RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Stories That Move Society Forward

As the year squeaks and jerks to a close, I predict the top story on everyone’s list will be what they’ll call the failure of Obamacare. Everyone’s list but mine. In the scheme of things, the stories that will change our lives are not the page one meltdowns or successes. Instead, the really big shifts are barely reported, and if they come up at all they’ll be way back in the last pages of section one.

Still, we need to consider the implications of the website-based failure to provide health care to everyone in the richest nation on earth. How can this be so hard?

From the beginning, there have been at least two problems with the Affordable Care Act. One has been that US medicine is expensive and complicated. Our doctors have so many tools that they can hardly resist ordering tests for the perfectly healthy; some cynical folks say the doctors order tests just to pay for the machines!

We patients, in turn, are so out-of-touch with our own bodies that we can hardly resist taking the tests. In fact, Americans love being patients. We feel like we’re accomplishing something when we take a pill. We boast the stories of our disabilities, trying to outdo each other. We love getting examined for something, anything, the more dramatic the better. And then, examination completed, we love complaining about the incompetence of the examiners.

The second problem in this failure is the existence of corporate entities in the management of it all. Insurance companies are notorious for inventing overly complicated forms to fill out. Software companies are famous for software that doesn’t work. Surprised? Really? Truthfully, national health care should just deliver care to everyone regardless of their conditions.

The third problem — and I know I said two, but this is the best one — is that we trusted the Internet to handle all this complexity and traffic. Some things are just too important to put on websites and this should serve as a giant wake-up call. Banking on email? Voting by email? Let’s reconsider.

But the failure of one website won’t change our futures dramatically. Sooner or later, things will straighten out. And, soon, there will be gains in health care. The complexity and unnecessary testing have been hinted. The necessity for wise consumers to talk to our providers about major life decisions has become a topic of discussion. We are realizing that, despite great strides, our medical professionals are still humans working with the smallest amounts of knowledge.

Enough about Obamacare. Let’s talk about the incidents of 2013 that will really move our society forward. I have three biggies:

First on the list is the crazy ride of Bitcoin, the currency that came from nowhere. As Joshua Brustein wrote in BusinessWeek a few weeks ago, “The price of Bitcoin as of today is $1,003 — or at least it was as of the time I typed that last sentence.” A few hours after he typed that, the Wall Street Journal predicted that the value could rise to $98,500.

I personally love the idea that value can come from nowhere and be accepted on faith by a good number of otherwise intelligent folks. I hear that the uber-rich are storing art in warehouses with the certain knowledge that it will buy food and warm clothing for their families in the future. They even swap it around — my Picassos for your Klees — what a hoot. This could mean the end of money!

My nomination for the second big story of 2013 is passage of GMO labeling laws in Connecticut and Maine. The revelation that an estimated 92% of Americans want GMO labelling has made it safe to leak scientific studies that show how bad GMOs might be for our bodies. We already know that GMOs are bad for the environment, encouraging super weeds, poison-resistant bugs and overuse of toxic chemicals. Now we’re getting the news that GMOs create diseases in laboratory rats and probably have responsibility for some of the diseases in us and our neighbors.

It’s possible that the GMO labeling in Connecticut and Maine won’t stick. It may be illegal according to US trade treaties and it is certainly undesirable for investors in the big corporate house of cards that’s supported by agribusiness and chemical companies. Pity.

The third big story is one that I’ve been personally tracking for a lot of years, but has gone unreported even by me. It has to do with gender equity in the New York media. Whenever I get a New York magazine or newspaper, I count the number of men’s names and women’s names in the table of contents. Anyone can do this, by the way, and for one week in November, one of the biggest New York magazines almost reached equity. In the 18 names of contributors — writers, artists, cartoonists, poets — there were 8 names of women. That’s a breakthrough, friends. I’m sorry to report that the next week they were back to their old tricks.

Happy New Year, dear readers, and, next year, I’ll still be counting.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2014

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