A Death Panel For Winter

Back in 2004, when Congress revisited Medicare and tried to deal with prescription drugs, they dealt with a related health care matter. The Schiavo debate was fresh in the public’s mind and there was wide agreement that a problem existed with a fairly straightforward fix; educate the nation so that people could make legally binding decisions in order to keep government out of their death. Among the responses to the issue was a clause in the Medicare bill that provided coverage to seniors for counselling on items like living wills, do not resuscitate orders, medical powers of attorney, and final wills. This clause facilitated conversations that would help seniors and their families decide and communicate to doctors their desires; whether they be DNR’s for terminally ill patients or an order to keep the tubes in and machines on indefinitely. You may not realize, but if these desires are not clearly illustrated and presented to medical and legal authorities, the state can and does step in to make the decision.

This important and well-stated legislation passed without comment in 2004; in 2009 it was included in the description of services for the public option in HR 3200. In that description (for insurance through the government that would not be mandatory), the steps were called “end of life planning”. Insurance company shills quickly dubbed it “granny killing”, and Sarah Palin jumped into the fray calling it “killing granny to save money”. The more people have actually read the bills moving through Congress, the more they have realized what a bunch of garbage this all was. That said, the time it took away from the issue, and the way that it shifted the focus of lawmakers was a terrible waste.

As fall starts to move away, and the health care issue crawls slowly to conclusion, I have started to wonder what the next great moment of hysteria will be. There has already been some bipartisan work done (by Linsdey Graham (R) of South Carolina and John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts) on carbon reduction and energy independence. Much like health reform, which began with an interesting and unique approach authored by a Republican and a Democrat, I think the Kerry/Graham bill will be the canon fodder for the energy industry. The Insurance Cartel and Big Pharma threw better than a quarter billion at defeating health care before they came out publicly against it. Big energy has half of the world’s ten most profitable companies, firms that generate $50-$70 million per day in PROFIT. Imagine how much they will throw at the issue. This winter you can count on it; Glenn Beck will go on his show and claim Barack Obama is trying to freeze Granny into communism! I am serious!

Financial regulation represents even greater fodder for panic. The legitimate public anger that drove the Tea Party car steered by Dick Armey, Karl Rove, and Glenn Beck through the spring and summer, was fueled by two contradictory sources; populists, who were incensed that taxpayers were roped into rescuing corrupt and unregulated businesses that were supposed to know better, and libertarians, who detest the very idea of government intervention in the market. For all practical purposes, there is no side to this problem; economists, bankers, fund managers, politicians, career regulators, and rank and file citizens believe reform is necessary. Of course, we stood at a similar place in the dawn of the heath care battle.

It seems clear, that if business interests have become so large as to upset the balance of the world if they fail, that something must be done. The difficulty is that populist anger will prohibit another bailout so some government intervention is called for; while libertarian forces in the country push back against the notion of regulation. Either the institutions must be made to forgo excess risk, in which case they forgo higher levels of reward, or they must be broken up, in which they competitive advantage driven by scale. There is no Pollyanna solution whereby this marketplace regulates itself; it is driven by profit and will follow the profit to the literal edge of the rules. This is an opportunity for informed, rational debate and discussion. It is an opportunity for creative solutions to be proposed and looked at without fear of political reprisals. It is an opportunity for the new and innovative.

Unfortunately, it is also an opportunity for someone to scream that the Marxist Obama is trying to steal Granny’s 401k.

Our financial crisis has a lot of players, including us. Just as on climate change and health care reform, financial reform presents opportunities for we the people to make a difference (the old personal responsibility ploy…it has a place). The commercial and political sources of our problem however, go back to the Ford Administration and touch every President and every Congress since then. George W. Bush and the Republicans may have done the gift-wrapping and final assembly, but there is heavy blame to be set at the feet of President Clinton and representatives of both parties. This administration, and the Democrat and Republicans in this Congress, can fix it. They simply need to be encouraged to do so in a grown-up fashion.

There is a movie coming out centered on the Mayan calendar’s supposed prediction of the end of the world in 2012 (presumably, we ran out of Christian prediction in 1999, 200, and 2001). For most people, the commercial for the film is not a moment of shock and panic. I would submit that the emails and frantic wailing of television commentators you will hear over the next few months could be treated with similar indifference.

The rational middle waits for your comments…