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New York Times Editorial on Kids' Health and Tobacco-Wrong Again

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Few things are as disingenuous as trying to sound warm and fuzzy while supporting the status-quo, which is cold and prickly. But the NYTimes has accomplished it yet again. Writing editorially yesterday,
BIG TOBACCO DEFEATS SICK KIDS

One of the biggest disappointments in Tuesday’s election was the defeat of an Oregon ballot initiative that would have raised the state’s cigarette tax by 85 cents a pack to help pay for health care for uninsured children.

I don’t know who should be more disappointed, those who would practice the predation of one species to aid another or the ordinary guy who can’t understand why decent health care is beyond his means and that of his family. It sure isn’t the fault of the smoker down the block.
The outcome is a testament, more than anything else, to the shamelessness of the nation’s big tobacco companies. They spent an obscene amount of money on deceptive television ads designed to protect their profits, even at the expense of poor children. The results should not be allowed to diminish national concern about insuring those youngsters.
Engaging in demagoguery against Big Tobacco is the easy reach for a newspaper too lazy or morally indifferent to go after the problem head on.
Since when has it become shameless to protect a corporate profit when the state decides to confiscate it in the name of children?
Since when has that corporate profit come at the expense of anyone other than the buyer of a pack of smokes, much less poor children?
Since when does fighting the confiscation of privately accrued profit somehow diminished national concern about insuring youngsters.

Apparently since yesterday's editorial page. It's astonishing to believe the NYT editorial board actually allowed that diatribe in print. There’s more;
Tobacco firms led by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds poured $12 million into defeating the initiative — about $3.33 for every Oregon resident, or $24 a vote. That’s about a dollar more per capita than the $60 million tobacco companies invested to defeat a similar California measure last year, according to The Associated Press. The health and civic groups fighting for health care for children were able to spend only a quarter of that.
They did as they must do--as any man with a lawn-mowing business or a giant corporation must do—fight tooth and nail to keep government from imposing sanctions on private enterprise to solve a civil problem. We already have a tax system (yet another busted governmental boondoggle) for that.

The industry being castigated already pays an enormity of taxes, including health insurance policies for its employees. Its product is already the victim of near confiscatory sin taxes on its product.

Because your product is unhealthy is no reason for the state to expect you to pay for what it refuses. If your wife is unlovely, she should not be made to do the neighbor’s laundry.
The purveyors of Marlboro and Camel cigarettes did not win by disputing the urgent health care needs the initiative was meant to address, or the benefits higher cigarette taxes would bring by deterring smoking. They sought to hide behind a benign-sounding front group called Oregonians Against the Blank Check and proceeded to barrage voters with unscrupulous TV ads and mailings. Among other things, they stoked doubts that the funds raised would actually be used for children’s health care, and they manufactured an overblown controversy over amending Oregon’s Constitution.
It is not the business of cigarette manufacturers to dispute urgent health care needs. Nor should it be their need to hide behind anything. They do not have a dog in this fight.

The federal government, since Nixon, has so screwed up national health care by demanding it be left to the vagaries of private insurance companies, that it serves no one well while absorbing the highest per-capita cost in the developed world. Bill Keller and the editorial board of the stumbling and near-sighted New York Times would slap a BandAid on that gaping national wound by announcing their disappointment that cigarette companies weren’t tapped to pick up the tab.

Pitiably, and with their tail clutched tightly between their legs, the NYT concludes;
The referendum said a lot about the power of money in any election, and not much about what the public thinks about the issue if given accurate and balanced information. The vote should neither deter Congressional Democrats from continuing to confront President Bush on expanding children’s health care under the S-chip program nor discourage other states from trying to do more to take care of the health of their children.
If this is the best that Pinch Sulzberger (owner) and Bill Keller (editor) can do in the way of carrying the banner of health care in America, they ought to sit down and enjoy a quiet cigar.
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The nickname ‘Pinch’ is a takeoff on his father’s nickname, ‘Punch.’ Its origin in the kid's case comes from paring back staff, but there are other definitions as well. In Brit slang, to ‘pinch’ is to ‘make off with belongings of others’ and that’s certainly apropos of an 85 cent ‘health tax’ on cigarettes.

America has become eerily complacent about calling things what they are not. Celebrity (noun) the state or quality of being widely honored and acclaimed, which used to apply to the likes of Bing Crosby and Cary Grant, is now slapped on Paris Hilton and actually taken seriously.

Health Care (noun) the preservation of mental and physical health by preventing or treating illness through services offered by the health profession currently refers to a mish-mash of regulatory disinformation whose business entails the refusal of claims, denial of prior condition, downgrading of physician-prescribed care, padding of for-profit procedure, obfuscation, neglect, co-insurance fees and the intentional ‘blizzarding’ of paperwork. Leaving Bing and Cary for the moment, language has been the first casualty of this war.

The defeat of language allows such words as HMO to substitute for care. Health Maintenance Organization sounds like a company that comes twice a month to pull the weeds of bad health from your biological garden. The reality is that (for a price beyond any private possibility) HMOs will trim your hedge, but when a plague of locusts arrives, good luck. Their constant profit-motivation is to decline to deal with locusts.
(Dow Jones MarketWatch) -- Managed-care companies look financially healthy lately: A sample of 528 found that profits increased 52 percent during the first nine months of last year from a year earlier on the strength of higher premiums, according to a new study.

Health maintenance organizations' profits jumped to $6.7 billion in the first three quarters of 2003, up from $4.4 billion in 2002, according to a Weiss Ratings study of financial statements filed with state insurance departments. The figure is the highest for the period since Weiss began looking at HMOs' quarterly statements in 1995, senior analyst Donna O'Rourke said.

The unasked question by Sulzberger and Keller, who are presently focused on Big Tobacco, is why there should be a layer of profit in the health care system at all? Bill might logically ask his boss (over those cigars) if he sees some sort of logic to the number 52.

Fifty-two is the percent of HMO profit increase, as well as the number (in millions) of those Americans lacking health care. What fifty-two is not, is the number of cigarettes in a pack.

Pinch that number, Mr. Sulzberger.
___________________________________________________________
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http://www.jim-freeman.com

Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
 

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I would ask would the tax be more palatable if it ... by Andris on Sunday, Nov 11, 2007 at 2:30:29 AM
I would ask would the tax be more palatable if it ... by Andris on Sunday, Nov 11, 2007 at 2:32:39 AM
about smokers. IT'S NOT ABOUT SMOKERS. It'... by Jim Freeman on Sunday, Nov 11, 2007 at 6:16:23 AM
If I understand you correctly you were raling agai... by Andris on Sunday, Nov 11, 2007 at 7:55:45 PM
is about pragmatism, then we have no common ground... by Jim Freeman on Monday, Nov 12, 2007 at 9:56:09 AM