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Brazil in the short Strikes – the ultimate price of welfare

Luísa Monteiro

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]pril 28th will be a date to remember. Even though some of the great media claim that there were only demonstrations around the country, it is to assume that, by a consensus or not, what happened here was a strike. A general strike, the first in 20 years, one of the biggest in the History of the country, highly cited in the social media (figuring the trending topics in the whole world for hours), spread over the 26 states and the Federal District.

Barely any buses or trains in the city of São Paulo. Diverse unions like the teachers’ and the bankers’ and the two main popular fronts were not only present, but also organised the event.  

The reason for that? Not Mr. Temer’s government, specifically; not this time. But the new measures and reforms he has emphatically worked on since the end of last year, that happen to surprise and worry – to say the least – the average Brazilian worker.

The outraged atmosphere, however, comes way before today and takes a brief economic explanation to understand.

Old, but not gold

The last general strike happened in 1996, during Mr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government, another neoliberalist. One of the points in common is the fight against turning the workers’ rights more flexible. At the time, Mr. Cardoso even claimed that ‘strikes don’t create jobs’, as the protesters also manifested against the high unemployment rates.

It is natural that a moment of economic instability creates some sort of friction amongst the workers and the government. The late conjunction of that with a huge political crisis under the stigma of corruption is perfectly combined with strict measures from Mr. Temer and creates a dangerous mixture.

One of the most controversial acts proposed by the new president concerns the pension reforms. The initial project aimed to stablish a common age for retirement, being that valid for men, women, being them urban or rural workers – 65 years old, against the current 55 for women and 60 for men. Also, the minimum working time for retirements with a full pension (starting with 70% of its value and progressively evolving to 100%, according to the years of extra contribution) would be of 49 years, against the current 25 years for urban workers and 15 for the rural ones. It is needless to say that it was not accepted nor tolerated and some changes were made to be voted again in the Parliament – yet, the amount of people impacted by the reform will be enormous, and so will the time they need to work until they retire. The country, Mr. Temer says, cannot afford for the current system and some austerity must be shown, even in such a delicate matter.

It is clear as Malthus could foresee that times of prosperity and abundance do not last forever, but one must make no mistake and believe that any reform should be accepted. Indeed, the Brazilian pension system works as a pyramid – the ones who start working pay for those who have already stopped. This pyramid, following the global tendency, is becoming inverted and finding solutions for that is more than an obligation. Mr. Cardoso, and also Mrs. Rousseff created some formulas for calculating the ideal age for retiring and, until now, workers were to choose which one would fit them best. The clash came with a proposition of a questionable redistribution – which might have come as a demand from the president’s supporters – that would ultimately harm the Brazilian workers’ rights.

Work, work, work

Those, however, were not the only plans of the PMDB, Mr. Temer’s party, government. On Wednesday (27), a late voting session at the Lower House showed an articulation of a worried Mr. Temer for the approval of a reform of working laws before the pickets that would happen the next day. This reform would change some important aspects for workers, like the possibility to work as third parts, causing more instability; the prevalence of employer-employee agreements over the law, which may bring poorer working conditions, and the end of the obligation of yearly paying the union. The latter is clearly one of the reasons why the unionists were so heated: a union without its members is nothing at all, nor does it have the strength to fight for the working class.

The general strike was organised by the leftists, the same ones that call Mr. Temer’s rise to power a coup d’état, as we may see here. There were occupations, a typical manner in which the Brazilian left-wing acts. And, this time, there was hopefully some food for thought for all the citizens: those who do not work anymore, those who are to suffer the tough times to come and, especially, the most imminent political figure we have – who has kept almost silent during the protests, but has been watching it all very closely and already counts with a historic of ‘forced flexibility’, once he notices the people more dissatisfied than the usual rejection polls normally show.

Luísa Monteiro is a bachelor in Social Communication and is currently taking a Master's degree in Communication and Politics at PUC São Paulo. Her researches are closely linked to the studies of internet as a democratic agora and her latest academic production correlates the (offline) social movements and their exposure on the net.

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Americans’ Self-Contradictory Views of Socialized Healthcare

Eric Zuesse

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On December 3rd, Gallup bannered “Government Favored to Ensure Healthcare, but Not Deliver It” and reported that 57% of Americans say “It is government’s responsibility to see that all have healthcare” but only 40% of Americans want a “government-run” healthcare system to be available to everyone who wants it. In other words: many Americans want other Americans to be forced into corporate and non-profit — privately run — healthcare. Lots of Americans are irrationally rabid against any sort of socialism, even the democratic types of socialism that exist in many European countries such as Sweden, where the quality of healthcare has been proven in international studies to be superior to America’s, and where the per-person cost of healthcare is around half as high as in America. The healthcare industry and its executives and its lobbies and its paid-off politicians have plenty of libertarian fools in America who, by their political participation, make life worse for all other Americans by effectively blocking socialization of the healthcare function. Gallup’s December 3rd poll also found this mental illness, libertarianism, to be especially common among Republicans: Whereas 65% of Democrats endorse universal availability of a government-run healthcare system, just 13% of Republicans do. So, Republican voters are terrific for the drug companies and the rest of the ‘health’care (actually sickness) industries.

Gallup has polled Americans on many questions about healthcare policy. One poll they published 16 May 2016, titled “Majority in U.S. Support Idea of Fed-Funded Healthcare System”, reported that 58% of Americans wanted “Replacing the ACA [Obamacare] with a federally funded healthcare program providing insurance for all Americans.” Only 37% opposed it. A tiny 5% had no opinion. Perhaps that was a high-water mark for the American public’s support of socialization of the healthcare function in America.

On 20 November 2014, Gallup headlined “Majority Say Not Gov’t Duty to Provide Healthcare for All” and reported that, “For the third consecutive year, a majority of Americans (52%) agree with the position that it is not the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans have healthcare coverage. Prior to the start of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2009, a majority of Americans consistently took the opposite view” (that it’s not government’s responsibility to see that all have healthcare). But if it’s “not the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans have healthcare coverage” (presumably meaning for all basic healthcare, but not for vanity medical services such as “tucks” and other non-health-related medical services), then even life-saving medical care, and also essential preventive care (which lowers overall medical costs), will be available only to people who can pay for it; other people will just have to die, unless they can find someone (perhaps a relative) who is willing to pay. Of course, this type of system — the “Greed is good” system — will also mean that people die young and that disability-rates, and associated incapacity at work, will be high, and all of this will lower economic productivity. Welcome to the United States! (Of course, it’s lots better than places such as Honduras.)

Is it likely that majorities really do want single-payer, but not from the government? Hardly: a gratuitous addition of stockholders’ profits into the costs for providing essential and economic-productivity-enhancing healthcare services that everyone should have access to if it’s really needed (lawfully prescribed etc.) won’t just distort the incentives to medical-services providers (and so reduce both health and economic productivity), but it will also waste the money of medical consumers (government or otherwise). But what about having ‘non-profit’ firms provide the single-payer services, instead of the democratically accountable government doing that? Non-profits cut out profits, and so eliminate the distortions that stockholders’ wants introduce into the providing of any services (wants such as stockbrokers have, who pump the investments that pay them the highest commissions, which necessarily harms their investors). However, the top executives even of ‘non-profit’ firms can pay themselves whatever their friends who sit on their board of trustees will approve; and so a ‘non-profit’ provider, too, can be, at least to that extent, a scam. (And, of course, in an entirely free market, there is no regulation, and therefore scams will be routine; so, only crooks would want that, anyway. But all the propaganda in the U.S. praises “a free market.”)

These are reasons why the countries that have the highest life-expectancies, and therefore the best health-outcomes, are the same as the countries that have socialized basic healthcare services, paid for normally entirely through taxes and provided to all citizens as a basic human right instead of as a privilege that’s available only to individuals who can afford it. (Of course, “tucks” and such get charged extra to the patient.) The United States has by far the costliest health care in terms of not only what Americans pay for it but in terms of healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP, and yet the U.S. has the lowest life-expectancy of all OECD countries; the U.S. has the most-free-market healthcare, and also the worst healthcare, among all of the economically developed countries — all (except the U.S.) of which provide guaranteed basic healthcare services to all citizens: essential services free as a right, not charged as a privilege. America’s combination of the worst healthcare plus the by-far-costliest healthcare is no coincidence; and healthcare profits in America are the world’s highest; so, the present American system is terrific for those stockholders (whose firms hire the lobbyists and their politicians who write America’s healthcare-laws). Because basic healthcare in the United States is a privilege instead of a right, the U.S. is the only economically developed nation that does not have universal coverage, health insurance for 100% of its citizenry, healthcare as a guaranteed right instead of dependent upon the patient’s ability-to-pay. When Barack Obama entered the White House, the uninsured rate was 14.6%; when he left office it was 10.9%; the insured rate when he started was 85.4%, and it was 89.1% when he left office. His repeated promises of “universal coverage” were blatant lies. His plan was in no way designed for “universal coverage”; that promise was a lie from the very outset.

In the OECD’s “Health at a Glance 2015” (which covers 44 nations), the United States scored at or near the bottom for almost all indicators of healthcare-quality, including: Life expectancy, Access to care, Quality of care, Doctors per capita, and Hospital beds per capita. We were by far the highest on Pharmaceutical expenditure per capita. Oddly, three nations, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, were exceptionally high in both their heart-disease death-rates and their cancer death-rates; plus their life-expectancies were even lower than America’s, and their most carefully medically calculated measured “Quality of care” rankings were also generally as bad as the United States. However, in the latest calculated year, which is shown there, which was 2013, “Health expenditure per capita” (p. 165) was U.S. $8,713; Switzerland $6,325; UK $3,235; Czech Republic $2,040, Slovak Republic $2,010; and Hungary $1,719. So, America’s was over four times as high as the healthcare costs of some of the other countries in its class — i.e. in the overall worst class. Generally the top-performing nations were: Japan, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland. Switzerland was the second-highest in cost-of-care ($6,325), right below the United States. Norway was third-costliest, $5,862. Sweden was fifth-costliest, $4,904. Japan was 14th-costliest, $3,713. Finland was 17th-costliest, $3,442. Italy was twentieth-costliest, $3,077. The average OECD cost for all the 44 nations was $3,453, which was less than half of America’s obscene $8,713. Whether Obamacare changes any of those U.S. rankings is too early to tell. However, the U.S. is such an extreme “outlier” so that our healthcare system would need to be replaced root-and-branch in order to be competitive with any other nation’s in terms of delivering value-for-the-money, instead of rip-off (which is its existing outlier status — unparalleled by any other country’s, for delivering lousy value). It is so bottom-of-the-barrel, that it is below the barrel. This is by far the world’s most-free-market healthcare system, but our government spends more per-capita on it than do other nations’ governments that pay almost all of their citizens’ healthcare costs. Wow! In fact, as shown in the chart “9.3. Health expenditure as a share of GDP, 2013 (or nearest year)” on page 167 of that OECD report, the U.S. is the only country where the private sector pays more of the nation’s healthcare costs than does the public sector, the government. America is a libertarian’s paradise. No other nation comes anywhere close to that degree of non-governmental providing of the healthcare function. Every other nation has socialized the healthcare-function to a vastly higher extent than the U.S. has. That’s how corrupt America is.

Lots of other countries are more corrupt in the pettier forms of corruption such as bribery, but perhaps few match America’s higher-level, and far more complex, systemic corruption. It benefits only the super-rich, and their lobbyists and other agents.

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Trump’s Troubles Enter A New More Dangerous Phase

Frank Vogl

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Surprisingly, it snowed in Washington, but the temperature rose in the White House. So far, the array of investigations centering on president Donald Trump have been prologue. Now, Chapter One is starting to be written.

The president is alarmed. He Tweets in the middle of the night. “No collusion,” is his daily favorite phrase, with “witch hunt” a close second.

He claims that all alone, free of legal advisors, he has written replies to questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller about Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and that this ends the Mueller-Trump discourse. Nobody believes the president.

No lawyer would ever allow a client to freelance written answers to investigators. Moreover, the Mueller questions did not relate to what in time may be the central issue of impeachment hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives: Obstruction of justice.

Four distinct threats

As I have previously reported, there are multiple parallel sources of danger for Trump. Right now, he faces four distinct, yet overlapping threats to his political and business fortunes:

  1. More indictments of former Trump friends by Special Counsel Mueller.
  2. A series of high-profile court sentences of former Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to assorted crimes.
  3. A host of investigations to be launched by various committees of the House of Representatives, now that the Democrats have the majority there.
  4. The determination of New York State’s newly elected attorney-general, Letitia James, to go after Trump after she noted in her victory speech: “New Yorkers, we can spot a con man.”

Mueller takes aim

Washington is awash with rumors that Special Counsel Mueller, who has already issued over 30 indictments against individuals related to his investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, is about to bring charges against more Trump associates, including just possibly Donald Trump Jr.

Mueller has been investigating whether the Trump campaign was involved in the timing in late 2016 of the publication by Wikileaks of torrents of damaging e-mails from the Hilary Clinton campaign.

A central figure in the inquiry is Roger Stone, an old friend of Trump, and a former partner of Paul Manafort, the one-time 2016 Trump campaign manager, who now faces jail. James Corsi, an associate of Stone, has publicly stated that he expects to be indicted soon. Wikileaks is believed to have obtained the information from Russian hackers.

Related to this inquiry is the pursuit by Mueller of all the events that surrounded a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians said to have close Kremlin ties, involving Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, for the express purpose of securing damaging information on Hilary Clinton.

A volcano of bad publicity

Meanwhile, Trump cannot escape a volcano of bad publicity as his former key associates face judgement in the courts.

On December 12, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former top business lawyer will be sentenced after reaching an extensive plea agreement with prosecutors, which includes the revelation that he lied to Congress about the dealings of the Trump organization in Russia – Cohen now says he was negotiating with top Moscow officials  until June 2016 about building a Trump tower building there and he continuously kept Donald Trump and his family informed. Until now, Trump has always said he had no dealings with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cohen has also provided information to prosecutors about the hush money payments he made just before the election for Trump to cover up alleged affairs with two women.

On December 18, Michael Flynn, the former White House national security chief and former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, will face court sentencing after having pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his various dealings with Russians in 2016.

And, then on February 9, Paul Manafort, who was found guilty by a jury on various charges of fraud and tax evasion, while he also entered into a plea agreement on charges related to the presidential campaign. Now, Mueller has suddenly announced the plea deal is invalid as he claimed Manafort has consistently lied and Mueller will provide full details to support this claim in the courts before long.

Manafort’s deputy as campaign manager and his former business colleague, Rick Gates, is still cooperating with Mueller and his sentencing date has yet to be set. It seems likely that this may coincide with the conclusion of the Mueller investigation and the finalizing of a comprehensive report.

Attempts by the new acting U.S. attorney-general, Matt Whitaker, to stop the public release of the report would likely be challenged by prominent politicians in both houses of Congress and add to the sense of White House crisis.

Trump’s worst nightmare

Indeed, Congressional investigations may prove to be the worst of all of Trump’s impending nightmares. There are many targets and many members of Congress keen to take aim.

They will go after Whitaker himself, who seems to have been selected by Trump solely on the basis of his many previous public statements deriding the Mueller investigation and whose qualifications as America’s top law enforcer are questionable.

Plans are taking shape for a host of investigations led by the Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives, including: the alleged unethical conflict-of-interest activities of several of Trump’s cabinet members.

These include the secretaries of Interior, Commerce, Environment and possibly Treasury, and the business profits made by the firms that are still controlled by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, despite both of them being on the government’s payroll as White House advisors.

There is also the issue of expenses for security that the U.S. government has as Donald Trump Jr. travels the world promoting the Trump brand – his trip to India alone is said to have involved around $100,000 in taxpayer cash.

And, of course, there will be several House investigations, including public hearings, which explicitly relate to the alleged multiple connections between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russians, including Trump business dealings.

Letitia James enters the stage

Now, as the curtain goes up on the made-for-Broadway drama, “The Decline and Fall of Donald Trump,” so Letitia James enters the stage.

The first African-American woman to be New York state’s leading prosecutor declared as her election victory was announced: “We can spot a carnival barker. I will shine a light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing.”

It is just plain old good politics for Ms. James to secure as much publicity as she can by targeting Trump and her sights will be on the tax returns that the president refuses to make public, the international sources of funding that the Trump organization has tapped over the years, as well as alleged fraud by the Trump foundation.

All of these events combined will dominate Washington politics for months to come. As the facts emerge and as Trump’s troubles mount, so the number of Democratic Party politicians to announce plans to run for president in the 2020 elections will multiply — but that’s another story.

The original version of this article was first published by TheGlobalist on November 21, 2018 and subsequently by SALON.com – this is an updated article.

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Americas

Shapers of America: The Role of George H. W. Bush in Foreign Policy Making

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh*

The sad news on Friday of Former US President George .H. Bush’s death at the age of 94 spread all over the world in no time. His lasting legacy on the US political system and his accomplishments during his presidency from 1989 to 1993 touches nearly everyone. Former President Obama also paid tribute, saying: “America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush” While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude”.

In 1989 when Vice President Bush assumed power, his foreign Policy strategy was unfamiliar to the world. For the next four years, his administration tried to make the best out of the bad, often impossible task to change the course of United States (US) relations with former Soviet Union (USSR) and Warsaw bloc nations. Apart from diplomatic efforts his Presidency focused on economic diplomacy.  The signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) transformed trade ties with the trading bloc. Former President Bush addressing one of his key speeches on trade, in 6 February 1989 e stated, “We don’t want an America that is closed to the world. What we want is a world that is open to America”

Bush senior was a modern American Foreign policy architect credited for ending of the Cold War. Hence looking back it was a moment for celebration and pride when George Bush was chosen as Vice President during Regan’s two-termed presidency.  It was apparent as President Bush laid out policy approach of overcoming numerous national security and diplomatic challenges. However, his major foreign policy   problems from the start had been the Soviet Union (USSR) and integration of East European nations into the European Union (EU). It took full four years and turned to be as one of the most rigorous consultative processes in the US- USSR relations. In fact, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the meeting was held between George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev on the Mediterranean island of Malta. The collaborative diplomacy between the two superpowers with considerable negotiations between Bush and Gorbachev in reducing the nuclear warheads during the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) -1 and 2 had its cost. Having the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) as the prime subject of summit and the arrangement took nine years in taking the real shape.  Comparatively START -1 was the main understanding since the marking of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987. The idea behind conducting a summit on START is to lessen the percentage of nuclear weapons of both the United States (US) and the USSR by about 35 percent in more than seven years down the line.

During this period, there was intense debate about the meaning and scope of new foreign ties with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS ) states, East European nations and the expansion of NATO agenda over the former Warsaw led nations. A crucial element in these changing pictures was US’s shift on the status question with former Soviet Union (USSR) nations, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Unexpected summer of 1990 turned out to be a testing time for his presidency on the Iraqi invasion by Saddam Hussein. The question was much concern and caused debate. Hence, the events in the oil rich Kuwait attracted considerable global attention. On 17 January 1991 early in the morning where the allied forces launched their first attack that included in excess of 4,000 bombings owned by coalition aircrafts and   a month later on 24th February a large scale invasion pushed by the allied forces liberated Kuwait. The US led Gulf war and liberation of Kuwait was highly sensitive issue and wreaked Bush’s Presidency. In 1992, President Bush of the Republican Party lost to Bill Clinton of Democratic Party in Presidential elections.

Over the decades after retirement from Presidency, there has been an opposing view on his presidency. In 2011 it was another turning point in US political history where Bush seniors son George. W Bush junior   became the 43rd President, which only happened twice after John Adam’s son who also served as US president. During his presidency, Bush senior along with Clinton toured tsunami-hit nations. In 2011 the much-loved peoples President was honored with the Medal of Freedom, the most astounding US non-military personnel respect granted by then President Obama.

It is a powerful reminder of the manifold ways his presidential influence go beyond the scope of America and well beyond the first world nations essentially shaping   global foreign policy   mandate. When America fell silent on the sad demise of George H. W. Bush, many Americans and the international community might have felt they lost a hero. Yet Bush’s legacy represents the aspirations, the hopes of the American people and the global community. Perhaps these beliefs and values can build a more tolerant and respectful global society in the near future.

*Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.

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