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Friday, August 14, 2009



Too Much Fat in the Health Care Reform Debate in America

I wrote the message that follows below and posted part of it in response to a blog article in the online journal, The Huffington Post. The article, entitled "Obama's New Hampshire Town Hall Brings Out Birthers, Deathers and More," relates the sad and truly violent situation that has arisen in America as a result of the health care reform debate.

One reader of the article mentions in a "blog comment" how Americans have been "left behind" because of their poor education, and as a result, they don't understand complex issues such as those involved in the health care reform discussion. An example of such ignorance is the number of public statements that have been made by anti-reform advocates who warn that the government should stay clear of their Medicare, itself a government-run medical assistance program for the elderly.

This same ignorance has led to an uninformed, irrational and potentially dangerous reaction to the Obama Administration's proposal for national health care reform. (See the article and the video that accompanies it here to get a clear idea of how dangerous the right wing in America is making this issue.)
Here's my rant on the issue:

Many Americans have been left behind. We have nurtured a society where sports worship and "American idols," TV dramas and superstardom are elevated to the highest level. Goals and values are skewed toward competition, acquisition and materialism in the extreme and away from fairness and empathy. In many neighborhoods kids learn the importance of money, and they are inculcated with the idea that the real heroes are of three types: gun-toting soldiers, flashy TV/movie stars and rich sports idols. Period. The time when being an astronaut or a doctor, an explorer or a teacher or a humanitarian was viewed as a heroic profession has seemingly passed. It's now all about the image and the cash. The more the merrier. Big is beautiful: big house, big car, big boat, big screen, big slice of pizza, big salary, big abs, big boobs, big hair...you get the picture.

High schools have bigger budgets for football and basketball than for their libraries. University coaches make more money than the professors. (In the rest of the world, this would be an absurdity.)

The result: the mentality, both corporate and individual, that what's most important in life is getting all you can get, getting the biggest slice possible from society, hoarding what is yours, with little sense of payback or sharing. It's based on a recipe, maligned though it may be, from the survival of the fittest manual. (You see the results of that in the way that many on Wall Street, during the recent economic crisis, were so clearly in it just for the money, and achieving that end made any means justifiable.) For many Americans, the very idea of government is bad because it represents an intrusion into that process, a chink on the armor of that ethos.

Meanwhile, in countries like Singapore, like China, like Japan, hard work and study are highly valued (maybe to an exaggerated extent!), and egalitarianism is not scorned. Sure, ownership/ materialism is alive and well even in Asia, but there also seems to be a focus on developing in kids and supporting in other citizens a set of social values that exists for the sake of conscientious economic development, a better/safer neighborhood, more lucrative opportunities for the youth and for future generations, not just more money and power and glory for the winners.

A former student of mine, a university graduate now doing an education diploma at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, recently told me that one of her main first-year teacher training courses is "service learning," in which she needs to develop a project that serves some particular community. That sort of focus is precisely what I'm talking about.

I grew up in Ohio and love my homeland for many reasons--but having lived and taught in several different countries in Asia for many years (and in the US before that), I see the difference between "us and them," and the fact is, it's glaring. Individualism in America has finally gone over the top. So much of it is so clearly about ME ME ME getting as MUCH as I possibly can. (Even Michelangelo's David, after doing a tour of the US, returned to Europe looking overfed. See photo above!)

For many in the US, education is seen only as a means to that end. To hell with social awareness, to hell with ensuring that society functions to everyone's benefit (which is why the regulatory bodies created by government are so loathesome to so many Americans). To hell with helping out the other(littler) guy (unless I can show off my generosity to my church group or to my friends). To hell with the big picture and the antiquated ideal of making America a place where even the "tired and the poor" can have a good, clean and safe home, top-notch educational opportunities, and affordable health care!

Where this will lead I don't know. But things aren't looking good.

17 comments:

Regina Escobar said...

I'm inclined to think that in essence everything is really a dog-eat-dog truth. Like in Darwinian ideology, only the fittest will survive. But it is ironic that as the most intelligent creature with the greatest capacity to be compassionate, we are increasingly more uncaring as you've pointed out...

Tsk... Just when I've decided to be an all-out bourgeois and now you're writing this... (",)

brent hamilton blackstone said...

funky photo, great|well written "A+"

Lee Kwang Soo Patrick said...

During the first half of this year, I had the Privilege to engage in the student exchange program to University of Arizona. Seeing the American life through the Asian perspective, I observed some level of discrimination and superiority from my fellow American classmates. They are spontaneous in class activities and responding enthusiastically for most of lecturer's comment to boast their knowledge. Every saturday night of drink (please note that drinking is illegal for below 21 years of age), pizza, parties and sometimes I heard "I so drunk and I'm wasted". In the life of a typical college student, the culture about individualism has been deeply rooted in them. Perhaps we need to reflect how both America's education system and the American culture since childhood c have significant impact to the character of most individuals.

wanwei said...

Hey Brad,
I couldn't agree more on the part in which you wrote that big is beautiful. I have always wondered what is the motive behind shows like “Top 50 celebrities who make banks” and “Living with the (a famous and rich family)”. It seems to suggest that big bucks is the gateway to endless possibilities; like buying a few islands, getting married, divorced, and then remarried or raising kids of different nationalities (now, this is a noble act but the way some people do it, it’s like collecting trophies). Back in my primary school days, we would fill in professions like doctor, lawyer, pilot or scientist on the ambition column. Today, that column will probably read “the next Hannah Montana”.

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, guys!

In response to Regina, I'd suggest that moderation is probably the key.

In response to Patrick, I'd agree that the word "education" is too limited for this discussion. I should use "socialization."

To Wan Wei, I'd like to express shock: Is Hannah Montana the teen idol in Sinagpore and in Malaysia, too?

To my brother, I'd like to say, "thanks for the A+, dude. But I don't think I deserve it."

wanwei said...

If kids from one small town like Klang idolise Hannah Montana, imagine what you get from the rest of Malaysia (maybe I should exclude the kampungs). Not just Hannah Montana really, there are the Jonas Brothers, the stars of High School Musical and a host of other Disney teen sensations. I doubt I'll get the same level of excitement if I were to start talking about Snow White or The Fox and the Hound (my favourite!).

Joel Chin said...

I don't want to sound old, but it's vital that we teach our younger generations the right values from young. We have to move our education system beyond just textbooks, and we have to set good examples for them. They are after all, very impressionable at such a youthful age. Better to start off well than try to rectify the problem when it starts to surface.

Ivan's chill-out corner said...

Hello Sensei! With regards to Wan Wei and your comments, perhaps the emphasis is not what are the coolest things or people in this world, but WHAT empowers them. Let’s take Singapore for example. I can see that children or teenagers nowadays will go ‘gaga’ over Hannah Montana or the Jonas Brothers. I do not doubt their ability to sing or perform, but there are also other great singers and performers. Apparently, the media seems to be playing a big part in the penetration into the children’s hearts. Without the intervention of media, I can safely deduce that neither Hannah Montana nor the Jonas Brothers will even be made known to the children. However, I do see a trend and please correct me if I am generalizing matters or writing anything untrue.

I noticed that most of the idols that Singaporean children are going crazy over are the performers they watch on Starhub cable TV’s popular channels such as Nickelodeon. Technology advancement is rapid and children are carrying expensive and high-tech gadgets like any other adults will. At the comfort of their homes, that is this magical box that will emit sounds and show animated images. At a press of the control, the dimensions in the screen will change. Hence, children will be exposed to the shows that keep them company during their meals, free time or even while doing their homework! However, most of the shows are based in America and the ways these American shows are portrayed seem to underlie some agendas. Maybe it is due to my own perception, but everything in the American shows depict a perfect life that all teenagers should have. Stardom, wealth, popularity- you name it, they have it. Who doesn’t want to be as famous as Hannah Montana or even the suave Jonas Brothers? They are characters that emerged to stardom from normal kids that you can see on the streets.

The types of message that these shows are trying to convey to the audience will be ‘if you want to be like them, catch them on TV and know more about it’. Of course, I do not necessarily know the true reason behind the children’s addiction to these characters. But, the closet I can get to now is the fact that the ‘non-verbal’ messages sent to the children are distorted values of life and usually, the untrue depiction of society in another country. (No countries will be willing to show the ugly side of their politics or community on-air)

Regards,
Ivan

Sheryl Low said...

Yes, it does seem like the American culture is spiraling out of control, with a focus shifting to more materialistic goals and in turn producing Americans who are more ignorant with somewhat twisted morals. However, as outrageous as this might seem, I do think that the American system although NOT entirely, is in certain ways positive. And, I have noticed that so far, no one has pointed that out...

For one, the American culture encourages one to think big. Everyone dreams of living the American dream, and the media has made it all seem so possible, often portraying how the lower or middle class people do rise above and achieve their goals. How many actors, writers and even presidents have had a story like this? And because of this mindset, I feel that the American dares to push his limits, and climb back up despite failures. I would say that in contrast, the Singapore system is not as easy on people who have failed before. This “impossible is nothing” culture in America also encourages creativity that many otherwise successful countries lack. Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, American Idol, Survivor… really, are they really all that bad to society? These ride on pop culture, they stimulate the economy and bring in income, both from within America and all around the world. In fact, most of them try to at least teach the audience something good. And most of all, these shows are American, because the American culture in the first place actually allows for these creations.

But do not get me wrong, I do realize that there is a serious problem with the American culture. But let’s not be so quick to point the finger. Some sectors of American media are purely for entertainment purposes, and we as the audience have to be discerning in what we choose to watch. And let’s admit it, we all love American culture some way or another. For without American culture, without Perezhilton and The Sartorialist, Project Runway and Pimp my Ride, Jennifer Aniston and Michael Jackson……… …sorry, I just cannot imagine a life without them.

Brad Blackstone said...

It's true that America has a lot to offer the world, whether that's in the aid it gives other countries, the "culture," technology and other products that it exports, the educational, scientific and political leadership it provides or the ideals that it represents.
And I realize that with the good there is the bad.

I simply wish more Americans had the social and civic awareness and conscientiousness needed to make our country more of a beacon of enlightened views rather than a goldmine for pharmo-robber barons and military-industrial complex warlords.

Anonymous said...

Well, now, speaking from a "Corporate America" background for 30+ years...
Yeah, there are some things that are broken...
The media has a lot to do with that..

But most things about the USA are great....

Maybe I am biased, since I just photographed 2250 bicycle riders who raised over $4Million for cancer research......riding 50 or 100 or 180 miles over hilly southeastern Ohio terrain.....

Family values still exist; I see that every day in my brother Karl and his family.......

Cousin Annie

shiny_eatsmudpie said...

Hi Brad,

I totally agree with you that this situation is going out of hand. TV shows such as Forbes’s top 50 sports celebrities, top 10 celebrities who made it big and etc. are definitely influencing the minds of the young nowadays. It changes their perception of success; it’s no longer the hard work and effort one has to put in order to succeed. One can make it big by just being beautiful, able to play a sport well or be able to have some sort of talent that the world recognizes and appreciates. Gone are the days when you ask a child what his or her aspiration is and having a noble answer such as doctor, teachers, lawyers, etc. Ask any child nowadays and you’ll get answers like models, sports athlete or some famous celebrity. Children nowadays are being brainwashed into materialistic people. What the world wants now is money and fame. The process of being rich and influential isn’t an issue; the real deal is whether you’ve made it big.

Shin Ye

MissPookie said...

I have lived in Canada and USA, and find that there are arguments for and against both systems of healthcare. But I prefer the FACT that when a Canadian goes into a Nursing home, the nursing home does nto get the family farm. Nor, does a Canadian have to mortgage their home for cancer treatment, or sell their life insurance to a bottom feeder for palliative care. Denmark, Sweden, Germany, England and Finland are better examples of same. In the USA, a self-pay office visit rate runs about $75.00 USD. In Canada I was asked to pay $20.00!!!!

Now two Americans go in for surgery and one will have to forgo surgery because their insurance is not all that great, but the second person who is on a higher tier will get top-drawer treatment! We are considered a classless society (myth): however, in a hospital you could die because you have to turn down a surgery or cancer treatment because you cannot afford it. That would include ridiculous deductibles and co-shares.....

Easily 60% of health care related jobs are in the processing and billing of claims, and getting around all of the coding issues, and errroneous denials. OR, thye will create all kinds of ridicuous referral requirements, and if the ball gets dropped you pay for the procedure. Add to that nurses at the insurance companies are telling the doctor how he can treat the patient...

HMO does not mean Health Maintenance Organisation, it means Healthy Members Only....

OH, then the cmpanies are using Merck Medco for prescription benefits. They dog you day and night to get three months filled through them, or they will raise the co-pays. Who says I can afford three months of medication copays in one fell-swoop?

ARRRRRGHHHHHHH!

MissPookie said...

Brad, a further comment in regard to your post: There is nothing more 'terrorist,' in my mind, than another uninformed voter in the polling booth. They did elect Bush for a second term after all.
He (or his puppeteer Dick Cheney) have committed crimes against humanity, yet they have not been charged.

Talking about power hungry corporate greed, go to www.thefutureoffood.com

MissPookie said...

I listened to Obama this evening, and if he can engender some co-operation, we might have something in Health Care. For all of the stiff-necked Republicans that remained impassive, I would like to know if every Republican has Health Insurance! I know they don't! Tonight the pundits can blah-blah-blah, I am going to bed, and check out hte post-mortem in the morning. Peace OUT!

MissPookie said...

Merck Medco called me last night. I take Bystolic, a newer medication for High Blood Pressure. They will "allow" three fills at the Pharmacy at $30.00 per. They called to tell me that unless I get three months at a time through the mail-order pharmacy, for $111.00, it will cost me $90.00/month. I asked for a supervisor and asked for compassionate consideration because I am unemployed, and they said there was nothing they could do. I told them they were not going to hold me hostage, and that I will get samples from the doctor...and they are out any income on that RX. My doctor was all too willing to oblige!

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