Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Social Hierarchy of Health

Quotes from an article on Social Hierarchy of Health.

The disease and suffering of disadvantaged people in all countries are a result of the way we organise our societies.

A physician faced with a suffering patient has an obligation to make things better. If a society is making people sick, we have a moral obligation to improve public health and to reduce health inequalities as a matter of social justice.

The social gradient in mortality is a broader issue than that of poverty and health. A study by Marmot of government workers in Whitehall, London, found that while everyone had access to clean water, sanitation, abundant food, and shelter, the risk of dying was related to where they stood in the social hierarchy. In England, the life expectancy gap between men living in rich and poor areas is 11 years and the gap is even bigger in the United States of America between whites and blacks in the same geographical region.

There is a clear relation between a country's affluence and the life expectancy of its population, up to a per capita income of about $5,000. Beyond this, factors like social environment have a greater influence. The excess mortality among the poor in a rich country like the USA is from non-communicable disease and violent deaths.

Power, then, is the key. Control, autonomy, and freedoms might sound like psychological properties of the individual. Power relations in society, as they operate through social institutions and the opportunities afforded to those in relatively disadvantaged positions, are the social causes of degrees of empowerment. Freedom does not imply privileging the rights of some individuals at the expense of the well-being of others. Human rights can be taken as implying an obligation on society to do what is necessary to bring about the important freedoms for everyone.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

World Health Day 2010

In New Mexico we often view the state as a rural place. In truth, much of it is. But it is fairly safe to say that about half of the state population now lives in an urban environment. This is challenging because of the traditional New Mexican cultures are tied to land.

The work of maintaining and supporting traditional land uses and healthy urban development in balance will require vision, leadership, and dedication. Urban health is best approached by dealing with a regional perspective rather than a city only view. Food, water, clean air, housing, jobs, and so much more really benefit from the regional coordination.

Today is World Health Day, and the focus is urbanization. So even if you only have a few minutes reflect on our cities and health. Cities are great for bringing lots of interesting things together. They are also places for the development of great inequities. Take a minute and think about what you can do to improve your local environment or social conditions.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Shifting the Center

Thanks to Norman Goldman who gave a great metaphor relating the political spectrum to a football field. He stated that the US is on the right side from the goal line to the 25 yard line, with Obama on about the 20. He put Europe on about the 50 yard line, and pure communism/socialism on the left goal line.

Shifting the Center:

As we have seen throughout US history, much of the mainstream political discussion is guided to the right. From the original version of US politics with white, land-owners being the only ones allowed to vote to current neo-con and neo-liberal politics – the propertied class (owning or corporate class today) fights for its interests only. Democracy, common wealth, and liberty are tossed aside for a lecherous form of capitalism.

In a “first past the post” or “winner take all” political system the competing political parties need a simple majority to win. And this system tends toward to major parties and some minor parties. In pursuit of the magic 51% parties need to be broad enough and end up fighting for “the middle.” In our case corporate propaganda has helped to push this to the right and marginalize any real “left” ideas and politics. As Norman Goldman points out – even Obama, who is declared a socialist by the fascists is really much nearer the capitalist and corporatist side of politics.

Normally, “progressive” (which sounds very middle of the road in this context), “left,” and “radical” parties have gone after the Democrats in an attempt to show that they really do not have the interests of the working-class, environment, or social justice in mind. In a two party system additional candidates tend to take votes that may have gone toward one of the two primary candidates or energize voters who feel they are not represented by either of those candidates. In the US the additional voters are usually not counted because that would take too much mental energy on behalf of those reporting on politics and it would be an inconvenient fact to deal with.

In general left-of-Democrat* candidates are blamed for losses, sometimes correctly, of Democratic candidates. Often the Democratic candidates were the target as much as the actual seat of power. This leads towards a backlash against third parties. And for the most part it has been the Democratic party who has, in very anti-democratic ways, tightened up ballot access, and other electoral laws that make it difficult for people and parties to get on the ballot unless they belong to one of the corporate-sponsored parties. So much for being “democratic.”

If the left-of-Democrat parties began to target uncontested Republicans that would shift the center. The US is uncommon for having ZERO left elected officials at the federal level. (The rest of the world doesn't see the Democratic party as a “left” party.) So even one at this level would act as an anchor to the other side of the spectrum. If the Republican party becomes weaker in terms of representation then the center would shift to the other side of the Democratic party.

Of course that change at the federal level will not happen quickly. But if you look at US history, there have been local and regional parties that have had influence on the national scene. The best example is the 1912 elections.

More than likely it will be a long road that requires real “lefties” to run for local offices, then take on uncontested Republicans locally, then go from there. Universal health care has happened in countries where a left party has been in power. In Canada that was at the province (our version of States) level.

Policies such as free education, six weeks paid time off for all workers, and universal health care happen in countries with an empowered and broad political spectrum. REAL progressives would argue for the democratic reforms that would allow ideas and democracy to flourish. There are very few of those in positions to speak and influence.

REAL progressives would stand for Instant Runoff Voting so that no vote is wasted. REAL progressives would stand for fair ballot access so that there was a range of choices for Americans. REAL progressives would be leading the march toward an open and participatory democracy!

There aren't many real progressives, but when we find one we need to work with them for real change, real hope, and real family values!

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*People commonly refer to members of the Democratic party as Democrats and not Democratics.