04 July 2006

Consumer Report: Socialized Medicine

Growing up in Canada, I was oblivious to the fact that there were alternatives to many of the government programs that were an integral part of life. Government medical care was one such service. As I child I had little need for medical care, except when I broke bones or such similar childhood mishaps, which wasn't often. Such minor problems were quickly and cheerfully treated. As I grew older and more aware, I witnessed friends receive contaminated blood because the Canadian government had decided to save money by not testing for HIV and Hepatitis long after blood screening was systematic. Later, I visited Cuba to discover first hand that many basic ailments - including broken limbs - sometimes involve weeks of waiting lists to receive treatment, often without painkillers. Here in the UK, I had multiple first- and second-hand experiences where basic care was appalling. On one occasion, for example, the admitting nurse in the emergency ward perfunctorily asked me to wait while she sat and ate a sandwich for half an hour while I writhed in pain before her - before admitting me or even asking me why I had come to the emergency room. In the UK, it is not uncommon to wait for months, even years to receive an MRI and subsequent surgury or treatment. In the US, such waiting lists would be considered inhumane.

For those who consciously choose to live under socialized medicine, I can respect the trade-offs that they implicitly accept with that decision. If every one is to receive free care, then it must be rationed as there are limited resources. They are effectively accepting mediocre universal health insurance with premiums paid indirectly and disproportionately through taxation instead of having the option of choosing their own insurance provider. My concern lies rather with those who criticize private medical systems, even ones that are becomingly increasingly socialized and regulated like that of the USA. For all of its imperfections, I have received more prompt, friendly and effective service in the US under private insurance than I have experienced under various socialized systems.

True Poverty = Starvation

There is some confusion regarding definitions used in discussing poverty in industrialized countries. Proponents of minimum wage laws and welfare refer to the number of people considered to be "in poverty" based on some arbitrary definition of a poverty line. Aside from discussing whether their proposed policies help or hinder "the poor" - usually, legislation to help the poor has quite the opposite effect of its intent - I take issue with the basic definition of poverty.

Poverty is fundamentally a question of basic human needs. Truly poor people are not obese, they're under-nourished. In America, like most industrialized country, there are relatively few who are truly poor. The very fact that there are so few truly poor people in countries which have better-defined property rights and more capitalism is itself a strong hint as to the true solution to poverty (http://fte.org/capitalism/introduction/). While it is not uncommon to hear disparaging comments about the alarming degree of poverty in America - including rising obesity - I would entreat such commentators to remember that the poor do not include the fat.

08 June 2006

another lost cause: Canada in Afghanistan

The Canadian government has just decided to keep throwing good money (and people) into the growing sink-hole that is Afghanistan. It’s all well and good to want to help other countries (as Canada prides itself in doing with peace-keeping), but there is no point in expending precious resources when the effort has no realistic prospect of success.

It’s been 4 years since the over-throw of the Taliban, but Afghanistan has little to show for it. The national armed forces are still useless, the government is rife with corruption, and reliant on war-lords. All the while opium production, and the narco-economy, has become ever more firmly entrenched. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Taliban is actually posing a bigger threat today than it did when they were originally deposed in 2002.

The die is already cast: the central Afghan regime is growing increasingly weaker, as war-lords and the Taliban seize tighter control of the regions. The Afghan military and policy are degenerating even further (hence the reliance on regional thugs). Reconstruction efforts are continuing to shrink as the security situation deteriorates.

So remind me, please, just what Canada hopes to accomplish by continuing to have its soldier’s killed in Afghanistan with car bombings and sniper attacks? Is it to build Canadian prestige abroad, by demonstrating the nation’s ability to project force? Maybe this is just a way to get the US off Canada’s back for its refusal to get involved in Iraq (another futile foreign imbroglio).

Unfortunately, Canada has a long history of involving itself in foreign conflicts for all the wrong reasons. Canadadian politicians viewed the Boer, and both world wars, as great opportunities to burner world prestige, and gain greater independence from the motherland (i.e. the United Kingdom). I am sure that made all those mothers who lost their sons at the Somme just thrilled that they were able to contribute to Canadian independence.

At the very least, Canadian policy makers should be asking themselves the very realistic question as to what criteria they are looking for to convince them that a withdrawal from Afghanistan is necessary. Would Canada withdraw after 8 years of peace-keeping if the country isn't any better off? What about increasingly higher Canadian casualty rates over a couple years?

Whatever the reasons for Canada being in Afghanistan, it will all be for not when the Canadian forces eventually withdraw, their tails between their legs, letting Afghanistan tear itself even further apart. But I won’t blame the lowly Canadian military, they are just dealing with an impossible task foisted on them by timid leaders who don’t know how to say “no”. Clearly there must be some point at which Canada's leaders would decide to cut their losses and bring the troops home. Let's just hope it is sooner rather than later.

02 June 2006

don't punish the soldiers

The US administration is at it again, punishing the lowly soldier for war crimes that were the inevitable result of the precarious situation these patriotic warriors were placed in. The prosecution of marines for a civilian massacre in Haditha (Iraq), will result in the same hollow justice found in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

Don't blame the soliders. They have been placed in an impossible position, fighting for their lives in a hostile country where everyone is a possible enemy. It only makes sense that there will be over-reactions, now and again, with the tragic loss of innocent life. The people who deserve the real responsibility are the leaders who put these soldiers in a no-win war, that destroys the psyche.

No matter. The US administration will get it's mug-shots of disgraced marines to parade in the media, allowing it to demonstrate it's commitment to justice for the Iraqi people.

Of course, no one will ever comment that the real solution to avoid future such civilian massacres by US troops is to get the hell-out-of Dodge, and leave Iraq to it's own devices. Sure, Iraq will descend into messy civil war, and cause great instability (and possibly terrorism) if the US withdraws, but the presence of US forces isn't making things better and only delays the inevitable.

15 March 2006

only one choice for US in Iraq: cut and run

There comes a time in every war where the the eventual outcome is already decided, it's just that the participants haven't realized it yet. Such a pre-determined outcome is now obvious for the American nation building exercise in Iraq.

Instead of greatly increasing troop strength, and taking back control of a powerless (and partisan) local government, the United States has instead chosen to hunker down and pass the responsibility for containing communal violence to the incompetent native Iraq security forces. If the US really wanted to achieve a victory, it would have committed 500,000 to 1,000,000 troops on the ground in Iraq, and taken full responsibility for administering the country for many years, rather than trying to throw some make-shift government together, and partisan native security forces dominated by local militias.

If the US isn't willing to do what it takes to win in Iraq, then the only alternative is to accept defeat. We already know the US will cut-and-run, we just don't know the date.

The only thing President Bush's exhortations for patience, and perserverence, will accomplish is a greater loss of money and blood.

True, the consequences of American defeat in Iraq are not pretty. US prestige will take quite a beating, and the middle-east will be an even more chaotic, and dangerous place. Iraq could very easily descend into a bloody civil war without the American presence, keeping things only at a slight boil.

But these terrible consequences will happen just the same whether the US pulls out in 4 years, or 3 months. So why wait?

Let Iran have it's nukes

I just had to laugh, reading that the US administration is warning Iran of "serious consequences" for pursuing nukes.

What are they going to do? Shake a finger at the Ayatolla? Declare Iran to be in the "axis of evil" in a State of the Union address? Wait.... they already did this.

Who do they think they are kidding? There is NO way the UN security council is ever going to pass serious sanctions (i.e. that would stop the flow of Iranian oil). And it is also inconcievable that anyone would undertake military action against Iran (i.e. because it would be ineffective, and US politicians would anger voters and be turfed from office). Not as if sanctions have ever worked, but that's a different subject.

The US administration should just shut up and drop the whole issue of Iranian nuclear development before it looks even sillier than it already does. All these toothless admonishments only serve to underline how little influence, and power, the US has in this situation.