Why Australia has universal healthcare and America doesn’t.


"Haha! Americans don’t have free healthcare!"

Yeah it’s actually a serious problem people are literally dying can this stop being a silly nationalistic insult?

This is very fair! Do us folks really feel so insecure about our national identities that we need to shit on poor folks in America to make ourselves feel better?

People tend to believe that the reason countries like Australia have universal healthcare and America does not is one of cultural difference. America’s individualistic culture, the story goes, encourages them to disdain a government service we have the good sense and decency to embrace. Americans themselves are wont to embrace this explanation: it satisfies their innate belief in American exceptionalism; for the left, it is a cautionary tale about the downside of capitalism*; and, for the right, it demonstrates that socializing healthcare is not worth doing because it is innately incompatible with the American psyche.

[*It also allows the American left to do one of its favorite things: use other countries that they have no real interest in learning anything about as a political stick with which to beat their fellow citizens.]

Those of us In Australia, at least, should consider that we perhaps are not too different from the United States in terms of our cultural relationship to government provided health care. Australians tend to have little understanding of the political history of our system of universal healthcare and how we have the Medicare system we consider to be yet more proof of our apparent superiority to the United States. We forget how ferocious the political opposition to universal healthcare was here, and how extraordinarily difficult it was to implement.

Australia’s universal healthcare system began in 1974 when Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party established the Medibank system. The ALP had taken power in 1972 for the first time since 1949, and set about introducing a number of reforms — it’s policies like universal healthcare that are the reason Whitlam is remembered as a prime minister who tried to do too much too quickly. 

Whitlam was unable to pass universal healthcare into law due to a hostile Senate — his party only had a majority in the lower house. He passed the bill eventually not because Australians have any particular fondness for helping the misfortunate, but because the Australian constitution has a mechanism for overcoming gridlock that the American one does not: the double dissolution. Having had his Medibank bill twice rejected by the Senate, Whitlam called a double dissolution election. Even after Labor was returned in the 1974 poll, it still did not have a Senate majority, and it could still not pass its health insurance bills. Whitlam could only enact universal healthcare in Australia thanks to the constitutional option of a joint sitting of parliament, in which the rejected bills could be considered in a single chamber that united the far more numerous House of Representatives with the Senate. This is the only time in Australian history a government has passed legislation in this manner.

It is instructive to compare this to two instances in American politics. The first is in 1971, when Richard Nixon tried to negotiate a healthcare bill with Ted Kennedy. This was not a universal system, but it did look something like what we know today as Obamacare: a mix of subsidies and employer-provided private insurance. Kennedy and his fellow Democrats rejected the deal — which he would later regret — expecting that they could implement a more progressive plan when they regained the White House. If Democratic tactics had been different in the early ’70s, America would be, at minimum, four decades further along the path to universal healthcare than it is today.

Alternately, consider the recent fight to implement Obamacare. Democrats had been campaigning on health care reform for years, and, in 2006 and 2008, they won, successively, majorities in the House and the Senate, and the White House. On the basis that election-winning parties implement the policies they took to the election, they set about expanding coverage of the US healthcare system. Activists hoped for a single payer system — which is what Australia’s Medicare is — but they lowered quickly their sights to a private system with a public option in a bid to gain bipartisan support and to neuter opposition in the Senate.

Note that, unlike Gough Whitlam in 1974, Democrats did have a majority in the Senate. In Australia, health care was consistently opposed by a Senate majority; in America, even the fall back of the public option had to be excised because Republicans — and some centist Democrats — filibustered the bill. Note that the filibuster isn’t a flaw in the American system as set out in the constitution: that document makes no mention of this method of legislative roadblock. The filibuster, which was so effective in making Obamacare as modest a reform as it was, is an accident of history. In Australia, Whitlam could overcome stronger opposition because he could use a double dissolution. The United States has no such provision; Nancy Pelosi was not permitted to dissolve the House and the Senate and call for an election, then ram through the bill in a subsequent joint sitting.

Let us now recall what happened after Whitlam passed Medibank into law. Conservatives repeatedly attempted to shut down the government (in the form of rejecting supply bills), then conspired with the representative of a foreign nation to overthrow the prime minister and have the opposition leader installed in power. They were successful. After winning a subsequent election, new prime minister Malcolm Fraser dismantled Whitlam’s universal health care system.

Labor was returned to power in 1983 and in 1984 it again created a system of universal health care — Medicare — which still exists today. It survived conservative opposition this time only because Labor held power for twelve further years, during which time Australian citizens came to view the system as a fundamental component of the welfare state and conservatives had to abandon their opposition to it to reassure the public they could be trusted in government.

Today, the Liberal Party is again trying to limit Australia’s system of universal healthcare. Australians, having had 30 years to get used to the benefits of universal healthcare, are aghast. Perhaps they will succeed in opposing the government’s planned reforms. But this is not the result of any cultural superiority Australians have over Americans. It’s because of differing constitutional and legislative quirks between our nations, and the whims of individual politicians.

(Source: tellmetofeel)

We were asked to demonstrate the wonders of Taylor. Erin's annotations are in black.

Taylor + cityporn!

Taylor + cityporn!


…I remember that if I ever actually attain competency at the two main skills I’ve really tried to teach myself as an adult, I’ll be a Japanese-speaking banjo player. And on one hand, I chose this. But on the other… I mean, come on.

Aug 18

Pitchfork discovers exciting new singer-songwriter! Do you think they’ll Best New Music her album?

Pitchfork discovers exciting new singer-songwriter! Do you think they’ll Best New Music her album?

Ingrid Michaelson, “Girls Chase Boys,” Lights Out (2014)

I really like this song! We did it at the Jukebox earlier in the year, to lukewarm response, but it passed me by and I only just heard it recently. (I swear this is not the reason why.)

Apparently Michaelson is a singer-songwriter who has a fanbase that is passionate, larger than you might think, but not particularly possessed of cultural cachet. She’s known for contributing songs to Grey’s Anatomy, which might account for her status on the margins of popular music; it’s a show young enough to have an audience interested in a lively soundtrack, but old and female enough not to have anyone else care. But I still don’t really know much about Michaelson, so mostly I’m just guessing.

I like “Girls Chase Boys” basically because I think it’s cute, and as with considering something to be clever, it’s not a particularly defensible explanation for the appeal of a song. One person’s cute is another’s cloying, and I’m not sure I can accurately predict even for myself what it takes for something to fall on the safe side of the line distinguishing charming from nauseating.

So I think the Postal Service, early Architecture in Helsinki, All Girl Summer Fun Band, and Lisa Mitchell’s “Coin Laundry" to be kinda adorable, and Karmin, I’m From Barcelona, the songs in which Robyn is happy, and Owl City’s “Fireflies” to be pretty gross. The Regina Spektor and Ben Folds duet “You Don’t Know Me" is treacly, but I like it anyway. (It has a lot in common with the Michaelson song, actually.) I consider Frente’s "Accidently Kelly Street" to be completely endearing, but I might not think that if I hadn’t first heard it when I was nine years old. Meaghan Trainor’s "All About That Bass" could strike the right person as cute. Why is it I love Feist’s "Mushaboom" but "1234" leaves me cold?

If there is something stark that distinguishes the good from the bad amongst this collection, I’m not sure I could pinpoint it. If someone were to hold the complete opposite view to me on each of those songs, I wouldn’t be able to say what it was that set us on different sides of the fence. Cute works in mysterious ways.

Why is cute appealing at all in music? It’s often not; its often an indicator of insubstantiality; of triviality; of the elevation of aesthetic over meaning, and a flimsy and unserious aesthetic at that. Cute is flim-flam. It is feminine. It is childish. More troubling for those of us tempted to defend it on the basis that all of those prior things should not necessarily be considered bad is that cute is also, more often than not, white and monied — look at my list of artists above — suggesting it’s a luxury of the moderately privileged. Perhaps that’s why, in pop music, cute is the province of middle class white women — though middle class white men who deploy it seem to attract less scrutiny.

(There is a non-white cute in the Japanese aesthetic of kawaii — which folks seem to consider directly translatable to cute in English, and I wish I knew enough about Japanese culture to say definitively whether they are indeed interchangeable. Nonetheless, for Westerners, kawaii is a non-White cuteness, sure, but it’s also exoticised foreign cuteness.)

A close ancestor of cute in today’s indie-pop is probably the twee bands of the 1980s and 1990s. The names alone suggest as much: Sarah Records, The Field Mice, Talulah Gosh. Later, Belle and Sebastian named themselves for a children’s cartoon. The Lucksmiths and Darren Hanlon share a wordy vocal style that echoes the repetitive directness of a child’s speech. These bands were wont to augment their sound with lo-fi accompaniments that share a rudimentary quality with toy instruments: glockenspiel, drum machine, ukelele, cheap keyboards, handclaps. Tilly and the Wall used tap shoes for percussion.

Especially in the early days, many of these groups cut the preciousness of their sound with dark or wistful or unexpectedly adult themes (there’s a deep sadness to the Field Mice’s “Emma’s House”; Another Sunny Day sang “You Should All Be Murdered”; Belle and Sebastian songs were fey odes to sex and religion). But this seemed to fall by the wayside as cute continued its hold on indie-pop into the early ’00s. And not always at the expense of the music, either; many songs of this era survived arrested development, sexlessness, or an aversion to low-end. For every Devendra Banhart there was a Pipettes. For every awful Moldy Peaches song there was a great Moldy Peaches song. 

At the Jukebox, Crystal said of “Girls Chase Boys,” “The clap-stomp-plink-clash percussive quality of all of Michaelson’s instrumentation isn’t quite trendy,” and that’s right, but it’s very cute, and typical to this style. In my attempts to make adwave happen (it still might!) I said, discussing Anna Kendricks’s “Cups”:

…advertisers have found in this specific indie-pop sound the perfect accompaniment for a product pitch. But what is it about trad-folk facsimile, merely good-enough vocals, airy arrangements, and musique concrete hooks — chimes, claps, whistling, cups — that so evidently suggests 21st century commerce? Well, there’s plenty of aural space for voice over. The style of singing is approachable in the same way punk is; the amateurism is inclusive. The acoustic sounds suggest a Walden-esque (or at least Etsy-an) authenticity. Given the — fair or otherwise — cultural connotations indie rock shares with a young and cosmopolitan leisure class, there’s probably an aspirational element as well. And it helps that many people seem to genuinely like this music; the mode is fun and the hooks are ear-catching in their compositional unfamiliarity. 

Adwave isn’t always cute; it isn’t always terrible either. The feel-good vibe seems appropriate here; again at the Jukebox, Katherine chastised the Michaelson track as “a breakup song for breakups so blithely unemotional you don’t need songs,” but it sounds to me more like a post-break-up song, a tune for the times when the worst is over and you feel like you might be able to start building yourself back into being a normal person again. “All the broken hearts in the world still beat” is a great lyric and in the context of the song, it sounds like a hard-won realisation, not vacuous optimism. Still, it would still sound perfect soundtracking a thirty-second slot promoting the newest Apple product.

Another word for adwave — and “Girls Chase Boys” fits even better into this category — might be lifestyle indie, with the adjective being used in the same sense as it is in lifestyle magazines. Lifestyle indie, whose origins I’ll date to Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” and whose most significant moments include Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” fun.’s “We are Young,” and the entire existence of American Authors, is indie rock not about a lifestyle — Pavement was that — but that presents itself as a product designed to fit as seamlessly into one’s lifestyle as a throw rug or a new dining set or a coffee table book from Urban Outfitters. It’s indie pop where the set of artistic ideals have been flipped from those of indie rock (music assumed, correctly or otherwise, to be “virtually impossible to make .. compatible with mainstream tastes in the first place”) to those of pop (catchiness, immediacy, spectacle) only with the crucial handicap that it discounts the personability and charisma of mainstream pop stars. (Perhaps someone somewhere actually does consider Nate Ruess to be their own personal Harry Styles; if so, that is wonderful!)

I checked out a couple other Ingrid Michaelson songs, and none I’ve come across seems particularly charming, (“You and I" begins by rhyming "honey" with "money" and "funny" with "bunny"!) so I don’t think I’m missing a special talent. This does seem to suggest lifestyle indie, though I would argue "Girls Chase Boys," in its I-get-knocked-down determination, has a stronger emotional tug than anything I’ve heard from that sphere since MGMT’s trio of debut singles. But if "Girls Chase Boys" is cute like a cute wall fixture or a nice set of stationery, then those are lovely things to have! One of my friends bought a finely detailed hand-drawn map of Washington DC off the Internet and I totally covet it; it’s compact and beautiful. And "Girls Chase Boys" is a song I have to stop myself from listening to too often in case I grow tired of it too quickly.

(Source: Spotify)

Aug 17

Swift Secrets Reveals Taylor’s Bro Country Future.

Swift Secrets Reveals Taylor’s Bro Country Future.

Augie March, “One Crowded Hour,” Moo, You Bloody Choir (2006)

In that Augie March blurb, I suggested I thought Glenn Richards was a clever songwriter, and, yes, I do. It’s risky describing someone as clever in criticism; it exposes the limits of one’s credulity, and even for a critic that accepts (celebrates!) the intrinsically subjective nature of our work, credulity is a value to be jealously guarded. It is easy to praise songwriters as smart, or adept, or talented; there’s a component of craft in all of these adjectives that reserves the creative process as something distant, to be studied. Suggesting something is intelligent, however, allows my own capabilities to be questioned. Maybe it is a boyish pride, or a nerdish one, but more intimidating than the prospect that someone might sneer at what moves me is the idea that someone might be unimpressed with something I consider intellectually impressive.

But I do consider, say, “One Crowded Hour” to be intelligent, to be clever. I am impressed by the stylised romanticisms of Richards’s wordy tribute to a hook-up with a high school buddy. I admire the seasick assonance of his disaffected dismissal of “nonsense bars with their nowhere music” and his Southern hemispherical inversion of seasonal imagery that is “I thought I had found my golden September in the middle of that purple June.” I think “there’s nothing there, it’s like eating air/It’s like drinking gin with nothing else in” is propulsive internal rhyme that swallows its hollowness in upon itself. I think the earthy pun about “a bolt from the blue” and a “glorified screw” is inspired. I like that Richards imagines his fleeting romantic encounter as a classical epic that finds him encountering a “green-eyed harpy of the salt land” and places him “in a cage full of lions, [where he’ll] learn to speak lion,” and ending up in “wreck and ruin.” I’m even impressed that the band transcribes their lyrics like so: “She says, ‘Boy, I know you’re lying… O but then so am I!’, and to this I said, ‘O well’.”

Perhaps you do not agree. It would be uncomfortable for me to be thought a dupe or a simpleton. But I do like this song not because of its corporeal pleasures or formal accomplishments, but because it impresses me.

(And here is where I think of every 50 year old critic who declares Bob Dylan to be not simply a smart songwriter, but a poet.)

This is what I said about the song, when the old-old-old Jukebox covered it:

Glenn Richards sounds like he has invested more effort here in creating the imagery and wordplay he uses to describe infatuation than some people spend on entire relationships. Lines like “If love is a bolt from the blue, then, what is a bolt but a glorified screw, and that doesn’t hold nothing together” are only the beginning; marvel as Richards’ lets his carefully crafted words stand strong amidst the track’s turbulent crescendo, singing about his “wreck and ruin,” and learning to speak the language of lions, as if relating a classical myth rather than a pop song. In contemporary Australian music, there is little better. 

It wasn’t even the highest-scoring song by an Australian group that week.

(Source: Spotify)

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