Archive for the 'USA' Category

Uninsured Travel from Across the Land of the Free for Free Healthcare from Relief Group “Remote Area Medical”

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Thousands of Americans line up to receive free healthcare provided by a relief organization called Remote Area Medical.

watch this Democracy Now video

The Independent had this story
August 15, 2009
The brutal truth about America’s healthcare

An extraordinary report from Guy Adams in Los Angeles at the music arena that has been turned into a makeshift medical centre

They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could end up saving their life.

In the week that Britain’s National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an “evil and Orwellian” example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been transformed - for eight days only - into a vast field hospital. In America, the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British people take for granted.

In the first two days, more than 1,500 men, women and children received free treatments worth $503,000 (£304,000). Thirty dentists pulled 471 teeth; 320 people were given standard issue spectacles; 80 had mammograms; dozens more had acupuncture, or saw kidney specialists. By the time the makeshift medical centre leaves town on Tuesday, staff expect to have dispensed $2m worth of treatments to 10,000 patients.

The gritty district of Inglewood lies just a few miles from the palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills and the bright lights of Hollywood, but is a world away. And the residents who had flocked for the free medical care, courtesy of mobile charity Remote Area Medical, bore testament to the human cost of the healthcare mess that President Obama is attempting to fix.

Christine Smith arrived at 3am in the hope of seeing a dentist for the first time since she turned 18. That was almost eight years ago. Her need is obvious and pressing: 17 of her teeth are rotten; some have large visible holes in them. She is living in constant pain and has been unable to eat solid food for several years.

“I had a gastric bypass in 2002, but it went wrong, and stomach acid began rotting my teeth. I’ve had several jobs since, but none with medical insurance, so I’ve not been able to see a dentist to get it fixed,” she told The Independent. “I’ve not been able to chew food for as long as I can remember. I’ve been living on soup, and noodles, and blending meals in a food mixer. I’m in constant pain. Normally, it would cost $5,000 to fix it. So if I have to wait a week to get treated for free, I’ll do it. This will change my life.”

Along the hall, Liz Cruise was one of scores of people waiting for a free eye exam. She works for a major supermarket chain but can’t afford the $200 a month that would be deducted from her salary for insurance. “It’s a simple choice: pay my rent, or pay my healthcare. What am I supposed to do?” she asked. “I’m one of the working poor: people who do work but can’t afford healthcare and are ineligible for any free healthcare or assistance. I can’t remember the last time I saw a doctor.”

Although the Americans spend more on medicine than any nation on earth, there are an estimated 50 million with no health insurance at all. Many of those who have jobs can’t afford coverage, and even those with standard policies often find it doesn’t cover commonplace procedures. California’s unemployed - who rely on Medicaid - had their dental care axed last month.

Julie Shay was one of the many, waiting to slide into a dentist’s chair where teeth were being drilled in full view of passers-by. For years, she has been crossing over the Mexican border to get her teeth done on the cheap in Tijuana. But recently, the US started requiring citizens returning home from Mexico to produce a passport (previously all you needed was a driver’s license), and so that route is now closed. Today she has two abscesses and is in so much pain she can barely sleep. “I don’t have a passport, and I can’t afford one. So my husband and I slept in the car to make sure we got seen by a dentist. It sounds pathetic, but I really am that desperate.”

“You’d think, with the money in this country, that we’d be able to look after people’s health properly,” she said. “But the truth is that the rich, and the insurance firms, just don’t realise what we are going through, or simply don’t care. Look around this room and tell me that America’s healthcare don’t need fixing.”

President Obama’s healthcare plans had been a central plank of his first-term programme, but his reform package has taken a battering at the hands of Republican opponents in recent weeks. As the Democrats have failed to coalesce around a single, straightforward proposal, their rivals have seized on public hesitancy over “socialised medicine” and now the chance of far-reaching reform is in doubt.

Most damaging of all has been the tide of vociferous right-wing opponents whipping up scepticism at town hall meetings that were supposed to soothe doubts. In Pennsylvania this week, Senator Arlen Specter was greeted by a crowd of 1,000 at a venue designed to accommodate only 250, and of the 30 selected speakers at the event, almost all were hostile.

The packed bleachers in the LA Forum tell a different story. The mobile clinic has been organised by the remarkable Remote Area Medical. The charity usually focuses on the rural poor, although they worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Now they are moving into more urban venues, this week’s event in Los Angeles is believed to be the largest free healthcare operation in the country.

Doctors, dentists and therapists volunteer their time, and resources to the organisation. To many US medical professionals, it offers a rare opportunity to plug into the public service ethos on which their trade was supposedly founded. “People come here who haven’t seen a doctor for years. And we’re able to say ‘Hey, you have this, you have this, you have this’,” said Dr Vincent Anthony, a kidney specialist volunteering five days of his team’s time. “It’s hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Healthcare needs reform, obviously. There are so many people falling through the cracks, who don’t get care. That’s why so many are here.”

Ironically, given this week’s transatlantic spat over the NHS, Remote Area Medical was founded by an Englishman: Stan Brock. The 72-year-old former public schoolboy, Taekwondo black belt, and one-time presenter of Wild Kingdom, one of America’s most popular animal TV shows, left the celebrity gravy train in 1985 to, as he puts it, “make people better”.

Today, Brock has no money, no income, and no bank account. He spends 365 days a year at the charity events, sleeping on a small rolled-up mat on the floor and living on a diet made up entirely of porridge and fresh fruit. In some quarters, he has been described, without too much exaggeration, as a living saint.

Though anxious not to interfere in the potent healthcare debate, Mr Brock said yesterday that he, and many other professionals, believes the NHS should provide a benchmark for the future of US healthcare.

“Back in 1944, the UK government knew there was a serious problem with lack of healthcare for 49.7 million British citizens, of which I was one, so they said ‘Hey Mr Nye Bevan, you’re the Minister for Health… go fix it’. And so came the NHS. Well, fast forward now 66 years, and we’ve got about the same number of people, about 49 million people, here in the US, who don’t have access to healthcare.”

“I’ve been very conservative in my outlook for the whole of my life. I’ve been described as being about 90,000 miles to the right of Attila the Hun. But I think one reaches the reality that something doesn’t work… In this country something has to be done. And as a proud member of the US community but a loyal British subject to the core, I would say that if Britain could fix it in 1944, surely we could fix it here in America.

Healthcare compared

Health spending as a share of GDP

US 16%

UK 8.4%

Public spending on healthcare (% of total spending on healthcare)

US 45%

UK 82%

Health spending per head

US $7,290

UK $2,992

Practising physicians (per 1,000 people)

US 2.4

UK 2.5

Nurses (per 1,000 people)

US 10.6

UK 10.0

Acute care hospital beds (per 1,000 people)

US 2.7

UK 2.6

Life expectancy:

US 78

UK 80

Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)

US 6.7

UK 4.8

Source: WHO/OECD Health Data 2009

The austerity to come: pensions

Friday, October 17th, 2008

In the US, the loss in the value of pensions (private and public) amount to $1 trillion. And they still dare to tell us to diversify investment portfolio in order to minimise risk. See the Statement by Peter R. Orszag, Director of the US Congressional Budget Office.

meltdown management

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

there is a a lot going on definitively in the current financial crisis, and events are moving very fast. Hence, let me try to put some order to some untidy thoughts with the disclaimer that I am commenting on a fluid situation and hence I am not 100% committed to what I am saying

* neoliberlism as we know it, is obviously finished. But this was true also before the recent g8 in Japan. The current crisis/meltdown of finance raises the *urgency* of dealing with the impasse they have been facing for some time now. This moment of crisis we are living is where the different positions and strategic horizons are forced to distinguish themselves and/or find a common ground. This is a challenge for both the ruling classes and for the “commmoners”.

* For capital’s *in general* perspective (that is the perspective of the “system that any government must try to the save whatever means necessary” to paraphrase today’s interview to Tory leader Cameroon who had a sudden taste for bipartisanship in the midst of the Tory conference) the impasse must be solved in a way or in another. Whatever way, it must provide the material conditions to launch a new phase of accumulation. This is obvious, even if it may sound a platitude. But it is a platitude that does constitute the strategic horizons within which the current debates are plaid out.

* what way is of course important. We have at play two broad strategies within this horizon. One, which brings together the panicking US administration (Bush and Paulson) with “responsible” democrats who, pace some populism in their interventions that have realised some fine tuning to the robbery of the $700b, thought to go along with the bailout of Wall Street. I agree with Naomi Klein here. The shock is here delayed. The cost of this bailout (on top of skyrocketing military expenditures), would in the near future tie the hands of any US administration and be the basis of more typical neoliberal policies (cut in spending, re-privatisation of nationalised banks during the crisis, etc.) The infrastructure and energy investment promised by Obama will take place if he is elected, but in a context of populist austerity (in which the cuts necessary to fund these investment are distributed “fairly”). If instead McCain goes to the White House, austerity is already embedded in his agenda even without the $700b constraint. In either case, this bailout scenario is relying on the idea that the system could go on more or less as it did so far, a part for some buffering during this crisis. The difference between an Obama and a McCain administration here would be the difference of degree of governance: obama would manage the flow of domestic and international conflict in a more deal prone way and McCain would replay Bush’s script despite his annoying conciliatory tone he uses to dress the substance of his speech. Obviously, financial capital seem to want the bailout, as it save their skins and, potentially, at least part of their bonuses.

* if the rescue plan goes ahead (there is a vote on Wednesday, we will find in a situation in which public money has been used at a massive scale to buy assets above the value they would have had if the market were left to operate as in textbooks. This is not only something that enrages many people, it is also something that opens to a degree the socialisation of finance used, in this case, in order to save the system itself. Here the US “Middle Classes” are really caught in between a rock and a hard place. Bail them out, and swallow the anger that your money goes to save their neck and more sacrifices will be demanded from you tomorrow to pay for the bailout. Don’t bail them out, and face the prospect that your pensions, your access to credit, your job, your children college, your cars, your way of life is ultimately threaten by financial meltdown (see the amazing Bush’s speech) the other day). In this sense, the Middle Class as Middle Class will not get us out of this mess. The Middle Class must accept its end in order to aspire for a truly new beginning.

* now, the failure to pass the $700b plan (so far, don’t forget they are still trying to patch this up) is really interesting. There is obviously a lot of opposition to this bail out, bringing together hard core republicans and radical left types from the street. From a left-populist perspective, the argument has been made that instead of paying “greedy” Wall Street, money should be put towards funding home owners and the recovering of main street. Some versions of latter-day Keynesianism here are always at play. Saskia Sassen for example has made an argument along these lines in “open democracy”. (see also other examples cited in my blog post few days ago) Some of the arguments will be taken on board by McCain and, especially, Obama even if the $700b passes. But the real interesting perspective here is that this crisis is opening up an opportunity for true “market fundamentalists” to step in (even while they are riding as in the late 1970s a populist rhetoric): don’t bail out the suckers of Wall Street, let them face the risk they have incurred. This is the “moral hazard” argument, with which committed marketeers hammer in their sense of value and justice any time they are in front of a crisis. Crises, even big one, have a disciplinary role to play, to brig about needed restructuring. Let them play it. And since they are the true believer in the end of history (that is, really, that market capitalism is the bliss point of human evolution), they are confident that even a crisis of this proportion can be the basis of a new round of accumulation. Obviously, to the limit this stance could threaten the system itself, *if* the “commoners” had gone through a process of powerful enough political recomposition not only in the US, but across borders. Lacking this, lacking this “explosion of the middle class” and its recomposition into commoners and commoning predicated on new values, this stance offers also a great opportunity for truly massive and major restructuring of the economy and livelihoods at a planetary level in capital’s favour. This stance could even open to a period of the US state taking over of Wall Street devalued financial firms at a bargain, hence the creation of a US Sovereign Wealth Fund that would recapitalise in value in proportion to the global restructuring it is able to implement, and of the expectation of world growth it is able to elicit that would be reflected in the value of those nationalised financial firms. This of course could be in “partnership” with other sovereign wealth funds around the globe, a sort of “productivity deal” at governance level. Here we would have a situation in which the Middle Class would be tied to the neck to accumulation prospects (and its enclosures), around the planet not longer simply because of their pensions, but also for anything the state would provide for their reproduction. We can even imagine a situation in which in few years a Milton Fridman’s type of basic income is introduced together with a tax flat rate, grossly reducing tax revenue, but replaced by the revenue of the US people Sovereign Wealth Fund, capitalising itself in direct proportion to prospects of world accumulation (you can imagine the role of the US military then!!).

The main difference between this strategic course of action and the bailout will be in the intensity of the restructuring needed and its time frame. In either case, and whatever the scenarios ahead, it is certain that after the period of financialisation of society we are entering now the period of socialisation of finance. This has been recognised widely, even by mainstream press. The end of neoliberalism as we know it however, is not the end of capitalist enclosures, disciplinary and governance processes. It is the strategic reconfiguration of the social force we call capital on a new plane.

The question for us is how do we intervene in this new context. The question we should raise and problematise is “what socialised finance” — that is, in our terms, when we strip from money and finance its capitalist form and recognise its “rational kernel” as a conduit for the distribution and allocation of social powers — what decisions of social investments, for what priority, for what needs, through what mechanism of commoning, the fucked up commoning of capitalist enclosures and discipline, or others ones, which one?

the exitement of hope and fear: the naked emperor way

Friday, September 26th, 2008

video_button_white_dred.gifHere is Bush speech on Wednesday night (24 September) to get the $700 billion bail out in contrast with what he said on July 15 2008 when he said that everything was fine, that productivity was growing, that people are working (”not as good as we’d like but . . .”), etc. Two months ago he was exciting hope in the midst of panic. Now we have the excitement of fear in the midst of meltdown. Almost like at the time of September 11, we are hushed into accepting a massive cost in view of avoiding a greater one, the fall from middle class status (weather real or ideal). Here is the naked emperor: “the top economic experts warn that if not immediate action is taken” we’ll have “financial panic and distressing scenarios” . . .”more banks would fail including one in YOUR community. The sock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of YOUR retirement account, the value of YOUR home could plummet, foreclosures would rise dramatically, and if you are a business or a farm YOU would find it harder and more expensive to get credit, more business would close their doors, and millions of americans could loose their jobs”

But you may think that this would not touch you, as you credit rating is fine . .ah ah, “even if you have good credit history it would be more difficult for YOU to get a loan you need to buy a car or send your children to college, and ultimately our country could experience a long and painful recession. Fellow citizens, WE must not let this happen.”

As a “long and painful recession” will happen anyway (many are predicting a min of 18 months recession which has already started) this call for action with the consequent bailing out of wall street with a blank check is obviously going to be defended in the future as “if we had not done that we would be experiencing a worst recession.” But the emperor IS naked in this moment of crisis. Part of the US ruling classes are stirring this towards creating a context for near future restructuring and cuts. The public purse will be burdened with debt over Iraq and the bailout and a furthering of privatisation of public services etc, will be on the agenda. And this agenda is fine with the democrats, who are ready to accept a deal with few cosmetic limits to executive pay. What is interesting is that it is the republicans, concerned that the bailout is a step towards “socialism”, that are dragging their feet (see this article in the International Herald Tribune). What’s stewing?


around $700 billion

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Paulson’s argument for keeping his $700b bailout programme a free gift to his old Wall Street mates is that it is designed to attract private partners who would be discouraged if too many caveats are put into place: see here

here is Paulson’s testimony

check also Naomi Klein’s interview on democracy now . . . .when it was run by Paulson, Goldman & Sacks increased debt exposure enormously, hence today’s bail out goes to safe his old colleagues ‘ass

check this: presidential debate suspended, general states called, bipartisan consensus seeked to frame $700b plan . . .we might be in the midst of a process to generate a new kind of consensus which will set the framework for policies for the next few decades.

also, from Naomi’s bulletin the news that Gingrich is holding an event this Saturday, September 27 that will be broadcast on satellite television to shore up public support for new controversial policies. . . .

here is the breakdown of different take and resistance around Paulson from RGE monitor site:

◦ In its original version, Treasury requests the right to buy anything from any institution (incl. hedge funds) at theoretically any price it deems right without oversight or legal recourse. Management of assets will be outsourced to the private sector. Authority expires Sep 2010. By order of magnitude, the entire shadow banking system incl. brokers and hedge funds is $10 trillion of which $5 trillion are buried in off-balance sheet vehicles.–> House Republicans warn Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Sep 24 that his $700 billion financial rescue plan wouldn’t pass and ask for more time to consider alternative ideas.
◦ Ben Bernanke proposes ‘hold-to-maturity’ purchase price instead of current market value described as ‘fire-sale’ price.
◦ Krugman: if taxpayers are to overpay for securities that other private market participants would not take at any price then an equity stake is a MUST; i.e. should be make-or-break issue in Congress.
◦ Democrats’ alternative plan includes measures on: restrictions on executive compensation, Equity stakes in return for bailout to recapitalize institutions and retain upside for taxpayers; Bankruptcy reform to lower debt value of purchased mortgages; Independent oversight of how $700bn are spent; Second stimulus package for Main Street next to bailout for Wall Street.
◦ Industry groups want to temporarily suspend mark-to-market accounting in order no to take a writedown on sold assets
◦ Tett: valuation and pricing issues prevented the first Super-SIV from working, the same might happen again. If bad asset purchase price is too low, writedowns might be too large to bear; if price is too high, taxpayer overpays and has limited upside eventually–> 
◦ Geithner (via MarketWatch): The ’shadow banking system’ that needs to be re-intermediated is a $10 trillion market without adequate capital provisions (=$2.2tr commercial paper conduits incl ABCP + $2.5tr repo/reverse repo market + $4tr combined brokerage assets + $1.8tr hedge funds = $10.5tr in 2007) that boomed outside traditional banking. In comparison: the traditional banking system is also $10trillion.
◦ In July, FASB has decided to “eliminate the concept of the Qualified Special Purpose Entity (QSPE)” in the revised financial-accounting standard, FAS 140, starting November 2009. This requires banks to consolidate off-balance sheet vehicles used to package assets into securities –> Up to $5 trillion of dollars worth of illiquid assets/derivatives are buried on banks’ Variable Interest Entities (VIEs) 
◦ BIS Joint Forum: CDO of ABS (i.e. structured finance CDOs), CDO^2 are not likely to survive the turmoil .  
◦ SIFMA: Global issuance of CDOs from 2004 - 4Q2007 totaled $1.47 trillion. CDO issuance by underlying collateral in 2007:
-$254.8bn structured finance CDOs (collateral pool consisting of RMBS, CMBS, CMOs, ABS, CDOs, CDS, and other securitized/structured products) 
-$148.3bn high-yield loans (rated below BBB-/Baaa3) CDOs
-$78bn investment-grade bonds CDOs

Naomi was rebuked by Andrew Sullivan remarks that the problem is not shock, but there is not enough “capitalism”, where people take responsibility, taxes are on a level playing field etc. . . .it is actually quite interesting here the fact that this is the major impasse between the two, on other themes much agreements it seems.

Here 5 economists interviewd by Al Jazzeera, incluing James Galbraith . . .ranging here from keynesian growth policy to calls against moral hazard

The article above was asking: is this the end of capitalism? A specular question was asked during BBC Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman to Naomi Kleim: what is the alternative to capitalism? There is always an impasse to this question, precisely because the question requires an “ism” for an answer, and we are quite sceptical about providing these (and this is good, it means we are sensible to the fact that the “ism” comes out of our own interaction, and is not a magic formula you and I can campaign on. So, we should say: I do not know what is the alternative to capitalism, but I know what is the alternative to capital, and that is that people start to run their own affairs in common, giving values to other things than profit. For example, the alternative is that instead of giving $700 billion as a blank check to the financial capital of wall street, we let them bankrupt, buy their assets at a bargain, and start use finance as a conduit for socially and environmentally sustainable investment, predicated on social justice. Who decide what is just? well, since these financial powerhouse will be in public hand, we have to open a debate what do we mean by democracy . . .

Here is the Austrian economist position. Here the author claims the bailout will be $5 trillion. The argument is that “More formally, there is a gap between the nominal and real value of debt instruments that across the entire credit spectrum easily exceeds $5 trillion, the risk of which the federal government has assumed.” Through the bailout the federal government is providing a floor to the assets prices above the “real value” of assets (i.e. very low in these conditions). To paraphrase Marx, as soon as wall street and government put their heads together, the sacred laws of supply and demand are repealed.

Three options are given here by the Austrian economist author Don A Rich:

“First, the federal government raises taxes to pay off the difference. That clearly isn’t good news for Wall Street or the wealth-creation process.

Second, the Federal Reserve System prints enough money to prop up debt-security prices at nominal values over time, thereby bringing about equilibrium by raising the prices of everything else. A borderline hyperinflation isn’t good news for Wall Street.
Third, perhaps in some instances the federal government seizes the assets of the financial industry at fire-sale prices, and therefore inflicts the loss on shareholders and private creditors in a bizarre form of monetary-policy-induced, catastrophe-driven socialism or fascism.”

Well perhaps not, perhaps the seizure of financial assets could in principle open to a different and far more democratic use and function of finance as mentioned above.

Here Saskia Sassen’s “New new Deal”: let us spend $700 billion but in different ways (infrastructure, social services etc.). No mention about the link between fed expenditure and gov control on wall street.

The capitalist use of a hurricane and the struggles against enclosure of public housing

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

video_button_white_dred.gifThis short film surveys the tactics used by the city administration of New Orleans, to try to get “affordable” housing tenants out of their houses, so as to “regenerate” them for money making. It also shows some of the struggles of the tenants to stay in. They have other types of “regeneration” in mind. A clear case of value struggles.

Foreclosures: costs and movements

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

video_button_white_dred.gifThis video extract from Democracynow.org of 29 November discusses the social and human cost of foreclosures in the US, the number of which has nearly doubled to 225000 in the Month of October.

Also shown is an interviews to activists from NEPAD, an NGO who is asking Investment Banks to aknowledge their responsibility in this crisis and donate their holiday bonus to prevent furhter foreclosures. About 2 million home owners are potentially facing foreclosures when their adjustable rate mortgages resets at higher rate. (more…)

US Sub-prime crisis and foreclosures

Friday, December 7th, 2007

The most recent news is that in October, the number of foreclosures has nearly doubled to 225000. About 2 million home owners are potentially facing foreclosures when their adjustable rate mortgages resets at higher rate. The distribution of sub-prime lending across the US is shown in this map taken from the New York Times

ussubprime.jpg

The political costs of this might however have been anticipated by Bush’s administration, (more…)

Home mortgages and sub-prime crisis: some technical notes

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Here is a graphical representation of the home mortgage system which has generated the sub-prime crisis. It is a free re-elaboration of a diagram circulated by Fred Moseley at the recent Historical Materialism conference in London on Nov 9-11.

homemortgages.jpg

Few observations. (more…)

Magna Carta and the commons

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

magnacarta.jpgHere is Peter Linabough keynote at the crisis of the californian conference held in Berkeley on 27 and 29 April 2007. For more audio material see here. Peter Linabough has just finished a book on that treaty of the class war that was the Magna Carta. For a short article on the matter, see here. This laid back and passionate talk tell us how the recent anti-terrorist laws are cutting bak on that original deal and help us to see the struggles for commons through the letters of the law.