The Island of Doubt

I know we’re just hours away from the nail-biting climax of the Copenhagen conference at which the fate of humanity hangs in the balance (or not), but a Daily Kos post explaining why efforts to reform health insurance in the U.S. have amounted to nothing has fallen into my “must read” category. One paragraph should be enough to whet your appetite for outrage/resignation:

So here’s what you have to understand. If the health insurance and financial industries really felt scared by any particular politician or political party, or their lobbying efforts were inadequate, they could throw them out of power in a heartbeat. With a wave of their hand and a few billion dollars or so in our direction, the pharma companies and Goldman Sachs could absolutely destroy the Democratic Party in 2010 and beyond. The only reason they don’t do so is that it’s cheaper and easier to buy a few key Democrats off instead, and intimidate the rest. Plus, they don’t have to run the risk of a right-wing populist backlash, either.

If you read just one blog post about the challenge that health insurance reform poses, whether you support or oppose what your party of choice is doing at the moment, whether you think you understand the politics at work, make it this one.

If you want to win, you will ORGANIZE. You will organize in the same way the Right has done for the last 40 years, and you will spend money on persuasion, where it really matters. You will, in short, make the politicians as afraid of you as they are of them. The Right has built vast networks of think tanks, newspapers, periodicals, cable news channels, and political advocacy organizations to spread their finely tuned, well-honed messages. Their politicians may fail them, and their actual policies may be deeply unpopular, but their message machine nearly always works its magic to get them what they want, even when Democrats are in power.

Replace “health care” with “climate change” and the argument remains dead on. As this story from Copenhagen points out, it’s only the U.S. that the hacked CRU emails story has any traction. The one piece of good news from Denmark so far is that everybody else is smart enough to recognize a distraction when they see it.

One of Denmark’s leading businessmen and philanthropists, speaking privately at a reception here earlier this week, voiced a sentiment about the hacked e-mail controversy shared widely among attendees from around the world at this global climate conference.

“How can a few e-mails — which were stolen after all — have such an influence upon what Americans believe about global warming? The science is so consistent and deep. It is astonishing this is possible in the richest nation in the world.”

Astonishing? Not if you first read the piece about health insurance politics.


  1. #1 yogi-one
    December 17, 2009

    Over at the Agonist ( one can read many savvy analyses of the health care debacle, the financial meltdown, and other issues.

    I learned a lot over there about why health-care reform failed. That’s right, even if it passes it will be a failure, because there will be no significant change other than giving insurance companies more ways to screw the public.

    The same factors are at play in the financial meltdown, and also in climate change. The basic lesson is this: never, NEVER, underestimate the human ability to deny, resist, twist arguments, and believe in very flimsy justifications for any explanations that support a selfish agenda.

    Politics in this country has reached a point where any idea, no matter how good when it is introduced, by the time it winds its way through both houses of congress and one million talking-head news show rehashes, cannot possibly pass unless it has been completely subverted into a giveaway to industry a financial lobbyists.

    The same mentality threatens climate change action. I can easily imagine a future where we have given Wall Street the authority to manage a cap-and-trade system. They will go on to create exotic GHG trading credit instruments(think credit-default-swaps against over leveraged energy futures or some such other nonsense) so complex that no one knows what’s in them, then bet on the whole system failing, and walk away with gazillions while everybody else is left choking on the fumes.

    This may sound a little strange, but to me the fundamental problem here is not GHGs. We could regulate and control GHGs if we decided we really wanted to.

    The problem is with the way people think, and particularly the human mind’s propensity to view reality through whatever warped lenses are necessary to support pre-existing agendas.

    For many of the major players at Copenhagen the question is unfortunately NOT how we reign in GHGs and stop destroying our own ecosystem. The problem is how can they create profits from a new system of cap and trade.

    In the hands of Wall Street it becomes: how can we suck the money out these new carbon-trading instruments?

    This, of course, is not even related to the real reason why we are supposed to be in Copenhagen in the first place.

  2. #2 The Backpacker
    December 17, 2009

    I am stuck in this weird place. My life and my family will be mostly unaffected by health insurance reform or even climate change, being fairly wealthy and living in a rich state in a rich country. So in a way I don’t care but the human toll of not addressing climate change or fixing the health system in the United States is so immense it breaks my heart. If only I could care more about American Idol and the exploits of Tiger Woods, crowd out concerns for others.

  3. #3 Juan Pi
    December 17, 2009

    Unfortunately, the the hacked CRU story did reach Argentina, not through news but through the very misinformedo opinion of people with personal columns on our two mainstream newspapers. Stupidity always go a long way…

  4. #4 EMJ
    December 17, 2009

    Thanks for that. That was one of the best, most infuriating posts I’ve read in weeks. I completely agree with the author. Naomi Klein’s No Logo is still incredibly relevant. I read it ten years ago and it continues to shape my thinking on media culture. I would encourage people to e-mail that post to everyone they know, buy two copies of No Logo (one for you, the other for a like-minded friend) and then get active. There’s a reason why the measly 9/12 project had nationwide coverage while the equally large gay rights march was invisible (or that the 100,000 strong march in Copenhagen was eclipsed by a few shots of people getting arrested). If you want change, you have to make it. If you don’t want it that badly it’s not going to happen. That’s about all there is to say on the subject.

  5. #5 EMJ
    December 17, 2009

    Here’s a post I just wrote that adds to this. Thanks again for bringing this to our attention.

  6. #6 memory foam
    December 18, 2009

    That is a sobering reality but is true, as evidenced by the gradual but inevitable weakening of the health care bill to its present watered down state. Every few days there’s another concession.

    Financial incentives are a strong motivator … big business almost always cares more on issues than their opponents. Idealism is much harder to sustain, most people are inevitably caught up in their own financial needs and life situations.

  7. #7 Stephen
    December 27, 2009

    Unfortunately, the U.S. is not the only place where the CRU e-mail incident has traction. Australia seems to be a hotbed of climate deniers (James Cook University alone is home to two rather prominent climate skeptics [Bob Carter and Peter Ridd]). Papers such as The Australian (the paper that won the title of “Most consistently wrong media outlet” from RealCliamte in 2008) regularly run editorials scoffing at AGW.

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