Happy Anniversary Mr President!

Mr Brown goes to Washington

January 20th 2010 saw the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. But he is unlikely to have felt like celebrating as, the previous day, the voters of Massachusetts had elected the Republican Scott Brown.

It’s hard to overstate just how strange a result this is. The Senate seat won by Brown had been held by Teddy Kennedy, perhaps the biggest name in Democratic party politics, for 47 years until his death last year. In 1972, the last year it had a Republican Senator, Massachusetts was the only state to vote for George McGovern against Richard Nixon. It is as though a Conservative had won in Glasgow East.

Neither is this a one off. In November the Democrat governors of New Jersey and Virginia were ousted and this despite the presence of President Obama on the campaign trail. Or perhaps this was a cause? Obama’s approval rating has slipped from highs of 68% on election to barely 50% now. TEA parties (Taxed Enough Already) have sprung up across the States protesting about the $1.6 trillion deficit and town hall meetings have revealed a profound unease with the administrations plans for healthcare. Perhaps Americans voting for change in 2008 have come to realize that a man who was the product of the political machine of the most corrupt city in the country was, perhaps, not the person to achieve it.

This remarkable turn of events has come about because the change promised so repetitiously by Obama and his followers has turned out not to amount to very much. President Obama is a solid believer in big, activist government. But so was George W Bush.

President Obama has hemorrhaged more political capital on his health reforms than on any other issue. His aims have been to correct what he sees as the failure of the market in health insurance to cover all Americans and to make healthcare cheaper. Quite what form his eventual bill will take remains a mystery, the House of Representatives and Senate have a bill each with only the Senate’s bill actually passed. Besides, the election of Scott Brown now gives the Republicans the 41 Senate seats they need to filibuster any bill that shows up there. What was clear though, at every stage, was that ‘Obamacare’, in whatever form, amounted to a massive expansion of the role of the Federal government.

But this does not represent any kind of change from the administration of George W Bush who said “We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move”. Indeed, the Bush administration oversaw the largest increase in spending since Lyndon Johnson gave the US ‘The Great Society’. Between 2001 and 2007 education spending rose 18% annually as a result of Bush’s cherished No Child Left Behind Act. Agricultural spending was doubled from its 1990s levels by the 2002 Farm Act. Spending on Medicare doubled during the Bush years reaching $431.5 billion in 2007. According to academics at George Mason University, in his eight years in office “President Clinton increased the federal budget by 11 percent. In eight years, President Bush increased it by a whopping 104 percent.”

After the disastrous Bush presidency which left Americans less safe and less prosperous than they had been before, change was necessary. But the change from Bush’s big government to Obama’s big government is no change at all. 235 years ago Massachusetts was the birthplace of a revolution against overbearing government and perhaps the election of Scott Brown signals a new one. It is long overdue.

Written for the UCL Conservative magazine, February 2010

Bill Maher – American Idiot

The Constitution of the United States opens with the words “We the People”. It doesn’t say ‘We the Government’ or ‘We the Politicians” or ‘We the Experts From Ivy League Universities’. From its very inception the government of the US was based on Locke’s idea of the consent of the governed.

Clearly someone needs to explain this to TV comic Bill Maher. A few weeks ago he described the US as a “stupid country”. In response to the flood of opposition he got to this he responded on the Huffington Post blog.

Maher rattled off a list of facts proving the stupidity of the average American that would do the smuggest European proud. Ignorance of American constitutional arrangements, basic science and elementary history were just some of the nuggets trotted out to prove it. Maher asked “And these are the idiots we want to weigh in on the minutia of health care policy?”

Well if you believe in We the People then yes, that’s exactly the sort of people you want weighing in. It is We the People, after all, who will end up footing the bill for whatever healthcare measure is eventually churned out by Congress. These idiots that Maher has such contempt for are hard working taxpayers. Before the elites can do a single solitary thing they must first confiscate the resources to do it from the earnings of these idiots hard work. To simply take their money and then deny them any say in how it is spent is nothing less than legalized robbery. The cry of the American Revolution was “No taxation without representation”. We can only conclude that Maher would have fought with the redcoats at Lexington.

A famous Republican, Abraham Lincoln, once described “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Maher unashamedly believes in only two of these; government of the people for the people as he views the average American (though, one guesses, not himself) as too dumb to participate in government by the people.

Maher concluded his tirade by saying “And if you want to call me an elitist for this, I say thank you. Yes, I want decisions made by an elite group of people who know what they’re talking about.”

But Ronald Reagan nailed this, discussing the American tradition of democracy, in his 1964 speech to the Republican convention; “This idea? that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”


Unhealthy Obesession

Dean Acheson famously said that Britain had “lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. That was in 1962. In 2009 it seems we Brits have finally found one; looking down our noses at the Americans.

Russell Brand recently took time off from making offensive phone calls to old men to weigh into the debate on US healthcare, proudly announcing at the MTV Video Music Awards (a novel setting for a policy pronouncement) that in the UK , unlike the US , “instead of letting people die in the street we have free healthcare!”

You probably shouldn’t expect someone’s eyesight to be too sharp when they’re peering down their nose from astride their high horse but even so, Brand managed to fit two glaring errors into just 12 words.

First, the National Health Service is not free. Doctors and nurses aren’t volunteers and neither are the 2 administrators for every single bed in the system. The NHS consumes 18% of all government spending. That comes from taxes. Secondly, he is right that people rarely “die in the street”. In the UK you die of poor treatment or hygiene in the hospital.

That’s if you get in. As a centralised, socialised system the NHS is driven not by profit and loss in competition but by a deluge of ever changing targets and directives from central government. One target mandates the maximum amount of time a patient should wait after arriving at the hospital before receiving treatment. But targets invite fiddling and ambulances are kept waiting outside hospitals so as not to start the clock ticking. A letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from Chairman of the Ambulance Trust Graham Meldrum reveled 7,600 instances of this in October last year alone.

Once inside the NHS cannot even keep its premises clean. One result is Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection. In England in 2007 C Diff was mentioned on 5,465 death certificates being listed as the main cause of death on 2,298 of them. By contrast, in the same year, 47 British soldiers died in Iraq . Then there is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA for short. In 2007 MRSA was mentioned in 1,593 death certificates being given as the cause of death in nearly 500. Again, in 2007, 42 British soldiers died in Afghanistan.

If the unsanitary conditions don’t get you the treatment, or lack of it, might. For example, for all cancers 66.3 % of American men and 63.9 % of women survive more than five years. In Europe just 47.3% of men and 55.8% of women survive that long. Breast cancer mortality is 88% higher and Prostate cancer mortality is 604% higher in the U.K. Neither do these treatments bankrupt poor families. Out-of-pocket expenses by American patients are 12.6% of national health spending, lower than in Germany, Japan, Canada and most of Europe.

These are the facts that get lost in the debate about ‘Obamacare’. The primary aim of ‘reform’ is not to improve the health of the people, though its supporters no doubt believe this would follow, but to introduce ‘equality’. These moral considerations are far less quantifiable.

Earlier this year Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was interviewed about the NHS on Fox News and called it a “60 year mistake” which he “wouldn’t wish it on anyone”. For this saying this the Health Secretary of the UK government branded Hannan “unpatriotic”. He didn’t say he was wrong, and any attempt to debate the NHS in the UK invites the charge that you want to see poor people die. Its often said that in secular Britain faith in the NHS is the closest thing we have to a religion these days. Indeed, to see the venom directed at Hannan was to see something not a million miles from the denunciations of the medieval church. But blind faith, even in socialism, is no substitute for reason.

The same thing is being tried in the US in the current debate; the smearing of opponents of socialization as uncaring and elitist, or, as Jimmy Carter tried to put it recently, racist. That is why it is so vital to look at the statistics behind the socialists empty rhetoric.

Florida Congressman Alan Grayson said 44,000 Americans (out of a population of 300 million) die each year as a result of not having health insurance. But no system will be perfect. Leading oncologist Karol Sikora estimated 10,000 cancer deaths (out of a population of 60 million) in the UK every year because we have the NHS as opposed to another, more efficient system.

One of the most honest and insightful commentators on socialized medicine in the UK, James Batholomew put it this way; “I certainly do not hold up the USA as a model healthcare system. It is deeply flawed. But it is still much better at saving the lives of the greatest possible number than our, far more deeply flawed system. It depends what you want: a flawed system that saves more lives or a disastrous system that people feel is virtuous. This is a secular version of creationism. Many people in Britain love the NHS. They don’t care about evidence. They don’t care how many die. Believing in the NHS makes them feel good about themselves. I find it appalling that people are so self-indulgent and so uncaring about the reality.”

For more information on James Batholomew and his thoughts please refer to his book “The Welfare State We’re In” at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Welfare-State-Were-James-Bartholomew/dp/1842750631

A reply to ‘National Socialist Health System?’

In the US this summer everywhere I went the second thing people said upon finding out I was British (after ‘thanking’ us for Dancing With the Stars) was to ask about the NHS. The debate over healthcare reform is raging in America.

The debate is raging here too it seems as evidenced by the article ‘National Socialist Health System?’ in the last London Student. Like many contributions to the debate, it contained some fallacies.

The first fallacy came with the assertion that the controversy over nationalizing 1/7th of the American economy was “essentially manufactured and delivered by some of the most toxic elements of the American right-wing press.” I spent two weeks in Minnesota, one of the most social democratic states in the US (the only state never to vote for Reagan). Contrary to the articles assertion, the people quizzing me about the NHS were not raving right wing lunatics but ordinary Americans understandably concerned about the vitally important question of what happens when they get sick.

Next the article referred to the “46 million Americans without any health-care cover whatsoever”. First, the figure of 46 million contains 35 million who could afford insurance if they wanted to but choose not to. They may be young, sporty, don’t drink and smoke. Like a man who lives on top of a mountain doesn’t take out flood insurance, these Americans decide the chances of them needing healthcare are so small it’s not worth the cost.

Also the author didn’t mention Medicaid, the government insurance scheme for Americans on low incomes. Medicaid spent $204 billion in 2008 and will be bankrupt in the next decade.

The article mocked the “Freedom to suffer and to die prematurely due to inadequate health-care access”. But this sarcastic freedom doesn’t hold up. For example, for all cancers 66.3 % of American men and 63.9 % of women survive more than five years. In Europe just 47.3% of men and 55.8% of women survive that long. Breast cancer mortality is 88% higher and Prostate cancer mortality is 604% higher in the U.K. Neither do these treatments bankrupt poor families. Out-of-pocket expenses by American patients are 12.6% of national health spending, lower than in Germany, Japan, Canada and most of Europe.

Finally the article said that the NHS does not have “Orwellian death panels or bureaucratized guidelines on the worthiness of treatments for various categories of people”. This ignores the existence of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). This is the body which decides whether the NHS can afford this or that treatment, such as memantine for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and various drugs for treating renal cell carcinoma, both of which NICE refused to provide as not being “cost effective”.

American healthcare is clearly not perfect. Florida Congressman Alan Grayson said 44,000 Americans (out of a population of 300 million) die each year as a result of not having health insurance. But neither is ours. Leading oncologist Karol Sikora estimated 10,000 cancer deaths (out of 60 million) in the UK every year because we have the NHS as opposed to another, more efficient system. Discussing these issues makes you a concerned citizen, not a foaming nutcase.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 3, 19/10/09)