles for impeaching Dick the Dick. See also “The Misunderestimated Mr. Cheney: The Vice President’s Record of Willfully Violating the Law, And Wrongly Claiming Authority to Do So” by John Dean.

Yesterday some bloggers had a conference call with Nancy Pelosi. There’s an account of this at Scholars and Rogues:

Pelosi’s argument against impeachment was, simply, that it wouldn’t be worth expending the political capital and effort to push the process forward. If the situation had been Bush coming in as a new president, she said, things might have been different, but with less than two years left on his watch and his record as a miserable failure etched in stone , the stronger weapon was oversight. Pelosi specifically mentioned the subpoena power that, she said, is making the Dem Congress “Bush’s worst nightmare.”

Essentially, Pelosi argued that we need to push forward and get a Dem in the White House in 2008 to really start enacting serious change, noting that even with majorities in both Houses, the Dems’ power could not overcome the 60 Senate votes needed to beat a Bush veto, and that the courts would be particularly unfriendly to Democratic moves for criminal investigations unless they substantially “built the cases” for each move. “Let the process play out,” she said. “Oversight isn’t political, it’s patriotic.”

I’d say sometimes impeachment isn’t political, either. Sometimes avoiding the hard issues by letting the clock run out is not patriotic.

If you owned a retail store and you saw pickpockets stuffing your merchandise into their coats, would you choose not to call the cops because it’s half an hour to closing time?

Captain Ed — who always has our best interests at heart, you know — writes,

Obama has this correct, not just legally but also strategically. First, although many people like to claim that impeachment is a political tool, the Constitution makes it clear that the remedy should only apply to actual criminal conduct. “High crimes and misdemeanors” makes it plain that the founders didn’t want a Parliament that removed an executive for a simple loss of confidence, but an independent executive whose election should only be nullified for actual and provable criminal conduct.

Exactly. As I said, it’s time.

Strategically, it’s difficult to understand why anyone still argues for impeachment — but the fact that Obama has to address this shows they do. George Bush and Dick Cheney have 18 months left in office, and sixteen until the next election. Even if the Democrats started impeachment now, it would probably take that long to gather enough evidence for a win in the House, let alone the two-thirds in the Senate needed for removal, which would be the entire point.

Protecting the Constitution is the point, so even if conviction were voted on the day before the 2009 Inauguration, it would be worth it.

Regarding time — for comparison’s sake — the Senate Watergate Committee began its nationally televised hearings on May 18, 1973, and the House Judiciary Committee passed the first of three articles of impeachment, charging obstruction of justice, on July 27, 1974. But the committee investigations into the Bush Administration are ongoing already, and much depends on whether the Bush White House gets away with ignoring subpoenas. That’s the real holdup. Once evidence of criminal activity is in hand, impeachment itself doesn’t take that long.

They would risk a huge backlash from moderates and centrists who would see this as a stunt, much the same way the Republicans did in 1998 — only this time, it would come in a presidential election cycle instead of the midterms. It might be the one event that could restore George Bush’s flagging approval ratings, and it would be political suicide for a Democratic Congress that has done nothing in its first six months.

Oh, I don’t think so. Impeaching Bill Clinton was a stunt, and everyone but the wingnuts themselves recognized that. Which is why the impeachment stunt backfired backlashed nastily (although not fatally) against congressional Republicans.

But if you’re old enough to remember the Nixon episode, you know things can take a very different turn when the issues are serious. Remember, Nixon was reelected in one of the largest landslides in American political history on November 7, 1972. By the time he resigned less than two years later, the nation was content to see him go, and the members of the House and Senate committees that investigated him were rock stars. Senate committee chair Sam Ervin became so popular he went on to a second career making television commercials. On the House committee, Rep. Barbara Jordan was a standout, but the entire judiciary committee, both Republicans and Democrats, clearly were trying to do due diligence for the Constitution. On the whole, the nation recognized how serious this matter was and respected Congress for what it did.

Compare/contrast to the slobbering smarminess exhibited by Republicans in the Clinton impeachment process.

And Democrats reaped rewards in the 1974 midterms, picking up 49 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate. So many new Democrats elected to Congress they were called “Watergate babies.”

John Dean, who would know, says the current White House is worse than Watergate. On the other hand, news media of the time hadn’t been taken over by a Right Wing Echo Chamber that distorts nearly everything the public hears. Doing the right thing is riskier now than it was in 1974, unfortunately.

But how things are done are enormously important. If the impeachment process is handled with seriousness and dignity instead of bellicosity, and if the focus is kept on the importance of protecting the integrity of the Constitution, I think the public can handle it. On the other hand, if we go into this thinking “these people screwed up America and we’re going to make them pay,” that’s a problem. As tempting as it is, don’t go there.

One other point — waiting until after 2008 to find out what the Bushies are up to may sound grand now, but by then the public may not be in the mood for it. They might very well want to forget they ever heard of Bush and Cheney. And a new Democratic administration will have other things on its plate. Now is the time.

Along these lines — I took a look at the articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney filed by Dennis Kucinich a couple of months ago. (Go here and search for H. Res. 333.) I’m not impressed. “He’s sneaky and got us into Iraq,” while true, is far from the strongest case that can be made, seems to me. I wonder if Kucinich is serious or just likes to file articles of impeachment from time to time to get his name in the papers.

I believe the better model would be based on John Dean’s suggestions — he overstepped his office, committed crimes, and violated the Constitution.

Wanted: More Audacity

Barack Obama says impeachment is not acceptable, according to USA Today.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama laid out list of political shortcomings he sees in the Bush administration but said he opposes impeachment for either President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.

Obama said he would not back such a move, although he has been distressed by the “loose ethical standards, the secrecy and incompetence” of a “variety of characters” in the administration.

Well, at least he’s distressed.

Obama, a Harvard law school graduate and former lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Chicago, said impeachment should not be used as a standard political tool.

“I think you reserve impeachment for grave, grave breeches, and intentional breeches of the president’s authority,” he said.

I think he’d better wake up, and fast. It is becoming increasingly clear that Senator Obama is not the man we thought he was. I understand that being a front-runner for a presidential nomination makes politicians cautious. But there’s cautious, and then there’s brain dead.

I could have forgiven him, I think, had he just made some noises about impeachment being a serious matter and not something to speculate about without thorough vetting, or something like that. But to say that what’s wrong with the Bush Administration is simply a matter of incompetence and “loose ethical standards” in the midst of evidence screaming at the top of its lungs about “grave, grave breeches, and intentional breeches of the president’s authority,” is distressing.