Tuesday 27 August 2013

19th Nervous Breakdown - 41st Futile Vote?

Congratulations to House Republicans, they have now voted forty times to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare). You cannot accuse them of giving up easily, despite the fact that this law of the land, passed by both houses of congress, was upheld as constitutional in a 2012 Supreme Court decision.

One might indeed sympathize with these intrepid representatives of the people had they not neglected to vote on funding for a transportation bill which attends to such minor details as building and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like. To add fat to the fire, because of their reluctance to compromise we are now skittering helter-skelter into a budget stand off that could result in a shut down of the federal government.

But not to worry! Apparently some members of their caucus hadn’t been afforded an opportunity of voting to repeal Obamacare and wished to make their views crystal clear for fear of a primary challenge from the Right.

My own preference is for a single payer system that would work somewhat like Medicare; but since this form of advanced Marxism is apparently only suitable for those 65 and over, Obamacare it is!

I have two main questions for the repeal diehards? Don’t you remember that the 2008 presidential election was contested in large part on the notion that the country could no longer suffer the messed-up, costly, discriminatory health insurance system of the time? And secondly, what exactly do they propose putting in place of Obamacare?

There is no going back to the old way, pathetic as it was. The health insurance companies want no part of it, basically because there are substantial profits to be made from the many millions who will enter the system when Obamacare finally gets rolling.

No solace either from the drug companies – they already cut a sweetheart deal with the president that, in return for $80 billion in savings over ten years, these uber-profitable pharmaceutical behemoths would not be troubled with overly burdensome regulations under the new law.

So what’s the plan, guys? I sometimes wonder if the representatives of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower have even read the Affordable Health Care Act? They unanimously oppose the individual mandate that requires everyone to buy health insurance, yet this was originally a Republican idea proposed back in 1993 as an alternative to Hilary Clinton’s dreaded universal system. To top it all a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, put this Republican theory into practice in Massachusetts and it’s working quite well, thank you.

Furthermore, since the vast majority of the country already has employer-provided health care insurance Obamacare, for the most part, doesn’t even affect them. It does, however, bring relief to those with a previously diagnosed condition, and those under 26 – unemployed or self-employed - who can now remain covered under their parents’ policies.

Those without health insurance who tend to frequent emergency rooms - thus straining the finances of the nation’s hospitals - will be mandated to purchase individual policies. But early reports from many states suggest that annual premiums will drop as much as 70% due to competition from the newly formed health insurance exchanges.

True in a number of states premiums will rise but that’s mostly because some bare-boned systems need to be improved to provide coverage in line with national standards.

Some current policyholders may even be due a rebate because of an Obamacare clause that caps the profits of health insurance companies. But the biggest beneficiary from the new law may be the country’s economy. Anytime up to 40 million people are integrated more fully into the economic system, the country’s finances get a shot in the arm – new jobs are created, costs can be better contained, and the nation’s greatest resource, its people, are kept healthier.

So how about it, Republican members of congress, any chance of you using your considerable talents and energies to make this law of the land work better, or do I hear the shuffle of shoe leather as you head back to DC ready to cast your 41st futile vote?

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Dylan - The Greatest Artist of Our Time?

I went to see Bob Dylan recently. I hadn’t been at one of his concerts in a long time and was curious to see the changes time might have wrought.

We shared managers for a while so I have a little extra insight into the man, for all the good that does; the general feeling around “Bobby” is that just when you have him pegged he shifts the ground beneath your feet.

I should come clean and admit that along with Picasso, Yeats and Joyce I think Dylan is one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. The fact that he’s still adding to an enormous body of great work over a decade later may put him a nose ahead.

Dylan has never been loath to have excellent bands play before him, and both Wilco and My Morning Jacket gave very good accounts of themselves; yet within moments of his taking the stage the gulf was obvious. Bobby has a voice – and I’m not just talking about his distinctive croon - the others are, well, just very good bands.

By Dylan’s second song I was ineffably moved, though I wasn’t sure why. He no longer plays guitar because of severe arthritis, yet he seemed solitary as ever as he swayed in front of a microphone stand, his band in a semi-circle focusing intently on him.

Age had run its jagged nails over him but it also seemed to have scraped away some of his trademark wise guy arrogance; it left in its place an empathy, even an odd humility, that has always been in short supply. Still, he was now very much the bandleader calling the shots and directing solos with a nod of the head from the piano that he often played skillfully despite his damaged fingers.

But his singular voice - searing, bluesy, soulful, revealing - took me places that I’d never been and back to many that he’d introduced me to. That’s the odd thing about Dylan: though it’s always great to hear his classics, the new songs can get you thinking about things that you’d forgotten about.

I used to wonder about his influences, the bible was always obvious as it is in the work of most great American songwriters. Only recently did I discover that when Bobby hit New York City in 1961, intimidated by Liam Clancy and others who drew deeply on the Celtic tradition, he spent months at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street trawling through newspapers from the 1860’s and swallowing whole the stories, language and characters of Civil War America.

That’s all still there and bestows a timeless quality to his songs. Like Stephen Foster before him, he’s the quintessential American writer; in fact over time he has come to personify the “weird and crazy America” that often seems on its last knees and then comes back and bites you.

His 100-minute set played like a highlights reel of my life – and from the rapt faces I don’t doubt that many others were experiencing the same effect. I remembered the first time I heard Like A Rolling Stone, how it caused me to leave Wexford and set out on my own creative journey. Just Like A Woman showed me what a know-it-all prig I once was, and maybe still am at times; while Positively 4th Street demonstrated how lyrics could be carved out of well-earned bitterness and put to good use.

He brought back flashes too of a night in a biker bar in Albuquerque when I danced with a waitress who seemed like she popped fully formed out of a Dylan song. And there was the afternoon when I heard his masterpiece, Time Out of Mind, and knew I’d have to up my own creative game or get trampled once more in his considerable dust.

It was so strange to watch this slight figure I’ve never met and realize the effect he’s had on me. So great to know that he’s still out there pursuing, and often nailing, his lonely vision of America. Then again, he’s Bob Dylan, dream spinner extraordinaire and perhaps the greatest artist of our time.