A personal view of a failed democracy

I sometimes wonder if it is in becoming a parent, responsible for…

Assange’s Fourteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Elections,…

September 25. Central Criminal Court, London.On this Friday, the Assange trial moved…

Reverse JobKeeper cuts and protect working people, say…

Two days after assailing the Morrison government for inaction on a jobs…

Dean Jones: Life of a Cricketing Entertainer

He was very much one of those cricketers who made the pulse…

Seeking the Post-Corona Sunshine: More Continuity for Post-Fitzgerald…

By Denis Bright  Even Nostradamus himself might be hesitant about predicting the final…

Jobs plan must be a way forward, says…

On the day where the Morrison government’s announced cuts to the JobKeeper…

The ‘Panama Papers’ exposed the greed of the…

By Paul Gregoire  The Panama Papers could have been a massive moment in…

Just because we are governed by clowns it…

1 Yet another scandal surrounding the Liberal Party. A Liberal Party donor…

«
»
Facebook

Tag Archives: Obamacare

Will This Kill Americans?

Politics used to be hard. You had to balance the needs and desires of a wide range of stakeholders with competing interests. You needed to communicate the benefits of your actions, and contrast them to the failures and flaws of other approaches as proposed by your political opponents, interest groups, lobbyists and the media. You needed to worry about balancing the budget, setting an appropriate level of tax and impost on those with plenty without offending them so they would prefer to spend their money on pulling you down, and an appropriate level of social support for those with little so they don’t spend their time marching on the streets. Politics used to be about a million little decisions and benchmarks and complicated analysis of every possible decision to identify, as closely as possible, the full range of those it could hurt or help.

With the rise of right-wing populism, and the ensuing assumption to the Presidency of Donald Trump, it is becoming apparent that these considerations are luxuries. There are basic, fundamental questions and requirements that must be met before higher-level consideration of costs and benefits can be addressed. The United States of America, to date, has been blessed with leadership that can largely take these fundamental questions as granted; Presidents and Congressmen for whom common sense and fundamental decency provided a baseline of behaviour and practice allowing politics to move on to the more complicated and difficult questions of policy.

Through Donald Trump’s published positions, his appointments to key roles in government, and the avowed desires of the Republican party he leads, these basic requirements can no longer be assumed. Accordingly, it may be appropriate to boil fundamental policy deliberation down to a simple benchmark, which may be summarised as follows:

Will this kill Americans?

If this is a fundamental benchmark, unfortunately in the lead-up to his inauguration, Donald Trump’s record so far is not promising.

The Affordable Care Act

Even before Trump has entered the Oval Office, he and his incoming administration are taking the first steps to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Commonly (and derogatively) referred to as “Obamacare”, the ACA made significant changes to America’s healthcare systems. (A simplified explanation is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZkk6ueZt-U) Whilst there were some people who faced higher taxes, and some who were forced to buy (subsidised) health insurance or face a levy, the main outcome of Obamacare was to massively increase the coverage of health insurance. Suddenly, millions of Americans who previously did not have and could not get insurance were able (and required) to get insurance. Empirically and provably, this saved lives, and continues to do so.

Provisions in Obamacare improved hospital care standards and reduced preventable deaths. The Affordable Care Act made it illegal for insurers to deny insurance to those with prior conditions. The ACA made it illegal for insurers to classify “being a woman” as a pre-existing condition and charge higher premiums. The ACA provides means-tested subsidies for health insurance. The ACA significantly expanded Medicaid (America’s version of Medicare). The ACA regulated subsidies for medicines and ensured access to those who needed them. And the Affordable Care Act prevented insurers from unilaterally cancelling insurance for Americans when they got sick.

Even if the Republican Senate and Congress replace the Affordable Care Act promptly, the kind of plans they have suggested and are still promoting will be a return to the bad old days and all of these things, demonstrably detrimental to the lives and health of the American public, will return.

According to critics, repealing Obamacare would put coverage at risk for more than 20 million Americans covered under the law’s insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion. Repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act, with no replacement scheme ready and potentially no intention to ever implement such a replacement scheme, will inarguably kill Americans.

Commission on Vaccine Safety

On 10 January, President-Elect Donald Trump had a private meeting with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who later the same morning claimed that Trump had asked him to lead a government Commission into Vaccine Safety, including ensuring “scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects.” Kennedy is a well-known vaccine skeptic, a proponent of ideas first raised by Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield’s research was later proved to be falsified, with the British Medical Council finding Wakefield guilty of dishonesty and of “callous disregard” for the pain of the children in his study.

Despite being struck off the register of licensed medical practicioners and thoroughly disgraced, Wakefield’s ficticious link between vaccines (and the preservatives in them) and autism has persisted. Thanks to some high-profile advocates (Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey and Rob Schneider are amongst the most well-known) there remains a substantial undercurrent of skepticism towards vaccination of children, a trend that public health advocates have struggled for decades to address.

To the list of public proponents of the vaccines-autism link you can add Donald Trump, who has been a critic of immunisation for decades. Now, as President-Elect, he has the public profile that takes his beliefs from “dangerously misguided” to “actively harmful”. As President, the things that Trump believes and states will hold some weight with Americans. The things he chooses to support – such as an official investigation into the “dangers of vaccination” – will affect the beliefs and actions of Americans. By appearing to support the connection of vaccination and autism (and other, unspecified harms) Trump gives legitimacy to those who oppose immunisation and either choose not to vaccinate their own children or encourage others likewise.

The antivaccination movement is already too strong. Increases in the rate of unvaccinated have contributed to outbreaks of preventable disease in the last few years – for example, a measles outbreak at Disneyland in 2014, which contributed to a resurgence of the disease after it was almost eradicated in the year 2000. That outbreak did not cause any deaths, but it could have. The CDC estimates that 164,000 people around the world die from measles each year. Whooping cough, another vaccine-preventable disease, is experiencing a resurgence in the United States and, globally, causes almost 200,000 deaths per year.

Preventable diseases will not always kill those that experience them. Healthcare in the United States is reasonably high-quality and most of those admitted to hospital with measles or whooping cough or other diseases will survive. However, not all will. And with the increase in the rates of non-vaccination, major outbreaks of disease become more likely, herd immunity decreases, and the severity of diseases will increase. Playing with unscientific, dangerous screeds like vaccine-autism linkages will contribute to a reduction in the American public’s health and well-being, and whilst the linkages might be tenuous, will kill Americans.

Trump’s Attitude Towards National Security

By now you may have heard about Michael Moore’s recent prediction about Donald Trump’s Presidency. No, not the one that correctly predicted, six months in advance, that Trump would win. The other one. “Donald Trump is Gonna Get Us Killed“. Moore argues that Trump’s attitude towards the daily security briefings each President receives from the combined services of the country – to wit, that he doesn’t “need to hear the same thing over and over each day for eight years” and won’t bother to attend them – will weaken America’s readiness for the next terrorist attack. Perhaps starting as he intends to continue, reportedly Trump had only attended “two or three” of the first 36 briefings.

It might be argued that the security apparatus of the United States has things well in hand, and Trump’s inattention won’t, by itself, lead to security breaches. Moore points to George W Bush, who allegedly ignored briefings that, if acted upon correctly, might have prevented Bin Laden’s 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It’s easy in retrospect to say that more attention to any specific piece of information could have reached a different outcome, but there are a multitude of threats and countries do have to rely primarily on their security forces, not the actions of a specific Head of State.

It is surely, however, incumbent upon that Head of State to pour oil upon troubled waters, not petrol onto fires. The world in 2017 is rife with threats – from climate change and the global unrest it will create, to the imperial ambitions of China and Trump’s good friend Russia, to the bellicose rumblings of North Korea and Iran, and the ongoing threat of Isis. So is Trump a peacemaker? Or is he a trembling finger-breadth from pressing the nuclear button?

The President of the United States is the only person in the world with the ability to unilaterally launch a nuclear strike. The executive powers granted to him do not require a second person to confirm the order, and nobody in the US government has the authority to countermand or disobey him. The only thing stopping a President from laying waste to a city full of civilians – and seventy years of tacit agreement not to use nuclear weapons – is an appreciation of the ramifications.

Donald Trump’s instant response to any form of criticism or threat is to attack with full force. America’s early warning systems have malfunctioned and provided erroneous information about an incoming nuclear attack on the USA on many previous occasions. It may be unreasonably optimistic to think that Trump, given a maximum of twelve minutes to make up his mind, would delay a counterstrike long enough to ensure that the information was correct. A nuclear war, however short and brutal, would definitively kill Americans.

Trump can kill Americans without ever triggering a nuclear attack on US soil. The President-Elect’s pronouncements on nuclear proliferation are in direct contradiction to the USA’s official push for nuclear disarmament. Trump seems to think that the development of nuclear weapons by Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia is a good thing. Nuclear strategists know that proliferation is probably the worst possible outcome for prevention of a nuclear war – smaller nations having access to nuclear weapons raises the possibility of a nuclear engagement that could be regarded as “localised”. Until now, the chief reason nobody has used nuclear weapons is because to do so invites global armageddon. A world in which a nuclear weapon can be seriously considered as a military tactic is a world one step closer to their use, but to think that a nuclear engagement could stay localised may be wishful thinking: wars of any stripe have a long history of escalating.

Trump’s aggressive posture towards ISIS and Islamic extremism make Americans a more tempting target for Jihadis and invite further terrorist attacks, both on US soil and wherever American troops may be stationed overseas. Trump’s disdain for NATO reduces the effectiveness of a flawed but necessary deterrent to European wars. And Trump’s America-First approach to military treaties threatens to destabilise regions including Australia’s own region.

To form his administration, Trump has assembled a cadre of conspiracy theorists and right-wing media barons, of redneck generals and billionaire businessmen. Notably lacking are cool heads and long experience in the fields of national security or international diplomacy. The Trump presidency has the potential to be one of ongoing global strife, and the man at the helm is not one to act as a force of moderation. Whether or not the nukes start flying, Donald Trump is likely to get Americans killed.

Let it Burn

Image courtesy of forbes.com

Image courtesy of forbes.com

 

Debt:  16.7 trillion and counting.   Ceiling:  About to be reached.   Default:  Activate Global Panic!

It is coming to the end.  Comet ISON is on its way. We are all going to drown in a world market tsunami that will make the GFC look like a bubble in the bathtub.  The 41% of Americans who thought it’s better to build a bunker than a retirement fund were right!

The impending debt ceiling catastrophe comes from the fact that America’s income only covers $0.60 of every $1.00 spent.  So America needs to borrow 40% of what it is spending just to keep the engine running.  Enter the Tea-party.

With their military pork, farm subsidies, tax cuts and hatred for health care these founding-father fundamentalists are committed in the crusade to prevent the Obamaclypse.  And the debt ceiling is just the spanner they were looking for.  Ask not why it is more important to stop a free market in private health insurance than it is to have a functioning government, the path to hell is paved with logical thinking.  This fight is about faith, true belief, and stopping big government from helping those who should be helping themselves.  Like Jesus told Republican Senator Ted Cruz “get up, brush yourself off, go into town and get a job”.

Self saviour is the American way, and government should stay out of it.  We can take a lesson from these great world leaders; these inventors of liberty, these founders of democracy.  These great guardians of the American language are showing us the way to freedom, and their message is simple.

Let it burn.

Default is the most popular word in the news today.  The IPCC has put the kybosh on the world ending next week via climate change, so now we have to be terrified by something new.  Something that has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE . . .

Actually it has.  America has a great history of bilking its investors.

You may remember that little episode in the 1770’s the Americans like to call the War of Independence.  The French government almost went bankrupt funding Washington and his buddies as a way of distracting the British.  The French figured that the colonial side-show would help them in their effort to crush the growing English empire, and the resulting trade with the colonists would refill the coffers.  The American colonies won, but France lost their Caribbean holdings and Canada.  Then after the war the newly minted Americans figured they would keep on trading with their British ex-evil overlords instead of their French saviours.  France went broke and collapsed into the French Revolution a few years later.

Even the great Roosevelt dropped the bomb, on his own people!  By not paying back money owed on Treasury bonds that were sold to support the war effort in 1917.  Then there are all those times in South America, Cuba and Vietnam where the Yankees have cut and run leaving dry cleaning and drink tabs unpaid.  And let’s not forget that the entire GFC was made possible by Americans failing to pay their sub-prime mortgages.

So now we know that America is a bad debtor, but like a 90’s Dot-com executive they keep on borrowing money and spending on the next big fad.  Under Reagan it was Ray Guns, under George H.W. it was war and under plain old George W. It was two wars.  Though it seems no one is barracking for Obamacare.

What about the rest of us?

Big thing to remember is that America can not default on foreign loans.  Servicing debts is not optional.  Treasury needs to keep creditors trusting in the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. of A.

The debt ceiling only stops America from borrowing more money; it does not stop them from paying it back.

In world GDP terms America only makes up 14-15% of the world economy, and in 2012 they bought a stingy $9.5 billion of Australian goods; coming in at a distant No. 5 behind China, Japan, Korea, and India.  They are no longer the well-fed rich kid we need to be friends with to play with the latest toys, they’re just well-fed.

There won’t be a run on the market either.  No one will be dumping US debt and running away because most of America’s debt is held by Asia and oil-rich Middle Eastern states who have a vested interest in keeping America right where it is.  More than 60% of the $5 trillion that Asian central banks hold is in U.S. bonds and stocks. They don’t have a choice.  They have to keep the investment because the alternative chaos would be considerably more costly.

This means it is mainly Americans who are going to enjoy the trickle-down from roughly $600 billion being withdrawn from their economy.  Federal employees, veterans, teachers, and pensioners can take a pay-cut; they are just leaching off the system anyway.  Small government is just a couple of million pink slips away.  Sure there will be a lot of unhappy people, but the grown-ups in Congress can keep funding for law enforcement, or maybe they can privatise it to make it more efficient.

Remember this is America we are talking about, the markets will provide.  If Jesus says you can get up and get a job, then by golly you can. Jesus is about self-saviour, so just push granny out of the way and remember to grab some low-calorie beer on your way to the bunker.

Days of blunder

Fear and loathing rules in Washington, and it has recently been demonstrated that Americans are unaware that ‘Obamacare’ and The Affordable Care Act is actually the same thing.  In this harsh light of ignorance some see hitting the debt ceiling as the only way of getting america to rein in its expanding waistline.

Failure has a wonderful way teaching us life skills, and sometimes a child needs to be allowed to learn a painful lesson.  While decreased government and consumer spending in America will hurt the rest of the world, it is going to hurt Americans a lot more. Maybe once they start missing out on a piece of the pie Americans will start taking a harder look at national pork-barrel programs.

So let it burn.  Maybe a USA living within its means, instead of high as a kite on debt-leveraged high-fructose corn syrup is just what we need.  We should be praying that America stops borrowing.  Doesn’t that mean there will be more for everyone else?  Without the fat kid in the corner gobbling up all the jam donuts maybe the rest of us will be able to enjoy our coffee break and socialised medicine in peace.

TJ Curtis

Bio

TJ Curtis is a writer and designer who thinks a good recipe for society is tolerance blended with irreverent wit, rational thinking and passionate argument, set to simmer and seasoned to taste.

His many Brilliant careers include illustrator, cook, infrastructure manager, teacher, fashion buyer, butcher, designer, and writer.

History and social impacts of government policy are fertile ground for a humorist, and TJ takes the big picture and squeezes to see if anything enlightening comes out.  When it does he writes it down so that others can share, or at least be entertained.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

The government that doesn’t want to govern

this-school-closed

On 1 October, the Affordable Health Care Act comes into force in the United States. It has split the US down the middle – by some polls, over half of the population hates the Act. Detractors call it “Obamacare” as if to identify it with a single person is to devalue the raft of policy and the nation-changing effects it will have. Republicans, quite simply, hate it outright.

I recently requested clarification from a right-wing, evangelical Christian blog as to why, if the Act is of so much benefit to the poor and downtrodden of America, the right oppose it.

I received in response a bullet list of seven reasons “Obamacare” is a disaster for America. Of these seven objections, one is a moral statement: the argument that some aspects of the law don’t suit all people, but will apply to all people. The argument was made that funding for abortions may be made available through the Act. This is highly arguable, at least in the law as enacted, but fair enough; this seems like a valid objection.

It is entirely legitimate to oppose legislation on the basis of disagreement with the moral outcomes. Two of the objections question the effectiveness of the legislation. Similar to the Australian Coalition flatly stating that Labor, even when in possession of a good idea, cannot turn it into effective action, opponents of the AHCA point to other countries with national healthcare systems and claim that they’re not perfect.

They argue that such systems will be open to abuse, rorting and fraud. You could argue that all systems are open to abuse, rorting and fraud and that this is a good reason to refine the legislation to progressively remove these opportunities; however, it’s not an entirely invalid objection.

And three of the objections boil down to the basic assertion: “We can’t afford it”. The policy will cost the US government, and thus the taxpayer. The US is already debt-ridden. The government ought to concentrate on paying down debt before engaging in further expenditure. Fair enough. That does seem a valid, and eerily familiar, objection. Except…

“We can’t afford it” has become a catch-cry of conservatives the world over. The Affordable Healthcare Act? Can’t afford it. National Broadband Network? Can’t afford it. Public servants? Can’t afford them. Social support and welfare? Can’t afford them.

Government is a case of competing priorities. All governments work within limitations of resources, in terms of finance and political goodwill and legislative time and personnel; every potential advance in society which government needs to enact comes at the expense of other needs. To evaluate whether “can’t afford it” is ever a valid objection to policy advances, let us take a step back and examine what it is that we have a government for.

The human species is gregarious by nature. Since the formation of the first agrarian communities, we have instituted some kind of authority structure. All governments throughout history have entailed a personage, or group of personages, to which the people voluntarily surrender power and authority. The people sacrifice their autonomy, their time, and their taxes, for the sake of the benefit of the whole.

For many centuries, the fundamental purpose of government was law and order, and peace/protection from invasion. In other words, government’s areas of responsibility went no further than setting the legislature and maintaining a standing army which, in addition to its function of protecting the people against hostility from outside, also enforced the law.

Some empires also dabbled in infrastructure. The ancient empire of Rome is famous for its network of roads; after the fall of the Roman empire, significant expenditure on roads would not be seen again in Europe until the 1800s. Rome also built aqueducts to service its wealthy citizens. The Roman empire was centuries ahead of its time, but in modern society, we expect governments to spend some resources on infrastructure. Roads, water, sewerage, power, telecommunications – these things that modern society relies upon are part of the bread and butter of modern government.

Governments of old, however progressive in their approach to infrastructure and law and defense, had no interest in some of the areas we currently consider to be expected parts of civilisation. Rome implemented a “corn dole” for citizens too poor to buy food; the Song dynasty in China (circa 1000 AD) managed a range of progressive welfare programs. Apart from a few stand-out examples such as these, however, social support was nonexistent.

Modern-day welfare came into being in the 19th and 20th centuries. We now consider a certain level of unemployment benefit, disability benefit, aged care benefit, etc. to be a reasonable imposition on society. Before the 1900s, the unemployed and the aged (and unmarried women) were the responsibility of their families, not of society as a whole.

It wasn’t until the 1700s that history saw the first public, secular hospitals being created. Prior to this, health care would have been taken care of by organisations other than government; primarily, in Europe, by the Church and the monasteries. Education is a similar story. Before the emergence of universal education for the populace – as early as the 1700s in some parts of Europe, but not widespread until the 19th century AD – education was reserved for the elite and provided by the churches.

It is important to note that for all of this time, the churches and other bodies responsible for providing these services – education, health care, welfare – were accepted and fundamental parts of society, and society contributed to them regularly and generously. Everybody gave alms to the churches. The monasteries were at the center of landholdings in their own rights and levied taxes upon their surrounds. In a way, these organisations were analogous to government – they received support from society as a whole, and in return, they provided certain necessary services.

In the modern world, the social bodies that would have been responsible for education and healthcare are declining or have died. Catholic schools and hospitals still exist, but not to the extent required to support our population. For the past 200 years governments have taken on these responsibilities, as the world gave way to secular sympathies, and governments took on these responsibilities as key determinants of national progress and success. A healthy, educated populace was the key to national prosperity.

Which brings us to the present. In 2013 we have conservative groups and political parties wanting the government to get out of the way while the market takes care of these things. On infrastructure – for example, the NBN – let it be driven by market forces. Environmental action, likewise: rather than a carbon tax operated by the government, a “direct action” policy will find the emissions abatements efforts that already exist and support them, rather than mandating change from the outside.

We have Republicans and Liberals wanting the government to get out of the business of mandating healthcare because it ought to be driven by market forces. We have governments of all persuasions pursuing privatisation and outsourcing of previously fundamental responsibilities in the name of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. And we have governments preferring to return the community its taxes in the form of tax cuts (to individuals; to business) and infrastructure spending. All of this comes with a wave of the hand and a “we can’t afford [whatever]”.

But can the government really abrogate its responsibilities in these areas? Without other bodies or structures to take on these responsibilities, it’s not ethical to stop providing them. So can the free market be relied upon to do this?

Money to pay for education, fire services, health, broadband, has to come from somewhere. The social structures – primarily church – which previously might have supported these things no longer have the resources or the popular support to be able to take up the slack. Charities around the country are crying out for support and berating the government for not providing enough basic resources/support; something has to give. In this environment, the idea of “small government” doesn’t make sense.

The government has to be big enough to do the things that the monasteries aren’t around to do anymore.

The Republican right in the US and the Lib-Nats in Australia run on a platform of “individual empowerment”. With the exception of a few big-ticket items, where they have specific, active policies – policies towards boat people come to mind – the Coalition’s ideology is to get out of the way, reduce government’s interference in society, reduce the tax burden on individuals and corporations, and let the free market have its way. It believes that everyone will benefit if there are lower taxes and more money moving.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Even in some fictional world where successful humans were altruistic enough to plough their profits back into providing more employment and more productivity, rather than squirreling away the proceeds as profit, we still need these other functions to happen.

And these other functions – hospitals, schools, heavy rail, telecommunications infrastructure – don’t happen at the behest of successful capitalists. They happen because the community needs them and the community as a whole will pay for them.

Individualism is what you have when you don’t have strong governments. Individual empowerment is what you get when the strong ride roughshod over the weak.

Now we seem to be on the verge of voting in a Coalition government which will be forced to cut back on all sorts of areas of service provision and expenditure if it is to meet its overriding goal of bringing the budget back to surplus.

A government whose budget figures and estimates we’ve not been allowed to see, which is promising to repeal several sources of revenue and increase expenditure in several areas, whilst not increasing taxes. Something has to give. It seems certain that “We can’t afford it” will come into force after the election in a big way.

“We can’t afford that” is never a valid excuse. That’s what government is for: to find a way to be able to afford the basic things we need our government for. If that involves raising taxes in an equitable manner, then that’s what you do – it’s exactly why we pay taxes in the first place.

If it involves an imposition on businesses to achieve an end that the community desires – for example, a carbon tax – then that is why we have a government. The whole purpose of government is to place impositions on the strong to benefit the weak and to regulate the individual to offer benefits to the whole.

A government that doesn’t want to do these things is not governing.

A government that doesn’t want to provide these things is a government that doesn’t want to govern.

Scroll Up