Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our Healthcare Rating Worldwide

President Obama had several opportunities during the televised congressional discussions on health care, to correct emphatic assertions by Republicans that we have the best health care in the world. He failed to do so.

True, we may be on the cutting edge in the innovative, highly technical procedures required by world leaders, but according to the statistics provided in the anything-but-liberal Economist’s yearly Pocket World in Figures, the United States is in 41st place among the almost two hundred countries of the world when it comes to life expectancy (two places behind Cuba, by the way).

When it comes to infant mortality, we are not among the lowest twenty-five, and we are in third place when it comes to obesity among men, eighth place among women. We are not among the eighteen countries that have the lowest number of population per doctor (Cuba comes in second, and among the industrialized countries on the list are Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Israel, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands and Austria.) Obviously, some countries who have more doctors per head may not provide optimum care, such as Russia or Greece, but the fact that the United States spends roughly one and a half times as much as the members of the European Union should be broadcast more widely than it is.

Obama’s failure to rebut affirmations that we have the best health care in the world is not only a failure of honesty. It strengthens the position of those who believe that the main problem with our health care system is its cost. Low numbers in favor of major reform include those who consider single payer to be the only solution, and those who, when false affirmations are aloud to stand, say: “If our health care is ‘the best’, we could allow ourselves to spend less without putting the health of the population in danger, right?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nobody Out There

One of Fareed Zakaria’s guest’s on GPS today was Paul Volker, former head of the Federal Reserve. His main reason for worrying about the abysmal state of American governance is that “there’s nobody else out there who could lead the world.” Most people will agree with that, but few stop to consider whether the world needs a leader.

As if to underline the fact that it’s time for world go-vernance instead of a world leader, Zakaria’s next two guests, Richard N Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, had a lengthy discussion over whether the U.S. should seriously consider either taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities, or somehow effectuating regime change.

Our leaders and those who comment on their doings have ceased to live in the real world. These two highly paid intellectuals were also considering whether or not to “let Israel do it”, underlining the fact that this tiny country that deprives the Palestinians of a homeland, maintains a military far out of proportion to either its size or its potential threats, thanks to our help, and is eager to “reciprocate”.

The question is, does anyone doubt that a world government would consider Iran a threat to the world community?

While our diplomats and military mull over the best way to “keep America safe”, the leaders of other countries are working together to try to keep the planet from either overheating or blowing up. While we discuss our “responsibility” to lead, the rest of the world would be happy if we could just cooperate.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Need for Snowball

Whether or not the Northeast gets the monumental snowfall forecast,
to match the Tea Party, we need a Snowball effect: all those who are wringing their hands, or perhaps acting, need to immediately go to Lawrence Lessig’s websight: to sign a petition for a Constitutional Convention.

You can also join the conversation about the pros and cons on this site.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cat Out of Bag

This morning President Obama met with Democratic senators and representatives to discuss the challenges he and they face, after meeting with a similar group of Republicans a few days ago.

The atmosphere, of course was different. But one thing struck me that probably went unnoticed by most, even if it elicited audible recognition by the audience: President Obama pointed out that China is currently way ahead of the U.S. in the area of renewable energy. And he added: “But China is not a democracy.”

Together with the week-old Supreme Court decision that enhances the status of corporations as persons, leaving the door wide open for them to openly purchase elections, this is no small detail: The President failed to mention that China weathered the global economic crisis better than anyone. The reason: the Communist leadership - a handful of people - decided to create a stimulus package equal to the one Americans got after a lot of bickering and recrimination.

I’m not advocating for a totalitarian system, I’m simply pointing out that we have a sort of unofficial totali-tarian system run by big money, which makes is much more difficult for our elected representatives to behave as the founders intended them to. I’m pleased to not that calls for a constitutional convention are appearing here and there, and even if you are persuaded that principles enunciated two hundred years ago are still valid - as one comment to my latest blog Kos affirmed - the founders expressed many fears that their opus would be a Pandora’s Box, leading to situations they could not predict. So did Teddy Roosevelt. President Eisenhower, in his famous last address, was more specific and hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t quote his warning about the military-industrial complex.
But - as the President would say - make no mistake: democracy demands a level of ethical development (see the work of Lawrence Kohlberg), that a system based on near-total individual freedom does not foster.

Martin Jacques much talked about book entitled When China Rules the World emphasizes the revived Confucian tradition of virtue as the principal guiding China’s totalitarian rulers. In Shock Doctrine, republished on its tenth anniversary, Naomi Klein reveals the little known history of (among others, Russia’s transition to capitalism under Yeltsin.

All this should alert even the most devoted democrat, that labels are not what matter most, but actions.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Of Tea Parties and Burqas

The February 1st issue of The New Yorker has a chilling article by Ben McGrath describing his encounters with members of the Tea Party, the right-wing populist movement which used the organizing tools of the left to initiate the campaign against Obama’s health care plan, which represents big government at its worst, overlooking the fact that most seniors are extremely happy with the government-run Medicare program.
The teapartiers, educated, like all Americans, to believe that ideo-logy is bad, see only the long arm of government depriving them of the most precious American value: freedom. According to Daniel Bell and others, populism is ‘pathological’, flourishing only when orthodox democratic politics does not. In most countries, when democracy fails to deliver, there is likely to be a call for more government, or socialism. What makes Ame-rica different is the fact that our educational system labels ideology as undesirable, indoctrinating us as surely as any totalitarian country away from a logical choice between the right, which favors the few, and the left, which favors the many.
The values which the Tea Party wants Americans to get back to are known as 9.12, for the day after America was attacked: “I believe in God and He is the center of my life. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.”
Compare this with the fact that God is the center of a Muslim’s life, and that one of the five pillars of Islam is charity, which must be performed every day, vis a vis any person one encounters. In the name of God, Islam differs from the Tea Partiers, who also invoke God, but accuse those who receive charity through the government of being slackers.
In its January 30th issue The Economist describes Swedish efforts to bring toddlers of Muslim immigrants into nursery schools, and their mothers into Swedish language classes with a view to becoming bread-winners. You won’t find this information on your friendly TV station, but you will learn there that France is considering a partial ban on the wearing of the Burqa in public. (The first represents a ‘soft’ approach, in line with Scandinavia’s near uninterrupted rule by Social Democrats; the second, in a country that’s slightly schizophrenic about its social democracy, reflects the French penchant for political strife.) But both are in some way about compromise that social democracy calls for.
When the president, in his well-publicized belief in compromise, reassures his opponents that he is not an ideologue, that doesn’t only mean that he is probably not going to spread the wealth. It means he has, at least for the present, given in to a corporate system that all the more easily passes for government that our citizens have been indoctrinated against ideology.