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David Sirota
David Sirota
25 Sep 2015
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Digging In the Right Place


There's a memorable moment in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when Indiana Jones sees a rival's archaeological excavation and realizes the buried treasure is somewhere else. "They're digging in the wrong place!" he exclaims.

The line could explain why our national elections leave us feeling empty. By expecting so much so fast from Washington D.C., we are digging for "change" in the wrong place.

Think about it: The White House can only be won by raising truckloads of cash from moneyed interests looking to preserve the status quo. Likewise, the U.S. Senate's filibuster rules allow 41 lawmakers, representing just 11 percent of the population, to stop anything. These are institutions designed to prevent change, not embrace it.

Thankfully, the same cannot be said for the so-called "laboratories of democracy" — state legislatures. Amid pundits' breathless analyses of Hillary Clinton's tear ducts, these arenas quietly opened throughout America this month. And from beneath the rubble of celebrity-obsessed campaign journalism and the ruins of national political gridlock, change is being exhumed in two bellwether states.

In a move making health care lobbyists quiver, Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser (D), chairwoman of her legislature's powerful health committee, this week introduced the nation's most far-reaching universal health care proposal. Her legislation is the American West's version of a parallel Wisconsin initiative, and the replication suggests this model may begin building the universal health care system our country wants.

The plan is simple: Employers and employees pay a modest payroll tax in exchange for full medical benefits, with no premiums. Patients never lose coverage and pick the doctors they prefer. And for the spendthrifts, here's the best part: According to an analysis of the Wisconsin proposal by the nonpartisan Lewin Group, the plan would save middle-class families an annual average of $750 on their existing health care bills. In all, the state would save almost $14 billion over the next decade.

Seem too good to be true? That's because you're used to being bilked by an insurance industry that drives up premiums, drives down benefits and gives executives like former UnitedHealth CEO William McGuire $1.6 billion worth of stock options in one year.

Eliminating that greed is precisely how the Washington state and Wisconsin proposals simultaneously save money and cover everyone.

Unlike the much-touted Massachusetts law forcing citizens to buy insurance from the private profiteers, the Washington and Wisconsin models pool all existing health care expenditures and then replace the middlemen with one publicly controlled, not-for-profit system. That structure attacks problems beyond the immorality of allowing 18,000 Americans to die each year because they lack health coverage.

For businesses faced with crushing health care costs, the Lewin Group predicts the plan will save private-insuring employers almost $700 million a year. For politicians looking to provide economic stimulus in the face of a recession, the nonpartisan Families USA estimates the proposal's investments will create 13,000 new jobs. Even tax reformers have something to like, as Wisconsin's version directs much of the system's savings into property tax relief.

The Royalist Right is distraught about the plan. When an initial draft passed the Wisconsin Senate last year, the Wall Street Journal's editorial board attacked it on the grounds that it "reduces out-of-pocket copayments" and "increases the number of mandated medical services covered" for patients. Wow. Sounds just awful.

The paper then criticized it as a tax increase and labeled it "government-run" — as if patients are better served by paying even bigger premium increases to corporate CEOs whose paychecks grow with each coverage denial.

The screed showed how little conservative elites care, not just for the uninsured, but for the working-class wing of the Republican Party — the roughly 40 percent of GOP voters who, according to the Pew Research Center, tell pollsters they "favor universal health coverage, even if it means higher taxes." These voters are part of a new transpartisan consensus — one that believes the words of the hero we remember this week. "Of all the forms of inequality," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

Those desiring "real change" should applaud these Washington and Wisconsin leaders confronting that injustice. Unlike the nearsighted nabobs of national politics and the adversaries of Indiana Jones, these state legislators are digging in the right place.

David Sirota is a bestselling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," will be released in June of 2008. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at



5 Comments | Post Comment
This is important.......but not about the content of your column.

Please, please set up your columns so that we can get printable versions. I print them, but getting rid of the extraneous content is frustrating and time-consuming.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Jeanne Fielden
Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:04 AM
Dear David,
You recently asked for feedback to your column and input via DailyKos. I signed up, but DailyKos has a one week waiting period before a first post. So, I'm putting my comments here.
On the whole, I appreciate what you do; however, what I'd like to see is a more holistic view of the US sociopolitical landscape and how that fits into the “global moment.” I understand this may be beyond your charter, but I feel increasingly frustrated by most of what I read these days. Lots of good specialists, no giant generalist. I'll throw out H. L. Mencken as an example, he may not be the best example, but I think you know what I'm getting at.
Josh Marshall does a good job of covering the minutia of political races, scandals and controversies. Juan Cole covers all things Middle East. Ariana Huffington's site gets into entertainment and politics. I appreciate Media Matters and Eric Alterman for their attention to the MSM. Kevin Drumm, Andrew Sullivan, Greg Palast, Matthew Iglesias, all of these writers and a host of others are the ones I turn to because I know they apply deep analysis, reasoned opinions, and old-fashioned (as well as new-fangled) journalistic research to the compelling topics of the day.
Yet, I still feel there isn't someone out there bringing it all together into one big picture, then, and this is the tough part, providing a path to solving the problems they elucidate. Tom Englehardt comes the closest to what I think more people need to be reading. His experience and ability to uncover new voices (see: Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark) put him at the top of my list of must-reads. His, I'm afraid, is a small audience. I see some progress since I have turned my father (who has never not voted for a Republican) into a loyal TomDispatch reader.
I believe you have the potential to reach that larger audience and only ask that you do more than rake the muck. Mencken was known as the “man of ideas” and while I know his are huge (and most likely uncomfortable) shoes to fill, this country, this world, needs more ideas and the people who can convey them.
Stagnant wages, lost jobs, and inflation have combined with predatory lending to put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of losing their largest investment. The rising costs of healthcare, gasoline, and insurance strain both employees and employers. Malfeasance and the perception of malfeasance have eroded people's faith in the system, and I must admit to feeling, this may not be a bad thing. We have incurred huge debts, nationally and personally – and that debt is held, largely, by foreign governments. We will pay trillions of dollars for the Iraq War and we've further destabilized an already unstable region – with no end in sight. It seems our covert actions and underhanded corporate-fed diplomacy will be haunting us for decades. The environment is under attack by coal and oil dependent industries, many now based in India and China who will attack any US complaints as just another form of our hypocrisy.
This gets very depressing.
I'm not asking for Pollyanna, just try to take the next step. Where does it all lead? I'm a firm believer in the inevitability of success. Despite what I've delineated above, I'm an optimist. The unwritten conclusion of many blog posts and editorials could read, “The problems I've just written about suck, you should be outraged, but there's nothing you can do.” I generalize, of course. However, the malaise and impotence I often allow myself to feel is mirrored in millions of homes today.
I'd like more people to read about The Apollo Project for energy, about the struggles and successes of the rebels in Chiapas, about the efforts of Jeffrey Sachs (The End of Poverty), and about the countless other small attempts to make a difference in a troubling world.
Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly has a song called “From Little Things Big Things Grow” about aboriginal land rights. I frequently invoke that song title as a personal mantra, it gives me hope. If you have time check it out, it, and music like it, can do more to explain how I feel than any amount of words I can put down here.
Thank you for your time.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jeffrey Leonard
Fri Jan 18, 2008 11:19 AM
If you'd like to see a brilliant and comprehensive analysis of how the US Senate has historically been able to block progressive legislation, check out Vol 2 of Robert Caro's magnificent biography of LBJ. Caro includes in this book a brief history of the Senate, and shows how it ALWAYS was able to block progressive legislation; he then shows how LBJ, by mastering the rules and personalities of the Senate, was able, practically single-handedly, to force the Senate to approve Civil Rights legislation. This book is one of the finest books I have ever read on the subject of Am. politics; and I speak as a person who worked in DC as the lobbyist for the Americans for Democratic Action during the relevant period. I was right on the INSIDE of many of those struggles; and I learrned things from the book that I never knew in real life!
Your stuff is excellent. You should consider writing more about the intrinsic weaknesses of the American system of government, which seems to me --particulalry after reading Caro --to be designed to produce failure and paralysis.
I like your stuff a lot.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Michael Padnos
Sun Jan 20, 2008 12:38 PM
A plan similar to this Washington plan passed the California legislature two years ago. Senator Sheila Kuehl's SB840 would have established a single-payer system which would have saved Californians over $20 billion. Unfortunately Arnold Schwarzeneger vetoed it. He then put forward a ridiculous proposal that mandated universal, insurance company based policies. The companies could charge whatever they want and make the out-of-pocket and deductibles as high as desired. It would have left most of the problems in place.
It appears the veto was a good payback for all the money Schwarzeneger took from the big pharma and the insurance industry.
SB840 is still the best option. At some point we will get rid of these leeches in insurance and give ourselves negotiating power with the pharmaceuticals.
Comment: #4
Posted by: David Pittle
Sun Jan 20, 2008 3:32 PM
So the WI plan could save my family near $750. The gov proposes $800 each ($140bil?) to 'stimulate the economy' Last Fri, a caller to the Rachel Maddow show (18.jan suggested something I'd rather see my $800 do.. provide universal health care to help families, businesses & states.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Karolyn
Wed Jan 23, 2008 11:55 AM
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