April 6, 2015
Crisis: U.S. Health Care, Ted Cruz's background, U.S. prisons, Facebook etc.
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


1. Health: The Right Diagnosis and the Wrong Treatment
2. Ted Cruz’s demented strategy: He doesn’t need to win the
     White House to push America rightward

Boycott, Divest and Sanction Corporations That Feed on

The Truth About Facebook: How Communication Became
     Synonymous With Surveillance


This is a Nederlog of Monday, April 6, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about a good article by Marcia Angell on the quite sick and very expensive American health system; item 2 is about an interesting article on GOP conservative Ted Cruz, that lines him up, correctly it seems to me, with the late William F. Buckley Jr. and the Movement Conservatives; item 3 is a good article by Chris Hedges on the quite sick and very exploitative American prison system; while item 4 is a good article
on how much of the internet these days is given to surveilling mostly naive and mostly unsuspecting billions.

Also, while I liked the articles I found this is about all I found today.

  Health: The Right Diagnosis and the Wrong Treatment

The first item is an article by Marcia Angell (<- Wikipedia) on the New York Review of Books:

This starts as follows (and is a long article):

Steven Brill has achieved the seemingly impossible—written an exciting book about the American health system. In his account of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (now known as Obamacare), he manages to transform a subject that usually befuddles and bores into a political thriller. There was reason to think he might pull it off; his lengthy 2013 Time magazine exposé of the impact of medical bills on ordinary people was engrossing.
I have not read Steven Brill's book, but I like Marcia Angell for she is one of the good and intelligent American medical doctors.

And in fact, I think I might also have added she is in a minority among the medical doctors in her country, and one important reason is the following:

(..) his description of our dysfunctional health system is dead-on. He shows in all its horror how the way we distribute health care like a market commodity instead of a social good has produced the most expensive, inequitable, and wasteful health system in the world. (The US now spends per capita two and a half times as much on health care as the average for the other OECD countries, while still leaving tens of millions of Americans uninsured.) Brill makes it clear that the problems are unlikely to be fixed by Obamacare. For that alone, his book deserves to be widely read.

My reasons are that I agree that the American health system is "dysfunctional" and that it distributes "health care like a market commodity instead of a social good", while I cannot see how it ever got that way without a great deal of cooperation by many medical doctors, who often do earn a very great amount of money - some CEO's of hospitals make 3,4 million a year - and considerably more than European doctors, although these too tend to earn quite well.

In fact, here are some data:

Here are a few items in Brill’s indictment. “Healthcare,” he writes, “is America’s largest industry by far.” It employs “a sixth of the country’s workforce. And it is the average American family’s largest single expense, whether paid out of their pockets or through taxes and insurance premiums.” He estimates that the health insurance companies employ about 1.5 million people, roughly twice the number of practicing physicians. Hospital executives preside over lucrative businesses, whether nominally nonprofit or not, and are paid huge salaries, even while they charge patients obscene prices (....) And finally, he gives us the really bad news: “All that extra money produces no better, and in many cases worse, results.”

Indeed also: As compared with Europe. And here is Marcia Angell's conclusion:

Until we begin to treat health care as a social good instead of a market commodity, there is simply no way to make health care universal, comprehensive, and affordable. Brill’s book is a superb, even gripping, description of the American health system and the creation of Obamacare, but he is misguided in his recommendation for reform by turning over the administration of the health care system to hospitals. The last thing we need is more foxes guarding the henhouse.

I agree and this is a good article.

2. Ted Cruz’s demented strategy: He doesn’t need to win the White House to push America rightward 

The next item is an article by Heather Cox Richardson on Salon:

This starts as follows:
Ted Cruz’s candidacy highlights a fundamental rift in the Republican Party, a rift that observers often misunderstand as simply a tug-of-war between different gradations of conservatism. It is a gulf far more profound than this. Most Republicans recognize that the government must regulate some aspects of American capitalism, providing Social Security, veterans benefits, workplace safety, and basic infrastructure at the very least. But Cruz belongs to a reactionary wing of the party that rejects the idea that the government has any role at all to play in the American economy. Since the 1950s, the leaders of Cruz’s wing have been fighting to take the American government back to the days before FDR’s New Deal.
And this is a good article that outlines Cruz's indebtedness to William F. Buckley Jr.'s (<- Wikipedia) Movement Conservatives (<- Wikipedia). This is well done
and interesting, and it ends as follows, also supporting the title of the article:
Many Republicans believe they can work together with Democrats to hash out legislation. These are the people Cruz disdains as “the mushy middle.” In contrast, Movement Conservatives like Cruz believe that rich businessmen are society’s proper leaders and that any government activism to level the economic playing field destroys freedom. They believe their view is absolutely right; to compromise on anything would lose everything.

Cruz does not have to win the White House to win the war. So long as he can grab headlines and whip up voters, Movement Conservatives can continue to hold enough congressional seats to continue to block legislation and defund the government. Then they can do as Buckley hoped: stand athwart history and make it stop.


3. Boycott, Divest and Sanction Corporations That Feed on Prisons 
The next item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

All attempts to reform mass incarceration through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics, the courts and state and federal legislatures are useless. Corporations, which have turned mass incarceration into a huge revenue stream and which have unchecked political and economic power, have no intention of diminishing their profits. And in a system where money has replaced the vote, where corporate lobbyists write legislation and the laws, where chronic unemployment and underemployment, along with inadequate public transportation, sever people in marginal communities from jobs, and where the courts are a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate state, this demands a sustained, nationwide revolt.

This is the beginning of three pages by Chris Hedges on the U.S. prison system.
I like the article. Here are two brief quotes from it, that sketch the corruptness of the American prison system quite well.

This about how much prisoners are exploited:

A prisoner in New Jersey makes, on average, $1.20 for eight hours of work, or about $28 a month. Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 17 cents an hour. Over a similar period, phone and commissary corporations have increased fees and charges often by more than 100 percent.

And this is about how many prisoners there are in the U.S.:

The United States has 2.3 million people in prison, 25 percent of the world’s prison population, although we are only 5 percent of the world’s population. We have increased our prison population by about 700 percent since 1970.
And in fact many of the prisoners got incarcerated for years because they used marijuana, that nowadays is legal in several American states, in part because it
is considerably less dangerous than alcohol.

There is considerably more in the article.

4. The Truth About Facebook: How Communication Became Synonymous With Surveillance

The last item for today is an article by Michael Schulson on Salon:
This starts as follows:

“Terms of Service,” the first book from the young cultural critic Jacob Silverman, is less an argument than a tour. Its subject is the Internet—or, more accurately, what Silverman calls “the social web,” which could be loosely defined as either a) an Internet experienced tailored to YOU!, or b) a surveillance system that comes equipped with some nice photo-saving and message-sharing tools.

Silverman leans toward interpretation b. “Communication,” he writes, “has become synonymous with surveillance.” “Terms of Service” offers a tour of a digital world that, under Silverman’s guiding skepticism, comes to look like a cross between the reality show “Big Brother” and a shopping mall. Or, to adapt one of Silverman’s better analogies, it’s a digital sphere in which we are all, essentially, the world’s saddest tourists: isolated and gullible; self-conscious and secretly watched; sampling everything but lingering nowhere; and taking many, many photos.

In fact, this is the introduction to an interview with Jacob Silverman. The interview is reasonable, and I shall select some points from it.

There are also some points I don't agree with, and one is the first (though this may - in part - be due to my age and level of education). That first point is as follows (and is about "social media", which is a term I don't like: You are not "being social" - as I use the term - when you are all by yourself answering or reading your mail, which is what
"being social" on "a social site" mostly means):
To be visible you have to be posting often. It helps to be personal and confessional, and to expose yourself.
Not quite, at least: You must also be "personal and confessional" about the right kinds of things, not the wrong kinds, and it's precisely the same with exposing yourself. Also, what is "right" and what is "wrong" tends to be subtle, and has very little to do with reason and rationality and very much with "social norms".

Here is an example that I owe to a Dutch daily paper, where there is an editor who is dying of cancer in his forties, and who is allowed to write about it in the paper.

At present, if he is lucky, he will make it till June - and meanwhile he has told his readers several times, no doubt correctly, that he will not worry them with any news about his pains or problems, "because that is not popular": Your dying is reported in the paper, provided you keep it sounding happy, and avoid all painful themes and complaints. For these are outlawed by "social norms": people like you if you are likeable, and you are not likeable if you talk about pains, problems, or dying.
And second, the "social norms" on the internet vary a great lot, but on the large social media they tend to be set by anonymous busybodies with little education and big mouths, who appeal to their likes: "Democracy" on the internet, and especially in the so-called "social media", often is the rule of the uneducated anonymous masses who indulge in groupthinking, simply because they are in majority nowadays (which they never were in other media).

Here is Jacob Silverman on how the social media and internet differ from regular economic exchanges:

The difference is that it’s really opaque. We just don’t have a good sense of what’s being collected, where it’s being stored, why, for how long, who it’s being sold to. Once you fork over, you really have no control over how long [the data] is going to stay in their system.
Indeed. Nor does any of the victims have any idea how much the personal information that is sold about him or her is worth. Also, while everyone knows his or her personal data are being gathered in secret by anonymous persons for undeclared ends, extremely few know precisely which data, for this is also a secret of the anonymous and secretive gatherers.

Here is an item I may disagree with:

(...) we’re all fighting to be seen. In all likelihood, your social networks are very busy places, and more dramatic postings play better.
Speaking for myself: I have a website since 1996 - 19 years now - on which there is a large site, but I am not "fighting to be seen" and indeed have taken good care not to belong to any of the "social media": I am not on Facebook, I have no Twitter-account, I never search with Google, and indeed my real family name is extremely rarely used by me on the net.

Incidentally, why am I
not "fighting to be seen"? First, I am ill and have considerably less energy than healthy people. Second, I am an intellectual with an M.A. with only As and I know (for that and quite a few other reasons) that most of my opinions that I take a serious interest in are not the kind of ideas that interest most ordinary people. Also, I do not have any problems with that. [2]

Here is an answer I do like. It answers the question
"What would it look like to have a truly public space online?":
Well, I think it wouldn’t collect so much personal data. It certainly wouldn’t sell people’s personal data, or its companies wouldn’t. As far as surveillance, all communications would be encrypted. We do have a great example of a nonprofit, huge website that has imperfections but still does a lot of good, and that’s Wikipedia.
Yes, indeed (although I do not know how Wikipedia makes its money). Finally, here is another answer I like:
As for a piece of legislation, I want to see privacy and legislation brought up-to-date. I want the Fourth Amendment brought to the 21st century, where the government can’t mass dragnet surveillance—but also if they want to know something about you, and they want to read your email, they have to get a warrant. People should have a right to know what information companies are collecting on them, and to have it deleted. I think it’s as simple as that.
I agree, except that I think the Fourth Amendment is good as is: it forbids the stealing and reading of e-mails, and if this seems different then it is because the Fourth Amendment is broken, and illegally so.

As I said: I am "a highly educated intellectual". I really mean this, if only because it took a great amount of reading, but
I also grant that I have been trolled by some extremely stupid anonymous, uneducated and lying dumboes, which may have influenced my opinions some.

[2] For example there is a great lot of philosophy on my site that is really not very popular, but it is there because I like philosophy and studied it, and I know a great lot about it.

It is interesting for a few others, and that is also all the interest I desire - which in fact happens to be a lot more than what I expected in 1995 or 1996.

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