Monday, November 5, 2012

First Tuesday in November

It's an incredibly important day tomorrow. It's so important that the whole country stops. If only for 3 minutes, but for many it's a day off to go to the races. Yes, tomorrow is Melbourne Cup Day, the richest horse race in the world.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the Pacific Ocean an inconsequential country is having an election tomorrow. This country tends to consider itself really important, uses bullying tactics on alot of other countries around the world, doesn't really give a shit about anyone's interests but it's own, and it's people are one of the most parochial the world over. They say less than 15% own a passport, and the only place they've ever travelled outside their borders is to some small tropical islands to their south (apparently they don't need a passport for that) where they stay in air conditioned condos and don't really have much to do with the locals.

Now the trouble with this country is that it is such a media tart! Anything that happens over there and we hear all about it. I don't mean natural disasters and the like, but detailed following of an election campaign between two rich guys to be the "Leader of the Free World"!

The trouble with being an outsider, in particular one from a British ex colony, is I just don't get America. It seems to run on the idea that everyone works hard for a living and that if you don't, well tough titties. That the market will sort that out. That government isn't to be trusted, it shouldn't tell you what you can and can't do, and it certainly shouldn't interfere in the money making that can be made by the private sector, and in particular shouldn't interfere with health care. This I have a huge problem with. In America, if you have a well paid job then you usually have health insurance, but many casual and lower paid jobs you're on your own. If you don't have a job, there's no guarantee that the government will help you, and the fact is that if you're poor, you have more health problems than a rich person. It really does appal me that people die in America from diseases because they can't afford treatment. I mean I know that happens in poor developing countries....

Now the problem with business running health care, is that costs get blown out. The US pays more than any other country in the world for medicine for instance, whereas a regulated system like Australia pays the least. Every Australian has access to free health care in hospitals, regardless of income, and the government restricts the costs also. But there's still a private sector, where the costs are approx 2.5 times the public sector, yet the quality of care is not appreciably different. In fact private health cover in Australia only gives you a private room and a better meal, and a shorter waiting time for your elective operation. That's all you get for all those out of pocket extra costs. The best specialists and researchers will work in both systems, with the majority of their work in the well funded, university affiliated teaching hospitals. Of course everyone complains that they need more money, but there's no evidence that our health statistics in Australia are worsening as a result of poor health care. And if you're sick, you don't die because you can't afford the treatment.

In America, as I said, the market runs health care. The insurance companies decide who and how much, not the patient, not the referring doctor. And if you're not insured but aren't bottomed out derelict, bad luck. I have no idea about the quality of care within the public sector, I'm assuming it is quite good, but it is only available for some, not all.

The current presidential incumbent tried to introduce universal healthcare which as a concept is a total no brainer. However, it does appear to me that some people didn't actually agree that a rich country like America should give people that. I personally think that's reprehensible, and anyone who thinks that should maybe be drowned or something! Sorry!

On the other hand, I can certainly understand opposition to the cost of it. Remember, this is a country that seems to have a major aversion to paying any other tax besides sales tax, and yet somehow wants to have services like a big mother of an international war machine defence force, well maintained roads for their gas guzzlers, subsidised fuel too, shall I go on? I would imagine that trying to retrofit a universal healthcare system onto an inefficient, money guzzling private health care sector would be a nightmare, and yes it would appear that it would cost a squillion!! And who's gonna pay for that? Certainly not American tax payers who don't believe in "big government", whatever the fuck that is!

I only have to look in my own backyard to concede that the three levels of government we have in Australia are in some areas excessive, with needless duplication, dog fights over funding, huge wastes on consultants, government committees etc etc. Not to mention the fact that with our over regulation we have become a nanny state, where individuals expect the government to come up with the solutions to all our problems. For instance, in Australia the mining companies seem to think it's the government's job to train workers to work on its mines! Why the fuck can't they spend some money training them themselves, especially given the huge profits they're making. On the other hand, I love the American attitude to problem solving, the entrepreneurial, can do attitude where business and the private sector comes up with its own solutions, not always for the greater good though...

Back to healthcare. I'm no economist, but if the US government was able to control the health sector, then they could also control the price. This would make it cheaper for everyone in the long run, once the government had reconciled between the past and the future. But with big business, OK read big fat pharma corporations, standing to lose out big time, there is no way that a country like the US will get universal healthcare. Of course a financial meltdown and people out of jobs isn't going to encourage punters to pay more taxes to fund something either. But, this outsider believes that while you let the top end of town decide who lives and dies, while you don't have the balls to put your hand in your pocket and say "hey! this matters, this is important, maybe just sometimes we ought to trust government to get this right and pay a bit more". But you won't, because Americans have a mindset that I just don't get.

Ah the land of the free. The world's greatest democracy. Bullshit!! With less than 65% of eligible voters likely to vote (estimates are that 90 million people won't vote), you've got to wonder how democratic it is when 40% of people are so disenfranchised that they don't engage in the political process. That's alot of people that could make a big difference either way.

I live in one of the few countries in the world where voting is compulsory. Yes, the democratic process isn't voluntary, it's expected. Remember we're a nanny state right? I'm a huge supporter of this particular standpoint though, because it means that everyone of eligible voting age is going to turn up on election day and vote. If they don't they get a fine of $20, which some people who choose to not get involved can pay to absolve themselves of their democratic responsibilities. The rest of us turn up and vote. Rich, poor, young, old, whatever.

What this means is that although certain sections of Australian society are also disenfranchised, they have voting power. It means politicians have to take the poor, the indigenous, the marginalised into consideration if they want to gain or stay in office. Sure there is potential for corruption, but I'd argue that our political system is less corrupt than the US system when it comes to fundraising and kickbacks. And in the US, if you're in a community that doesn't vote, you think the politicians are going to even bother campaigning in your area? No point right?

I'd also argue that compulsory voting probably forces people to follow politics a bit more, and I'm yet to meet more than a handful of people who vehemently oppose "being forced to vote". There's always going to be donkey voters, those who invalidate their vote by scrawling abuse over the voting paper, and those who refuse to turn up, but I doubt they would account for more than 10% of all voters. Everyone else has their democratic say, feels proud that they've said it, and can spend the next four years complaining bitterly on Alan Jones' talkback radio show that they "didn't vote for that bitch!" Now that's democracy!

So tomorrow, the powerful and the educated and informed of America will vote. As will the rednecks, the hardliners, the extremists, and all those politically aware. The rest, particularly those who haven't succeeded in the great American dream, who've maybe been hit hard by the financial crisis and don't believe their vote will make a difference, will stay at home. Won't exercise their democratic right, won't tell Obama what they think of his presidency, won't have a say about who runs the place for the next four years. It's sad, and it ain't democracy.

Back in Australia, nanny state, free healthcare, compulsory voting, financial stability, strong currency, great weather, we're gonna put on the fancy dress and hat, guzzle some champagne, and have our yearly bet on the horses.


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