SYNDICATED COLUMN: For Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Politics is Personal

Could the clash between Clintonian “realism” and Sandersian “idealism” come down to personal history?

Hillary Clinton’s sales pitch to Democrats is simple:

Get real! The Republicans controlling Congress (and who’ll likely still be in charge in 2017) won’t even allow President Obama to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court. There is no way in hell, she says, that these intransigent SOBs will pass pie-in-the-sky bills like Bernie Sanders’ proposal to replace Obamacare — an insurance company-friendly scheme originally conceived by a right-wing think tank, which Republicans now call socialistic — with Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All,” which would eliminate insurers in an actually socialistic way.

Hillary says she won’t make promises she can’t keep. Maybe that, as opposed to the mountains of cash she collects from Big Pharma and the piles of dough she rakes in from health insurance giants, is why she thinks the United States can’t join the rest of the First World by creating a universal coverage healthcare system.

Or maybe it’s personal. Hillary can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. Should she or Bill ever contract some nasty disease, the Clintons’ $110 million nest egg can easily cover the cost of the fanciest doctors.

She’s always been personally comfortable. Hillary grew up solidly middle class, never worrying where her next meal was coming from. Her family were right-wing conservatives, and so was she: in 1964, she was a fervently anti-communist “Goldwater girl.” She was named a partner of a law firm at age 32. You know the rest of the story.

Smooth sailing, financially if not necessarily romantically.

It wasn’t like that for Bernie Sanders (current net worth $700,000) while he was growing up.

Sanders is a product of America’s huge, rarely discussed, working class — people one paycheck away from eviction and homelessness. Bernie’s father, a salesman who came here from Poland alone (his entire family was later wiped out by the Nazis in the Holocaust), struggled to make a living throughout his life. He and his wife, Bernie’s mom, constantly fought over (lack of) money. “There were tensions about money, which I think is important,” Sanders told me when I interviewed him for my biography, “Bernie.”

“There was no sense of long-term security,” Sanders recalled. “A salesman, things can go up and things can do down.”

Ultimately, marital tensions fueled by money problems drove young Bernie to move out of the family home, an overcrowded apartment in the hardscrabble Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

Bernie doesn’t like to talk about his past. Partly, he views personal biography as a distraction from what he cares about: issues, policies. I suspect there’s another reason. Much of Bernie’s early life was painful.

“My father came to this country with nothing. Economically, what motivated him was security, that is, not losing what he had.” Bernie’s mother Dorothy was American, from The Bronx. “My mother wanted more money and wanted him to get a different job or expand what he was doing. He was very frugal. But if he tried to do that, he would have lost everything.” His parents couldn’t reconcile their worldviews. If they’d been earning a proper living, of course, they wouldn’t have had to.

In poor families — poor families that read and follow the news — left-wing activism is baked in from the start. While Hillary was campaigning for the most right-wing presidential nominee in history, Bernie was marching, and getting arrested, for civil rights. Stretched though he and his family were, he worried about those worse off than himself.

Dorothy Sanders suffered from a weak heart — a health condition aggravated by stress, something the Sanderses had in abundance. Shortly after Bernie graduated from high school, Dorothy died.

Bernie went on to college in Chicago, following the hippie trail to Vermont. But he never forgot where he came from. Poverty, Bernie understands, is a blight. And in a country as spectacularly wealthy as the United States, it’s one that’s completely optional, unnecessary and destructive.

Hillary’s incrementalist “we can do real healthcare later” argument reminds me of people who shoot me a quizzical expression when I explain that, after I broke my knee and my skull in a car wreck in 1985, it took me a year to find out because that’s how long it took me to land a job with health insurance. They’re not evil. They just don’t get it.

Clinton and Sanders represent two worldviews: one for whom wealth and privilege have long been assumed as her due, the other whose sympathies lie with those who suffer and die simply because they had the bad luck to be born into the vast majority of Americans, who are broke.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

Affordable Cartoon Act

The Affordable Care Act is the ultimate gravy train for insurers. They get 50 million new customers, all of whom have to buy their product at whatever they choose to charge them. Too bad the rest of us can’t get the same deal. Or can we?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Saving Private Healthcare

Socialized Medicine Would Be Better Than Obamacare. In the Meantime, Let’s Waste Some Time on Some Lame, Doomed Reforms.

Anyone who has tried to sign up for Obamacare, as I have, knows that the launch of the Affordable Care Act has been — is — an unmitigated disaster.

Can it be fixed? Maybe.

But first, it’s important to digest the sheer ginormousness of this bastard cross between privatized grift — a wholesale transfer of wealth from individual patients to giant insurers subject to no oversight but their own absent consciences — and a spectacularly inept government bureaucracy run by careless, corrupt, connected buffoons.

More than 2 million people are getting booted from their existing health insurance because their current plans fall short of ACA standards.

Obama’s defenders say the cancelled coverage was “junk quality.” Which may be true. Still, it might have been nice to tell people about this provision, which the White House was well aware of, three years ago. When the president signed the law. As opposed to, you know, assuring us of the exact opposite.

Back in 2010, it turns out, the feds estimated that 50% to 75% of all current individual policies would have to be cancelled due to the ACA. So the current crisis is likely to expand in scope.

There’s no evidence that anyone has successfully purchased a plan. None. No one. Zero.

Six people managed to “sign up” on October 1st. Nationally.

As for the “signs-ups” — people who managed to register online or by phone, but couldn’t choose or sign up for an actual plan — it turns out that 90% of these people are so poor that they’ll get Medicaid. Only 10% might wind up buying the mandated private insurance plans. “When we first saw the numbers, everyone’s eyes kind of bugged out,” Matt Salo, head of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, told The Washington Post. “Of the people walking through the door, 90 percent are on Medicaid. We’re thinking, what planet is this happening on?”


The United States is not a rich country — well, it’s rich, but most United Statesers are poor. And anyway, who do you think is going to jam up the Intertubes to get healthcare first, 23-year-old “young invincibles” earning $10 an hour, or 53-year-old diabetics?

There may well be fewer Americans covered by insurance on New Year’s Day 2014 than on 2013 — due to Obamacare.

It’s been estimated that 45,000 Americans die each year because they’re uninsured. In other words, according to back-of-the-envelope arithmetic, 3,800 people will die because Obama and his underlings didn’t focus on the website launches until a couple of weeks before October 1st. Those are Katrina numbers. With more victims by the day.

I’m not counting those who will lose their existing plans without being able to replace them.

OK, it’s easy to complain (than to sign up for Obamacare, bapadumbum). What would I do differently?

Socialized medicine. Like in England. It works.

But an intelligent, pro-human solution is not in the cards. Not in bankster-owned America. Not now, anyway. Both the Democrats and Republicans are owned by the big corporate insurers that stand to make billions from the Affordable Care Act. Before the country, and eventually its political class, get real and get serious, we’ll have to waste a few years on attempts at reform.

If I were advising President Obama, here’s what I’d tell him to do:

Simplify the pricing structure. The current system’s complexity didn’t develop organically. It’s a feature. Deductibles and partial co-pays are hidden extra fees, like baggage fees charged by airlines. A plan that charges $7000 a year, but has a $3000 deductible, should be sold as a $10000 plan. Sticker shock is good. It encourages competition.

Price controls. Letting insurers charge whatever they want is ridiculous. The Department of Health and Human Services should set prices of everything from tests to drugs to visits to operations. They should squeeze the insurers to a reasonable, rock-bottom profit margin.

Eliminate sleazy out-of-network structures. Every plan should cover every doctor, every hospital, every drug. Americans shouldn’t have to live in a world where they can get a procedure at their in-plan hospital only to be told later — via a surprise bill — that the anesthesiologist, who works at the hospital, isn’t affiliated with it.

Suspend the stick, leave the carrot. The tax on Americans who can’t afford to buy for-profit insurance is unfair and cruel to working-class Americans — those who can least afford either the coverage or the fines.

Make it a national system. Rates vary wildly, not just between states, but even by county. We’re one nation. Let’s pool our resources as well as our risks. Under Obamacare as it stands, people who live in rural areas pay the highest rates — even though average salaries are lower away from big cities.

Whether these reforms fail in Congressional debate due to insurance company lobbyists or get enacted but don’t do enough to fix the system, they’ll get us closer to what we really need: a single-payer system. You know, like the rest of the First World has.

(Ted Rall’s website is Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)


SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ted Rall Signs Up For Obamacare, Part I

Here’s How It Went

My pre-October 1st cartoon about the then-impending launch of the Affordable Care Act (henceforth to be referred by the initially insulting, then appropriated, now drolly cute Obamacare) anticipated that the websites for the 50 states’ “healthcare marketplaces” would immediately crash.

Even after all these years and all this crap, there are still Obama defenders and they jumped down my virtual throat. Faithless! They cried. They were right. I am faithless. And I was right about the crashes. Though the pro-Obama media made excuses for the Administration’s lack of preparedness: “But it remained unclear whether the array of problems — many people received messages saying the system was down, and others were unable to create accounts to buy insurance — stemmed more from heavy traffic or from flaws in design,” reported The New York Times. I’ll pick “(b) flaws in design.” Cuz, like, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that millions of people would check out those sites yesterday.

Which is why I waited until today.

Here’s how it went.

Step one: Find the site. Not a problem for an English-speaking, web-savvy, former computer programmer who went to an Ivy League engineering school (though they did kick me out). To the Google! Honestly, though, I shouldn’t have had to do this. Everyone should have received a mailing containing the basics, including the URL. I get a postcard every year telling me where to vote. Why didn’t the government do the same thing for Obamacare?

Here’s what came up:

The website came right up. So far, so good. Yes we can! O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma! But then…an Error Message. Actually more of a You Might Get an Error Error Message. Which is even more confusing than an Error Message. It’s a like a store that puts a sign on its window reading “Maybe Closed, Maybe Open.”

Come back later? That’s not the American way! Did Chris Columbus come back later? (Basically, yes, but shut up. Telling people who know facts to shut up is the American way!) Did the Conquistadors come back later? (They were Spanish. SHUT UP!)

I need healthcare today, not tomorrow. Well, I do need it tomorrow, but you know what I mean. I hope, because clearly I don’t.

Anyway: onward!

What is an “insurance assistor”? Does it involve anal probes? I’m not asking and I’m not telling. “Get started” — that’s me!

Now I am not so happy. Registering for anything online sucks. Can’t I just log in with Facebook or Twitter or Klout like I do for everything else? Apparently not.

Let’s create an account:

Good news! The User ID I wanted is available. I’m ready to go on a mad shopping spree for some awesome Obamacare!

Or not so much.

I have to wait for the confirmation email to arrive.

Waiting…waiting…waiting…there it is.

I can click. I will click. There — I clicked.

A new browser window opens.












OK, President Obama, you’ve got me back. Drones forgotten! Bankster bailouts a thing of the past. Who could resist the charm of a government program whose Secret Question Options include “first concert ever attended” (Sid Vicious solo) and “favorite comic book / cartoon character as a child” (Peanuts / Popeye)?  The “band poster” (Blondie, or was it The Clash) question is — dare we say it? — hip!

Let’s not dwell on the “last 5 digits of your favorite rewards card.”


I picked a password.






There’s a lot of clicking “continue” to do. But I’m American. Like Coronado!






Back to the first screen:



Obamacare is a metaphor for the Sisyphean metaphor for life: back to the beginning, under the virtual rock of the Sort of Error Message.

“Click Here to Login”? Sure. But then:












Ooo, minimalism. I’ll reload.

Did you know, an artist once defined minimalism as an empty room containing one cat. I think he did. Or she.


I tried to factcheck the cat line online, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe I dreamed it up. I slept a lot during art class. Reload. 9 am class with the lights off to show boring slides, what did they expect? Reload.
















Whoa, there it is!

I don’t need no stinkin’ “invitation code.” I’m me. I invite myself in, yo!

Hm. Rules of Behavior.
















Whatever. Not reading them any more than I’m reading the 57-page Terms and Conditions for updating to crappy new iOS7 on my phone.

Next up: a form where I’m asked to enter my full legal name (if you have a suffix bigger than “V” you’re out of luck), Social Security Number, gender, date of birth, address, phone number, email address, language preferences — can’t they get this stuff from the NSA? — and my consent to a General Privacy Attestation (the DMV? really?).









But if I were blind, I couldn’t read the notice…

Next: some freaky Facebook-style (after you get locked out) identity verification questions that prove they already know all about you.