Saturday, August 30, 2008

We're Finally Leaving

The US will have all combat troops out of Iraq by next June and all remaining forces out by 2011.

This is obviously great news for everyone interested in stopping the war and it's cost to Americans in lives and tax payer money. The interesting thing about this is how it's being spinned by the Bush Administration. They're keeping media coverage (as best they can) to a minimum, and after all that bluster about not wanting to "cut and run" and that the democrats all want us to lose in Iraq I understand why. I can't imagine voting for any of these people, and I'm at a loss as to why others do.

Sarah Palin

So, McCain's chosen Sarah Palin as his VP. Sarah is best known for being the Governor of Alaska (the State which is the 48th least populated and has the least population per kilometer, .48) for two years, one of which she took off. She's also been the mayor of a small town of 5,000 for five years before that and she won a beauty contest once. If you're not sure if Barack Obama has the experience to be President, why would you choose her as a running mate?

Here are some tidbits about Palin that turned me right off to her;

Sarah Palin doesn't know what the VP actually does.
She supports teaching Creationism in public schools.
She wants to overturn Roe V Wade.
She wants to ban gay marriages.

Of course, my resources are extremely limited as the Republicans choose a conservative who will fully support all conservative stances without actually having a record to run on.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Israel and Human Rights- Bulldozing Houses

Some links:
Human Rights Watch in Israel/Palestine
B'Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Organization)
Wikipedia Summary
Israel Factbook
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Israel is a country couched in controversy, and not without reason. Since 1947 when the UN displaced Palestinians in order to create what we now know as Israel, the violence between the Arab states and the Jewish settlers has escalated. It didn't start there, though, so let's back up to the earliest I can look up on Wikipedia; the Jebusites were settled in Jerusalem (capital of modern day Israel) until 1000 BCE when, according to Hebrew religious records (with some architectural evidence supporting the account) King David invaded and took the City (this is the beginning of Jewish tradition in the region).

300 or so years later, the Assyrians took it over, followed by the Babylonians. 50 years after the Babylonians gained control of Israel Cyrus the Great, a Persian king, allowed the Jews to return and rebuild their lost temple in Jerusalem. Alexander the Great then came along, and the area now referred to as Israel (then called Judah) fell under Greek, Roman then Byzantine dominion until in 638 when the Islamic Caliphate claimed it for their own (this was the start of Islamic control of the area, which did not change until 1947). Richard conquered Jerusalem (and Saladin then took it back), then the Ottomans took control until 1917 when the British took control and partitioned the area into two parts, Israel and Palestine. Well, the Arabs in the area didn't like that at all, so they picked a bit of a fight with Israel and, by most accounts, lost. The newly formed boundaries lasted until 1967 Egypt called for Arabs to "unite against Israel". Well, Israel didn't wait for them do to so, and struck first. After just six days the opposing forces were defeated and Israel ended up with, among other territories, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Sinai Peninsula.

So, that established what are called "the '67 Borders", which pretty much speaks for itself. In 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists massacred a group of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, which was followed by a 1973 war (Syria and Egypt launched an attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the Holiest Jewish Holiday), which lasted only 20 days before Israel emerged victorious. Up until this point, Israel has been, for the most part, blameless.

Now we come to the part where Israel loses the moral high ground. In the early 1980's, Israel begins to take certain measures to stop attacks by Palestinians that go beyond conventional counter-terrorism. The most notable example, as well as the most easily proven, is Israel's house demolition policy. There were mass detentions and deportations (and the legal system in Palestine still isn't the model of Just action) as well, but there are enough examples and enough damage is done by the demolition that I'll try to concentrate on that.

So here's the ideal scenario for Israel; a terrorist attacks either the IDF or (worse) an Israeli civilian. They find the person's house and destroy it, leaving any family members, friends or other relatives homeless. That might not get across the devastation caused so let me explain; the Palestinian people are generally poor. They can't really all afford a home to themselves, so they often share with 4-5 (at least) other occupants. In the summer, Jerusalem can get above 100 (record high is 111.2 degrees) and in the winter it can get below freezing (record low is 19 degrees). So, you're a poor woman with no rights in the middle of the desert in the summer with three children and no husband (assuming he was a terrorist and the IDF doesn't have the wrong house, as it sometimes does, but even if it does Israel doesn't help get the family a new home), and you have no shelter. Assuming you live by finding someone kind enough to take you in, what do you think the rest of your life is going to be? And how about your children, how will they be fed?

You can imagine the hatred it can generate. Those children grew up, and in 1987 started what is known as "the First Intifada" (Arabic for "upheaval" or "shaking off"), a mass Palestinian uprising against Israel. This brought to light on the international level the injustices committed against the Palestinian people and caused many to criticize Israel's policies. Unfortunately, the uneducated Palestinians' violence against the IDF and ignorant racism against Israelis served to divert attention from the reprehensible actions of their enemies.

Well, the First Intifada ended with relatively little Israeli blood shed (160 deaths versus the 2,100 dead on the Palestinian side), but the message was received and Israel stopped bulldozing Palestinian houses. For a while. In 1994 Israel began once again sealing (and later destroying) homes belonging in part to criminals and terrorists. It's not surprising, then, that in 2000 the Palestinians began their Second Intifada.

Once again, as with the First Intifada, the Palestinian people resort to violence. They suicide bomb the IDF, they fire Qassam rockets at Jewish settlers (though this is a bit misleading; they aren't just shooting at civilians, they're shooting at settlers who have taken Palestinian home that were sealed and land that was bulldozed), and general strikes and protests. This lasted until 2006, when a treaty was signed that Hamas (the elected government of the Palestinian people) generally abides by.

Now, take a look at these two studies and what they say; The cycle of violence and Palestinian public opinion in the Second Intifada. Basically, when the Palestinian people attack Israel, Israel responds by killing more Palestinians in the weeks following. When Israel kills real response. The violence against Israel remains a steady anarchic, erratic mess. The Palestinian people don't get intimidated any more; they can't. They can't be deterred by violence any longer, every act of violence simply reinforces in their children the idea that all Israelis are evil, that Israel is the enemy. Not only are Israel's actions inhumane, they're keeping themselves in the senseless cycle of violence.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

McCain Lies

I sent an email out to a friend today. I compiled a list of reasons not to vote for McCain, so I thought I'd post it;

You asked I send an email describing the various lies, racism and poor policy decisions by McCain that are obviously bought and paid for by corporate interests, so I'll try. Please bear with me on the length, however, because with John McCain it's hard to describe everything wrong with him concisely; there's just so much of it.

Here are plenty of examples of his dishonesty with the American people;
John McCain says that he's never voted for a pork barrel bill in his 26 years in the senate; an obvious lie that can be proven here:
John McCain's campaign tells the American public that there's no opposition to his actions on behalf of campaign contributor Bud Paxson, and sends out two letters to the FCC about their vote. Both illegal and deceptive.
John McCain lies about Mitt Romney's voting record on Iraq (this is a very slanted, conservative news site, I know, but it's still verifiable by primary sources, like YouTube).
McCain lies about Obama's alleged "media visit" to wounded troops in Germany (a lie that was then repeated by many major conservative news outlets, with no retraction yet printed).
McCain opposed MLK day as a holiday in Arizona, then lies about it.
McCain says that the oil from off-shore drilling will make gas prices drop in a matter of months; an outright lie that he now acknowledges is a falsehood.
McCain says that every time we cut taxes it raises revenue; an outright lie.
McCain lies about Obama's tax plan and who it will raise taxes for.
McCain says "I'm the only one the special interests don't give any money to," after getting 1.2 million from the telecom industry and 91,000 from Big Oil (Exxon, Chevron, but no small oil companies).
McCain lies about an email from Jack Abramoff during the height of the scandal.
McCain says he won't raise Social Security taxes and criticizes Obama for doing so; then he says he'll raise Social Security taxes.
McCain says that he won't bow to special interest groups by opening offshore drilling, then opens offshore drilling.
McCain says he won't criticize Obama while overseas, then criticizes Obama while overseas
McCain says he's not an expert on economic policy and "need[s] to be educated", then claims to be an expert on economic policy.
McCain claims he has "Supported Every Investigation" in Katrina, but actually voted against the investigations.
McCain calls the Swiftboat ads in 2004
"dishonest and dishonorable", then hires Bud Day onto his campaign team.
McCain calls evolution
"one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have," then speaks for the discovery institute and opposes evolution.
John McCain lies about his stance on the confederate flag.
McCain calls Jerry Falwell "an agent of intolerance", then cozies up to him in 2007.
McCain lies about his stance on windfall profits tax.
McCain says he was never for privatized social security, but just a year earlier he says he's for it.
McCain claims that he never said Iraq would be easy, but he's on tape saying Iraq would be easy.

And last of all:
McCain lies about lying.

On to the racism! So, in 2000, McCain said "I hate the gooks, I will hate them as long as I live." I will grant you that if anyone has a reason to hate based on race, this man has it in spades. The question is, is this kind of racism what we want in a president? Just because it's source is in his torture, it does not mean that it will be any less harmful while he's the president. If this is the man who is going to shape our policy with regards to North Korea, I most certainly do not want him to be racist. If you'd like more information on how racial slurs by the president can hurt the American public, you can look here:

In addition to his lies and racism, his policy stances are incongruous, harmful, and often contradict themselves;
McCain says in 2005 that Gitmo detainees should be released, then criticizes SCOTUS on their ruling of precisely that.
McCain supports privatized sanctions against Iran, despite voting 6 times against them for Apartheid South African (and overriding a veto by Reagan).
McCain repeatedly flips his position on balancing the budget…3 times in a year.
McCain flips his position on the estate tax.
McCain flips his position on tax cuts.
McCain changes his position on torture.
McCain changes his position on warrantless wire taps
McCain calls Obama out for wanting sit-downs with Hamas, after wanting sit downs with Hamas himself previously.
McCain changes position on abortion between April 2007 and May 2008.
McCain changes his position on Cuba.
McCain changes his position on Nuclear Waste.
McCain changes his position on Gay Marriage in 11 minutes.
McCain changes stance on immigration.
McCain stops backing campaign finance reform, one of his signature platforms (or at least it was before he started getting big funding from lobbyists).
McCain takes credit for a GI Bill that he voted against.

So yes, a person can "change their stance," but how often and how many times before we come to realize he has no strength of his convictions?

Universal Health Care

I read and helped edit this defense of UHC that I'd like to post because of how thoroughly it addresses the issue;

There have been a lot of debates and discussions recently, both on this forum and in other venues, about the state of healthcare. Looking at the rising costs of health insurance, and at the growing numbers of the uninsured, many are calling for government intervention, and the institution of a system where care is guaranteed to all - usually described as "universal" healthcare. It's a fascinating topic - the issues involved include humanitarian, financial and ideological ones. Unfortunately, debate on the subject is characterised by a startling phenomenon: one side is right, and the other is completely wrong.

Given the importance of medicine, I feel that it would be useful to clarify this issue. I will explain clearly, and with evidence, why it is that universal healthcare of any sort would be better than the current system in every significant way. If you find yourself disagreeing with this assertion, I ask that you read on before replying, as all conceivable objections will be addressed and resolved.

Why The Current Situation Is Bad
At the moment, healthcare in America is provided mostly by private entities, who charge high fees. These fees can be attributed largely due to the difficulty and expense of the medical profession, and although they are significantly higher ( ) than those of similar nations this difference is only a small portion of healthcare costs. There then exists the health insurance industry, a loose network of corporations that charge individuals or organisations premiums and will pay for their health costs if any are incurred.

Unfortunately, this system has enormous problems. As of 2006, 44.8 million people in America do not have health insurance ( ). Many are unable to afford it, many are denied coverage by insurers who believe that as customers they will not be economical, and others choose not to purchase it. Without health insurance, the up-front costs of health care are impossible for most people to afford. In fact, 50.35% of all bankruptcies were caused, at least in part, by medical fees ( ). In 2001, this was 2,038,549 bankruptcies. Furthermore, health insurance does not fully cover medical expenses. Different insurers and different plans have many exemptions, co-pays, threshholds and other expense-minimising devices. As a result, 62% of those two million bankruptcies occurred despite the debtors having health insurance coverage for the duration of their illness ( ).

As well as failing to provide care, and driving individuals into bankruptcy, the existing system is also exorbitantly expensive. Health care spending is now 15% of U.S. GDP - the highest in the world ( url= ). The costs to businesses, who commonly pay premiums for their employees in lieu of salary, rose by 13.9% in 2003 ( url= ). The annual cost increase has been above inflation since at least 1981. Paying more doesn't result in more value, either - obesity, diabetes, and similar disorders are more common in the United States than anywhere else in the developed world, the U.S. is ranked 72nd in overall health ( url= ) , and life expectancy is below that of 41 other countries ( url= ).

What Is Universal Health Care?
Universal Health Care, or UHC, refers to a wide range of different systems, the common characteristic of which is that a nation's government guarantees all its citizens access to healthcare. Every developed nation (OECD member) in the world, apart from the United States, has a UHC system. There are three main types:

In a fully public system, there is no or little private healthcare, and the health insurance industry is not a significant one. Medical service providers are government employees, and the education of doctors is also subsidised. The most well known example of a fully public system is the original English NHS, although a private sector is now developing in the U.K. as well.

In an optional public, the government provides the same services, but a private health services industry also exists (generally regulated), and . Sometimes health insurers exist, used by people who prefer private services. This is the most common, and examples include Australia and Sweden.

In a subsidised private system, the government pays for health care, but it is provided by private entities. Either the government acts as a health insurer for the populace, or it pays the fees for private health insurers to do so. This is done in Canada.

For the purposes of discussion, I will be assuming the characteristics of an optional public system, like those used in most of Europe. However, the benefits of UHC apply to all of the above types of organisation.

How UHC Will Improve Things
The single largest problem with healthcare in America is that many people don't have it. It's obvious how UHC solves this: by providing it to all citizens directly (or paying for it to be done). By definition, this is no longer a problem under UHC. All developed nations other than the United States make this guarantee to their citizens, and have so far been able to uphold it. The two reasons which make a person uninsurable - insurer decisions and lack of money - will no longer exist.

The second major problem with the current system is its high cost. This can be divided into two parts: individual cost, and government cost - which to the individual shows up as taxation. UHC is inherently cheaper - far cheaper - due to economies of scale, the bargaining position of monopolies with regard to drugs and salaries, reduced administrative costs, and the lack of a profit motive. When it comes to individual health care costs:

According to the World Health Organisation, average American individual spending on healthcare is $3371 per year ( url= ). Since this includes the uninsured and those covered by their employers, actual costs are higher. For comparison:
Australia: $1017
Canada: $916
Sweden: $532
United Kingdom: $397
The first of those is the second-highest in the world - meaning that Americans pay, not including taxes, more than three times as much as citizens of any other nation. This would be somewhat justifiable if they received better healthcare, but again - 28% have no care at all, life expectancy is below all other developed nations, and general health rating is below all other developed nations.
It is commonly assumed that this difference in cost is because under UHC systems, higher taxes are required to fund the system. Not so. As mentioned, UHC is a great deal cheaper than private healthcare, and as a result America's health-related taxation is also the highest in the world. According to the OECD, in 2006, American government spending on healthcare was $2887 per person ( url= ). For comparison:
Australia: $2106
Canada: $2338
Sweden: $2468
United Kingdom: $2372
American healthcare taxes are in fact the highest in the OECD, with France second at $2714. In conclusion, every single UHC system in the world costs less money for individuals, requires lower taxes, and provides better care to more people than the American health care system. By implementing UHC in the U.S., things can only get better.

Frequently Raised Objections
There are many incorrect arguments against the implementation of UHC in the United States. In order to better facilitate discussion, I will explain the errors found in the most common.

"America isn't Europe!", or It Won't Work Here
The argument from American exceptionalism states that what works in Europe will not work in the U.S. It's said that this is because European nations have more people in less space, resulting in less logistical difficulties, and because European government is more competent.

Firstly, not all developed nations are European. The most obvious example that counteracts the logistical argument is Australia, where there are 20 million people in only slightly less space than America's 300 million. This does indeed affect prices, as can be seen by comparing Australia to Sweden or the U.K. - but it doesn't bring them anywhere near the levels currently experienced in America.

The argument that American government is uniquely incompetent, and cannot do things that every other nation in the world can do, is simply nonsense. Not only has America, and American government, achieved many things that other countries have not, America has so many resources and the improvement in care and cost from moving to UHC is so large that even with incredible inefficiencies it would still be a good idea.

"It is immoral to force me to pay for others' healthcare."
You are already paying for others' healthcare. Furthermore, you are paying far more than you would be under UHC. The U.S. government incurs massive costs from paying hospital fees when ER visitors have no money, and from the limited coverage that it provides, which cannot take advantage of economies of scale and which has to subsidise corporate profit.

As demonstrated above, U.S. taxes devoted to healthcare are the highest in the world. Even if you choose not to have health insurance, under the current system, you are still paying more for others' healthcare than you would be paying for theirs plus your own under UHC.

"This is socialism."
It is not socialist to recognise that there is a service the free market is inefficient at providing, and to decide it should better be provided by the government. Even the most staunch libertarian admits that there are some services in this category, such as national defence.

Secondly, it is irrelevant whether this is a "socialist" policy; it's effective. It costs less and provides better care to more people, and as a result is used literally everywhere else in the entire world. Those who want to ensure that society remains ideologically committed to market capitalism need to look for other issues, as if they cling to this one they will only end up providing evidence [i]against[/i] their position.

"I don't want more government bureaucracy."
UHC will involve much less bureaucracy than is commonly assumed, as it can replace the existing partial systems like Medicare and also the plethora of state-specific programs. Regardless, the lives and money saved are more important than any potential expansion of the state.

"Why don't we try making the system even more private instead? That might help."
It might. However, there's no evidence to suggest it, and many reasons to presume it wouldn't. By its nature, the less publicly-supported a system, the more people will be unable to purchase health services.

They're the same reasons the current system doesn't work.
- It doesn't provide care to all people, because it's based on profit
- It costs a lot, because it doesn't have efficient unified administration and it doesn't have a national risk pool (and because it's based on profit)
- It doesn't provide preventative care, because - again - it's based on profit
No private system is going to be able to address those things; a monopoly could address the second point, but could then charge monopoly rates.

The only potential gain would be reduced costs due to some sort of market mechanism, and in practice this has never occurred; every private healthcare system that has ever existed in world history has proved inefficient and been replaced by public systems, and given the demonstrable gains that have resulted the U.S. must follow.

"Doctors will be paid less."
They probably will. In nations with UHC, doctors often earn less - for example, U.S. doctors earn 30% more than Canadian doctors - but this isn't an inherent problem. It is still one of the highest-paying professions in the world, and there are many other ways of attracting skilled people to medicine - such as subsidising their education.

It is sometimes claimed that doctors paid less in a country with UHC will instead go elsewhere where they can be paid more, but once the U.S. has UHC there will not be an elsewhere to go.

"Medical research is funded by the payments of the rich in the current system, and will be reduced."
It is not true that most medical research is done in the United States. In 2000, U.S. research spending was $46 billion, but European spending was also $43 billion ( ). And although U.S. research spending doubled in the last decade, the funding's efficacy has actually decreased ( url= ).

Secondarily, if the option for private healthcare still exists - and there is no reason why it should not - there will still be people choosing to pay more for a higher quality of care, faster service, et cetera. Their profits will still be reinvested in the development of new drugs, equipment and understanding of the human body, as they still are in nations with UHC today. Even in the United States, private spending accounts for only 57% of research spending ( ).

Third, the funding of medicinal research by pharmacueticals is not in any way indicative of the effectiveness or results of the research. Take AIDS. It has an extreme amount of funding in America, but Zidovudine, the groundbreaking antiretroviral, was invented as a cancer treatment under a NIH state-funded grant, Didanosine, the second antiretroviral, which was marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb was produced by a state-funded team at Arizona State and modified by the federal NCI. The same would go for Zalcitabine, the third, which was instead licensed to Hoffman LaRoche, because the NCI is forbidden from marketing drugs. The fourth antiretroviral ( Stavudine ) was invented in Belgium, at the Riga Institute. Even the really complicated stuff like protease inhibitors, the basic feasability and molecular biology research is pioneered by Government Funded Interests.

"With the option of private healthcare, the rich will 'opt out' and costs will go up."
This isn't necessarily true at all; although private healthcare is usually allowed in UHC nations (for good reasons), it doesn't have to decrease the taxes paid by all to support the public system!

"Other countries fix drug prices, so the US has to pay more for drugs."
This is another common misconception. U.S. healthcare does not include higher pharmaceutical spending than other countries; it's around the average or even slightly lower. From the OECD ( ):
Canada: 17.7%
Germany: 15.2%
Iceland: 13.3%
Australia: 13.3%
US: 12.4%
Sweden: 12%
Ireland: 11.6%

In Conclusion
Thank you for reading. To those who were not previously supporters of UHC, I apologise if anything seemed condescending, but there's no shame in being wrong due to not having all the facts or having been misled. If anyone has questions feel free to ask, and hopefully we can now discuss what sort of UHC system ought to be implemented or how the political will for it can be gathered, rather than being bogged down by misconceptions about its desirability.