9 Months, 20 Days, still sober
I was out most of yesterday with Bob who has now rented a house down the road from me in the same village, near the lake. He is planning to move his family here shortly so I guess I will have a friendly neighbour.
Last Monday I took Noo and Tui to The crocodile Farm, which is only a short drive from the lake. This is my 3rd visit over the years and I must admit that I have little patience these days to see wild animals that are en caged there, especially the tigers and bears who are kept on leashes and are paraded before public who are invited to pay 100 Baht to have their picture taken standing or sitting next to them. I can’t imagine how much cruelty was inflicted upon these wonderful beasts before they were sufficiently cowered to be trusted not to maul their human visitors.
I also detest the crocodile show, which is not only moronic and probably cruel in its creation, but they play the music and Thai commentary so ear-splittingly loud that it actually pains my ears.
The only redeeming feature of the crocodile farm is its gardens and wonderfully carved stone statues, and I always enjoy a walk around its grounds, away from the crocks and other animals.
Today is a saucy-pic-free zone
The main part of today’s blog is dedicated to a serious commentary on American politics so I have decided it is not appropriate to post pics of semi naked women. So instead I will post a few of the pics I took during my recent trip to the crocodile farm.
I trust my more licentious readers are not too disappointed.
The American political system: its dark & often tragic side effects
The debate about the merits of America’s capitalist, ‘Laissez Faire‘ political system versus the more ‘caring’, welfare systems that dominate most of western European states, will continue to be raged to and fro across the Atlantic, long after this blogger is dead and gone.
Essentially, in the USA, its citizens are expected to stand on their own two feet, and not be ‘molly-coddled’ by a ‘nanny state’, whereas in European states, there is a much larger safety net in place to protect its weaker and more vulnerable citizens,
Indeed, within America itself political views are becoming ever more polarised. On the one hand, there are the right wing conservative republicans, who point scathingly to ‘socialist’ Europe where evil governments decide who lives and who dies under state health schemes, and on the other hand we have the left leaning, liberal Democrats, who seek to bring the entire population into the new healthcare safety net, (‘Obama-care‘), and make their richest citizens contribute a much greater share of their income in order to fund the huge cost of providing welfare benefits for all.
For those of you who have been reading my blog for quite a while, you will know that I generally tend to lean to the right; but having been brought up, almost since birth, in a welfare state, I also see great benefit in such institutions as free healthcare for all, unemployment benefits and other social benefits for the disadvantaged and of course a state pension for all in their old age.
Yes, times are very hard right now and many people in England are suffering, with less money in their pocket than they have had in decades and there are many, long term, maybe ‘terminally’ unemployed.
Yet, no one is starving, everyone has a roof over their heads, families are able to live together, there is free education for all up the age of 18, and everyone has access to good, free medical care. The so-called British welfare state may not be perfect and we can argue for the next year on what is wrong with it and what needs to be done to improve it and change it.
But when I am say I ‘lean to the right’, I actually mean that I veer on the side of encouraging and sometimes ‘prodding’ people to stand up more for themselves, rather than let them remain set in the belief that the State ‘owes them a living’ and will provide for them from ‘cradle to grave’ and that they never have to lift a finger to help themselves.
So much money through the years has been wasted on unnecessary socialist ‘clap trap’ which could have been better spent in other areas of the economy to the benefit of all. But if given a choice between the ‘American model’ and the ‘British Model’ there is no contest for any rational thinking person.
Indeed I would wager that if you brought a cross-sectional group of US citizens, from all walks of life, to come and live in Britain for a year, so that they could properly understand and participate in the UK ‘welfare system’ – whatever that may mean to them as individuals – I’ll bet that all of them, whether rich or poor, would back the British system.
If you listen to our politicians debating the pros and cons of our systems and what needs to be changed, improved or even discarded, you will find that they are actually arguing over relatively small details. From the extreme right, to the socialist left of British politics, you will not find a single person who wishes to dismantle the basic elements of our system – whether it be healthcare, unemployment benefit , free schooling, state pensions, housing benefit for the homeless or additional monetary help to the most disadvantaged in our society.
They argue over degree and method; not the basic principles. We have all known that the welfare state – for want of a better word – has been the right way to go for a very long time and we should be for ever in debt to Clement Atlee and the post war Labour Party for kicking it all off back in the late 40’s. It was, yet again, another ‘first’ in this world for the good old UK.
I often hear American commentators talk about the ‘American Dream’ and how America is the only country in the world where an ordinary citizen can succeed beyond his wildest dreams and become a billionaire. What a load of hog wash! There are countless examples of self-made British billionaires over the last century or so, and opportunity is every bit as good within the UK, so-called welfare state, as it is in rabidly capitalistic USA.
Yes we have a welfare state, but we still believe very strongly in private enterprise, and while there may have been a time when we started to lose our way economically at the end of two debilitating world wars, but ever since the Thatcher years of the 80’s, we have been well back on course; creating a climate which has very much encouraged entrepreneurs and private enterprise.
Across the pond, our ‘New World’ cousins are so polarised politically that you actually wonder where on earth it will all end. A good friend of mine, a US citizen, once told me that even the most liberal Democrats are doctrinally to the ‘right’ of the British right wing conservatives.Well that may have been true of the Clinton era but I am not so sure it is true of the current, Obama administration.
But the point is still well made; it is dangerous to compare the political principles of British political parties, to those of the American equivalents. It is probably true to say that European politics, whether from the right or left, excluding the extreme fringe elements, is generally to the ‘left’ of all American political parties – again ignoring the extreme fringe groups.
Why is this and what does it mean? I am not sure as to the ‘why’, but what it means is that American politics is becoming ever more dangerously divided as the left tries to move closer to the European model and the right becomes more entrenched in conservatism and Laissez Faire principals.
Frankly, I view the American political system as increasing corrupt and moribund; a system that has become virtually impotent as an effective instrument to govern the country.
There was a time when I admired American politics. As a young man growing up in England, I used to deplore the British political system whereby members of the two major parties were obliged to slavishly toe the party line or run the risk of expulsion from their own party.
I used to think how inherently unfair this was – that however strongly an individual member of parliament felt on a particular issue – he was not allowed to vote his ‘conscience’, but had to vote the party line, even if he was strongly against it, or run the risk of effectively losing his position in parliament.
In those days, I thought the American system was much better, as it seemed to be much more flexible and that politicians of both parties often ‘crossed the house’ to vote with the opposing party on issues that they felt strongly about, without fear of being thrown out of their party. And there seemed to be much more in the way of bipartisan politics, where members of both parties would come together and agree compromise solutions on issues for the good of the country. Why can’t they do that here? I used to think.
So what happened? What I believe has happened is that since the 60’s the entire American political system has slowly been hi-jacked by the lobbyists and special interest groups, who are so powerful that they always get their way, to the detriment of the country and the American public. The American politicians have become so beholden to these interest groups and are so determined to selfishly hold on to their jobs at all costs, that very few are prepared to stand up and be counted. The huge funds controlled by the special interest groups has succeeded in corrupting the entire political system
The public has become more aware of this corruption in Washington in recent years and they elected Obama on a ground swell of optimism that he would bring in promised ‘changes’ and sweep away the old anachronistic, self-seeking Washington institutions.
What happened? Nothing! From day one, Obama was obligated to the very forces that he promised he would change. During his election campaign, he ranted and raged against the evil bankers who brought about economic melt -down, yet – surprise, surprise – in 2008, some 20% of Obama’s election contributions came from Wall Street. And get this; in the second quarter of 2011, Wall Street contributions to Obama’s re-election campaign war chest are now running at 33%!
These amounts contributed by Wall Street to Obama, by far and away exceeds that given to all previous presidential candidates –republican and democrat alike.
Now will someone please tell me why the US electoral system has become so corrupt that without the backing of major corporations and billionaires, it is impossible to get elected? The amount of money raised and spent during the American election campaign is obscene by any standards.
The ‘America Dream’ suggests that anyone can become president, no matter how humble their origins. That may be so, but our so-called ‘humble’ candidate will not stand a chance in hell of being elected if he doesn’t manage to get the big donors on board and raise countless millions of dollars from companies and individuals who have a vested interest in their chosen candidate being successful.
The amount of money wasted is simply mind boggling and it high time that in these times of austerity that something is done about it.
But strangely, you never hear a single word in America about these obscene amounts of money being thrown away in US election campaigns.Of course not, because by and large it benefits the media system. What is it all spent on? Well a vast amount of it is spent on TV promotional ads. Every serious commentator will tell you that an election is won or lost by how much money you are able to spend on television advertising.
That sounds like a fair system doesn’t it? It’s not the candidate with the best policies or the one who seems to have the best all-round abilities assume the position of the Nation’s Head of State – no it’s the one who can convince the largest number of very rich people to give him the most money.
And just who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this massive largesse? Apart from the winning candidate and his donors, who will receive their ‘favours’ in terms of political appointments or friendly legislation, well the TV companies, of course. Never mind – I’m quite sure they deserve it.
I know it sometimes dangerous to compare two very different political systems, but just for a whimsical moment. Let’s compare this massive waste of money in the USA to what happens in the UK.
I admit that I am not familiar with all the myriad rules that govern UK political campaign contributions, but I do know that in the crucial area of television campaigning, very strict rules are in play.
All terrestrial, free to air, TV channels are obliged, by law to provide air time, free of charge to the major parties for political broadcasts during the period of election campaigns. The two major parties are given equal air time and the minor parties are also given some air time, commensurate with some pre-determined formula based on level of support – even the communists get some air time.
No commercial advertising on televisions is permitted. Further, all TV and radio reporters are required to be totally unbiased in their presentation of political campaigning and any programme, be it political or otherwise, which may present one party in a better light than another, is not allowed to be broadcast during the election campaign period.
The bottom line is that no party can co-opt or flood the air waves with its own political dogma. Every candidate is at an equal footing with his opponent with regard to presenting himself and his policies to the public on television. What could be fairer than that? No ridiculous amounts of money are wasted on television campaigning.
Maybe American politics could be transformed overnight if they could take just a small leaf out of the UK book, and maybe one or two better quality candidates, who don’t have to sell their souls to the highest bidder, might emerge to run what is still the greatest nation on earth.
Whatever the pros and cons of the American political system, versus the European model may be, there is little doubt that the European system is far more caring, and takes better care of a much larger proportion of its population – especially those at the very bottom of the pile.
I think that the enormous mistake that Obama and his cronies made in trying to bring in one of the largest and most complex pieces of legislation to ever hit Congress, (the ‘Obama-care’ bill), was his failure to realise that, simply put: even in America , ‘Rome isn’t built in a day.’
UK and the Europeans introduced their state healthcare systems many decades ago, when the cost of providing universal healthcare was much less, in terms of a percentage of the country’s GDP, than it is in today’s complex, 21st Century world.
The explosion of prohibitively expensive drugs and new cures for diseases that weren’t even heard of some 50-60 years ago, has racked up the costs of healthcare out of all proportion to what it used to be; but in Europe, the long established healthcare systems have grown and matured and it has been possible, by and large, to accommodate many of these advances in medical care and science without bringing everything to halt and without bankrupting the state.
Yes, sometimes very difficult and painful decisions have to be made in the interests of the many. But that doesn’t make it evil. There is not a bottomless pot of money and sometimes – and I would say quite rarely – some very expensive, almost always unproven, experimental treatment – has to be refused in the interest of the sick majority who would benefit directly from the money being so saved.
I don’t think you will find many folk in the UK who would have any serious problems with the British national health system and even with these difficult decisions that occasionally have to be made.
But for a nation, even as rich as America, to effectively go ‘big Bang’ into the universal healthcare coverage was a massive mistake – especially at a time when the world is reeling from one of the worst ever economic crises.
It is clear to this observer, that what they should have done was to start to put in place the basic structure for a universal system and then incrementally bring in the necessary legislation over time – probably 10 – 20 years – as budget funds permitted. The Obama Health care bill was far too large and far too complex and, by general acknowledgement, hardly anyone has actually read the incredibly complex legislation.
He was so determined to get it through congress while he still had a majority in both houses. What he should have done was take a truly bi-partisan approach from day one and bring in the changes in manageable, affordable ‘chunks’ over a number of years. But as stated above, the days of bipartisan politics in America are long gone and this approach would also probably have failed.
You guys really are between a rock and a hard place…
It is always the most vulnerable in society who suffer the most when a nation or a group of people put their own self-interest before the interests of those who are unable to help or protect themselves. Never is this truer than in the case of children.
In the UK, even though there are still an unacceptable number who ‘slip through the net’, by and large, kids are a priority amongst the welfare professionals. From the day they are born to the day they come of age, the welfare of our children is closely watched.
State ‘health visitors’ visit every new born and young infant on a regular basis and if there are any signs, no matter how small, that a child may be at risk, additional resources are brought in to monitor and to assure that the welfare and safety of the child in question is not compromised.
There is an all-encompassing structure to ensure that the physical and mental well-being of the young is properly monitored and that action is promptly taken whenever a problem arises. Remedial action can range from regular checks by visiting child welfare officers, to physically removing children from parents or guardians who are suspected of abusing or neglecting their offspring.
As I say, the system is not perfect and there have been some tragic cases that have slipped through, but in general, anyone who suspects that a child may be at risk – be they a school teacher, a local GP a hospital nurse or doctor or in fact any interested party – even a neighbour or friend – can inform the authorities and an urgent investigation will be undertaken.
But even I was shocked recently to come across this BBC sponsored investigation into:
America’s child death shame
- Every five hours a child dies from abuse or neglect in the US.
- The latest government figures show an estimated 1,770 children were killed as a result of maltreatment in 2009.
- A recent congressional report concludes the real number could be nearer 2,500.
- In fact, America has the worst child abuse record in the industrialised world. Why?
- Sixty-six children under the age of 15 die from physical abuse or neglect every week in the industrialised world. Twenty-seven of those die in the US – the highest number of any other country.
- Even when populations are taken into account, UNICEF research from 2001 places the US equal bottom with Mexico on child deaths from maltreatment.
In Texas, one of the states with the worst child abuse records, the Dallas Children’s Medical Centre, is dealing with a rising number of abused children and increasing levels of violence. Meanwhile, the Houston Centre is expanding its services to deal with the rising problem of child sex abuse.
In a major Dallas Children’s Hospital, one of the largest of its kind in the USA, which deals with the entire range of paediatric problems, from Cancer to heart disease, 37% of the hospital deaths are due to child abuse.
In Washington, politicians are beginning to recognise what some now describe as a “national crisis”.
A congressional hearing in July heard from experts in the field about what can be done to prevent deaths from child abuse. A national commission is being set up to coordinate a country-wide response.
Many believe home visits to new parents by qualified health professionals, preparing them for the difficulties of family life, are a key to that strategy. (Such a system has been in place in the UK sisnce the 1940’s).
While child abuse blights the lives of victims’ families, its devastating impact is felt far beyond relatives and friends.
Abused children are 74 times more likely to commit crimes against others and six times more likely to maltreat their own children, according to the Texas Association for the Protection of Children.
‘Why is the problem of violence against children so much more acute in the US than anywhere else in the industrialised world?’
Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The child maltreatment death rate in the US is triple Canada’s and 11 times that of Italy. Millions of children are reported as abused and neglected every year. Why is that?
Part of the answer is that teen pregnancy, high-school drop-out, violent crime, imprisonment, and poverty factors associated with abuse and neglect – are generally much higher in the US.
Other rich nations have social policies that provide child care, universal health insurance, pre-school, parental leave and visiting nurses to virtually all in need.
In the US, when children are born into young families not prepared to receive them, local social safety nets may be frayed, or non-existent. As a result, they are unable to compensate for the household stress the child must endure.
In the most severe situations, there is a predictable downward spiral and a child dies. Some 75% of these children are under four, while nearly half are under one.
Geography matters a lot in determining child well-being. Take the examples of Texas and Vermont.
Texas prides itself in being a low tax, low service state. Its per capita income places it in the middle of the states, while its total tax burden – its willingness to tax itself – is near the bottom.
Vermont, in contrast, is at the other extreme. It is a high-tax, high-service state.
In looking at key indicators of well-being, children from Texas are twice as likely to drop out of high school as children from Vermont. They are four times more likely to be uninsured, four times more likely to be incarcerated, and nearly twice as likely to die from abuse and neglect.
In Texas, a combination of features adds to the mix of risks that a child faces. These include a higher poverty rate in Texas, a higher proportion of minority children, lower levels of educational attainment, and a political culture which holds a narrower view of the role of government in addressing social issues.
Texas, like many other traditionally conservative states, is likely to have a weaker response to families that need help in the first place, and be less efficient in protecting children after abuse occurs.
The sharp difference between the states raises the question of an expanded federal role.
Are children ‘Texas Children’ first? Or are they firstly ‘American Children’ with equal opportunity and protection?
Should children’s programmes be on the chopping block, federal or state? Children did not crash the US economy. It is both short-sighted economic policy and morally wrong to make them pay the price for fixing it.
But instead as the US economy lags, child poverty soars, and states cut billions in children’s services, which is further straining America’s already weak safety net.
Inevitably, it means more children will die. The easy answer is to blame parents and already burdened child protection workers. But easy answers don’t solve complex problems.
With millions of children injured and thousands killed, this problem is large indeed, and it deserves a larger, better response.
But will any response be forthcoming in a country which is beset by political in-fighting and where politicians are obsessed with scoring points over their opponents, and raising obscene amounts of money for their campaign war-chest rather than putting right the wrongs of an increasingly ‘sick’ society?
Jesus said: ‘Suffer little children to come unto me’….
I am not a Christian; in fact I am an agnostic going on atheist, as, I believe are a great many of my fellow Europeans. But strangely, not so Americans, where the rise of fundamental Christianity sects is a feature of the past decade.
Sorry, but I just don’t get it.