February 22, 2009

Extremely disheartening

The Great American Hope looks like it was a fleeting dream. Closing Guantanamo but keeping Baghram's prison (10 time larger, same lack of basic rights, same suspicion of torture) open. What the hell does he take us for? 

It is increasingly obvious that McCain would have been a better choice for the US. Boy, that hurt.

February 17, 2009

Making a stimulus a snoozer

It's not going to do much, this new stimulus bill. It's tiny, compared to the problem. It's slow, compared to the speed at which economic realities change and take hold in the public psyche. It has too many tax breaks, which are not efficient as stimuli, and are obviously temporary, as we all know that this money isn't a gift, it's a loan. Well, I hope we all still believe that the money will be paid back at some point. If that isn't the case, the foundation of the cheap credit that keeps the US running would be destroyed. 

Which brings us to California. It's not inconceivable that it actually goes bust - it really is in dire straits and it has very few options. What if it goes under, and people extrapolate? Same scenario - vastly increased borrowing costs for the government. That would be bad, with consequences going from simple government paralysis to loss of essential services. 

Pffft. The immediate danger of sudden systemic collapse has passed - probably was over several months ago - but the danger of a slow slide, deflation or permanent stagnation hasn't receded. It has barely diminished. 


I'm not a big MM fan, but Sicko was pretty interesting. It's on heavy rotation now on the movie channels here, and I can see why. In general it seems Europeans don't know or perhaps don't believe how the US system actually works - and vice versa. While it certainly is a biased movie, it doesn't seem to actually misrepresent the situation much. The only thing that is just silly is the Cuban stunt at the end. Fine, it hammers down the point, but I don't think it was necessary and its sensationalism damages the movie as a whole. 

So was the french doctor right, is it impossible for the US to get a similar system? Well, I had a brief optimistic spell, thinking that the US was perhaps ripe for real progress. I still think that enough Americans are willing to change, even in very drastic ways. But I think it is clear that Obama is not the man to push them along. Is there ever going to be a better time to push for universal health care than now, as part of the rescue package? Hopefully not. So why isn't it in there? It could have been sold as a way to level the playing field for the auto industry, a way to make unemployment checks go longer and a way to improve worker mobility. Surely it can be sold as a way to streamline healthcare, an industry that is dragging down the country by being preposterously inefficient. 

The sad truth is that universal healthcare seems to come about only in the wake of a devastating national tragedy (think WWII), during the formation of a new country or as part of a communist revolution. Since neither the dissolution of the USA, nor its reformation as a communist country are very likely in the near future, it seems reasonable to assume that UH can only make it in the US if the economy starts to go really downhill - depression style - or if it just refuses to improve in any fashion for a few years. Maybe Obama will be able to push it through in his second term. I guess that will have to pass for optimism for now.