Monday, July 09, 2007

Sicko review & a bit of Am/English history

Michael Moore has regained my respect in some measure - though he's still a little too biased to give the whole picture. If you haven't seen his latest film, 'Sicko,' and you live in America, you probably should. I say 'probably' because some people can't take another disheartening blow toward the charming faith that America is still leads the world in medical care/expertise (or much else).

I don't know that I agree with Moore's premise that it would be better to live under entirely government run system like Canada, France, and England have. I have heard, read and seen entirely too many difficult stories from those who cope with that system, but certainly something needs to be done! 60,000 dollars to reattach one finger? Who set rates like that???

Just the same, I am very concerned that if we blindly adopt socialized care, it will be the very companies who are giving us such a problem now who would end up in charge of it. This - and the great potential for losing even more of our personal freedoms in the process - are the main concerns I have about universal government-run health care. Moore is correct, we are a largely a socialist nation now - without it! Why not follow England's system then?

I wanted to applaud the Englishman who pointed out how our current system tends to start us and keep us in debt and afraid of making waves. YES! Exactly! I only wished he'd remembered that their lovely system was initially paid for by a huge at-cost loan (interest was set to only 3/4% per year, to keep pace with inflation) they extracted from the US -even as we were finishing fighting the Japanese military machine by ourselves & beginning to deal with the burden of a 'cold war' with Russia.

Thats right, your parent's & grandparent's tax dollars bought relief for millions of Englishfolk: every man, woman, and child who survived the war benefited - meantime, in our own country, we offered free medical care only to active enlisted men and their immediate families. I don't begrudge England the help at that time, but I was a bit bugged to hear - from the BBC documentary that announced the end of that loan - that they had felt we owed it to a gift - because they fought Germany first. They admitted in the documentary that the promise of a lifetime of security and provision had been how the government that replaced Churchill's band had got in - and also that they had nothing to back it up with at the time. Nevertheless, the new Labor party decided to lean on the US to keep their promises for them - free of charge, of course. Even finally got Churchill to speak on their behalf by telling him England would fall if they didn't get it. Given the situation at that point, and the fact that those we trusted had been ousted by the left-leaning government, Truman's reaction made good sense. We did regard England as a good friend. We wanted to help, but even the at-cost loan Truman chose to give was difficult to manage, because our economy had been affected too.

People here were still living kinda close to the bone after decades of depression followed by world war. Our factories had boomed during it - but most of the payments were made by our government - meaning these were also debts of a sort. Many factories were still transitioning back to civilian economy, but it wasn't certain we would have customers for what we could make in a world devastated by war. Another great depression was distinctly possible, and so was a war with Stalin - who was at least as crazy as Hitler, and making noises about fulminating trouble all over the world. (He did too.) Our economy was not so stable then as England wanted to tell itself. The Marshall plan hurt a bit too - and on top of that many citizens were already mailing whatever goodwill bundles of food and supplies they could spare - to England especially. I have a book of C.S. Lewis' letters from that period. He describes the affectionate outpouring of these individual efforts to supply the needs of himself, Tolkien & many others as overwhelming in their generosity. Were we willing to do all we reasonably could to help our friends in England? Absolutely!

England should have known all this as well as we did. These things weren't secrets by any means. There was a very strange mindset in that new govt. There's a strange old note that echoes through the whole thing. Why did England feel that after we had supported their efforts from the beginning (lend/lease, volunteer airmen etc), and stepped in to help when it was plain world domination was a danger, did they feel that we were additionally obligated to fix all their problems at our own cost? We could not have simultaneously given the same gift to our own citizens. They knew that. Why did they think we owed them more than we could give ourselves? I think history has the answer****

No, I suspect this comfortable assessment of how England does it better is partly the effect of a lifetime in an entitlement system in a former colonial power. If so, its too bad I can't tell that rather erudite gentleman from Moore's documentary that he has also been snowed a bit by his system. Does he realize that he is being 'nannied' by his state from birth to death - & hardly able to get any venture going because of the burden of paying for it? There have been freedom issues in his country too. People are watched wherever they go - and officially they are subjects of the government - not just citizens. English folk still do protest when they feel the need, but mostly for pay issues & unpopular foreign involvements. (I understand why they didn't appreciate our govt asking theirs to go to Iraq. Its hard to see why anyone would expect them to feel any obligation.) I would like to ask him how well their protests work when its government policy to change their currency, or the right to keep selling herbs? I regularly read reports of government policies that forbid women to wear religious headdresses, or impinge on the rights of small churches to meet or otherwise legally live according to their conscience - mostly in mainland Europe, but still...

Moore reports on the wonderful health care France & Germany have. They'll even do the laundry of a new Mom! Yes, and tell her how to raise him/her and tell her what new forms she has to fill out and when he/she is expected to turn up in daycare. Sounds great, unless you don't want your child in daycare from toddlerhood on, or government employees feeling free to turn up on your doorstop with 'friendly' reasons for going through even your clothes and reporting any departures from their societal expectations - like - oh, I don't know, maybe teaching your child your family's faith through songs, toys and books?

Yep, they've got a real 'bread & circuses' thing going on in France & Germany too. Sure they protest more than we do, but mostly at foreign involvements (which is just about officially sanctioned) & any changes that affect their entitlements. Its not easy to slap at the hand that feeds you.

Europeans regard their healthcare as one of the perks that make their own jumps through the bureaucratic webs feel worthwhile. As Arthur Dent put it, Brits know how to queue to get things done.

As people have become aware of the reduced benefits in our welfare system, they have begun to protest the strings that have not disappeared commensurately. Forgive us for looking askance at more stringed-up packages from Uncle Sam! Big government reforms have been - in practice- often far less and worse than promised. Moore points this out in the 'golden ticket' segment - but doesn't seem to connect that these are the same sorts of people who would craft a universal healthcare policy right now - and no, I don't believe their Democratic counterparts have proved they would do better.

I can't help but wonder if removing the increasing legal obligation to use the current overpriced system wouldn't help a bit? If we could all use midwives, order our meds from anywhere, and be totally responsible only to ourselves & God for our own care - wouldn't that injure the incentive the system has to treat us like it does? Yes, I know it sounds like a return to the dark ages. I am aware that we cannot do our own surgeries or MRI scans or hope to improve on the work of specialists who have trained for years to battle a particular disease. But shouldn't it be more our own choice whether we want to go into that system or not? As it is, you can be declared criminally negligent for refusing & a deadbeat for going!

Not long a ago a young man who had been declared incurable by the local hospitals system had to go to court for the right to end the painful treatments that were not expected to help him, and for which his parents were still obligated to pay a fortune. The fact that they had to fight for any measure of freedom even when the doctor's diagnosis was completely negative said volumes about the state of things. I don't see how that could have been worse under a system like NHS. They might still have had the same fight to die with some measure of dignity and personal choice - but at least they wouldn't have been forced to pay for procedures to which they strenuously objected - as though it were a fur coat or something!

I think if we are going to suffer to keep our freedom - I'd like all my freedom back, please.

The history of English/American relations as I know it

Dorothy tells me that England doesn't teach much about our revolution or the state our colonies were in just prior to it - so I am going to touch base on a few points here so any English readers will understand, I hope, that I like them just fine. Actually, I like them very much - I just understand that many have grown up with a sort of resentment of the US that may not be founded in anything they would choose to espouse if they had been taught where it came from,

Most Englishmen do not understand how badly we had to be treated before we finally broke free. Most Americans don't remember how exploitative our relationship with Europe really was.

England used to feel America owed her because she had been a colony. Putting aside temporarily the claims that no one had the right to claim land from the natives, or force other nations out who had been there first (*cough*New York was once New Amsterdam*cough*), lets look at how that obligation played out.

According to the histories I have read, they had expected to use the resources from this land on continually favorable terms to themselves. Colonists were forbidden to start up many regular industries.

You want an example? Locally, they have recently dug out the remains of an 'illicit' mill - of pottery. Yes, pottery! Cups, plates, mugs etc intended only for domestic use were declared illegal and could only be shipped even to other colonies through smugglers/pirates. Americans grew cotton but weren't supposed to make their own cloth commercially - and homespun was laughed at. HooHoo those roughspun, roughshod, beaver-hatted Americans! Tends to happen when you can only sell to your immediate neighbors - and nobody can afford to buy much anyway. Did you see what they paid me for that load of fine oak? Man! I bet the Spanish would have given me twice that! No, can't afford those wool coats, and we personally don't have sheep in our county (the counties that do can't sell them to us) but, hey, I traded a fine knife with the Illinois for this fur robe... It'll do...

Americans weren't supposed to make their own fine furniture without a special license - and it still couldn't be legally shipped to other colonies or any other country besides England- who had plenty of wonderful cabinetmakers already. Are you getting the picture?

This one of the reasons we once had so many famous pirates - and why a number of them were considered the good guys! (Hey, Guybrush :)

No, instead the colonists were ordered to ship raw materials ONLY to England at prices set in London -favorable to the shippers and wholesalers, and buy the manufactured goods back - at rates set in London favorable to the manufacturers. Plus transport. Then plus the stamp taxes that let the government itself take an additional cut in order to pay for the French & Indian war in America & Canada - that had actually been an extension of the war between England and France in EUROPE. Many troops had been stationed on pioneers & townsfolk at their own expense. Much uncompensated injury to civilians and their property had occurred (some from the troops) without redress. Cases were dismissed at local level, by the Lords given lands and vassals here, and in England, where they were often openly insulted - on top having paid quite a bit to take the journey & pay the lawyers to be heard. There are literally hundreds of cases still available in the archives that clearly show how little justice many colonial Americans received.

Natives had a different experience, but not entirely a better one. Some of their treaties with England & France were honored completely. Other times they were paid in blankets infected with smallpox and informed that their allegiance meant they were expected to prey on neighbors who were loyal to the other power - or else.

England wasn't being unusually bad in this, btw. Most imperial colonies suffered debilitating 'economic relationships' with overlord nations. When you hear an South American or African nation complain today that the prices of their rough diamonds, spices, perfume ingredients, coffee, bananas, lumber, or other crops seem artificially low compared with finished market values - they are saying that, to some extent, the big companies are setting arrangements in stock exchanges of London, Tokyo, New York etc that effectively put them back into the same sort of abusive arrangements that debilitated the economies of the colonies back in the day. Whether they are right or not, I cannot personally verify.

After the revolution, England still regarded us (internally) as a colony - just one they had lost control of temporarily. When the battle with France became bad again - under Napoleon - they began seizing American ships and sailors into their navy. Americans protested, but to little avail.

Napoleon, meantime, wooed the US as a fellow revolutionary/libertarian. Records indicate he was not sincere in his protestations, but he did see the opportunity to sell us the French colonies to support his war effort - and leave us to fight the Brits for New Orleans. He knew it would be attacked. If we won, he figured he could get the colonies back from us later. If we lost, we would still tie up precious British troops & ships at our own expense. Yep, our buddy in the war -while we were fighting England - France, had some plans for us too.

Britain DID invade America again in 1812, and burned Washington. They attacked New Orleans too, but lost. Then 'civil unrest' (read, the regular people of England.) announced in numerous ways they were tired of imperial wars of conquest on top of the necessary one for freedom they had just fought with Bonaparte - America wasn't likely to invade England - so let them be.

Later, when America began to do a bit better on the international scene, England continued in the attitude that America's success came from being her colony, and they ought to have gotten more from us. Even the popular literature of the Victorian era cheers at the 'repatriation' of rich Americans marrying into wealthy English families - giving back to the 'mother' country. It was a very popular theme.

Now- anyone who has studied European history for any length of time becomes aware of certain feuds that have resurfaced regularly over recorded history. The lands of France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Italy, England, and Ireland have had nearly continual rows with one another since, well, ever since the Roman empire broke up, really.

Once upon a time, most of our leaders were very well read and knew this. They also knew that our country (& Canada too) had suffered when those conflicts were spread through local representatives into North America. It really wasn't weird for America to be a little shy of diving into either of the World Wars of the 20th century.

Yes, England was in the right both times. So say the history books. It is understandable, therefore, that the English have been a bit bugged about our late - 'heroic,' arrival after their valiant men had done so much for so long. & Yes, it would probably have helped to got into it earlier in WWII. I have doubts about it being helpful in WWI. For starters, that DID start as another interminable European alliance/land squabble. Then too, for the first few years, WWI generals used the same stupid tactics of running guys from trenches into open machine gun fire. I am NOT sorry our troops missed most of that! I am sorry their arrival spread the 1918 plague everywhere.

I sometimes wonder if they wouldn't have managed if we had stayed home and the comparatively mild avian flu our troops suffered from never mutated in their pigs? Did we send enough people that it made a difference anyway? Did we really win with the flu? Was that the real reason Germany had to give up? Would universal healthcare have helped any of the nations back then?

So where are we now? Well - thanks to NATO arrangements & the effects of the Cold War with Russia, we've been tightly bound in all kinds of arrangements with Europe. Our government has often been the supplier & maintainer of European defense systems for decades - which our govt is seriously considering giving over to the combined forces of the EU. At the same time Europe has often enjoyed casting us as a big bully in most public plays - even the ones where we fought and died for the freedoms of other peoples (except for WWI & WWII) especially those conflicts where we believed that we were saving them from being colonized by communist puppets. We're often told we were on the wrong side in many of these conflicts, never mind all the refugees from communist controlled countries. (Mind you, if our government did subsidize some mini-Hitlers to stave off all socialism & for business reasons, that then they did earn some of that criticism. The American people, however, were not that cynical.)

Their populations have a strong sense of entitlement - which seems to be extended to us entirely too often. We're supposed to mostly pay for the UN that they control. We were expected to fund most of NATO, while they used their improved economies to aid their citizens. We are expected to send a disproportionate amount of aid in every disaster - and endure accusations gracefully that some secret weapon or technology of ours is somehow to blame - or that we should have paid for EVERYONE to have a worldwide alarm system for that kind of disaster (all these accusations were leveled at us in international media after that tsunami). It goes on and on...

I sincerely hope we'll at least be compensated for the expense of their stupid missile system, but I won't be surprised if we aren't. We'll never be repaid for all the soldiers who have stood guard to defend them over the years.

The saddest part of the internet for many Americans has been the discovery that so many people we have loved in our naive, Christian way - have such harbored ugly attitudes towards us. This includes Israel. We may feel obligated before God to defend her (and we'd better!) but there are days when even our highest officials wonder if they like us at all. The highest percentage of Europeans who actually treat us like the decent people many of us try to be seem to be from Eire, the UK or Greece.

On a very emotional level, most of us love England. I have often felt an unreasonable amount of fondness for this country I have never personally seen. I also love Scotland and Ireland with an intensity that most of continental Europe has never been able to raise -despite the fact that my ancestry is at least as much French/German.

Why is that? I think its cultural. John Bull has long seemed to many of us to be the good guy. We study more of England's literature, listen to more of their musicians & artists, and watch more of their shows than we do of any other country on Earth. We've heard from many English voices over the years, and their educated sets & kindest souls have impressed us favorably. We know we have a long history with them. We speak their language -well, a version of it anyway. Most of all they produced the likes of C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, Pratchett, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Rowling, and even Dr Who.

You gotta like the people who brought forth Dr Who

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