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Lancet study finds U.S. has, by far, the world’s most-overpriced medical care

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On September 1st, Gallup headlined “50% in U.S. Fear Bankruptcy Due to Major Health Event” and reported that last year only 45% did. Both percentages are the world’s highest. One of the world’s leading medical journals had just published a study which explains why it’s the case.

The medical journal, The Lancet, is one of the world’s Big Three scientific journals of medicine; that’s the triumvirate of authorities for physicians worldwide, and the other two are the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the New England Journal of Medicine. On August 27th The Lancet published “Measuring universal health coverage based on an index of effective coverage of health services in 204 countries and territories”. Here is the visual that’s in it, which shows the United States as having, by far, the world’s costliest medical care, at around $9,000 per person per year, and yet as having lower quality of health care than virtually all other industrialized nations do:

Here is another such study, showing the same thing, and calculating it more simply:

What explains this?

Quite simply, the United States is the world’s most corrupt nation, and medical care is such an extreme necessity when a citizen needs it, so that they’ll pay whatever the system charges them for it — and investing in healthcare products and services is therefore enormously profitable in the United States. Actually, the only other market-sector that competes with it for providing simultaneously high returns and low risk (the combination that offers the best of both worlds to investors) is consumer staples, such as foods, which likewise are necessities of life. When people are desperate, they’ll pay, whatever the cost, because these are things they don’t just want — they need. Here, from Maksim Papenkov’s award-winning 6 February 2020 paper, “An Empirical Asset Pricing Model Accommodating the Sector-Heterogeneity of Risk”, is his sector-specific calculation of stock-market profitability during 2000-2018, showing that “HC” Health Care, and “CS” Consumer Staples, were the best at combining low risk with high returns, during that 19-year period: 

(“CD” there is Consumer Discretionary and includes Automobiles and Hotels. It’s the only sector that has higher returns than Health Care, but those returns are twice as risky. The S&P500 have lower returns than Health Care and slightly higher riskiness. At the opposite end, “IT” Information Technology is both the riskiest and the least profitable; and “F” Financials are the second-worst sector for investors. The most-profitable sectors are the necessities, the sectors that take the most from the most-desperate.)

In May 2017, Axene Health Partners published their actuary, Chris Slaybaugh’s, study, “International Healthcare Systems: The US Versus the World”, which stated:

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not have Universal Health Coverage for all citizens. … Rather than one system, United States citizens and residents are insured under a variety of sometimes overlapping systems. The United States is also the only developed country where a significant number of citizens are permitted to be uninsured and where a person’s employment can determine whether they have insurance and what insurance they have. … The extent to which medical bills contribute to bankruptcy is hard to tease out from other factors, but even those who are skeptical of the claim that medical costs cause the majority of bankruptcies concede that they are a significant contributor.13

In the rest of the developed world, by contrast, medical costs are rarely or never cited as a driver behind personal bankruptcy.

In fact, CNBC headlined on 11 February 2019, “This is the real reason most Americans file for bankruptcy” and reported that, 

Two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as a key contributor to their financial downfall.

While the high cost of health care has historically been a trigger for bankruptcy filings, the research shows that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act [“Obamacare”] has not improved things.

What most people do not realize, according to one researcher, is that their health insurance may not be enough to protect them.

While Barack Obama was running for President in 2008, he was promising to provide Americans with a “public option” in order to reduce profits for health insurance companies and thus lower costs, but he dropped that proposal immediately when he won the 2008 election, and he never pushed for it (not even to use as a bargaining chip with the Republicans in shaping his Obamacare). (In fact, Obama chose the conservative head of the Senate Finance Committee, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, to draft his Obamacare, because Baucus was against there being a public option, and because the progressive Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy’s Health, Education & Labor Committee had just drafted an Obamacare with a public option — Obama refused to have Kennedy draft his healthcare legislation. Obama was actually against there being a public option; only his public rhetoric was for it. Joe Biden is apparently now following the same tactic, of lying promises to the public, and true promises to his billionaire backers, to win the White House.) Obama promised the public “universal coverage”, which means 100% of the population covered, like in all other advanced economies, and his Obamacare increased the percentage insured from 84.5% when he came into office in 2009, to 87.7% two years after Obamacare started in 2013 — around 3%, by 2015 (which was after two years). That was still far short of the promised 100%. He was lying through his teeth in order to win election, and the ‘news’-media still hide (instead of expose) the fact that he did, and that he was actually an agent of the billionaires. He’s now the big hero among Democrats, because maybe Trump is even worse. Trump is up-front about his fascism. And Trump’s opponent now is another hypocrite (after Obama), Obama’s V.P., Joe Biden, who was the U.S. Senate’s leading Democratic Party segregationist and won his nomination by claiming to have been instead a civil-rights champion. Everything in U.S. politics is bait-and-switch. That’s the reality in America’s ‘democracy’: a bait-and-switch ‘democracy’, which serves actually only the wealthiest few. The politicians who are elected serve only the wealthy and well-connected.

America is the most libertarian, or “neo-liberal,” of the advanced industrial nations, and this is why it has the world’s most overpriced medical care. It provides the most liberty for the billionaires.

One of the few extremely bold Americans who rose high in the U.S. healthcare system and tried to tell the public how intensely corrupt it is, has been Marcia Angell, M.D, who held numerous prestigious posts in the U.S. medical system, and she was for a while the Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. On 15 January 2009, Dr. Angell headlined “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption”, and wrote:

Conflicts of interest pervade medicine. … It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. … So many reforms would be necessary to restore integrity to clinical research and medical practice that they cannot be summarized briefly. Many would involve congressional legislation and changes in the FDA, including its drug approval process. But there is clearly also a need for the medical profession to wean itself from industry money almost entirely. … Breaking the dependence of the medical profession on the pharmaceutical industry will take more than appointing committees and other gestures. It will take a sharp break from an extremely lucrative pattern of behavior. But if the medical profession does not put an end to this corruption voluntarily, it will lose the confidence of the public. … 

She had said, nine years earlier:

If we had set out to design the worst system that we could imagine, we couldn’t have imagined one as bad as we have. … Our health care system is based on the premise that health care is a commodity like VCRs or computers and that it should be distributed according to the ability to pay. … That market ideology is what has made the health care system so dreadful, so bad at what it does. … That is a fundamental mistake in the way this country, and only this country, looks at health care. … The only way to both reduce cost and increase access and quality is to change the system, to scrap it and start over. … I would pay for health care in a single payer system, and what goes into that pot can vary. In Germany, employers have to contribute to that pot. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I would rather see it come straight out of tax revenues.

Experts who are that public-spirited and knowledgeable about the system should be appointed by U.S. Presidents to lead the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, but the billionaires prevent that (of course).

On June 27th, NPR headlined “After Pushing Lies, Former Cigna Executive Praises Canada’s Health Care System”, and interviewed a retired PR executive for America’s health insurance companies, who said that maybe the work that he had done smearing Canada’s socialized health insurance — “to spread misinformation about Canada or use cherry-picked data and anecdotes” so as to deceive Americans to accept America’s existing medical system — was partly to blame for America’s having performed significantly worse than Canada had done on the coronavirus crisis. (As of 29 August 2020, Canada had 3,378 cases per million and was the 76th worst out of 215 countries, whereas U.S. had 18,522 cases per million and was the 9th-worst. On deaths, Canada was the 27th-worst at 241, whereas U.S. was the 11th-worst at 564.) 

America’s billionaires derive the vast majority of their net worth from stocks (capital gains and dividends), and from interest that’s paid to them; and, since nothing does this for them better than healthcare investments, the current for-profit system in health care is terrific for them; and these few hundred people, billionaires, extract this wealth from the hundreds of millions of Americans, the general public, and want to continue doing so, and they consequently finance politicians such as Joe Biden and Donald Trump (and their predecessors, such as Bush and Clinton), and they also set up ‘charitable’ foundations, and donate to medical schools, so as to inculcate this libertarian belief, not just into the public, but especially into the students and professors, who receive that trickle-down from them, as employees and future employees. While many in academe are against it, they’re not the ones who get advanced to the prestigious and high-paid positions. “He that pays the piper calls the tune.” It’s top-down (aristocracy), and it only pretends to be bottom-up (democracy). And, so, the corruption continues, and Americans die younger, and poorer, because of this aristocratically controlled system. It’s the American way. It’s the American system. Of corruption. Americans call it “capitalism.”

Of course, another area in which the U.S. Government is extraordinarily corrupt is its Military-Industrial Complex; and, on August 28th, a former top official of the NSA, Bill Binney, provided, online, an in-depth description of what he personally knows about that. His personal knowledge is enormous concerning within the Government itself, but not outside it — i.e., not regarding the corporations and billionaires who control the economic rewards system that the top public officials, who typically are agents of  the “Deep State” (the billionaires), are serving. However, what he says there is informative and highly reliable regarding the way that the Government’s bureaucracy itself functions, and he is extraordinarily honest about the intense corruption within the official Government. He makes clear that the U.S. Constitution is being systematically and routinely violated by top U.S. officials; so, the U.S. Government routinely violates the U.S. Constitution, in this ‘democracy’, where the system functions like clockwork, for the billionaires.

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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A Disintegrating Trump Administration?

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If Donald J. Trump wanted a historic presidency, he certainly seems to have achieved it — he is now the only president to have been impeached twice.

According to the rules, the House impeaches followed by a trial in the Senate.  There is precedent for the trial to continue even when the office holder has left office.  Should that trial result in conviction, it prevents him from seeking any future elected office.  Conviction is unlikely, however, as it requires a vote of two-thirds of the members present.

It has been reported that Trump wanted to lead the crowd in the march to the Capitol, but was dissuaded from doing so by the Secret Service who considered it much too dangerous and could not guarantee his safety.

Various sources attest that Trump’s mind is focused on pardons including himself and his family members.  Whether it is legal for him to pardon himself appears to be an unresolved question.  But then Trump enjoys pushing the boundaries of tolerated behavior while his businesses skirt legal limits.

He appears to have been greatly upset with his longtime faithful vice-president after a conversation early on the day of the riot.  As reported by The New York Times, he wanted Mike Pence to overturn the vote instead of simply certifying it as is usual.  The certification is of course a formality after the state votes already certified by the governors have been reported.  Pence is reputed to have said he did not have the power to do so.  Since then Trump has called Vice President Pence a “pussy” and expressed great disappointment in him although there are reports now that fences have been mended.

Trump’s response to the mob attacking the Capitol has also infuriated many, including lawmakers who cowered in the House chamber fearful for their lives.  Instead of holding an immediate press conference calling on the attackers to stop, Trump responded through a recorded message eight hours later.  He called on his supporters to go home but again repeated his claims of a fraudulent election.

Aside from headlining the US as the laughingstock among democracies across the world, the fall-out includes a greater security risk for politicians.  Thus the rehearsal for Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed raising questions about the inauguration itself on January 20th.

Worse, the Trump White House appears to be disintegrating as coordination diminishes and people go their own way.  Secretary of State Pompeo has unilaterally removed the curbs on meeting Taiwanese officials put in place originally to mollify China.  If it angers China further, it only exacerbates Biden’s difficulties in restoring fractured relationships. 

Trump is causing havoc as he prepares to leave the White House.  He seems unable to face losing an election and departing with grace.  At the same time, we have to be grateful to him for one major policy shift.  He has tried to pull the country out of its wars and has not started a new one.  He has even attempted the complicated undertaking of peace in Afghanistan, given the numerous actors involved.  We can only hope Biden learned enough from the Obama-Biden administration’s disastrous surge to be able to follow the same path.

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Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

President Trump-Administration is over-engaged in creating mess for in-coming President Joe Biden. The recent deliberate efforts are made to give a tough time are:  naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Terming Iran as a new home to al-Qaida, and lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan.

The consequence may turn into dire situations, like a return to cold war era tension. Efforts were made to resume Cuba-US relations to normal for decades and were expected to sustain a peaceful co-existence. Any setback to relations with Cuba may destabilize the whole region. Pompeo’s redesignation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terror will possibly have the least material impact, but it signifies a personal loss to Biden and a momentous political win for Trumpism. In doing so, Trump is hitting the final nail in the coffin of Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yemen issue was a creation of Arab spring sponsored by the CIA, and after realizing the wrongdoings, the US was trying to cool down the tension between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but with the recent move to name Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, may open new hostilities and bloodshed. It has been designated by UNICEF as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people — some 80 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.” Such statements may halt humanitarian assistance and may result in a big disaster.

The history of rivalries with Iran goes back to 1953 when the UK and the US jointly overthrew the legitimate government of Prime Minister Mossadeq. But the real tension heightened in 2018 When President Trump withdrew from JCPOA. But the recent allegation that Iran as a new home of al-Qaida may take a new turn and give a tough time to Joe Biden–Administration. Although there is no evidence, however, Secretary of State Pompeo made such an allegation out of his personal grudge against Iran. It can complicate the situation further deteriorate and even may engulf the whole middle-east.

Lifting constraints on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan, is open violation of “One-China Policy.” Since Washington established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it has resisted having official diplomatic associations with Taipei in order to avoid a confrontation with the PR China, which still comprehends the island — home to around 24 million people — as part of China. Chinese are very sensitive to the Taiwan issue and struggling for peaceful unification. However, China posses the capabilities to take over by force, yet, have not done so far. Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo’s statement may be aiming to instigate China and forcing toward military re-unification. It might leave a challenging concern for Joe Biden-Administration.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “The Trump administration is locking in place a series of conflicts that change the starting point for Biden walking into the office on the world stage.”

Even Mr. Pompeo had a plan to travel to Europe to create further hurdles for in-coming administration, but fortunately, some of the European countries refused to entertain him, and desperately he has to cancel his trip at the eleventh hours.

It is just like a losing army, which destroys all ammunition, weapons, bridges, infrastructures, etc., before surrendering. Although President Trump’s days in office are numbered, his administration is over-engaged in destruction and creating hurdles for the next administration. He is deliberately creating hurdles and difficulties for President-Elect Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden has many challenges to face like Pandemic, unrest in the society, a falling economy, losing reputation, etc. Some of them might be natural, but few are specially created!

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