Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Bush "Legacy" Begins

Before I get back to my PA historical perspective, I thought I would make a few analytical comments on some bad news from the New York Times today. First the Center for Disease Control, after being criticized by international medical authorities for its failure to release data earlier, released information that showed that it had underestimated new HIV infections by 40%. This after The Lancet, the British journal generally regarded as the most prestigious medical journal in the English language, made the point that "U.S. efforts to prevent HIV have failed dismally." Representative Henry Waxman (D. California) a prominent progressive Democrat, made the point that overall funding for CDC activities have dropped by 19% since fiscal 2002 (the first Bush year) and that the president had called for new cuts. Waxman stated the obvious when he said that HIV prevention has been underfunded and often hindered by politics and ideology." Administration defenders responded with what I consider the lame arguments that prevention hasn't worked as well as it was previously thought.

In 2006, according to the revised estimates, 56,300 were infected (58,000 Americans, we might remember, died in the Vietnam War). The number of Americans who were infected was seven times the numbers of "whites," the number of "Hispanics" three times the number of "whites." 53 percent of all infected were gay or bisexual men. This also means that 47 percent were heterosexual men and women, most heavily from minority communities, which, as Representative Waxman added, have seen "less and less money to actually get these programs to the communities that need them."

HIV is a medical and a social problem. Bush, like John McCain's old hero Ronald Reagan, has continued to largely deny and avoid both, while claiming credit for aid programs (mostly drug programs) to poor countries heavily afflicted with full blown AIDS. Today, unlike the Reagan years, HIV isn't a death sentence, thanks to existence of expensive combinations of drugs that don't cure the disease but enable patients to live with it indefinitely. But prevention, as with all medical and for that matter social problems is still far preferable to indefinite chronic care treatment, although not as profitable to drug companies.

Aids is still a disease that afflicts people whom the Republican party has written off since the Reagan years both as supporters and to a great extent as human beings – gay and bisexual men and the impoverished groups within major minority communities. Only the profits to be made
from AIDS drugs is different today. This, along with the whole health crisis, is an area that the new administration should confront and that only Obama administration can be expected to confront.

There is also a horror story about an undocumented worker, whom most Americans would call an illegal immigrant, being "repatriated" to Guatemala where he is currently wasting away the little that is left of his life. Earlier, he had been saved by a Florida hospital after a devastating Auto accident. But he was uninsured and could not find any rehabilitation facility. Eventually, after keeping him alive at the cost of 1.5 million in our very expensive insurance and private provider system, the hospital got him deported. For the hospitals (and the lengthy news report tells us that these hospital based deportations are both significant and growing) it becomes a matter of keeping expensive uninsured patients when the costs are enormous and when citizens may need care--having in effect these patients dropped on them. One doctor notes matter of factly that such "repatriations" are often death sentences. In the tradition of contemporary "free market" capitalism, there is even a company which assists hospitals in deporting undocumented workers to the Latin American countries where they come from to hospitals in those countries that are part of there network.

The story is replete with examples, horrible ones, all through the U.S. which together highlight both the predatory nature of the insurance based U.S. health care system and also the hypocrisy and bigotry of the Republican right – those who rail against illegal immigrants receiving services in the U.S. while they protect in every way possible the employers who hire and profit from them (by the way, the deportations are by no means limited to Latin American countries. The news story reports medical deportations to Lithuania and Poland, among other nations).

Although some might see this as very much of a stretch, I thought of an event concerning the sister of a woman I knew, an Austrian Jewish women who fled with her family after the Nazi annexation of 1938. The sister was in a Catholic hospital at the time and very ill, only to be thrown out (public hospital facilities were being closed to Jews). The motivation was fascist racist policy, not so directly the political economy of health care, and the hospital was obviously either supporting or collaborating with that policy. Fortunately my friend's sister survived and went on to live a rich and full life in the U.S. as a legal immigrant (she, unlike my friend, is still alive). Many of those portrayed in the news article have not been so lucky. They along with the whole health care system, which has gone into much deeper crisis are also a part of the Bush legacy.

I could go on, looking at events in Iraq and Afghanistan, but these two terrible examples should be enough to make us understand the importance of this coming election and the need to defeat the Republican right and McCain so that we can begin to recover from the "Bush legacy."