Taxes, Healthcare and the American Way

Posted November 17, 2009 on 3:49 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Healthcare | by Jeff

Living in Europe provided a particular view of the relationship between taxes and quality of life, both of which are higher in most European countries than they are in the United States. While Americans are always attracted to lower taxes they do not always seem to understand the relationship between what they pay in taxes and what they get – or don’t get – in services. The trade-offs became obvious to me during three years in Munich in which I paid higher taxes than I would have in the U.S. and enjoyed benefits mostly unknown in the U.S.

The healthcare reform debate currently deadening many American’s brains is a case in point. Talk to almost anyone in Germany about their healthcare and they wonder what the hell is going on in America. The figures are well known – we pay TWICE as much, per capita, for slightly worse outcomes when measured in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, percent of those covered, etc. And, in Germany you would never worry about having your insurance cancelled for any reason. The payment for health insurance – which is mandatory and therefore covers everyone – is through a combination of taxation based on salary and employer contributions. Health insurance is viewed as a social contract among the German people unlike the U.S. where someone can opt out even though they fully expect expensive care when they need it – a kind of anti-social contract.

Taxes in Germany also pay for an excellent education system, roads and bridge maintenance that is unknown in the U.S., welfare nets that eliminate the worst consequences of poverty, and a healthy life style that includes six week vacations for most workers, generous medical leave policies, trains that run fast AND on time, airports that treat people as though they were human, and a food supply network that ensures healthy and fresh food.

While it may be hard for many Americans to understand just how bad they have it, what is worse is their unwillingness to consider alternatives; their belief that America is best in everything. Many Americans who complain about taxes focus on Reagan’s largely mythological welfare mothers or the current Republicans’ concern over costs of possible health care reform. In addition to the huge costs resulting from our lack of focus on preventive medical measures, Americans also typically ignore the overwhelming costs of our care and feeding of our military and military contractors, and the cost of misadventures like the Iraq War, both of which become exercises in jingoism which we willingly fund while much of American society seems to be crumbling.

The American press is of course part of the problem but at the end of the day the blame is ours for being too lazy to pursue the ramifications of our knee-jerk negative reaction to any suggestion that our taxes be raised..

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Democracy is Coming to the U.S.A.

Posted November 14, 2009 on 2:45 pm | In the category Healthcare, Lieberman Watch, Politics, Press | by Jeff

From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
Leonard Cohen

Three weeks on the road was a welcome break from the silliness of American politics but back home in the U. S. of A. and time to begin to catch up.

Good to see our old friend Joe “LOOK AT ME!” Lieberman once again finding a way to suck himself onto the national stage. While it is difficult to imagine his doing more damage than his unbridled support of the unnecessary and ultimately failed war in Iraq, his fighting to deny health care insurance to 36 million Americans is a pretty good start. Coming from the state that is home to 72 insurance headquarters, with three times the U.S. average of insurance jobs as a percent of total state employment I suppose it should not be surprising. Nor should we be surprised by his pompous, pontifical commitment to self-interest.

Also good to see the state of Maine – population 1.3 million (or ca. .004% of U. S. population) finding itself one of the chief arbiters of  health care reform through its Senator Olympia Snow. Having watered down the stimulus package to satisfy Maine’s other Senator, Susan Collins, Senate Democrats seem to be doing all they can to emasculate the health care bill to satisfy Senator Snow. All in the name of a kind of faux bipartisanship.

Then there is the Catholic Church hierarchy and its willingness to threaten the fires of hell on any Catholic senator ignoring its health care reform abortion edicts. This from the church that discriminates against women, forces celibacy on its priests, facilitated thousands of pedophiliac rapes, seems to believe that condoms increase the risk of HIV infection, and actually still believes birth control to be a sin.

One highlight of our recent travels: sitting in a Munich apartment watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spend an entire hour interviewing the balloon boy and his family about the great fabricated adventure that managed to suck Wolf into a kind of parallel universe where truth is irrelevant and a family’s bizarre hope for attention is satisfied by a lazy, gullible press, willing to track an empty balloon for hours on end only to learn that they were the victims of a fraud. This turned out to be perhaps the funniest TV show of the year. Can’t wait for the Emmys.

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Lament for a great university

Posted November 5, 2009 on 2:00 am | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Though it has not gone unnoticed, there has been too little written about the disastrous decline that must inevitably occur in one of the world’s great universities, arguably the finest state university in existence, the University of California at Berkeley. Compared to the cultivated mustiness of the elite UK universities, or the inborn snootiness of the French écoles superieurs, not to mention the artificiality and class structure of such ridiculously rich private US outposts such as “America’s McGill”, Harvard, or the somewhat seedy centres of German knowledge such as LMU München, Berkeley has long offered an almost unique mixture of intellectual intercourse and natural beauty mixed in with a splendid library and a revolutionary streak that keeps the place jumping. And that at a price normal people can afford with some belt-tightening, unlike those with tuitions of $50,00 a year, who have also coincidentally come under great financial pressure as their hedge-funded endowments have collapsed in the last year. Poor Harvard has seen its endowment sink from 40 billion Dollars to either 30 or 22 billion, depending on who you believe, a sum that does not lead to displays of sympathy at working-class Berkeley
But unless something completely unexpected happens, the budget of the University of California system will face a shortfall of 600 million dollars next year, an 8% cut from last year’s budget and by law the system cannot run in a deficit. So this staggering sum of money must be taken out of the hide of the universities themselves, and it seems that the board of Governors has decided to simply pass the pain on to everyone equally. Chico State University and many others like it will thus have the same problem as Berkeley, to somehow cut 8% of the budget. The disaster at Berkeley can only lead to a sudden serious decline in the quality of the library, the closing of small non-profitable departments, the loss of elite faculty members as they search for greener pastures at expanding Canadian universities, which are largely unaffected by the economic crisis since hedge fund betting is illegal there, as well as the loss of the youngest and the brightest since there will be a hiring freeze. The only hope is that the injury time will be relatively short and the recovery from a potentially debilitating attack can still be attained.

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