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Peter A. Reese: Attorney/Activist

Get to know a Buffalonian...

Peter A. Reese is a champion of openness in government, and stands committed to dragging shadowy dealings by governmental agencies into the light—often by challenging them in court. He’s also an experienced sailor.

You're a Democrat. What are your thoughts on the recently passed health care bill?

Forget being a Democrat who supported Obama, let’s look at what we need versus what we got. We need universal health care as a matter of right and a complete top to bottom re-engineering of our health care delivery system. The discussion immediately got sidetracked to universal health insurance. Health insurance is just a weasel’s promise to maybe pay for your health care when and if you need it. All insurance companies make big money not paying claims. If you think health insurers are any different, you have never been sick or tried to help anyone who is. Nothing says freedom like denying claims.

What we got is a non-universal insurance purchase mandate which will still leave 20 million Americans uncovered. Without single payer or even a public option, we must obtain insurance from the same health insurance gangsters who have polluted the current system. If you cannot pay their exorbitant and unregulated rates, the taxpayers subsidize your purchase. This is nothing less than a Wall Street sized handout to health insurance criminals.

I already have single payer insurance. It’s called Medicare and it’s great. What you see is what you get, and no one messes with you when you have a claim. If the provider participates in Medicare, they know what to expect and they don’t fool with the Feds. If you wanted universal health insurance, Medicare as a public option with an age group adjusted premium rate system for those under 65 would have been a great starting point.

As for re-engineering the system, forget any change under the health care reform which was adopted. The topic was essentially ignored. We do not have the “best health care system in the world.” Statistically, it ranks about fortieth in the world, right next to Guatemala. We need an efficient and effective system which provides health care which patients actually need. The current system is rife with fraud and abuse to the tune of $1 trillion per year. It is based on compensation per procedure delivered by specialists who provide whatever it is that they specialize in. As high as 80% of all procedures cannot be demonstrated to provide any clinical benefit! When you get paid by the procedure, guess what you do a lot of? We spend astounding amounts of money on terminal care for patients who are trying to die in peace. Most Medicare expenditures take place in the last six months of patient’s lives, facilitated by hungry providers who need to make a buck working piecework. I could go on, but it makes me crazy to think about how poorly we perform compared to the great job we think we are doing.

As for Obama, he has been a tremendous disappointment. He never showed up for the health care reform fight until he had to just to save his Presidency. It appears that he has no stomach for a political dust up. By the way, his platform included a lot of good reform, including experience based medicine and a public option. His Nixon inspired free market insurance company bailout would not have sold well on the campaign trail.

In general, do you think privatization of public services is a good solution?

While I joke about being a Commie, I actually believe in free enterprise. I believe there is no place for government where the private sector is doing a good job. Unfortunately, unregulated greed based systems rarely provide civilized solutions to satisfy societal needs. When the private sector fails, government intervention is necessary to provide a reasonable outcome. Remember, a business exists to make a profit, regardless of whether it provides any services. Government exists to provide services, without regard to profitability. Only an idiot wants to “run government like a business.” We need more elected officials who want to run government like a government.

Therefore, I only favor privatization of public services when a given proposal can clearly be demonstrated to provide equivalent or superior services to those already available from the government. In that case, maybe the government shouldn’t have been involved in the first place.

Why do you think transparency in government is a good thing?

Fair procedural rules and transparency in government are absolutely necessary to the maintenance of a democracy. If either is absent, tyranny is sure to ensue. It is just that simple. If the people can’t tell what government is doing, they cannot exert any control. Interestingly enough, most of our local leaders, public and private, exhibit an organic inability to function in public. It is as if they were vampires who will burst into flames if exposed to sunlight. When someone who is the trustee of public resources can only function in secret, you can be sure that they are afraid and ashamed of the consequences of disclosure.

What do you make of the Tea Bag movement, both locally and on a national level?

Tea Baggers are low and moderate-income working people who feel trapped and helpless in the face of economic forces which they do not understand or control. They are all “mad as hell” and they should be. The concentration of wealth in this country is probably the biggest challenge to democracy which we have ever faced. Tea Baggers are right. (I feel powerless too, but I am “angry as hell”, in spite of my public school education.) They should join the left and attack up the food chain towards the bastions of wealth and power. Unfortunately, the corporate media will direct their anger towards the poor, unionists and other imaginary fifth columnists who are not their true enemies. They will demand smaller government without realizing that the only force on earth that can control the plutocrats who afflict them is the very government they so despise. Their rallying cries will include items like reduction in Medicaid spending. This is code for the new, publicly acceptable, racism, as most people think Medicaid is free health care for minorities. Unfortunately, Medicaid is not going broke because African-American kids are getting too much treatment at ECMC. Medicaid is going bust because the Tea Baggers’ parents and grandparents gave away the family homestead and everything else they had so the taxpayers could pay for their terminal health and custodial care.

The Tea Party movement has many professional politicians scared to death, but though they can influence close elections, they pose the greatest threat to Republicans. They are not going to be a permanent political fixture of any real consequence.

You're a WNY native, and you've witnessed the region's decline. What do you think it would take to really turn the region's fortunes around?

We need to abandon the Messianic approach to community development which has dominated the thinking of our glitterati for half a century. We have been afflicted by an endless stream of heroic solutions from UB in Amherst, to the domed stadium, to the rapid transit, to the Zoo in the First Ward, to Bioinformatics, etc.. No one ever benefitted but the people on the top of the stack and a small cadre of their loyal followers. Bass Pro and UB2020 are only going to make a handful of our most wealthy citizens more affluent, while inflicting pain on the less fortunate inhabitants of their target regions. Such schemes are the answer to the question which no one asked. We need economic development which will benefit our fellow citizens who are not working right now. Anything which cannot be demonstrated to be of direct value in creating living wage jobs for our under employed and unemployed residents should be off the table. This change in direction is not going to take place because all our planners come from the same self centered elite class, and they do not give a damn about the people who are suffering all around them. With any luck, the City’s insistence on a community benefit agreement for the Bass Pro deal will kill that boondoggle. UB2020 will be much harder to derail, as SUNY Buffalo is a monstrous patronage whack up which is big enough to buy off any and all of our local politicians. I expect to be ice skating in hell long before we experience a local economic renaissance. Nationally, I believe we must either reindustrialize or wither. Maybe a wholesale transplant of leadership from another region could save us?

You race sailboats. What's most important: A fast boat, a good captain, or an experienced crew?

Successful competitive sailing is a complex combination of equipment, knowledge, physical ability, experience and luck. Consistently good sailors are strong in all categories. Although I have known skippers who could make anything go fast, weakness in any category is usually fatal. Our consistent failure is partially due to our boat, PAWS, which (like me) is an aging racer having seen better days. In addition, the crew of PAWS prides itself on being the oldest and poorest performing on the lake. While we are experienced, it is at failure. When we are lucky, the wind dies down and we get a relative advantage which can make us competitive.

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