This Week: NHS and POCI
Given my recent, and ongoing, health issues, I guess it’s understandable that my return to publishing would include a couple of stories about our health care system. In the last Notes, I advocated for a single-payer plan on the national level. This week’s essay, on Britain’s National Health Service, is a sort-of companion piece to last week’s essay, in the sense that it shows how constant will be the pressure on any people-friendly program that we may succeed in winning from our government. No matter how popular it may be.
The decision about what, exactly, is newsworthy is a subjective one. As the second essay this week indicates, our media is likely to focus on issues that mean a lot to some people, while ignoring (or, maybe, not even noticing) issues that mean a lot to other people. And which people are “some people” and which are “other people” is not random. Some people in our state House of Representatives may call me “racist” for saying so. Read the essay and see why.
Hello to the new subscribers this week. Welcome aboard! Please feel free to send in any thoughts or questions that may come up as you read Nygaard Notes. And that goes for everyone, not just the newbies!
“Quotes” of the Week: TWO of them!
“Quote” of the Week #1: “Not a Tool for Organizing People”
“Sometimes we become too fixated on immediate victories and results, and this doesn’t really lead us to building strategic allies and strategic relationships in the way that is most helpful. There are not really any shortcuts. A lot of people are counting on — or have built a lot of their strategies and programming around — new technology, particularly social media as a way of reaching people. That’s good for mobilizing people, but it’s not a tool for organizing people. We have to make that distinction. In order to organize people, you have to build relationships. You have to make sure that you’re creating the context and bringing people into situations where they can see each other face to face, to engage in dialogue and exchange about their issues, about their concerns, about their aspirations.”
That’s from an interview this past January with Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, conducted by Alexis Stephens of PolicyLink. Find the whole interview online.
“Quote” of the Week #2: “Important Accomplishments”
In an essay on Organizing Upgrade called Trump vs. the Resistance: Taking Stock 75 Days In, longtime activist Max Elbaum made several great points. Here’s one of my favorites:
“Resistance to Trump/Trumpism has been broad, determined and sustained enough to chalk up important accomplishments. Resistance has surged not only from the communities most immediately in the Trump-Bannon gunsights but from layers of the federal bureaucracy, the judiciary, the media, scientists and even a small layer of anti-Trump Republican intellectuals. It can claim several achievements: preventing the ‘normalization’ of Trump’s presidency; etching in the national consciousness the fact that Trump lost the popular vote; blocking several administration initiatives; and forcing many Democratic Party elected officials (and other waverers) to take a much stronger opposition stance than they were initially tempted to do. These accomplishments are to be celebrated and built upon. But the resistance remains in a fundamentally defensive posture with an uphill fight ahead.”
Check out the entire essay online.
Brexit, Legs-it, and the NHS
The New York Times ran a story on March 29th headlined “Britain’s Daily Mail compares U.K. leaders’ legs, not ideas.” It seems that the large British Daily a couple of days earlier had run a story on a meeting between Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and British prime minister Theresa May that included a photo of the two sitting together, with their legs prominently featured in the photo. Accompanied by the headline, “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”, the story comparing the attractiveness of the two leaders’ legs was quickly and roundly condemned as outrageously sexist. As well it should have been.
My local paper reprinted the Times article, with one key difference: The Star Tribune ran a photo of the offensive Daily Mail front page. I couldn’t help noticing the OTHER story that appeared on that front page: “Blueprint to Save the NHS.” That’s the British National Health Service. And the sub-head—“Dramatic Drive to Cut Costs Unveiled”—really got my attention, as the U.S. media has been recently dominated by news of our own dramatic drive to eviscerate our health care system. Which got me to thinking…
First of all, what IS the National Health Service in the United Kingdom? TIME Magazine summarized it like this a few years ago: “The NHS is a rare example of truly socialized medicine. Health care is provided by a single payer — the British government — and is funded by the taxpayer. All appointments and treatments are free to the patient (though paid for through taxes), as are almost all prescription drugs. The maximum cost of receiving any drug prescribed by the NHS is $12.” Unlike a Canadian-style single-payer system, the British system really is fully socialized, meaning that the government employs the doctors and nurses, builds and owns the hospitals, and bargains for and purchases the technology that is used in diagnosis and treatment.
On the NHS website we read, “When it was launched by the then minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, on July 5 1948, [the NHS] was based on three core principles: that it meet the needs of everyone; that it be free at the point of delivery, and; that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.”
No wonder the London Guardian could report, in 2014, that “four out of five people in Britain believe the NHS should be protected from government spending cuts, according to a survey which reaffirmed the high level of affection in which the service is held.”
And, no wonder that a crowd estimated at up to a quarter million turned out on March 4th of this year to rally in defense of the National Health Service. As reported on the World Socialist Website, “The protest was far larger than the organisers anticipated. That the event was so much larger demonstrates that broad layers of working people, youth, students and pensioners are determined to defend the NHS from cuts and privatisation. The Daily Mail, which along with other right-wing newspapers routinely plays down the size of demonstrations, described Saturday’s event as ‘one of the biggest NHS rallies in history.’”
When a well-known polling organization last year asked 2,000 UK adults “what makes them most proud to be British,” the top vote-getter (“by a sizeable margin”) was the National Health Service (NHS). In an earlier poll, 77 percent agreed that “the NHS must be kept free at the point of delivery regardless of cost to the taxpayer,” while only 6 percent disagreed.
Yet the conservative government, led by Theresa May, is pushing a “Dramatic Drive to Cut Costs,” as the Daily Mail reported.
So what we appear to see in the U.K. is a situation not unlike the situation we may soon be seeing here in the United States, as our conservative government continues on the attack against the limited-but-still-popular Affordable Care Act. You thought that fight was over? Think again.
Writing in the LA Times on March 27th, columnist Michael Hiltzik noted that “Supporters of the Affordable Care Act may have celebrated prematurely at the demise last week of the House Republicans’ proposal for its repeal.” Why? Recall that Trump has said that “the best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode.” But it’s doubtful that he will just “let it” explode since, as Hiltzik says, “the Trump White House and congressional Republicans still have it within their power to damage the prospects of health coverage for millions of Americans, whether by actively undermining the Affordable Care Act by administrative fiat or by letting it wither by neglect.”
It’s possible that a mass mobilization could prevent such a withering. But since ObamaCare is so limited, it’s difficult to get people enthused about rallying to save it. Maybe we have something to learn from the British and their struggle to save the National Health Service from conservative attacks. Ask your local media outlet why they don’t ever report on health systems in other countries as a way of helping their viewers and readers put the U.S. healthcare battle in perspective. But stories on that struggle are unlikely to get as many clicks as stories headlined “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”, so you’ll probably have to read Nygaard Notes, or something like it, to get the information you need to sort out the daily news on health care.
“You Can’t Make Us Disappear”
An article on the second page of the “Minnesota” section of my local newspaper on April 4th caught my eye. The headline: Top DFL Lawmaker’s ‘White Male’ Comments Set off Spat on Minnesota House Floor.” The gist of it was that some Representatives took offense to a comment by the Minority Leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Melissa Hortman.
On this day the House was debating so-called “anti-protest” legislation. According to the local CBS News affiliate, “This Minnesota bill raises the punishment for blocking four-lane highways, rail lines and roads leading to airports. All of which were targets in the last couple of years of protest over police related shootings of black men.”
Similar bills have been introduced in 19 states to, in one way or another, criminalize and penalize protesting.
As this dangerous and reactionary bill was being debated on the floor of the House on April 3rd, a number of Representatives left the room to go into an adjoining lounge reserved for House members, known as the “retiring room.” Noticing this, House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park rose and demanded a “call of the House,” which forces any members who are not in the chamber to return to their desks on the House floor. Hortman prefaced her call by saying, “I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate.”
Several House members took offense at this comment, actually calling it “racist,” and demanding that the Minority Leader apologize. Here’s what she said: “I have no intention of apologizing. I am so tired of watching Rep. Susan Allen give an amazing speech, Rep. Peggy Flanagan give an amazing speech, watching Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn give an amazing speech, Rep. Rena Moran give the most heartfelt, incredible speech I’ve heard on this House floor, as long as I can remember, watching Rep. Ilhan Omar give an amazing speech… and looking around, to see, where are my colleagues? And I went in the retiring room, and I saw where a bunch of my colleagues were. And I’m really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored. So, I’m not sorry.”
All of the women Ms. Hortman mentions above—Susan Allen, Peggy Flanagan, Jamie Becker-Finn, Rena Moran, and Ilhan Omar—are women of color or indigenous women.
Among the members who called Hortman’s comment “racist” was Rep. Greg Davids, a Republican, who said Hortman should resign as Minority leader, as her remarks “created a hostile work environment” for the white males in the House. Apparently attempting to justify the absence of so many of his colleagues, Davids said, “First of all, the speeches weren’t that good. They were amazingly repetitive and boring.”
Speaking to her colleagues, who were about to pass the anti-protest language as part of a larger Omnibus Public Safety Bill, Representative Ilhan Omar highlighted the racial dynamics of the debate. Speaking to the overwhelmingly white members of the House, Omar, a Somali American, said, “I want you to think about the kind of message that you are sending. You are continuing to say we don’t care about you. We don’t want to see you. We don’t want to hear from you. We find you annoying. We find you a nuisance. And we would like to just have you disappear. The reality is that you can’t make us disappear. We are part of this state, we are part of this country.”
A couple of days after the vote recounted here, (and unreported in the Star Tribune, except for a brief mention in an online blog) a press conference was held to announce the creation of a new caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives called the People of Color and Indigenous, or POCI, caucus. In a statement issued just after the anti-protest bill passed the House, the POCI (say “posse”) caucus said, “Instead of taking time to listen to the legitimate racial justice concerns of Minnesotans, Republicans instead chose to silence our voices. Criminalizing free speech is fundamentally un-American, and this anti-protest bill shamefully punishes any Minnesotan who dares to speak truth to power about the reality of racial inequality in our state.”
Predictably, what made the news on this day was the discomfort on the part of the white males who were called out by the female Minority Leader, who was speaking up on behalf of her colleagues. But the actual remarks, on the actual bill being debated, were never cited. That’s tremendously unfortunate, as the speeches were, as the Minority Leader said, “amazing.”
Or, maybe I’m wrong, and they were “amazingly repetitive and boring.” You can judge for yourselves if you like, by visiting the website of the Twin Cities’ other local daily newspaper, the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, who did a story that included links to the speeches in question.
I’ll have a little more on the POCI Caucus, and their “Enhance Minnesota” initiative, in the next Nygaard Notes.