Wednesday Night #1433

More to come

The U.S. Healthcare debate
Throughout much of the world and certainly most of the western world, universal health care is the norm.  The French system has a good reputation for easy access to quality care, but there are many other successful models.  The United States, probably because an acquired dread of “nationalization” fuelled by pharmaceutical companies, commercial laboratories and other special interest groups including medical practitioners themselves, has do date, resisted any government attempt to implement a truly universal health care scheme.  It is not so much that the population does not support health care reform, but the debate has become wrapped up as an ideological struggle.   An increasing percentage of the G.D.P., currently fifteen to sixteen percent, is currently spent on health care in the United States each year and unless a more efficient system is implemented, that percentage will ultimately reach unsustainable proportions.  Despite the amount spent, the present system has not resulted in a superior level of health in that country.  Although admittedly, poor eating and lifestyle habits most certainly play a part, morbidity and mortality statistics in the United States are said to have fallen well behind those in the rest of the western world.
Currently, Americans spend a significant amount of money to study Medicine, acquiring large debts in doing so, in the anticipation of becoming very affluent on graduation.  They select, or attempt to select specialties that will bring them the greatest monetary rewards, with dermatology being the most sought after, followed by cardiology.  They are frequently recruited by medical groups that may tend to disqualify patients with serious disease and are prone to overly test patients in order to maximize their income.  The quality of medicine is undoubtedly high to those who can afford it but the cost is excessive compared to that in other countries.  American propensity for litigation, leading to high cost of malpractice insurance, feeds into the excessive cost of the current system.
With the economy, although improving,  still in poor state, it is possible that the current health care debate is intended to mask other issues, but the issue is real.  There was some disappointment expressed over the manner in which President Obama presented the Medicare proposal, using a similar same type of rhetoric to that which he did during his election campaign, leading some to believe, undoubtedly mistakenly, that his grasp of the situation is not as good as it should be.  Health care is said to be the most profitable industry in the United States and one of the perceived problems is that universal Medicare would compete with the private system.  What is at stake would most certainly motivate all actors in the current health care to use all available resources to maintain the status quo and if so, they would not likely accept passively, any constraints that would have the effect of changing that situation.
In Canada, with the exception of unacceptable wait times and the unavailability of medical care to many Canadians, the system is working well.   These problems, however, although serious, are not inherent in the system but in the manner in which the government allocates funds according to the squeakiness of the wheels.  If these inadequacies in the system translated into a voting pattern government priorities would most certainly change and so a strong patient lobby would likely motivate our elected officials to provide medical services more according to the size, needs and age pattern of the population. [A good appraisal, which confirms most of the above, was published in the NYT as part of the ongoing debate on U.S. Health care reform Health Care Abroad: Canada]

The economy
With continuing frequent bank failures, mostly due to injudicious real estate exposure, the U.S. economy, although improving, remains in difficulty.   Canada’s position appears to be much better.  The sudden drop in the last quarter of 2008 appears to have reached its lowest limit and the recovery will probably be sustained.  Investors have not panicked following this week’s three hundred point drop in the T.S.X.  Around the world, banks are maintaining low interest rates, leaving the stock market as the only place to invest and protect the value of money from the erosion of inflation.  Although it is not a risk-free world, there is nothing on the horizon at this point that would derail the recovery.

 T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

Following two intense and lively Wednesday Nights – 1431 with Tony Deutsch and a clutch of economists (do economists come in a clutch? Certainly not a gaggle, nor a mob, nor a litter – Possibly a ‘wonk’ of economists?)* and 1432 with Marc Garneau, and the science, technology and innovation gurus -we are overcome with a certain intellectual languidness (languidity? No, that sounds like something to do with banks).
* Tony Deutsch informs us that “someone came up with ‘an argue of economists’ many moons ago, but the term fell into disuse.” We like it and henceforth it enters Wednesday Night usage.

On the other hand, current events are all over the map – literally and figuratively – with none more dramatic or intriguing than the saga of the ” MS Artic Sea”.  Although she has now been found by the Russian navy, the mystery deepens with the announcement by [Russian] Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov: “We’ll release more details about what happened to the ship, how and why radio contact was lost, why it changed course and other nuances”  It’s the nuances that get you every time.

Afghanistan goes to the polls – will be at the polls as we gather on Wednesday night – with little doubt that President Karzai will be re-elected despite the best efforts of the Taliban to shut down the whole process.  and just to get all the voters in the right mood, the government has passed an appalling law that makes a mockery of women’s rights. The NYT has some good op-ed pieces including Apathy Among the Educated by Hassina Sherjan

In the U. S., the battle over Healthcare reform grows nastier by the minute. President Obama took the unprecedented step of writing an op-ed in the New York Times over the weekend; however his rational discussion of the issues in print or in town halls is unlikely to be heard over the din of false statements and accusations hurled by his opponents. There’s a worthwhile read (again in the Times), Health Care’s Generation Gap  that makes some good points about the difference in care given to the very elderly and that received by young children.

In the wake of the announcement that no less than 3 women will be appointed to the Cabinet, Iran continues to defy opinion and has now added another 25 defendants to the mass trial of opposition supporters. Including, it is reported, a Jewish teenager.

Meanwhile the increasing anger (and embarrassment) over the Canadian government’s mishandling of problems encountered by citizens abroad (Protecting our Own) would appear to be a looming issue for Mr. Harper, while at the same time, there is public acrimony  over political interference in the language of diplomacy employed by officials at DFAIT. Both seem to us to be indicative of the Tories’ failure to address the international aspects of government and governance.

In the expectation that Pierre Arbour and his wife, Denise of the Fondation universitaire Pierre Arbour will be with us,  we anticipate discussing some of the Education topics that have come to the fore recently, starting with the news that more than 12,000 applicants have been rejected by Oxford and Cambridge universities after record surge in A-level results . [As a counter theme, Stephen Kinsman suggests the BBC story: Youth drop-out rate hits new high] At the same time, Montreal  CEGEPs have been flooded with applications and have run out of room  . While the reasons for the sudden flood of qualified applicants are of interest, we would like to suggest a related question: Do Teachers Need Education Degrees? There is fodder for any and all opinions.

Reacting to the question above, our OWN David Mitchell writes from New Brunswick:
Your question, Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?, can be answered best, I suggest, by asking a related question: ‘What kind of attitudes, knowledge and skills do teachers need?’
My response to your query about education degrees is definitely negative although I recognize that not all such degrees are equivalent and some might be helpful. The NYT article is too lengthy to comment on now but I fear the consequences of accepting the simplistic notion that teachers should be rewarded on the basis of whether or not their students learn, i.e. achieve acceptable levels on tests. Helping students to develop a love of learning and the ability to learn would be far more valuable and worth rewarding.
Teachers may be the most visible aspect of schools and schooling but they don’t set either the real or the hidden curriculum and the latter arguably is the source of many educational problems. I think you might find some of John Gatto’s articles interesting. He was Teacher of the Year in New York City and also in NY State and is quite explicit about shortcomings of ‘school’. The following is based on his acceptance speech for NY State Teacher of the Year
In it he points out: “Teaching means different things in different places, but seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills. They constitute a national curriculum you pay for in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what it is.”
In summary, to whet your appetite, he outlines:
“the seven lessons of school teaching:
class position
emotional dependency
intellectual dependency
provisional self-esteem
One can’t hide (surveillance)
All of these things are prime training for permanent underclasses, people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius.”
As for the students who are turned away from Oxbridge or other universities, they have ample opportunity to get a degree and simultaneously enrich one of the for-profit universities. To illustrate, Meritus University is the fourth private online university in New Brunswick, joining Lansbridge and Yorkville Universities and the University of Fredericton. (Meritus is owned by the Apollo Group which also owns the University of Phoenix.) Whether a degree from one of these companies is equivalent to one from Oxbridge is, of course, a debatable question!
Is it time for Wednesday-Night to offer a degree?

Related to last week’s topics, an editorial in Science, Future Energy Institutes, proposes

“the creation of a public ‘energy-grant university system’ devoted to energy education and research. This new system would be modeled on the U.S. land-grant university system established in 1862 in the midst of the Civil War to promote public education in agriculture and the mechanical arts. In the 20th century, the 78 land-grant institutions became a major source of intellectual wealth for the production of food, fiber, and basic scientific knowledge. . .
“Federal investments in an energy-grant university system could build on the existing infrastructure and framework embedded in the nation’s comprehensive public research universities. In some cases, this could lead to expanding the mission of existing land-grant universities; in other cases, different comprehensive public research institutions or a consortium of such universities may be more appropriate. Support for at least one such institution in each state would provide, as it did for agriculture, new scientific knowledge and an extension service capable of advising every town on how best to reduce carbon footprints, increase energy efficiency, and promote sustainable economic growth [italics added].”

This proposal makes eminent sense to us and we wonder if there are possibilities for its adaptation to the Canadian context – not to mention other parts of the world (Brazil, Argentina, India and China come to mind).
Finally, in the category of you-heard-it-first-at-Wednesday-Night is the editorial Climate and national security “Proponents of climate change legislation have now settled on a new strategy: warning that global warming poses a serious threat to national security. Climate- induced crises like drought, starvation, disease and mass migration, they argue, could unleash regional conflicts and draw in America’s armed forces, either to help keep the peace or to defend allies or supply routes.
“This is increasingly the accepted wisdom among the national security establishment. A 2007 report published by the CNA Corporation, a Pentagon-funded think tank, spoke ominously of climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ that could lead to wide conflict over resources.”

4 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1433"

  1. Tudor Johnston August 19, 2009 at 8:52 am ·

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    Afghanistan at polls. Way to soon to comment. (As a pessimist on the topic, I find most of the discussions futile in view of the probable catastrophe (the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan as the Western countries gradually pull out after declaring victory.

  2. Tudor Johnston August 19, 2009 at 8:59 am ·

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    Problems encountered by citizens abroad. It is very easy to complain about, but very difficult to improve.
    Since many of the things to be done are best not done on the front pages, there is the suspicion that not enough is being done and distrust as to whether the government knows best what to do and is doing. Detailed inquests after may be productive in the long term but may damage the ability to treat the next case in the same foreign country, if promise of secrecy in the details become broken.

  3. Tudor Johnston August 19, 2009 at 9:19 am ·

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    Education. Easy to complain about the results, but extraordinarily hard to fix the design of the system to do much better. While I’ve many comments on the details, where the devils are held to reside, I’ve little faith in any systemic improvements.

    One of the details: Just heard a great rerun of an interview from CBC’s “Q” as Jonathan (?) sitting in for Jian, had chatted with with Laurent Cantet, director of the incredible French film, The Class. A chief point was the nature of multiple languages that are in play not just what the school is teaching, a point which is central but resolutely ignored in school.

  4. Tudor Johnston August 19, 2009 at 9:30 am ·

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    “Climate and national security”
    In this context, the must-read book is by Gwynne Dwyer “Climate Wars” (which I have but cannot find at the moment).

    I fear any use of the argument of military necessity for almost any cause.
    It is always a camel’s nose nudging itself into the tent, and tends to be tacked on to almost everything and then comes finally to dominate guidelines for applications.
    Military-industrial complexes always seek customers, and after the paranoia of the cold war, the paranoia of the war on terror, why should they not try to use and hype the fear of the coming crisis from global warming?

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