Well, the 2020 election season is starting to fire up, and here comes the predictable chorus saying the same thing we always hear.  When it comes to people who actually want to transform the system we live in–people who support things like a single payer health care system, a higher minimum wage, affordable college…

You want free stuff!

Lazy moochers.  You want a handout, don’t you?  You want to be given something for nothing.

Let me just stop this tired old song before it even gets started.  I’m not a moocher.  I’m certainly not lazy.  I drag myself out of bed and work my ass off every single day.  I don’t want a handout–I just want what I’m rightfully owed for my hard work.  A decent wage.  The ability to see the doctor if I’m sick.  A roof over my head.  Working people should be able to have access to these basics.

Conservatives twist this into the idea of class envy.  If you want these things, it must be because you’re envious of what other people have and want to take that away.  I don’t envy the rich their lifestyle.  I certainly don’t envy Donald his garish, gold-covered absurdity of an existence.  I’m not asking for what belongs to anybody else–I’m asking for what is already mine.  The fruit of my hard labor.

Most Americans I know are like that.  I’ve known a couple of people over the course of my life who I could genuinely describe as moochers, but they were a small minority.  The majority of people I know in this country work themselves to the point of burnout and exhaustion, and they get screwed over in return.  It amazes me that so many of these working class Americans still support Trump.  The man has done his best to weasel away even more from them–everything from overtime pay to the ability to file a workers compensation claim for an on-the-job injury, and he certainly hasn’t helped with the tax situation.  Yet they continue to love the guy who robs them of what little they have.

So no, I’m not interested in “free stuff.”  But hey, getting treated with some dignity by the country I’m investing my life and work into?  Now that actually sounds like a good deal….

Time for a little update about my midterms activities here in the Portland region.  I have been insanely busy canvassing and phone banking, as well as editing and writing articles for my local Democratic Party.  In particular, I have been spending a lot of my time volunteering for the re-election campaign of Kate Brown, our kickass female Democratic governor.

This race is the perfect example of why the midterms are so important.  It’s very easy to get complacent in a place like Oregon.  This is a blue state–the Democrat will win, right?  But while we were being complacent, this has suddenly turned into a very tight race, with polls showing Governor Brown and her opponent to be very close.  Not least thanks to Republican Knute Buehler cleverly portraying himself as a moderate, since he knows that’s the only way he can possibly win the Portland metro area.  Knute says he’s pro-choice in his ads!  He’s liberal on social issues!  He’s got an independent streak!  He criticized President Trump that one time!

While Knute does his “I’m really not a conservative!” song and dance, the Democrats are stuck with the problem of having a competent and hard-working incumbent who doesn’t get any exciting PR for being that way.  I frequently hear voters say “If only Kate had done something impressive!”  After I’ve done some deep breathing and lowered my blood pressure, I direct them to this list of accomplishments.

Some of my favorite highlights include:

She approved a minimum wage hike for the state.

She mandated 40 hour paid sick leave for all Oregon employees.

She set up a state-run retirement fund for any workers who are not provided a retirement plan at work.

She signed a bill which ensured that all Oregon kids receive health care.

She increased funding for the Oregon Promise Act, which helps low-income students attend community college.

She signed legislation to enforce universal background checks on gun purchases.

And she helped pass the motor voter bill, which makes any Oregon resident with a state ID automatically registered to vote.

My climate activist friends are rooting for a carbon pricing bill which is currently working its way through the state legislature.  If Governor Brown is re-elected, she is likely to sign this bill.  If Knute Buehler is elected, bye-bye carbon pricing.  Likewise, Knute claims to be pro-choice now, but before he started his centrist run for the governor, he voted against a bill expanding abortion rights.  A Governor Buehler would be much more likely to restrict reproductive rights for women.

Has Kate Brown’s leadership been ideal? Has she done everything I would like her to do? Nope, but I don’t expect that, because I inhabit reality and not a fantasy world. But…have the things she has done had a real effect on people’s lives? Absolutely yes. I would say she’s made a difference to the kids who were able to get health care, the women whose ex-boyfriend stalker wasn’t able to buy a gun, or the people who will get paid a higher minimum wage.

The problem is that all these things take hard, unglamorous, daily work.  And that kind of work is much less likely to get attention than, say, somebody sitting on his ass and sending out offensive Tweets, or heavily armed dipshits coming to our fair city and hoping to cause trouble.  And chances are even higher that a hard-working and qualified politician will get overlooked or criticized if that politician happens to be a woman (I can think of someone that happened to not that long ago, ahem).

Hopefully voters will take Kate Brown’s achievements into consideration in November. (I know, I’m asking American voters to actually think…that can seem like a stretch sometimes.)  Or, maybe Portland progressives will do what they do best…let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and thus snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Aaaand months from now all those political purists will be complaining about something the Republican governor did which they don’t like.  Hey, don’t come crying to me…I was out here trying to prevent that from happening!

Speaking of which…the weekend is almost upon us, which means time to lace up my canvassing shoes and get out there.  Hope all of you are getting ready to fill out that ballot.  Only two and a half weeks left until the election!

I write all day at work. Lucky! you might say. And yeah, it’s the kind of work I’m good at. But it’s not that simple.

You see, I work for a health insurance company, and my job is to write correspondence, all day long, letting doctors and hospitals know why we’re not paying them for treatment–or not paying them as much as they thought we would be.

There are all kinds of reasons for why a medical provider might not get paid. They didn’t jump through the hoops of getting the treatment authorized. They did not sign a contract with us. Our medical experts have reviewed the treatment and deemed it to be experimental.

I can take some slight comfort in the fact that most of the time, when the insurance coverage is denied, the provider is required to write the charges off–so they are not allowed to bill the denied amount to the patient. Still, I’m sure the extra costs are passed on in one form or another.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, just to let you know that I am, in fact, what Sarah Palin and the Tea Party warned you about back when they were screaming about Obamacare. I am the bureaucrat who stands between you and your health care.

Of course, Republicans are strangely silent about people like me. Apparently, the fact that I’m getting paid for my health care denials by a private corporation rather than the government makes them more acceptable. On their end, medical providers have to create entire departments to deal with insurance billing and authorization rules, time and money which isn’t being spent on treating patients. Once again, though, the same conservatives who abhor extra government regulations are very capable of turning a blind eye to those same regulations when they are created in the name of private profit.

The truth is, health care costs will need to be controlled, no matter what the system in place. If we ever do have a single payer system, it will be funded with taxpayer money, and that taxpayer money should be treated with respect. We will still have to determine that the treatment being prescribed is reasonable, and that providers aren’t recommending unnecessary procedures (and by the way, providers trying to charge patients for fraudulent or ineffective treatment is something which happens frequently in our for-profit health care system). Republicans try to paint a scary picture of a single payer system in which you will be restricted from getting the care you want, whereas they claim that in a privatized health care system you have the freedom to choose any doctor and treatment you like. That is simply not true. Sure, you are free to choose any service you like–if you can pay the sky-high uninsured costs for it, which the vast majority of people can’t. You need health insurance to help pay for your care, and when you have insurance, the insurance company restricts what care you can get.

Of course, in our system the very wealthy do have the freedom to pursue whatever kind of medical treatment they want–and travel to get it wherever they like–and these are really the only people the conservatives in Congress care about, anyway.

My fundamental point is that single payer health care is nothing to be scared of. Your health care options are not going to be any more restricted than they are now, and you will be able to get treated for your illness or injury without having to go bankrupt in the process. Not a bad idea at all.

Take it from a health insurance bureaucrat.

The Professor winced when he got out of his flight capsule.  He had to keep reminding himself of how crucial his assignment was, that every little bit counted.  No matter how hopeless it seemed.

“Remember, you’re doing sacred work, Henrik,” he muttered under his breath.

A rag-tag crowd of natives was already beginning to gather, gawking at his ship. A few of them cheered and applauded, but most just stared, stone-faced.

Naomi bounded out to meet him.  She looked energetic as ever, no matter how much human misery she witnessed on a daily basis.

“Thank you for agreeing to come here, sir,” she said after hugging him. “This is a rough area.”

“Rough areas are my job,”  he replied, his Swedish accent making the word “job” softer. Not all of his colleagues at World United agreed that the charity missions to Merka were worthwhile. He couldn’t blame them.  Visiting a place like New York wasn’t too bad–it was quaint with all the red brick, and the traffic-clogged streets and old-fashioned subways, but one still felt connected to civilization.  Out here, though….

“What part of Virginia are we in again?”  he whispered to Naomi.

“Western Virginia, sir,”  she whispered back.

The Merkans continued to eye him with suspicion, but they also started quietly lining up, knowing that a World United flight meant food and aid packages for them.  It was a heart-wrenching sight: a long line of silent, ragged figures, pretending to be too proud to care about the hand-out they were waiting for.

But Naomi was beaming at him. “We’ve got something very special lined up for you today, sir.”

He gave her a weary smile.  She led him carefully down the steps from the landing pad, and then down a narrow, uneven sidewalk, manoeuvering him past a large pothole.  On the other side of the street was a row of the typical small shacks Merkans lived in, holes covered with blue tarp, walls stained by the smoke from the town factory.  He could sense the residents peering at him from their doorways, but they were blocked from approaching him by a mix of local police and World United security.

They stopped underneath a flashing blue sign which read Debbie’s Cafe.

“We wanted to treat you to the best Virginia has to offer,”  Naomi said, showing him to a table on the side patio of the cafe. A server immediately jogged up with a styrofoam tray of greasy fries.

He would never admit it to anyone back in Europe, but Henrik enjoyed some of these exotic Merkan foods quite a bit. They never did switch to the health service diet over here. Of course, they never did get a decent health service, either.

Naomi interrupted his fascination with the fries when she tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a red-headed boy who had climbed a small podium and positioned himself behind a cheap portable keyboard.

After an announcement by a community center music teacher which Henrik didn’t pay attention to, the boy began to play.

It was a halting but graceful version of the old Cohen classic, Hallelujah. As the sounds melted away into the humid Merkan afternoon, Henrik was once again overcome with wonder. It was here, among these simple people in their slums, that he could find something akin to spiritual enlightenment.  He breathed it in.

The kid was talented.  He listened for a while with his eyes closed.  After the song stopped, the teacher and Naomi clapped with great enthusiasm.  Henrik walked up to congratulate the young musician, and the gaunt and nervous mother hovering behind him.

Henrik shook the boy’s hand. “Excellent job!  That was amazing!”  he said.  “Would you please give me your contact info?  I could get you a visa for anywhere in the Northern World Region.  You could study music at a real university.  What do you think, huh?”

The boy blushed and gazed at the ground.

His mother looked even more nervous. “I don’t know about that, mister,”  she said.  “I listen to the radio news and they’ve explained all about World United.  It might not be so good for him.”

He should’ve known. He had heard this so many times before. “Surely he won’t be able to get any real music training here, is he?”

“If we work hard and we save our money up, we might be able to get there,”  the woman said.  “At least here in Merka, we have the freedom to try.  My child isn’t going to be oppressed by a one world socialist government.”

“He wouldn’t have to live there forever,”  Henrik explained.  “And he would be free to make his own choices…”

“Yeah, if he chooses to be a gay snowflake,”  the woman shot back. “Look, his teacher wanted him to perform for you today, so I let him perform.  But I’m not letting you take him anywhere. We’re still the best country in the world.  I don’t care what anybody else says.”

The professor suspected that he was getting at least some of this hostility courtesy of his dark skin. The white Merkan natives always seemed to have an issue with that.

“That’s right.”  An older man standing nearby nodded vigorously.  Henrik couldn’t tell if he was a father or a grandfather. Most of his teeth were missing, his body bent from a lifetime of grueling labor.  “That’s right.  I thank God every day that I was lucky enough to be born in Merka.”

“Living in the rest of the world is not quite the nightmare you imagine it to be,”  Henrik said.  “We lead very normal lives.”

“Nope.  Nice try, but you can’t fool us,”  the woman said. “I listen to the Han Stannity show every day.  Good man.  He gives us all the information about what really goes on over there–how they tax you to death, how the only way you can get medical care is through the government…”

Her son stared at her, wide-eyed.

“We know the truth!”  the woman finished triumphantly.

Henrik bowed to her and her son.  “I suppose if you’ve found out the truth about us, there’s not much I can do to persuade you otherwise.  I wish you all the best for your future, young man.”  For a moment, his mask of politeness slipped.  “With all due respect, though, Han Stannity is a complete moron.”

He turned and slowly walked away.

“You can go fuck yourself!  You and your country!”  He could hear the woman screaming after him. “We will bomb the shit out of you!”

That would have been a scary threat, Henrik thought. A scary threat…about fifty years or so ago.

Naomi was waiting for him, her face drawn, her hands folded together.  “That was so disappointing, Henrik. I’ll have one of the event organizers speak to them.”

The professor waved his arms. “No, no, don’t.  It’s not necessary.”

He sat down and went back to sipping his beer. Now that the woman was done screaming, she and her family began making their way to the World United food and medicine distribution point.  There would also be doctors available there to give them free medical and dental exams.

He didn’t feel any anger as he watched these fiery warriors for liberty rushing to claim assistance from the institution they so hated.  He realized their fist shaking fury was a symptom of their total powerlessness.

He smiled at Naomi across the table.  “Please, don’t look so anxious, my dear.  I have never lost faith in the value of our mission.”

“It just breaks my heart that a man like you, who only wants to help others, gets treated like this.”

This would be the perfect time to hop on his return flight back to Stockholm.  In fact, it was way overdue.  He was done with this place.

“Naomi, this isn’t all about me helping them.  The truth is, these people help me.  They help me find gratitude–gratitude for what we’ve got in the rest of the world.”

And as she waved a tearful goodbye to him and he climbed back up to his flying ship, he added to himself:

“Where else could I go to feel this superior?”

 

Lucky Subjects of America!

I am happy to report our mission has been accomplished.  America has been Made Great Again.  We used to be Number One, now we are Number One Plus Plus!  We can count ourselves fortunate to be here for this glorious moment in our country’s history.

Our medical technology is the best and most innovative in the world.  One might worry that this would mean too many of us would live for too long, but luckily it’s also the most expensive medical technology in the world, and our health care system ensures that survival of the fittest (or, in this case, survival of the wealthiest) still applies.  Those in the working class will not burden the system after their productive and useful years are over.  Successful individuals, on the other hand, can be kept functioning in a vegetable state long past their expiration date.

The women of our nation are grateful to have been returned to their sacred feminine role.  No obstacle stands in the way of their freedom to birth countless babies.  Their labor may be unpaid, but it is the most important and holy work of all:  providing a supply of workers for our fast food restaurants, and soldiers for our neverending wars.

Speaking of which, our battles around the world are bringing us unprecedented victories–we are paying more money for more foreign military bases than before, and are able to grant the gift of democracy to the vanquished in those lands.  Haters might call us the Evil Empire, but we are ready and willing to fight anyone who questions our commitment to peace.  And now that our southern border wall has been extended to cover all four sides of the country, we can guarantee absolute safety to our fellow Americans, and keep them protected from nefarious eastern, western and northern influences.

Another nefarious influence which we have nearly completely succeeded in rooting out is that of the heathen Commie god named “Jesus.”  Our churchgoers pray to the Prosperity God and plead daily for His blessings.

Our enemies claim that we have turned America into a Third World nation.  We will not argue with this ludicrous assertion, except to say that even if it were true, we would be the best Third World nation ever.  Nobody can Third World the way we Third World.  Our tent cities are bigger than your tent cities, loser.

So don’t be afraid to embrace the MAGA, Americans!  Today, our nation stands unified–not least because anyone who dares to disagree has a good chance of getting “vanished”. Let us vow to ourselves that if we sacrifice more money, health and sanity to Our Dear Orange Leader next year, we can make America even greater!

This blog post dedication goes out to a very special presidential candidate…and the way he’s changed my life.

As some of you may know, I work in the health insurance industry, for a local company which shall remain nameless.  Yes, it feels paradoxical to be working in that field when I’m a supporter of a single payer system, but that’s life for ya.  Working in insurance may seem like the most boring career path ever–I’m like Kafka without the brilliant novels–but over the years, I’ve enjoyed my job and found some good friends among my co-workers.  It’s been a nice stable paycheck, and I was hoping to keep working there for years to come.

And now the company I work for is imploding.  Why?  Well, there are multiple factors, but a major one stands out.

When insurance companies agreed to join the Obamacare exchange, the government promised them payments from something called a risk corridor program.  This was meant to compensate them for the fact that they would be taking on a large number of new customers who had been uninsured for a long time, and thus would be very sick and would need costly treatment.  This turned out to be true, and costs for the industry have been even higher than expected.  If anything, this is evidence for just how broken our healthcare system was previous to the Affordable Care Act.  All these newly insured Americans are now finally receiving care for medical conditions they were often forced to neglect because they couldn’t afford to have them treated.

I certainly do not expect sympathy for insurance companies in this scenario.  However, the risk corridor payments were supposed to make the transition to Obamacare smoother and keep the health care infrastructure from falling to pieces.  Supposed to.  But only 13% of the risk corridor money which was promised has been paid out.  And it’s all because of that one very special guy.  Yep, Marco Rubio.  Marco cut most of the risk corridor money out of the budget, and he’s very proud of it.  He brags about being the only conservative who has truly succeeded in damaging Obamacare.  Because it’s so much more important to stick it to the President than to allow Americans access to health care…

So now, insurance companies across the country are going out of business, employees are facing layoffs–and the truly frustrating thing is that Obamacare is getting the blame.  I’m hearing it myself around my own workplace.  It’s easy to think that it’s Obama’s fault, if you haven’t heard all the facts.  Rubio knew what he was doing.

Okay, so saying that I’m not voting for Marco for President is a bit of an empty threat–it’s not like I was going to vote for him before.  Still, I’m definitely never voting for him now. Not for dogcatcher.  I’d gladly vote for Bernie over him.  A shoe could be running against him and I would vote for the shoe.  Call it a personal grudge.

Say it with me, everyone:  elections have consequences.  Think there’s no difference between the candidates?  Think it’s not worth your time to vote?  Nope, nope, nope.  My future, and the future of almost 2,000 other workers, hangs in the balance right now because of the actions of one man.  Vote like the quality of your life depends on it… because it does!!!

After a long, exhausting day, I curl up in my bed and turn on the large screen sitting on my bedroom cabinet. And when I’ve stared into it for a while…suddenly…it’s all okay.

It’s okay that my spend my days at my overwhelming, soul-draining job because, hey, there’s always a chance that I might get on a reality show someday and win a million bucks. Maybe I’ll be the one who isn’t voted off the island. On Survivor, the Blue Collar team can beat the White Collar team, even though in real life they wouldn’t have a melting snowball’s chance of it.

It’s okay that a soldier gets his limbs blown off in one of our pointless wars, because he can still go on Dancing with the Stars.

It’s okay that there are parents out there who can’t afford medical care for their child, because the local news will tell me a heartwarming story about how their neighbors held a bake sale to try to raise the money.

It’s okay that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are both part of the same oligarchy running the nation, because the debate between those two is going to be so exciting!

It’s okay if I make less than a man, because Beyonce will sing me a song about how girls run the world.

It’s okay if tigers go extinct, as long as we have enough dogs left to do stupid pet tricks.

Bright colors flash into my eyes and happy tunes jingle into my brain, until I finally pass out, the tension leaving my shoulders and back, the white noise of our entertainment culture droning on…It’s gonna be okay…It’s gonna be okay….