Monthly Archives: September 2011

Capital punishment: Davis v Brewer

The death penalty. It’s wrong not because of doubt, such as any in Davis’s case. Brewer was executed too and it seems no doubt existed there. The penalty isn’t wrong because it’s barbaric: Davis was anaesthetised before the lethal drug was administered so he was never in physical pain.
The death penalty is wrong because it’s the only penalty a state has against it’s own citizens that it can not apply to itself.
In other words, it’s not justice. The family & friends of the victim that led to the penalty don’t get justice, and the state potentially adds another family to grieve.
The death penalty is wrong because it should always be penalty of last resort, not the first. The functions of prison are to separate dangerous people from civil society, punish the convicted and to attempt reform on convicted. When we remove any of these functions, prison no longer has a role in society.
The death penalty is wrong because our judgement on what is a deliberate act, usually murder, is arbitary and flawed. You shoot and kill a civilian in the street? Murder. You drive you car, killing a pedestrian? Not murder. For the same outcome the penalties are different. Sure, you’ll argue killing the pedestrian was an accident, and juries will believe you because they can empathise as fellow drivers: that jury won’t empathise if you’re a shooter, though.
The death penalty is wrong because, and you must forgive an atheist for saying this, the bible on which our justice is based tell us that killing is wrong and vengeance is not a trait that we humans should aspire to. If someone wants to argue “yes, but…” then I simply say this: if you accept that there are circumstances to ignore just one Commandment, then there are circumstances to reject all Commandments, and therefore there is no basis for a civil, just society- we will be living in a society free to ignore the laws we don’t like and arbitrarily enforce we believe should exist on anyone that offends us.
This issue is emotive. No amount of reason will ever persuade an ardent supporter of capital punishment. In part this is why there was support for Davis and not Brewer. Yet if we want to call ourselves a civil society we must argue that if we had wished to spare Davis’s life, then sparing a vicious, hateful, murderous man by the name of Brewer was equally important. Reverse that, if a vicious, hateful murderous man does not deserve clemency to live, then any person who kills anyone for any reason also forfeits their right to live. That being the case, we lose the very thing that has made us the most advanced, successful animal to ever occupy this earth; our humanity.
The death penalty is wrong. Period.


How to spend a fortune and get nothing.

Twitter is a wonderful beast. Almost real-time updates of any subject you care to think of.  By chance I was able to read running commentaries on what Republicans were saying during a nomination debate.  As an Australian, I don’t hold that much interest in the spectacle that is the lead up race for the White House, except this time the Republican side is led by a comedy troupe of Tea Party candidates.

One candidate in particular, Ron Paul, struck me as the freakiest of carny folk in Republican side show alley.  Yet this isn’t about Paul.  This is about where some of the claims about him has led me; the vaults of official statistics by the OECD.

You see, some people believe that government shouldn’t be in the business of looking after its citizens, specifically their health.  One tweeter, in defending Ron Paul’s decision not to pay the $400,000 medical debt owed by one of his campaign managers – who had died – told me:


Rick Fisk might be on to something.  The Texan Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order to fund a cervical cancer vaccine that targets HPV, a position he has now thinks is poor policy.  Michele Bachmann adds the HPV vaccine caused mild retardation in a young girl and is therefore potentially dangerous.  Paul simply says: “It’s not good social policy and therefore I think this is very bad to do this.”  So obviously any government involvement in health is bad.  Obamacare must be bad.

Ever since Jesus played fullback for the Saints*, leading political figures have told us that the private sector is always more efficient that an equivalent government sector.  It’s certainly a mantra of the Tea Party, that and the idea of universal healthcare is inherently toxic.  The arguments can appear convincing, but once stripped of emotion, are they really?  Hence delving into the OECD health statistics.

There are remarkable things to discover.  For example; in 2008, the US spent $7220 per capita on healthcare (all figures in 2011 USD).  This represents 17.4% of GDP.  More than half of that is what Americans are paying privately.  Every woman, man and child in the US forked out more than an average $3610 for private healthcare and almost the same again indirectly through tax.

Second place in the staggering statistics department goes to the Netherlands, who spent $4241 per capita, or 12% GDP.  Unlike the US, the Netherlands has a universal health care system, and only about one-sixth of that is in the private sector.

In twenty-third place is Australia, possibly the best match for the US in health after Canada.  After all, Australians eat roughly much the same amount of rubbish, watch a similar amount of terrible television and speak (mostly) the same language (but without the weird accents).  Australia’s figures for 2008 are $3445 per capita or 8.7% of GDP, below the OECD average of 9.5% GDP.

Keeping in mind this total is the private and government sectors  combined per capita, and yet it’s less than what the US pays privately per capita.  Despite this, Australians on average live longer and have better health outcomes than Americans.  The OECD data demonstrates Australia’s universal healthcare system is more efficient than the US private fend-for-yourself system and more effective.  Surely that can’t be right?  Believe me, the healthcare system in Australia isn’t exactly a shining beacon of efficiency, no matter how hard or magnificently those at the coal face work.  How can such a sector, two-thirds funded by governments (i.e. Australian tax payers), be better than the equivalent private sector in the US, the land where the consumer rules?

One explanation is the private US medical system is fraudulent, syphoning off billions of dollars from governments, insurance premiums and individuals when they present themselves for care.  Maybe that’s a little harsh.  Perhaps the private healthcare sector is so grossly incompetent, inefficient and ineffective Americans would be better off without it?  Best not to confuse a mistake for malice, but either way, small wonder President Obama wants reform.

What does it take to convince the fans of the Perrys, Bachmanns and Pauls that they are willing to continue spending a fortune to get very little in return?  I mean people like Fisk who told me that if we pay tax for such things as healthcare, the government should also pay for our car loans (no, I’m not joking and I wish Fisk was).  It’s a serious question I wish the American people would ask of those who aspire to be called, one day, President of the United States.

*Obviously Jesus didn’t play fullback for the Saints; Jesus is a fictional character.

Update: Rick Fisk informs me – which I haven’t verified – that Ron’s Paul’s campaign manager, Ken Snyder, couldn’t be insured because he had a pre-existing condition, and that Snyder died of pneumonia.  Fisk assures me Paul had no moral obligation to help Snyder.  Is Paul seriously wanting to be the Republican Party’s nominee?