Doctor and activist


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Category: International

Congress Impeaches Trump- What is Next? 14/1/21

Congress, the lower house of the US Parliament has quickly voted to impeach Trump for false claims of election fraud and his part in inciting the storming of the US Congress. That is today.

Tomorrow in 50 State Capitals there will be demonstrations by Trump supporters carrying guns.  This vote will not make them happy.  It is hard to believe that there will not be violence somewhere and that there will not be deaths.  I would not like to be a policemen in the front line of controlling these armed demonstrators.

After the demonstrations the Senate, the upper house, which has even numbers of Democrats and Republicans with only the casting vote of the Democrat speaker will consider the impeachment.  My understanding is that to stop Trump standing again, a two-thirds majority is needed, so a third of Senate Republicans would have to support the motion.  If the demonstrations turn ugly, will they?

The other question is whether the Democrats will bring it on immediately.  The inauguration of the new President Biden is in 6 days, on 20/1/21.  The nature of this ceremony was likely to be hugely modified by COVID, but now there is a new security dimension.  Biden will also want to have his legislative agenda pushed forward, as there is a huge demand for action in many areas, and impeaching a soon-to-be-ex-President, or an actual ex- President may seem an act of petty revenge, particularly if it is delayed.  Biden needs to be seen to be bringing the US together and getting on with the job, but he is unlikely to let the issue go.

The next few days will be interesting, even by 2020 standards.

www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/10-house-republicans-voted-to-impeach-trump-heres-what-they-said

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US Election Aftermath 8/1/21

All the commentators are saying that Trump has no case and that the US election was properly run and the result is correct.  No doubt they are right as far as they go.

But we might ask why people are so upset that they will storm the Capitol and make the US look like a tin pot third world rabble, where police line up to stop raging demonstrators and shoot a few.

Many years as a young child I went to the first version of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ with my mother.   There is scene in that with a huge rally with banners, shouting, festivities and people squirting each other with hoses.  I asked my Mom, ‘What are they doing?’.  She replied, ‘They are having an election, son’.  I said, ‘That is not how you have elections’.  She said. ‘It’s how they do it over there’.

It has always stuck on my mind.  She regarded the US as not actually a civilised country.  At that time we watched Westerns where they had shoot outs and wars with the baddies a.k.a Indians.  Later she explained that they carried guns and had no health system for poor people.  When my parents retired they went on a trip to the USA and were held up at gunpoint at their motel in Los Angeles by men who needed money for drugs, which tended to prove her point.

This morning on  Radio National singer/songwriter Tori Amos told of how as an aspiring artist she played in bars and heard how the powers behind the throne arranged judicial appointments such that there was a court decision to allow unlimited money into political donations without the source of it being clear. 

Looking at the choices of president facing the US electors last time, there was Trump, the anti-Establishment TV reality host v. Hillary Clinton, an existing Establishment figure. The progressive voice of Bernie Sanders had been eliminated. This time there was Trump with his failed rhetoric and COVID non-policies against Biden, an existing Establishment figure.  Sanders had again been side-lined.  So, yes the count was correct, but how much use is this to the common person, whose job is no longer secure and whose income has not risen for decades? 

Inequality has been rising apace. Everyone may be aware of this, but some are more aware than others, some are much more affected than others, and some want to do much much more about it than others.

The vote count and procedures may be correct, but the system is not delivering a fair outcome.  Taking jobs from US workers to ones in China or elsewhere allows importers to make supernormal profits, and this process, which amounts to the undoing of colonialism where the raw materials came  from overseas and were processed in the First World will not be complete until all the world’s workers are equal.  In the meantime, the poor in the First World get a lot poorer and the rich, initially in the First World, but now elite as much by class as  by nationality, get richer (as Marx had predicted).

The Trump demonstrators are wrong about the election, but not so wrong if you talk about the system and their place in it.  Sanders may have had a solution, Trump never did.  The US elite have avoided confronting the issue so far, but it is still there, and will be ongoing.

Here is Bob Carr, ex-NSW Premier and ex- US Foreign Minister writing about how the problem will not go away.  He is less specific on why.

www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/capitol-chaos-is-just-the-first-act-the-republican-party-is-shattered-and-civility-is-not-coming-back-20210107-p56sdw.html

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Assange has Avoided Extradition to the USA for now. 5/1/21

But Judge Baraitser accepted most of the US government’s arguments that journalism could be espionage, that he would get a ‘fair trial’ in the USA. and that his extradition would have been legal, though political crimes are supposedly excluded from the extradition agreement. He has not actually been freed, and one might reasonably ask why he is being held at all, since the trumped up Swedish rape case is no longer being pursued. There is also a possible appeal from the US government, at a time when Trump is on his last legs and looking for publicity and a legacy.


Julian Assange is still in danger from COVID in Belmarsh prison. It is hard to see anything other than the British, US and Australian Establishments trying to destroy him, if not by COVID, then simply psychologically. One shudders to think what his mental state will be after being locked up for a decade with no substantial charge and having tried to do good. ‘All journalists beware!’ is the message.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56130.htm

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Veterans’ PTSD costs $241 million 3/1/21

Some time ago. I was driving through Western Sydney and saw a huge billboard for army recruitment.  An interesting and challenging job, training for a trade etc.  I then stopped in a supermarket and there was a much smaller ad for a charity that helped Veterans who were victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I wondered why they needed a charity when the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs has a much larger budget per patient than anyone else.

I asked a clinical psychologist friend of mine about this.  The psychologist had a good practice and admitted that a lot of work came from ex-Veterans, commenting nervously that almost all the Veterans had PTSD, but that it was a closely guarded military secret.  I was not surprised.  I had read ‘Exit Wounds- One Australian’s War on Terror’ by John Cantwell, the ex-commander of the Australian forces in Afghanistan.  He had PTSD and took himself off the short-list to be the chief of Australian defence to go into a psychiatric hospital for treatment.  He wrote in 2013 that the war in Afghanistan could never be won and that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  Troops are still there, presumably until the Americans all leave.

In 2019 I went to a pub dinner with a group I knew vaguely at a hotel in Kings Cross.  I had arrived late from work and as I moved to the end of our table, a man sitting alone on the next table moved his pack so that I could get in. I nodded thanks.  My group said a brief ‘hullo’ and went on with a conversation about people I did not know, so I remained a little detached.  After a while the man on the next table stood up and asked me in a broad Scottish accent if I would mind looking after his pack while got another beer.  He was unshaven and looked very dejected, perhaps in his early forties in age but his clothes were new.  I moved his pack so that it was more directly in my line of sight, and noticed that it was a state of art pack, perhaps a military one.  When he returned I asked him what part of Scotland he was from.  (This is always a good opening line for Scots as they hate being asked what part of England).  He said that he was a stonemason, who had lived with his single mother until she had become unwell with memory loss and needed institutional care. He wanted to get a ‘powder ticket’ so that he could have his own quarry. He could not afford this training so he had joined the British Army. Seemingly he learned his explosives quite well and was posted to Afghanistan. He had had to do ‘a job’ involving explosives and was praised by his commander as he had apparently done it well from a military point of view.

He did not elaborate much at this point as he choked back his tears, but he felt utterly worthless and had asked for an immediate discharge from the army. He had an elder brother in Australia from whom he had been estranged since his parents separated when he was young and he had in arrived in Australia this very morning to find his brother at the most recent address he had.  He had no phone number or email.  The brother had left the address, so he had stopped for a drink. He had no friends, no country and was very, very depressed. 

As his tale unfolded, I was increasingly wondering what I could do, but in this case luck was with us both.  One of the others on the table I was in theory still having dinner with had started to listen to our conversation.  She was a counsellor in the Kings Cross area and joined in. She took over and found him accommodation, promising to get him some PTSD counselling when she finished a morning appointment the next day, and quite subtly got him to promise reciprocally not to commit suicide overnight. 

I followed this up with the counsellor and she was apparently successful.  He went with an Australian PTSD sufferer to a farm in the Central West where rehab is done for ex-Afghanistan veterans. Hopefully it was successful longer term.

But this story is largely luck, and success is not assured.  Here was the real face of the foreign policy stupidity in the Middle East, and prevention is far better than any hoped-for cure. 

The Vietnam war may have been ‘lost’  on the TV screens of America, but it is highly dubious that it could have been won anyway.  Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan do not look like having any chance of the West winning. But since the Falklands war, journalists are embedded with the Army and so are on one side that gives them protection and restricts their information, so there is no peace movement of any political note to stop the foolish machinations of Australia in fawning to please the US in wars.

I am not sure that Veterans have ‘unlimited access’ to mental health services- if they did, why would there be charities appealing for support?  My experience is that all funding bodies including Veterans Affairs try to deny the existence of a problem.   It seems the concern of the article is the cost of the rehab. The answer of course is to stop the war. 

The Buttery mentioned was the one of very few live-in addiction rehab programs that I could find when I was in Parliament.  It was near Bangalow on the North Coast and had endless trouble getting funding.  If it is now exclusively used by Veterans others will be missing out.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/bill-for-veterans-mental-health-care-reaches-241m-with-20-000-in-rehab-20201030-p56a9w.html

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China and the Taiwan Question. 1/1/21

As China increasingly decides to assert its status as a World Power, Australia has been given the message fairly clearly.

Morrison foolishly, and perhaps encouraged by Trump in his pre-election hubris, criticised China’s management of the Coronavirus.  If China was looking for a middle-sized power to humiliate using its Trade power, Australia had stepped conveniently stepped into the role. This is still playing out. If China squeezes hard, we are likely to have a recession and Morrison will lose the election.  If not, probably not.

China is asserting its dominance over the South China Sea by building bases on the Spratly Islands, and the US and Australia are sailing through them to show that they still can, but this does not prove that the balance of power is not shifting quite dramatically China’s way.

China has asserted that it is not a democracy and that the Communist party will be dominant for the foreseeable future.  It did not tolerate independence in Tibet, nor with the Uighurs, and most recently with Hong Kong, moving to crush local democracy, lest anyone else in China get ideas.  The democracy activists in Hong Kong who tried to escape to Taiwan by speedboat were caught, tried and imprisoned (ABC News 30/12/20).

Taiwan, which had an indigenous population as Formosa, became Taiwan, when Chiang Kai-shek, the pro-US, Nationalist loser of the Chinese Revolution fled there with 2 million Chinese in 1949.  Their safety at that time was guaranteed by the US Navy and their economy benefitted mightily from the Korean War (1950-53), where they industrialised to manufacture goods for the US war effort.  The US has effectively guaranteed their separateness from China.  China has never accepted that Taiwan is a separate country, regarding it as a renegade province that will eventually return to China by negotiation.  Taiwan agreed that there was One China, as it intended to overthrow the Communists and re-establish their Nationalist government.  This has become increasingly unlikely and is now at the point of absurdity, but political parties that are pro-reunification with the mainland have been doing quite badly in Taiwanese democratic elections.  The Taiwanese population enjoy both democracy and relatively high incomes.  They are naturally concerned with events in Hong Kong, as they are the next domino. 

If China wanted a military victory and to assert its new Great Power status moving across a short strait into its own backyard would seem the logical step, and it is doubtful that the US would have the capacity to prevent this, even if it had the will.

Frankly, Australia has to accept the reality that China has arrived at great power status.  We cannot get involved in a war over Taiwan.  We should take a more neutral position between the US and China, and think in terms of more intelligent trade bargaining and not selling out our assets to foreign powers of any colour.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56111.htm

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The International Criminal Court has Declined to Prosecute Britain for War Crimes in Iraq. 1/1/21

Some have said that the ICC is where the big countries prosecute small dictators. The ICC has, in a 184 page document declined to prosecute British soldiers for war crimes in Iraq. They have also declined to say that the 2nd Iraq war was illegal. To do this they have quoted British rationale about the need to find Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMDs and ignored that fact that the weapons inspectors said that they have not found any, the Iraqis were cooperating better and that they wanted more time.

They use British names for Iraqi places, refer to the Iraqis as ‘insurgents’ in their own country and took refuge in the fact that the ICC does not have to investigate war crimes if the country that committed them is itself investigating. They then look at how the British investigations have gone, which is actually nowhere.

The author of this piece says he was a great fan of the ICC, but now concludes that it has no credibility. It is not a short piece, but this can be excused as it summarises the 184 pages of the ICC’s decision not to prosecute.

It is sad, but unsurprising that there is no credible enforcement of international law at an individual level, or in statements as to the actions of countries.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56113.htm

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Energy Storage is a large problem- the German Experience 13/12/20

Energy storage is a worse problem in Germany because they have longer cold periods with less sun than Australia. It seems that pumped hydro storage is our best option, but this article is correct that it requires a lot of energy alternatives for when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.


Demand management is also important, which means shifting things like off peak hot water to when the sun shines, but also paying people to switch off. If there is only a peak demand for a few hours a year, it is cheaper to pay people to turn off than to have a power source that is only used a few hours a year.

But articles about the problems in the German grid have been around for a long time and lessons need to be learned.

Those of us who want to move to renewable energy need to be aware of the problems and to address them, or we just look like naive ideologues.

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US Health System and COVID-19 11/12/20

Here is an article about the US Health system and its response to COVID. Basically it seems that the US government is subsidising COVID treatments so that they are more lucrative than treatment of other diseases, so the private operators are filling their hospitals with COVID patients whether they need to be admitted or not, and non-COVID patients are excluded.

The other thing that is interesting is that there has been a huge growth in administrators since the 1970s. It has to be understood why private health systems are so inefficient. They have to keep individual insurance databases to keep track of premiums and churn as people change funds. When someone is treated they have to account for every band aid, visit, procedure or investigation, bill the patient and pay the practitioner. They have to market their product, compete for staff, and then figure out ways to avoid paying if possible.

Universal systems have everyone eligible, so do not need to worry about who is getting treated. No need to market the system, maintain many different churning databases, compete for doctors, keep accounts for every details of every treatment and bill and pay for them individually.

In terms of better health care there is no problem of adapting to whatever disease needs the most attention as the staff are motivated to do the most effective treatments, and there is no distortion of priorities to maximise profits.

The US health system is the least effective in the developed world in terms of delivering health care. but it is the most effective at its primary object- turning sickness into money.

No one has looked too closely at why the Australian system has been able to respond. Basically our public health system is State-based hospitals, which are still largely public and have doctors who could be re-directed to testing and vaccination. They can also change to do COVID if needed, and treat disease on their merit.

The private hospitals did very well out of the government subsidies here because they were emptied ready for a COVID influx that never came and they just pocketed the cash without much publicity for this from either themselves or the Government.

Australia has continued on its previous course, which is to starve Medicare and help the private system move towards a US system by stealth, and the COVID pandemic has so far not brought this to light. What is left of the public system has done well, helped by the fact that we are an island nation, so had some warning and could act to quarantine ourselves. The government was happy to take advice from the medical professionals because it had made such a mess of not taking advice from the firefighting professionals. But Medicare is still being quietly destroyed and we are moving to a US system of private medicine.

The government saves money on Medicare doing this, even though the system is much less efficient and much less equitable. But the key reason is not the savings on Medicare, it is the money to the Party coffers from the Private Health Industry (PHI), which is now much stronger with the changes John Howard did to the Aged Care system in 1997, which made it effectively a for-profit system, and the NDIS also a for-profit system, subsidised by the taxpayer through the Medicare levee, which was ironically not being used for health. (The discussion of the Aged Care system was in one of my posts last week).

The key thing to understand in the destruction of Medicare is that the rebate to doctors which was set at 85% of the AMA fee, so as to replace private medicine, has risen at half the inflation rate for 35 years and is now 46% of the AMA rate. Doctors are paid half what they were, so specialists mostly will not use it, and GPs who still bulk bill just do shorter visits.

Here is the article on the US response to COVID. Their prevention is also hopeless, as with such a poor welfare system the people cannot afford to stop work, and the story that it was a hoax was also promoted by President Trump. The obsession with ‘individual rights’ sits uneasily with the idea of staying home for the common good, and makes disinformation campaigns easier. People wanted to believe it was a hoax, because they could not afford to stop work anyway.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/55999.htm

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Medicine, Reality and the US vote 11/11/20

Doctors tend to assume that everyone knows certain things, particularly because everyone they meet usually does. They also tend to think that everyone knows the order of importance of what they know.

Many years ago as I started to campaign against tobacco, Henry Mayer, the first Professor of Political Economy in Sydney, who had a regular column in the SMH told me that the health people were invisible in the media on the tobacco issue. I said that this was ridiculous, it was the most studied subject in the history of medicine, with over 60,000 papers and growing daily. He pointed to a person called Tollison, who wrote in the non-medical media that was read by the business sector. There were no medical responses there. The mainstream also media had relatively little on tobacco, as tobacco advertising was one of the major sources of revenue.

So the harm of tobacco was known, but ignored, like the fact that you are going to die one day.

It came home to me, when I amputated the leg of a smoker for vascular disease. He had bad lungs and a bad heart. I said, ‘Look mate, if you keep smoking, you will lose the other leg.’

To my amazement he replied, ‘Look, all you doctors go on about smoking, but if it was as bad as you say it is, the government would do something about it’.

He had internalised the government’s non-action as being mute testimony to it not being a problem. Doctors are, after all a subculture that claims to have expertise in a certain area, as do engineers, educators, weather forecasters and many other groups. In tobacco, the Tobacco Industry, the Australian Hotels Association, Clubs and Pubs and the advertisers and sponsorship recipients fought like tigers to stop reasonable public health policy. They are probably still retarding it- there has not been a Quit campaign in Australia for over a decade.

Trump’s denial of the significance of COVID19 must have struck a chord with those who knew that in the absence of decent welfare system a lockdown would send them broke. They needed to believe that they could carry on, and he and his denial were their salvation. A lot of business interests supported them- they would go broke too.

So it was interesting that the health facts became politicised, and wearing a mask was as much a political statement as a medical one. Politics was not, and will not be in future a good basis for personal preventive heath decisions. So controlling the COVID epidemic in the US will be harder than here, where mainly apathy and complacency are in the way.

The figures that only 4% of people in the US changed their view on the dangers of COVID goes some way to explaining why Biden did not have a landslide. For many people, COVID was not an issue, Trump’s rhetoric was plausible if you did not fact-check, and the economy had been going OK prior to the epidemic.

SMH today:

Virus neglect didn’t infect Trump vote

Shaun Ratcliff

📷

Since the first person was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the US, more than 10 million cases have been confirmed and nearly a quarter of a million people with the virus have died.

Watching from afar, in a country where the coronavirus has been significantly less lethal, it is surprising the incumbent president did as well as he did.

While the pandemic probably did cost him votes, surveys we have run over the course of the year showed there are strong partisan effects on attitudes towards COVID-19, with supporters of Donald Trump mostly unconcerned about the risks from the virus, and getting less worried as the year went on.

These surveys were run in May and September. Both surveys consisted of responses from more than 1000 Americans.

In May, approximately 40 per cent of all Americans were very or extremely worried about the possibility they or a family member might catch the virus. Almost the exact same number were only a little or not at all worried. According to our data, this level of concern actually declined slightly between May and September.

This was largely a partisan affair. Respondents who said they were going to vote for Joe Biden retained a similar level of concern during this period, with 48 per cent very or extremely worried in May, and 50 per cent in September.

However, respondents who said they would vote for Trump were not very concerned about COVID-19 in May – about 19 per cent reported they were worried about it in the first survey and just 11 per cent of Trump voters reported this level of concern in the second survey.

The partisan differences, and the declining trend in Republican concern about COVID-19, are largely the product of the extremely polarised media and political environment in the US.

Trump voters are less trusting of information on COVID-19 from medical experts than Biden supporters, and between May and September a quarter of Republican voters became less likely to trust information from these experts.

This difference may, in part, stem from the media through which they obtain information. Those with the lowest levels of trust tended to rely upon more conservative cable and online news like Breitbart and Fox News, for instance, which have played down the risk posed by the pandemic.

Republicans who rely more on these conservative media outlets were more likely to have lower levels of trust in medical experts, even after controlling for demographic differences between Democrats and Republicans. They were also as likely to trust Donald Trump as medical experts for information on the coronavirus.

In this polarised environment, very few voters abandoned Trump between May and September (only about 4 per cent in our data), and hardly any shifted to support Biden.

Trump supporters tended to align their position on the coronavirus with their political allegiance. Relying more on media that downplayed the significance of the coronavirus, and taking cues from Republican leaders, they decided the pandemic was not a significant threat.

Our data indicates Biden was able to win over a small number of voters who supported neither candidate at the start of the year. It was enough to win in the end, but not enough to deliver the predicted landslide.

Shaun Ratcliff is a lecturer in political science at the United States Study Centre, University of Sydney.

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