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Silencing America as it prepares for war August 30, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in 2016 election, Asia, China, donald trump, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, History, Nuclear weapons/power, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: as we focus on Donald Trumps racist xenophobia and unstable character (I would say sociopathic), and as we agonize over the Clinton alternative; it is easy to forget that a continuation of Obama/Clinton may very well bring the world one again, to the brink of World War III and nuclear annihilation. John Pilger is an Australian journalist based in the U.K.  What he brings us here is a bird’s eye view of United States foreign policy, its aggressive imperialist nature in a historical context.  It is frightening to contemplate, but we ignore it at our peril.

The article does not touch on the capitalist impulse towards warfare. The context for U.S. foreign policy is its worldwide network of military bases, its imperial expansion, and the virtual control of the political system in the States by the military industrial complex.  I came across this saying recently that speaks to this reality: arms are not manufactured for wars; wars are made to sell arms.

 

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27 May 2016, http://www.johnpilger.com 

Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention. The great counter revolution had begun.

The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places.

“We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.”  So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie.

The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, “Which side did you fight on?”

A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called “The Price of Freedom” at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa’s grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved “a million lives”; Iraq was “liberated [by] air strikes of unprecedented precision”. The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom.

The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened …Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter… “. Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Take Obama. As he prepares to leave office, the fawning has begun all over again. He is “cool”. One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers – truth-tellers – than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried. Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone.

In 2009, Obama promised to help “rid the world of nuclear weapons” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama. He is “modernising” America’s doomsday arsenal, including a new “mini” nuclear weapon, whose size and “smart” technology, says a leading general, ensure its use is “no longer unthinkable”.

James Bradley, the best-selling author of Flags of Our Fathers and son of one of the US marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, said, “[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”

On Obama’s watch, a second cold war is under way. The Russian president is a pantomime villain; the Chinese are not yet back to their sinister pig-tailed caricature – when all Chinese were banned from the United States – but the media warriors are working on it.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has mentioned any of this. There is no risk and no danger for the United States and all of us; for them, the greatest military build-up on the borders of Russia since World War Two has not happened. On May 11, Romania went “live” with a Nato “missile defence” base that aims its first-strike American missiles at the heart of Russia, the world’s second nuclear power.

In Asia, the Pentagon is sending ships, planes and special forces to the Philippines to threaten China. The US already encircles China with hundreds of military bases that curve in an arc up from Australia, to Asia and across to Afghanistan. Obama calls this a “pivot”.

As a direct consequence, China reportedly has changed its nuclear weapons policy from no-first-use to high alert and put to sea submarines with nuclear weapons. The escalator is quickening.

It was Hillary Clinton who, as Secretary of State in 2010, elevated the competing territorial claims for rocks and reef in the South China Sea to an international issue; CNN and BBC hysteria followed; China was building airstrips on the disputed islands. In a mammoth war game in 2015, Operation Talisman Sabre, the US and Australia practiced “choking” the Straits of Malacca through which pass most of China’s oil and trade. This was not news.

Clinton declared that America had a “national interest” in these Asian waters. The Philippines and Vietnam were encouraged and bribed to pursue their claims and old enmities against China. In America, people are being primed to see any Chinese defensive position as offensive, and so the ground is laid for rapid escalation. A similar strategy of provocation and propaganda is applied to Russia.

Clinton, the “women’s candidate”, leaves a trail of bloody coups: in Honduras, in Libya (plus the murder of the Libyan president) and Ukraine. The latter is now a CIA theme park swarming with Nazis and the frontline of a beckoning war with Russia. It was through Ukraine – literally, borderland – that Hitler’s Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million people. This epic catastrophe remains a presence in Russia. Clinton’s presidential campaign has received money from all but one of the world’s ten biggest arms companies. No other candidate comes close.

Sanders, the hope of many young Americans, is not very different from Clinton in his proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He backed Bill Clinton’s illegal bombing of Serbia. He supports Obama’s terrorism by drone, the provocation of Russia and the return of special forces (death squads) to Iraq. He has nothing to say on the drumbeat of threats to China and the accelerating risk of nuclear war. He agrees that Edward Snowden should stand trial and he calls Hugo Chavez – like him, a social democrat – “a dead communist dictator”. He promises to support Clinton if she is nominated.

The election of Trump or Clinton is the old illusion of choice that is no choice: two sides of the same coin. In scapegoating minorities and promising to “make America great again”, Trump is a far right-wing domestic populist; yet the danger of Clinton may be more lethal for the world.

“Only Donald Trump has said anything meaningful and critical of US foreign policy,” wrote Stephen Cohen, emeritus professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, one of the few Russia experts in the United States to speak out about the risk of war.

In a radio broadcast, Cohen referred to critical questions Trump alone had raised. Among them: why is the United States “everywhere on the globe”? What is NATO’s true mission? Why does the US always pursue regime change in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine? Why does Washington treat Russia and Vladimir Putin as an enemy?

The hysteria in the liberal media over Trump serves an illusion of “free and open debate” and “democracy at work”. His views on immigrants and Muslims are grotesque, yet the deporter-in-chief of vulnerable people from America is not Trump but Obama, whose betrayal of people of colour is his legacy: such as the warehousing of a mostly black prison population, now more numerous than Stalin’s gulag.

This presidential campaign may not be about populism but American liberalism, an ideology that sees itself as modern and therefore superior and the one true way. Those on its right wing bear a likeness to 19th century Christian imperialists, with a God-given duty to convert or co-opt or conquer.

In Britain, this is Blairism. The Christian war criminal Tony Blair got away with his secret preparation for the invasion of Iraq largely because the liberal political class and media fell for his “cool Britannia”. In the Guardian, the applause was deafening; he was called “mystical”. A distraction known as identity politics, imported from the United States, rested easily in his care.

History was declared over, class was abolished and gender promoted as feminism; lots of women became New Labour MPs. They voted on the first day of Parliament to cut the benefits of single parents, mostly women, as instructed. A majority voted for an invasion that produced 700,000 Iraqi widows.

The equivalent in the US are the politically correct warmongers on the New York Times, the Washington Post and network TV who dominate political debate. I watched a furious debate on CNN about Trump’s infidelities. It was clear, they said, a man like that could not be trusted in the White House. No issues were raised. Nothing on the 80 per cent of Americans whose income has collapsed to 1970s levels. Nothing on the drift to war. The received wisdom seems to be “hold your nose” and vote for Clinton: anyone but Trump. That way, you stop the monster and preserve a system gagging for another war.

 

 

Health-Care Reform Could Kill the GOP December 6, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Political Commentary.
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“…for most of my lifetime, prominent Democratic leaders have been chucking liberalism itself for the sake of immediate tactical gain.”

This is a quote from the article posted below that appeared in the Huffington Post.  Although the article focuses on the issue of universal health care, it raises much wider issues.  After one reads the article, one cannot help but asking the question: Why is this the case?  (Why does the right tend to implement its agenda when elected to government, while the left has a marked tendency to waffle and back track?)

My comments continue after the article.

 

Huffington Post, December 3, 2008

 Thomas Frank

 Can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan? Ask any Republican worth his salt and the answer will be an unequivocal yes. Ask a Democrat of the respectable Beltway variety and he will twist himself into a pretzel denying it.

For decades Republicans have made policy with a higher purpose in mind: to solidify the GOP base or to damage the institutions and movements aligned with the other side. One of their fondest slogans is “Defund the Left,” and under that banner they have attacked labor unions and trial lawyers and tried to sever the links between the lobbying industry and the Democratic Party. Consider as well their long-cherished dreams of privatizing Social Security, which would make Wall Street, instead of Washington, the protector of our beloved seniors. Or their larger effort to demonstrate, by means of egregious misrule, that government is incapable of delivering the most basic services.

That these were all disastrous policies made no difference: The goal was to use state power to achieve lasting victory for the ideas of the right.

On the other side of the political fence, strategic moves of this kind are fairly rare. Instead, for most of my lifetime, prominent Democratic leaders have been chucking liberalism itself for the sake of immediate tactical gain.

Former President Bill Clinton, who is widely regarded as a political mastermind, may have sounded like a traditional liberal at the beginning of his term in office. But what ultimately defined his presidency was his amazing pliability on matters of principle. His most memorable innovation was “triangulating” between his own party and the right, his most famous speech declared and end to “the era of big government,” his most consequential policy move was to cement the consensus on deregulation and free trade, and many of his boldest stands were taken against his own party.

The results were not pretty, either for the Democrats or for the nation.

Still, conservatives have always dreaded the day that Democrats discover (or rediscover) that there is a happy political synergy between delivering liberal economic reforms and building the liberal movement. The classic statement of this fear is a famous memo that Bill Kristol wrote in 1993, when he had just started out as a political strategist and the Clinton administration was preparing to propose some version of national health care.

“The plan should not be amended; it should be erased,” Mr. Kristol advised the GOP. And not merely because Mr. Clinton’s scheme was (in Mr. Kristol’s view) bad policy, but because “it will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

Historian Rick Perlstein suggests that this memo is “the skeleton key to understanding modern American politics” because it opens up a fundamental conservative anxiety: “If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we’re screwed.”

In the Clinton years, of course, it was the Republicans who succeeded. And the Democrats’ failure — the failure to deliver national health care that is, not the act of proposing national health care — was a crucial element, in Mr. Perlstein’s view, in the Republican Revolution of 1994. Assessing the accomplishments of the “party of the people” after those first months of Clintonism, middle-class Americans were left with what? A big helping of Nafta. Mmm-mmm.

Fourteen years later, we find ourselves at the same point in the political debate, with a Democratic president-elect promising to deliver some variety of health-care reform. And, like a cuckoo emerging from a clock, Mr. Kristol’s old refrain is promptly taken up by a new chorus. “Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival,” proclaims the headline of a November blog post by Michael F. Cannon, the libertarian Cato Institute’s director of Health Policy Studies. His argument, stitched together from other blog posts, is pretty much the same as Mr. Kristol’s in 1993. Any kind of national medical program would be so powerfully attractive to working-class voters that it would shift the tectonic plates of the nation’s politics. Therefore, such a program must be stopped.

Liberal that I am, I support health-care reform on its merits alone. My liberal blood boils, for example, when I read that half of the personal bankruptcies in this country are brought on, in part, by medical expenses. And my liberal soul is soothed to find that an enormous majority of my fellow citizens agree, in general terms, with my views on this subject.

But it pleases me even more to think that the conservatives’ nightmare of permanent defeat might come true simply if Democrats do the right thing. No, health-care reform isn’t as strategically diabolical as, say, the K Street Project. It involves only the most straightforward politics: good government stepping in to heal an ancient, festering wound. But if by doing this Barack Obama also happens to nullify decades of conservative propaganda, so much the better for all of us.

Thomas Frank’s column, The Tilting Yard, appears every Wednesday at OpinionJournal.com

Continuation of remarks by Roger Hollander:

 The answer to this question (Can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan?) I believe, is both simple and complex.  Complex in its detail with respect to the myriads of forms in which decisions are made in a capitalist democracy; but not that hard to understand in its broadest terms.

Follow the money.

The Republican agenda, again broadly speaking, is very much in tune with the objectives of corporate America, the military-industrial complex, the financial industry, etc; in other words, with capital.  If it goes to extremes, as with the current Cheney/Bush administration, some Republicans may take a longer perspective and believe that it needs to be reined in.  Nevertheless, no one could seriously argue that the Republican Party is much more than a front for organized capital.

Is the Democratic Party then, the opposite, its foil?  Dream on.  Because even in a capitalist democracy the power structure must at times respond to popular demands, the Democrats have taken the advantage of this by being the repository for such phenomena.  But within strictly defined limits.

Bob Dylan wrote, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”  Now I have nothing against money per se, I use it all the time.  It’s one of my best friends.  But what we are talking about here is enormous concentrations of money that exert an influence through campaign contributions and lobbying that cannot possibly be matched by any one or ones who represent the general interest. 

To go back to the original question, “can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan,” if we assume by “wise” that we mean the general interest, than from that perspective the answer in no.  Lobbyists have been referred to as the fourth branch of government.  The metaphor is useful to the extent that it demonstrates the colossal power of corporate and military lobbyists; but in effect the influence of lobbyist permeates all branches of government.  My favourite example of the effective lobbying is the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which tightened the restrictions regarding doing business with Cuba, and was apparently actually written by staff at Bacardi and passed on the legislators who introduced it.

Of course the most obvious example of the Democratic Party’s winning representation in support of popular sentiment only to renege on its promise is the Iraq War (or, rather, the invasion and occupation of Iraq).  In the 2006 mid-term elections, the Democrats were able to gain control of both Houses of Congress based upon their support of enormous public sentiment for an immediate or prompt withdrawal.  With that power and authority under its Beltway belt, the Democratic Congress proceeded to approve every budget request for the war and went so far as to allow for its escalation, which was thinly disguised by the Orwellian use of the word “surge.”

Thomas Frank, the author of the posted article on which I am commenting, identifies himself as a Liberal.  We all know that the past two decades have been dominated for the most part by Conservative ideas and policies: anti-labor, anti-welfare, anti-environmental protection; pro-war, pro-corporate, pro-rich, etc.  But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the results of polling American voters, which consistently support universal health care, environmental protection, more equitable taxation, etc.; that is, the Liberal agenda!  But the Democratic Party (Clinton 1992-2000; Congress 2006-2008; Obama 2008?????) for a variety of reasons is neither willing nor able to give Americans what we want.

Two factors, not entirely unrelated to “money,” should be mentioned as means by which the general will and interest are thwarted in our capitalist democracy: manipulation through massive spending on public relations and influence bordering on control of the mass media; and manufactured crises or the appropriation of actual crises (this well documented in Naomi Klein’s blockbuster, “The Shock Doctrine”) to scare us into accepting unpleasant medicine.  The current economic crisis is being used, for example, to give Wall Street and its supporters in BOTH parties the opportunity to maintain its advantages while millions of Americans lose their homes and/or their jobs).

In effect the United States is a one party democracy with two branches: the Democrats and the Republicans.  Wikipedia lists 210,000 entries for the word “Republicrat.”  The notion is not original with me.  Look at the political spectrum.  The Republican Party pretty much represents every interest almost to the extreme end on the right side.  On the left side, the distance between the left wing of the Democratic Party (with the exception of a tiny handful such as Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Boxer) and say Ralph Nader (whose policies on the environment, the war, corporate taxation, regulation of the financial industry are virtually congruent with public opinion) and Noam Chomsky – both of whom are no where near to being criminally mendacious or as irresponsibly and ludicrously extremist as the Bill O’Reillys and Rush Limbaughs – is gaping.

Going back to the money, Barack Obama has tried to create the illusion that his massive campaign contributions came largely from ordinary Americans making relatively small donations.  While it is true that much of the Obama movement has been fuelled by the enthusiasm of American youth and liberals, and small contributions have been considerable; nevertheless, the bulk of the nearly trillion dollars in his war chest came from similar sources as were traditional for both parties.  Once the band wagon gets rolling, the big boys know when to jump on.

And going back to health care, Canada provides an excellent example of the thesis stated by Thomas Frank.  In 1942, Tommy Douglas was elected Premier of the Province of Saskatchewan, and introduced the first democratic socialist government in North America.  In 1962 Saskatchewan, after a “fight to the death” with the North American medical establishment and the provinces’ physicians, introduced universal health care, another first for the western hemisphere.

In that same year, a Conservative (!) Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, established a Royal Commission to study health care in the country, and that Commission, headed by a former Supreme Court Judge, Emmett Hall, recommended nationwide adoption of Saskatchewan’s model of public health insurance, which led to the introduction and passage of the Canada Health Act in 1966 under a minority Liberal government, headed by Lester B. Pearson.  Thus Canada became the only country in the Americas, apart from Cuba, to offer its citizens universal health care.  And it did so under the political pressures that were a consequence of Saskatchewan’s successful and enormously popular and socially beneficial initiative.

It is also interesting to compare the results of leftist governments coming to power via democratic election versus those coming to power via revolution.  I have not made a comprehensive study of this, but will just name some examples.  In Europe, in the second half of the last century, two avowedly socialist governments came to power in France (under François Mitterrand) and Greece (under Andreas Papandreou).  Neither of the two governments were able (or willing) to deliver on their promises from the standpoint of either domestic or foreign policy.

On the other side of the ledger, during roughly the same time period two socialist governments came to power in the Americas though armed revolution: the July 26 Movement (under Fidel Castro) in Cuba, and the Sandinistas (under Daniel Ortega) in Nicaragua.  In the early years of both revolutions, their governments made huge inroads in eliminating illiteracy and in introducing free education (in Cuba up to and including university level studies) and universal health care, along with other progressive social programs.  Although the Cuban government has ossified into a Stalinist style dictatorship (though not nearly as brutal) and had to withstand the hardships imposed by the US blockade, it has been able to maintain these social programs.  In Nicaragua, the Sandinista government was seriously disabled by the US supported Contras.  The major targets of their terrorist attacks incidentally, were schools and clinics.  It lost power in a democratic election and recently has regained it.

I’m not saying that these examples necessarily prove anything, they are anecdotal , but I think it is worth pondering.

The example with which I am personally most familiar has to do with the Province of Ontario in Canada, where I resided for many years and where I served on the Municipal Council of Metropolitan Toronto as a elected Councillor for seven years.  In 1990 the New Democratic Party (NDP), which originally considered it socialist, but over the years evolved into a non-socialist leftist social democratic opposition, won a large majority in the provincial parliament and its leader, Bob Rae, became Premier of Ontario.  

The very first thing that Rae did upon being inaugurated was to travel to New York and speak on Wall Street to assure that they had no fears from his government.  Although his government was mildly progressive in some areas (a large percentage of women in the cabinet, some environmental protection), on the whole it could not be distinguished from traditional Liberal or Conservative governments when it came to protecting corporate interests and other instruments of capitalist control (policing, for example, where the Rae government failed to implement effective civilian oversight). It’s most notorious legislation was blatantly anti-labor.  It introduced what it called the “social contract” for government workers, a measure whereby they could accept voluntary roll backs or the government would do it for them.

Ironically, the Rae government was attacked viciously by the right and the corporate media as if it had in fact introduced a democratic socialist progressive policy agenda.  It was soundly defeated after a single term in office despite its efforts to appease capital.  It may as well have implemented its “radical” platform and left the province with a progressive legacy.  Instead,the Rae government was replaced by the government of Conservative Mike Harris, who did not hesitate to keep his promises to deregulate, privatize, and drastically reduce social and environmental programs.  He left office in disgrace, but his legacy remains.  Not only that, his major advisors and cabinet members are now effectively in charge of the Conservative government of Canada under Stephen Harper, another rightist who more or less “keeps his word” when it comes to his regressive policies on labor, social programs, taxes, environmental protection, etc.

A final and unpleasant irony.  One of the major arguments coming from the right when progressive measures are on the table is that such things as taxing business or increasing government spending on social programs (which involves more taxation) have the effect of driving business out of the jurisdiction.  If we increase corporate taxes or increase costly benefits and wages in X state or Y province, business will abandon them and move elsewhere.

When the Woodrow Lloyd (successor to Tommy Douglas) government introduced universal health care before the Saskatchewan parliament in 1962, the right and the medical establishment went ballistic.  Saskatchewan doctors went on strike and threatened to leave the province.  The opposition used this to play on latent racism by raising the specter of having to be attended to by “foreign” doctors, who would be brought to the province to replace the good White Saskatchewan docs.

Of course, as we have seen, exactly the opposite occurred.  When the general public in one jurisdiction can see that progressive social programs can actually work in another, it puts enormous pressure on their governments to act in a similar way.  No political party, no matter how far to the right, would dare suggest that the Canada Health Act be repealed (although they do their best to hack away at it whenever they get the chance).

Those of us from the Vietnam era remember the phrase “domino effect.”  It was used to frighten Americans into believing that if Vietnam remained a Communist state, all of Asia (if not the entire world) would follow.  In this case it was a bogus argument, but as the Republicans seem to be well aware, the Democrats actually being able to achieve a workable universal health care plan for the country could cause other dominos to fall (Kyoto, disarmament, affordable higher education, etc.) and undermine what the Republicans have so laboriously built up in the way of firewalls against progressive domestic and foreign policy. This “Chicken Little” strategy along with the enormous lobbying influence on both parties of the AMA and the private health insurance industry (of whom Hillary Clinton had become the major beneficiary in the Senate) is what Barack Obama and his Democratic Congress has to face if they are serious about universal single payer health care.  Place you bets.

A final word about universal health care.  Plans that involve the Byzantine network of private health insurance are probably doomed to failure once in operation for a variety of reasons not the least of which is cost and unworkable bureaucracy.  The weakness of existing single payer health plans such as that of Canada is that, while the coverage is “socialized,” the costs remain private.  In Canada the government negotiates with the Medical Association on a schedule of fees, but cost containment remains a serious problem.  In Canada drugs and dental care are not covered.  In the US, when the drug benefit was introduced to Medicare, it specifically prohibited the government from negotiation with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices.  In Great Britain, where the National Health Service represents genuine “socialized” medicine in that it is government “owned and operated,” pressures to limit services in order to contain costs persist, of course, because costs are directly related to taxation. 

This takes us to the question of the role of the state in a capitalist society and what might things be like if and when capitalism were replaced with genuine democratic socialism, a minor issue but one which I will leave for future discussion.