Archive | August, 2008

Meanwhile in the rest of América

25 Aug

While the rest of you are tuning into the pageantry of the Democratic National Convention and the BarackMcCainBidenfest that is American news these days, I was going to point out two important stories occurring in other parts of América.

The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, won a recall election instigated by his enemies in a landslide with over 60% of the vote. Evo (as he is known) is the first indigenous head of state since Emperor Atahualpa was overthrown by the Spanish despite the fact that Indians represent the majority of Bolivia’s population. Evo came from an extremely humble background. His family members were peasants and miners, and he was a trade union leader for coca leaf growers.

However, the people of Santa Cruz and other provinces don’t care too much for this indio government made up of maids, Indian intellectuals, leftists, and social movement leaders. They are pushing for “state’s rights” (autonomy) for their rich provinces. It just so happens that those areas are loaded with natural gas, huge plantations, and white people: natural gas that Evo nationalized to share with the poor majority and plantations he wants to break up and redistribute to the landless (most land in Bolivia, like much of Latin America, is highly concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of farmers). Naturally, these white folk refuse to share their riches with poor, Incan and Aymaran Indian majority and want to control their borders to keep out the Indians from moving down from the Andes and keep their gas money to themselves.

To say cruceños are racist is hardly an understatement. I spent a month in Santa Cruz in 2005. When I introduced myself as an “indio” I got the dirtiest looks I ever seen post-9/11. “De la India” brought relief to the stranger. “Oh… from India? The indios…. they are a dirty people. We are good people… descended from European blood. Santa Cruz… is not Bolivia. La Paz is another world.” And my favorite, “Evo Morales is a campesino sonofabitch.”

Will Bolivia split apart again like it has so many times in its sad past?

Meanwhile in Paraguay, a country completely forgotten by the outside world, a new president was inaugurated. The “red bishop” Fernando Lugo defeated the dictatorial Colorado Party after six decades in power. A Guarani-speaking former Roman Catholic bishop as president interested the international media enough that I saw Paraguay in the news for the first time I can remember. This brings another left-wing government to power leaving all of South America a tint of red with the exception of Colombia.

This new political unity has been leading to a possible United States of South America. Think I’m joking? Venezuela kickstarted a Bank of the South to replace the influence of Washington’s World Bank and International Monetary Fund while an international regional parliament will sit in Bolivia and a secretary general will reside in Ecuador. Mercosur will unite the nations into a single market like the European Union, Telesur competes with CNN and the BBC, and a Petrosur could combine state oil companies into a single OPEC of South America.

How come no one mentions that stuff in the media?

Issue XIX: The New Russia

14 Aug

I’d be lying if I said I understood what was going on between Russia and Georgia, but I’d like to take the occasion of the war to write about what is going on Russia these days.

There is a new Russia in the world now.  Vladmir Putin announced that Russia will once again take its place among the great nations of the world.  With their huge oil reserves, few will argue back.

The new privileged leaders are the outrageously wealthy Russian oligarchs rather than Communist Party members or members of the Tsar’s court.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, the government began selling off companies that the government owned.  First they sold 50% of their shares by giving vouchers to workers that could be redeemed for stock.  During the economic instability of the 1990s, workers (who didn’t understand capitalism very well) traded their vouchers for food or money when their bosses wouldn’t pay them.  In possibly the greatest swindle in history, a few well-connected families bought up most of Russia’s economy for dirt cheap.  Then when the government was in debt and needed loans, the oligarches lent Russia (and Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign) money with Russia putting down the other 50% of state companies as collateral.  Yeltsin was re-elected, defaulted on the debt, and gave the oligarchs the other half of Russia’s economy.  See this article to learn about Roman Abramovich’s scam of Russia for more information.   

The result?  There are now more billionaires in Moscow than any other city in the world and, to quote National Geographic, millionaires are as common as pigeons, and nightclubs are so exclusive and expensive not even millionaires and models can cross the rope.  London has seen an explosion of its Russian population with ultra-rich New Russians moving in, buying up mansions, estates, butlers, jewelry, private jets, and art with a flamboyant and drunken air that the Brits find distressing.  It’s kinda like a Texas oilman in the 80s walking into an elite New York City party.  He’s loud, just earned his money, and doesn’t follow the unwritten rules of “polite” society. 

Meanwhile the Russian countryside dies, church and state re-marry, and Russian life expectancy falls into the toilet with the privatization of healthcare. 

Despite the appearances of upheaval and revolution in Russian history, Russia always seems to go back towards a strongly stratified society with a single man calling all the shots and the vast majority of people are unthinking peasants who love vodka.  Democracy is nonexistent, and “politics” consist of member’s of the king’s court fighting among themselves for who is the most favored of the dear ruler.  Russia went from a czar who claimed sponsorship of God and the Orthodox Church to Communist dictatorship (“the Court of the Red Tsar” as one book on Stalin is titled) to a religious president-prime minister who the Cossacks want to crown king again.  TIME didn’t joke when they titled their cover story on Putin “A Tsar is Born.”  He even has his own youth wing cult called Nashi.   

In George Orwell’s 1984, the main character reads a banned book that explains society and the formation of the totaltarian state.  In “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” (the title of the banned book), the main character learns that society is divided between High, Middle, and Lower classes.  In revolutions, the ambitious Middle Class seeks to overthrow the High Class to become the new High Class.  To do this they need the support of the Lower Class who stay Lower Class even after the revolution.  And no matter how many times revolution takes place in history, society like a “gyroscope” settles right back into those three divisions. 

I wonder if Putin ever got his hands on that book. 

The government stole my laptop

11 Aug

If the actions and inactions of Homeland Security did not infuriate you enough, I’d like to draw your attention to the recent attacks on privacy at airports.  The government now admits that it has been taking people’s laptops from their luggage and searching and/or copying them without suspicion or probable cause.

Cell phones, digital cameras, and PDAs are all subject to search and seizure without a warrant.  If you travel, and this pisses you off, I’d suggest you click here to complain to Congress.

Spread the word people.

Issue XVIII: My Case for Universal Health Care

5 Aug

Sometime earlier this year, I got into an argument with someone about health insurance, and what I thought should happen for health care in America. I wrote an e-mail to this person showing him what I thought, but more importantly WHY and what facts I used to come to those conclusions.

Why Universal Health Care? If something is cheaper, more efficient, and better, why not? Here is my primer and reading list for you guys based on that e-mail.

American Medical Student Association – Universal Health Care Page
and the “Case for universal health care” adds this paragraph which I think think is key.

“The important point to take away from Thorpe’s study is that universal health care, coupled with cost controls, can save money while expanding health care access to everyone. If universal health care simply expanded access, the net expenditure would be large. The only way to pay for this expanded access is to institute cost controls such as administrative simplification”

New York Review of Books Paul Krugman article
this also explains why “making better health coverage” for an insurance company is not necessarily in the interest of the insurance company

“The cost advantage of public health insurance appears to arise from two main sources. The first is lower administrative costs. Private insurers spend large sums fighting adverse selection, trying to identify and screen out high-cost customers. Systems such as Medicare, which covers every American sixty-five or older, or the Canadian single-payer system, which covers everyone, avoid these costs. In 2003 Medicare spent less than 2 percent of its resources on administration, while private insurance companies spent more than 13 percent.”

Physicians for National Health Plan

Medicare overpayments show the public health insurance is more efficient

According to both the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) — Congress’ expert advisory body on Medicare payment policy — and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Medicare is paying private insurers 12 percent more than it costs to treat the same beneficiaries under the regular Medicare program. The overpayment works out to about $1,000 per beneficiary per year, on average. This disparity costs Medicare billions of dollars each year.
As a result of these findings, MedPAC has unanimously recommended that Congress “level the playing field” by paying the insurance companies the same amounts it pays under the regular Medicare program. A paper issued by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in 2004 made the same recommendation. (See the box on page 5.) CBO has reported that this step would save $54 billion over five years and $150 billion over ten years.

American College of Physicians – “What the United States Can Learn from Other Countries

The American College of Physicians, which represents all doctors who practice adult medicine (internal medicine) and its subspecialties, recently came out for universal single-payer health care. This is the article announcing their change in political objectives. The ACP article is amazing in its scope and it shows how administrative costs are highest in the United States, less in multipayer systems, and lowest in universal single payer health care systems.

There is a lot of information around there repeating my basic contention that if everyone were forced to pay into a government Medicare for all, administrative costs which seem to eat between 13-30% of private insurance costs, would fall to the much lower numbers of 2-10% for administration I have seen. That excess money can be used to cover all people or reduce costs or fund prevention. If universal health care has been repeatedly proven to work in the rest of the OECD, what makes America so darn different?

People haven’t been given the basic facts on this debate. I just want to show people the facts, and they can make their own philosophical conclusions. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.