Friday, February 28, 2020

Coronavirus, Wages, Healthcare

The really nasty thing about this particular virus is that it is very contagious and sometimes the symptoms are not very bad; someone can infect others even if they don't realize they themselves are infected. The death rate for this virus is terrifyingly high, but lots of infected people do not get very sick.

If you've got a job without paid sick leave then when you feel bad you have to decide whether this is bad enough to give up a whole day's pay. Given that jobs without benefits don't tend to pay that much to start with, people living hand to mouth, it is a certainty that many will decide to go to work. And as their co-workers catch the infection they will do the same thing. The company's cheapskate policy of making people work when they are sick can cause a destructive infectious cascade. First the company is going to collapse and then the surrounding community will be overtaken in ever-widening circles of infection.

If that company had had a sick leave policy, maybe they would have had to pay for some days off over the years, but the impact on the company as a whole would be buffered in an emergency. You can't realistically tell employees to live without money, but it is good for the company to have a policy that keeps people from coming in when they are contagious.

Similarly, consider the millions of Americans who do not have good health insurance. It costs hundreds of dollars to be tested for coronavirus, never mind being treated if it turns serious. Who do you know that is going to reach into their pocket for cash to pay for that test? To the individual it doesn't matter what kind of virus you have, it's a respiratory infection with fever, and if it turns into pneumonia or super-high fever you're going to have to be treated in the hospital no matter what germ it is. If it doesn't, you don't have to go to the hospital and it doesn't matter to you personally what particular virus you had. People won't spend their savings on medical expenses unless it's justified. The result is that your ordinary American without good health insurance is not going to be diagnosed and will not be isolated. Maybe you'll be okay, but two percent of the people you pass the virus to are going to die from it. Ever-widening circles add up to a lot of people.

In the meantime, while people avoid medical costs the authorities will not be able to assess how widespread the epidemic is. Without diagnoses there will be no statistics, no tracking, without engagement of doctors there will be no insights for how to control it. Scientifically, it will be like the Dark Ages again, the Black Death.

Some smarty on Twitter yesterday described us as a "country where a key source of healthcare is GoFundMe." If we had universal coverage then cases could be diagnosed, quarantines and treatment could be implemented rationally, the progress of the epidemic could be monitored, and catastrophic damage could be kept to a minimum. But when people pay their own medical bills the fact is that they are not going to spend thousands of dollars on something that might seem like a bad cold to them, even though it might kill the next person.

This is a case where we are all interdependent. Anyone you pass close to, anyone who has been in a room before you or handled something that you pick up, can spread the virus to you, no matter how good your health insurance is. It is in your personal best interest to be surrounded by strangers who can be diagnosed, treated, and isolated as appropriate, in a rational and well-coordinated manner.

You might be one of the lucky ones, and you might not be. We don't know who will get sick and who will die. But we are all safer in a society where everyone has paid sick leave and full access to comprehensive healthcare. The cost is shared, and the payoff is shared.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Stopping the Runaway Train

The November election is the last opportunity for reasonable Americans to stop the runaway train of fascism. Trump's support hangs around forty percent no matter what, and that is a beatable mark. Of course the electoral college distributes the impact of votes, overweighting unpopulated areas, but that is all just a matter of strategy. The party leaders and the candidate, whoever it might be, need to have a plan to win key electoral-college states, and they know what those are.

We are currently in the chaos of primary season, and Democrats have a gang of wannabes striving to win the nomination. They range along many dimensions, including some interestingly unique choices, each has a set of priorities and favorite policies, each brings a personal history of decision-making and acting and old videos of them saying things they wish they hadn't said, and they vary in charisma, speaking styles, the ability to listen. You know this, everybody understands this. You might have a favorite right now but many people do not. There is some nastiness going on as candidates maneuver to reach the top of the pyramid, but basically all are on the same page.

There is a bumper sticker: "Any adult in 2020."

I don't know how they will pay for universal health coverage, or whether we should support the Kurds or the Palestinians or anything else. I just want somebody who will get the facts, listen to the experts, consider what America stands for in the world and what the country needs, and make a good rational decision. Maybe they will declare or end a war, or sanctions, and maybe they will penalize Wall Street, or subsidize them. I don't care, as long as they are taking all the facts into account and making decisions based on the country's best interests. Any adult.

Sometimes politicians make promises and fail to deliver. Sometimes they say something palatable even when they plan to do something that might be controversial. Sometimes they nod and seem to agree with people when they don't really. I don't like any of that, but it's okay, it's normal, the world is dynamic and crazy and sometimes you gotta float and adapt to unanticipated changes. But normal, non-fascist politicians do not lie when everyone can see the truth, they do not steal from the populace like we are a bunch of suckers, normal politicians are held to an ethical standard and are censured or removed when they violate it. The Republicans are trying to establish a new normality, a system where oligarchical leaders have unquestionable power, and we have to stop that. This sham impeachment trial proves that the problem exists across the party, it is not just Trump. The whole bunch of them denied reality in order to support him, poked their own eyes out so they wouldn't see the truth. Forty percent of Americans prefer a dictatorship over democracy.

I do not want a travel ban based on religion. I do not want federal diplomacy, policies, and funds used to boost the president's political support and profits. I don't want the president's unqualified family members put into important roles. I don't want a cabinet full of donors and scam artists who are ignorant about their Department's responsibilities and are getting rich off the job while they plunder our nation's natural resources and human capital. I don't want tens of thousands of outright lies and moronic tweets, I don't want the president calling people names and interfering in court cases and trying to promote his own businesses from the Oval Office. I don't love dictators and I don't think my kind of people are superior to black people or gay and transgender people, or women, or Chinese people, or Mexicans, I want to see fair and equal treatment for everyone. I want to see sensible international policies that increase our national security and standing in the world order, that benefit our businesses and spread freedom and democracy to places that have never had it. I'd like to see the temperature drop a degree or two, clean water in American cities, gun violence controlled somehow.

You get that already. I am pretty much the same as everybody in these ways.

All of the Democratic candidates meet that standard. We can fight among ourselves now, we have our favorite and our person will probably not win the nomination. You might think the DNC is crooked and maybe it is, but all of the people running right now would be great in the presidency. You might want to focus on winning Senate seats, and that's a good idea too, it does not conflict with presidential goals. Reasonable people have to stop this train at all levels of government, top to bottom.

I am not concerned right now about "unification." We will have to stand together when the time comes, but now we have a sifting process where we need to pick a candidate. This is the time to argue among ourselves, to select a candidate who we think will best serve the country. If they are called a "socialist" or an unprincipled centrist, well, if that's our candidate then that's the choice; you and I might have a preference but either kind of candidate can lead the country back to freedom, democracy, stability.