Posts tagged "politics"

If this is the end, there will of course be decades of debate about the moment and its causes. It will be an event of great historical note – it’s not nothing, the United Kingdom. The final dissolution of a small-ish island that once had the flair and audacity to rule the world; the snuffing out of a bright lamp of civilisation, democracy, tolerance and solidarity; a burden wearily laid down by those who could hack it no longer, or who had just lost interest. There’s a book or two in that.

Chris Deerin, “Wrestling with smoke,” Medium/The Scottish Daily Mail, September 8, 2014

My stance on Scottish independence is that I support Scottish self-determination, but, well, yes — I am a republican, I am anti-colonialist, and I think anything that leads to a reduction of English power and English colonial power anywhere in the world is a good thing. I hope the Scottish people will agree with me.

And I am amazed that Britons still speak so guilelessly in this way — their truly contemptible oppression of millions of people across the world over centuries collapsed into the flag-waving pomp and dreadful self-pity of “a small-ish island that once had the flair and audacity to rule the world.” This is a country that did not surrender, for instance, Kenya until as recently as 1962, and only after committing horrific abuses on the local population. 

We in new world colonial countries have a lot to be ashamed of and so much to repair, but all but our most conservative voices (and sometimes even they) have at least begun to reckon with the abuses in our histories. For the old European powers though, it seems as if colonialism was an unfortunate side-effect of their old greatness, which due politeness demands should remain unmentioned today.

Sam Seaborn, secret Tea Partier.

Sam Seaborn, secret Tea Partier.

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.

Malcolm Fraser.

Shout out to Australian lefties, are you that desperate to hear a Liberal say nice things about refugees that you’re ready to act like the man who tried to destroy universal health care and literally conspired with the representative of a foreign crown to overthrow a democratically elected government is worthy of being welcomed into polite society?

More than half – 52% — of people surveyed said the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who was recently seen calling for President Barack Obama’s impeachment in a Breitbart News column, should just “be quiet.”

Ms. Palin, still a tea party favorite and who maintains an active television and social media presence, scored worse than fellow former pols Jesse Jackson (45%), Dick Cheney (42%) and Newt Gingrich (39%).

Mr. Jackson’s numbers are a bit of a mystery, given that he has not been in the national media much of late. More than half of people surveyed who are 50 years or older – who perhaps remember the civil rights activist when he was more prominent and a potential Democratic presidential nominee – said Mr. Jackson should be quiet. Only 35% of people aged 18-34 said the same.

The Journal/NBC/Annenberg poll was kinder to Bill Clinton (31%) and Al Gore (37%), though about half of Republicans said they would prefer that the 1990s Democratic team in the White House would be quiet.

Poll: Most Americans Want to Hear Less From Palin - Washington Wire - WSJ (via waitingonoblivion)

I mean, I don’t think this poll really means much of anything — you’re asking people about something they probably aren’t thinking about and have no means of effecting anyways, but the Jesse Jackson bit is interesting. Conservatives seem to still like invoking him as a proxy for Black People Who Say Terrible Things — Al Sharpton is another favorite in this realm — so I sorta suspect the poll finding is just that 45 per cent want black people in general to shut up.

[T]he Supreme Court has become a frequent refuge for religious conservatives rather than just their reliable bete noir, is itself partially the result of liberal gains in the political and cultural sphere, which have reduced religious traditionalists to making the kind of defensive appeals to liberty and pluralism and minority rights that tend to end up adjudicated in the courts. And such a liberalism would take ownership of its own ascendance and take more responsibility for (and pride in!) its own aggressions, rather than perpetually crying “theocracy” whenever its advance is interrupted.

Ross Douthat, “The Culture War’s Sore Winners,” The New York Times, July 1, 2014

Douthat channels Christian victimhood, which understands freedom of religion as not the freedom of anyone to practice his or her faith, but the ability to impose that faith on an entire society. (He makes reference to  another recent post, in which he’s less candid but refers to conservatives “looking to the courts … for protection" — my emphasis; protection from what?)

According to this outlook, Christianity can only be freely practiced if it is inescapable; if its prayers are conducted within public schools, if its moral proscriptions are written into law, if public money goes toward its festivals and institutions. For religion to be merely a personal practice is for religion to be under attack — and this is a vaunted moderate conservative talking, a reformist. An America that does not exist under the authority of Christian diktat, Douthat says, is one in which Christianity is under assault. He puts pluralism on one side and Christianity on the other, inextricably opposed forces.

Over, at the other blog, I have a post arguing that Hobby Lobby is the Supremes’ worst decision since Bush v Gore:

[A] craft shop can’t have a religion. A corporation can’t have a religion. Belief requires consciousness, and whatever our strides in artificial intelligence, corporations aren’t conscious.

Particularly since Citizens United, liberals have frequently expressed my philosophical objection by mocking the idea that “corporations are people.” Yet, as Matt Yglesias explains here, there is nothing wrong per se with the idea of corporate personhood. “Forming corporations wouldn’t make much sense unless corporations had many of the legal rights of persons, including most notably the right to own property and enter into contracts.” The ability of people to create legal entities that can act as people has been of great benefit to our society.

But corporations should be considered people with rights and responsibilities only to the extent that they pertain to corporate practise. This is why I think Hobby Lobby is worse than Citizens United. Speech is a valid part of corporate activity — think, for instance, of advertising. Religious practice has absolutely nothing to do with corporate activity, and hence it’s completely illogical for a corporation to be considered a person with religious beliefs.

There’s more.

John Sides, WaPo:

People who are consistently liberal or conservative are much more likely to vote or donate. This may not be surprising. But it speaks to a real tension that is often unacknowledged. On the one hand, many bemoan the fact that so many Americans don’t know facts about politics or don’t vote in elections. On the other hand, many bemoan partisanship and ideology and yearn for moderation and compromise. Well, to put it bluntly, we don’t get to have a politically engaged public and a moderate one.


John Sides, WaPo:

People who are consistently liberal or conservative are much more likely to vote or donate. This may not be surprising. But it speaks to a real tension that is often unacknowledged. On the one hand, many bemoan the fact that so many Americans don’t know facts about politics or don’t vote in elections. On the other hand, many bemoan partisanship and ideology and yearn for moderation and compromise. Well, to put it bluntly, we don’t get to have a politically engaged public and a moderate one.


This is succession planning. It’s about laying down memories in Australia against the time the Queen dies. The first tour is the one that matters – the tour with the young couple and the baby, the gloss not worn off their marriage and possible princely misdemeanours of the child far in the future.


The press still eulogises them. “It’s truly magical,” said a TV reporter to her camera as we waited at the rock for something to happen. Not really. It’s the highly skilled creation of soft propaganda in which the press is complicit, the locals are extras and Uluru is a backdrop.

David Marr, “Royal tour of Australia is all about creation of soft propaganda,” The Guardian, April 23, 2014

This is why accomodationist republicans who want to act like it’s OK to glory in the reflected glow of the royal family’s trappings of privilege while still arguing for new constitutional arrangements are full of it. The monarchy is made up of political actors trying to preserve their power, and every republican who gets doe-eyed over that new baby and that nice wedding and that wonderful photo-op is only helping the royals entrench their power further. Forget my side’s we-mean-no-disrespect-to-the-queen dissembling. I mean full disrespect. When I stick the knife in, I want it to hurt.

To this end, the budget cuts benefits to sole parents and stay-at-home mums, reviews the assessment of some younger recipients of the disability support pension and imposes ”compulsory activities” on recipients under 35, cuts the benefit received by unemployed people aged 22 to 24 from the dole to the youth allowance, imposes a waiting period for benefits of up to six months on people under 30, reintroduces Work for the Dole and introduces a ”restart” payment of up to $10,000 to employers who take on job seekers aged 50 or over who have previously been on benefits, including the age pension.

Get it? Older people want to work, but suffer from the prejudice of employers, so they’re helped with a new and generous subsidy to employers, whereas the young don’t want to work when they could be luxuriating on below poverty-line benefits, so they’re whipped to find a job by having their benefits cut and their entitlement removed for six months in every year until the lazy loafers take a job.

Just how having their benefits reduced or removed helps young adults afford the various costs of finding a job — including being appropriately dressed for an interview — the government doesn’t explain.


How does it help to starve a youngster to the point where they’re prepared to undertake some pointless training course? Is it really smart to take a university graduate who’s having a few months’ wait to find a suitable job and force them into a taxpayer-funded course on driving a forklift truck?
Ross Gittins, “Shifting form entitlement to enterprise,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 27, 2014

If we truly seek to understand segregationists — not to excuse or absolve them, but to understand them — then we must first understand how they understood themselves. Until now, because of the tendency to focus on the reactionary leaders of massive resistance, segregationists have largely been understood simply as the opposition to the civil rights movement. They have been framed as a group focused solely on suppressing the rights of others, whether that be the larger cause of “civil rights” or any number of individual entitlements, such as the rights of blacks to vote, assemble, speak, protest, or own property. Segregationists, of course, did stand against those things, and often with bloody and brutal consequences. But, like all people, they did not think of themselves in terms of what they opposed but rather in terms of what they supported. The conventional wisdom has held that they were only fighting against the rights of others. But, in their own minds, segregationists were instead fighting for rights of their own — such as the “right” to select their neighbors, their employees, and their children’s classmates, the “right” to do as they pleased with their private property and personal businesses, and, perhaps most important, the “right” to remain free from what they saw as dangerous encroachments by the federal government. To be sure, all of these positive “rights” were grounded in a negative system of discrimination and racism. In the minds of segregationists, however, such rights existed all the same. Indeed, from their perspective, it was clearly they who defended individual freedom, while the “so-called civil rights activists” aligned themselves with a powerful central state, demanded increased governmental regulation of local affairs, and waged a sustained assault on the individual economic, social, and political prerogatives of others. The true goal of desegregation, these white southerners insisted, was not to end the system of racial oppression in the South, but to install a new system that oppressed them instead. As this study demonstrates, southern whites fundamentally understood their support of segregation as a defense of their own liberties, rather than a denial of others’.

Understanding segregationists in such a light illuminates the links between massive resistance and modern conservatism.
Kevin M. Cruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (2005)

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