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December 17, 2010 - No. 217

The Crisis in Health Care

Alberta's Five Year Plan of Action

Edmonton, December 4, 2010: More than 800 people take part in a rally at the Alberta legislature organized
by Friends of Medicare for public health care and to demand solutions to the health care crisis.

The Crisis in Health Care
Alberta's Five Year Plan of Action - Peggy Morton

Imperialists Mourn the Death of Ruthless Cold Warrior - Dougal MacDonald

Republic of Korea-U.S.-Japan Joint Statement
Blueprint for Further War and Aggression - Philip Fernandez
U.S. Sidesteps Proposals for Dialogue

The Crisis in Health Care

Alberta's Five Year Plan of Action

Everyone agrees that the crisis in health care is deepening. Many of the symptoms are clear: overcrowded emergency rooms, long waits to access care at many levels and failure to provide care for frail seniors. The burn-out and exhaustion of health care workers is being recognized. But whenever discussion goes beyond symptoms to the cause of the malady and the treatment required, it becomes clear that the rich and their governments are living in a different world. Health care workers and their collectives, seniors organizations and citizens groups are identifying immediate problems which require solutions and making proposals on that basis. Governments, the monopoly media, the think tanks of the rich and the monopolies who want to expand their "market" are working overtime to overwhelm people and convince them that health care is not a right and this right cannot be provided with a guarantee. The rich and their governments are the block which people face in providing solutions on the basis that Health Care is a Right!

For example, the Globe and Mail says that the problem is that Canadians are just plain stubborn and cling to the "lofty principle" that everyone should receive care regardless of ability to pay. Hard choices have to be made, the rich say. Health care is eating up too much of provincial budgets, and the only source of additional funding for health care is to take it from other social programs such as education, they claim. The assault on the rights which people have as humans seems endless.

The Alberta government has responded to the tsunami from Albertans demanding the government provide the necessary resources to ensure people receive the highest quality care when needed by producing a "five-year health action plan." The plan sets out targets for everything under the sun, from emergency room wait times, wait times for primary care, surgery, consultation with a specialist and so on. When it comes to how it is going to deliver on these targets, there is nothing in the document which even remotely resembles a concrete plan.

Why is this the case? Is the government just stupid? Or does it recognize a different problem than the problem the people of Alberta have identified? According to the government, people are the problem. What to do about all these people who have health problems? What to do about all these angry Albertans who are speaking out. What to do about doctors, nurses, and support staff who refuse to be silenced? What about the physician in their own caucus who refused to abandon his responsibilities as a physician and persisted in speaking out on behalf of health care workers and the health care needs of Albertans? What to do about the seniors who refuse to be marginalized? The short-term fix is a PR job to convince people that the government is doing something. Fire the CEO of the health superboard. Empty the overflowing emergency unit by sending patients to other units which are already full and where patients will end up in hallways or as the third patient in a two-bed room. Produce a glossy plan full of targets and empty promises.

The targets are a way of claiming that something is being done. But they are also a means to force hospitals to meet the targets at the expense of patient care. If a patient is waiting longer than the "target" in emergency, skip the test and send the patient home. Discharge patients early from in-patient wards. Do whatever is "necessary." In the absence of additional resources and staff, wait time targets become a means to force compromised care. Together with "benchmarking," activity-based funding and other such measures, the health superboard becomes a giant U.S.-style health management organization.

As for the long-term solutions, here too the government says that people are the problem. Canadians consider it an achievement of the society that people are living longer and healthier lives. But the rich and their governments speak in apocalyptic terms of the spectre of all these aging baby boomers overwhelming the system, making it "unsustainable." They repeat endlessly that the publicly funded and delivered system is inefficient. It has to be made more efficient, more "business-like" -- in other words, less health care and more profits. The same mantra about making the monopolies competitive so that they can be global champions is to be applied to the health care "market."

Expanding the Public Health Care Workforce

Health care workers and their collectives point out that the first priority is to increase the training and hiring of health care staff. This is necessary to address the burn-out and stress staff experience trying to provide care with inadequate staff. Then additional staff are needed to add more services.

In response to Alberta Health's "solution" to emergency overcrowding, the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) has pointed out that moving patients out of emergency to other nursing units, to hallways or putting three people in a two-person room cannot be called a solution.

"Unless appropriate staffing and support is provided in each and every environment, we are simply shoving the problem out of the emergency departments and hiding it across the continuum," UNA President Heather Smith said.

"We don't agree with 'pushing' more patients in to overcrowded or inappropriate beds or conditions. This is like the Tokyo subway system where they hire big men with white gloves to push more people into train cars. It is just that wrong," says Heather Smith. "Real expansion of capacity, opening significant numbers of beds and ending the constant squeeze and reduction of our public health system, is the only real solution to the problems.

"We've got to expand the health workforce, you can build buildings and buy beds, but if you can't staff them, you're never going to deal with the real emergency issue."

This is not what the government is doing. According to government calculations, more than 3,000 nurses currently working in Alberta will be over the age of 65 by 2015. It projects that Alberta will be short 6,500 nurses by 2016. Despite this it has committed only to hiring 70 per cent of nursing graduates in Alberta, even though hiring all nursing graduates would not fill the gap. Today's hospitals have shortages of housekeepers, clerical staff, support staff who maintain the buildings, sterilize surgical instruments and perform many other important services in hospitals. Yet there is no plan to hire more staff.

In 1995, after the Alberta government had closed half the beds in the province, there were 6,500 acute care beds (not including mental health beds in stand-alone psychiatric hospitals) for a population of 2.6 million people. Fifteen years later, there are 7,800 acute care beds for a population which has grown to 3.7 million. This means there is now one acute care bed for every 460 people, while in 1995, after half the beds were closed, there was one bed for every 400 people.

The five-year plan states that 360 new acute care beds will be opened in the first two years of the plan; no new beds are planned for the last three years. This means that the government plans to open fewer new beds over the next five years than were opened on average over the past 15 years. To put it another way, one new bed will be opened for each 10,000 people in Alberta. This is not even taking into account population increase, making it likely that bed/population ratios will fall ever further.

Dignity for Seniors

As for the government's "commitment" to open 5,300 continuing care spaces over the next five years, its announcement should get an award for the most brazen attempt at deception in the whole "plan." "New" terminology for "continuing care" includes expressions like the home stream, the supportive living stream and the facility living stream. This means if a senior is receiving some home care services, their bedroom can be counted as a "continuing care space." So too a room in a lodge where room and board are provided but there are no health care staff on site. A continuing care space can mean almost anything, as long as the senior is not in an acute care hospital.

It appears that most of the "spaces" referred to will be in private, for-profit assisted living facilities being built with government handouts. There is no change to the plan to cap the number of publicly-funded long-term care beds at the current 14,500. Seniors will be forced to pay for more and more of their care. Funding will be diverted from care for seniors and decent wages and living conditions for health care workers into the hands of the private health care monopolies.

When delivery of home care services is contracted out to private companies, the home care workers are paid less than half the hourly rate the private companies charge. The private operators profit from each and every service provided. Eliminating for-profit care would immediately improve living and working conditions for health care workers and provide more funding for patient care.

Funding must be directed to providing care and services so as to provide the right to health care with a guarantee. Out-of-hospital care must not be turned over to private, for-profit health care corporations, and monopolies. This must be reversed and the monopolies restricted. Organizations like the Public Interest Alberta Seniors' Task Force have put forward a concrete plan for action. The government must provide expanded publicly delivered home care services. The conversion of long-term care facilities to for-profit assisted living facilities must stop. High quality, affordable long term care facilities must be built as required to eliminate waiting lists and plan for the future. Every seniors care facility should have an advisory council to ensure that residents and their families have a democratic say in how these facilities are run.

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Imperialists Mourn the Death of
Ruthless Cold Warrior

Richard Holbrooke, U.S. career diplomat and investment banker, died on December 13 due to complications surrounding surgery. Immediately, the monopoly media began a paean of praise, repeating over and over that, "the whole world mourns," and publishing lists of Holbrooke's so-called accomplishments. Since billions of the world's people do not mourn Holbrooke at all, why are the U.S. imperialists making such a concerted attempt to put him on a pedestal? His "accomplishments" clearly reveal why.

Holbrooke began his career in 1962 in Viet Nam with the "Rural Pacification Program," aimed at "neutralizing" any Vietnamese who opposed the U.S. puppet regime. The program morphed into the infamous Phoenix Program that targeted and assassinated over 26,000 Vietnamese people. Holbrooke also served at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon where he was mentored by the former head of the Phoenix Program, Robert G. Komer.

From 1972-76, Holbrooke was editor of Samuel Huntington's political affairs magazine, Foreign Policy, more aptly titled, Tool of U.S. Foreign Policy. Huntington is the author of the bogus "clash of civilizations" thesis which predicts (and encourages) an "inevitable" clash between "Western Christian civilization" and what he refers to as the two major "challenger" civilizations, "Islamic" and "Sinic" (Chinese).

As Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter administration (1977-81), Holbrooke oversaw weapons shipments to the Indonesian military, which were used to bomb and strafe the Timorese out of the hills, killing hundreds of thousands. In 1980, Holbrooke played a key role in the Carter administration's support for a south Korean military attack on a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Gwangju that killed hundreds of people. Holbrooke was a central player in the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, supporting Croatian ethnic cleansers trained by U.S. mercenaries to massacre Serbs in Krajina. Holbrooke provided a false pretext for war over Kosovo, known as the Rambouillet Accord. When the Serbian leaders, like any self-respecting leaders in the world, rejected the proposed occupation agreement, the Clinton administration unleashed the bombers.

Holbrooke was part of the Clinton administration that imposed ruthless economic sanctions on the people of Iraq, denying them food and medicine, and that bombed Baghdad on multiple occasions. In 2003, Holbrooke was a prominent Democratic backer of the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq, and promoted the idea that Saddam posed a threat with so-called weapons of mass destruction.

Holbrooke fully supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and, in January 2009, was appointed by President Obama as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that position, he helped kill an initiative to back the creation of a new UN special envoy empowered to pursue peace talks with the Taliban in order to end the war.

Holbrooke revealed his true colours even in his investment banking career. He was a director of AIG and a manager of Lehman Brothers, two companies that cost the people of America hundreds of billions of dollars during the financial crisis that began in 2008. He also served as Vice-Chairman of Credit Suisse Boston. Credit Suisse was forced along with Union Bank of Switzerland to pay $1.25 billion in compensation for the profits it made from trafficking in looted Nazi gold during the Second World War.

It is only the narrow world of U.S. imperialism that mourns Richard Holbrooke, not the broad world of the people. Holbrooke sold himself entirely to the financial oligarchy and was the embodiment of post-war U.S. imperialism. He was a ruthless Cold Warrior, who spent his entire 48-year political career implementing and backing U.S. interventions, covert and overt, in Vietnam, East Timor, the Balkans, the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. His passing will not be mourned for one moment by the world's people because of the murderous policies that he willingly implemented and supported on behalf of U.S imperialism, for many decades, in many different parts of the world.

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Republic of Korea-U.S.-Japan Joint Statement

Blueprint for Further War and Aggression

Seoul, Korea, December 14, 2010: Activists hold a demonstration outside the Japanese embassy to denounce the U.S.-Japan-south Korea trilateral accord and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's recent remarks that his country would consider dispatching troops to the Korean Peninsula in case of "contingencies." (Tongil News/No Base Stories Korea)

On December 6, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, and south Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung Hwan issued a joint statement following a meeting in Washington. This tripartite meeting was held in opposition to proposals put forward by China -- proposals that were supported by Russia and the DPRK -- that talks be held immediately by the Six Party states (Russia, China, U.S., south Korea, the DPRK and Japan) to try and diffuse the current tense political and military atmosphere on the Korean peninsula through diplomacy.

The joint statement issued on December 6 is a barrage of disinformation and slander against the DPRK in order to strengthen the bilateral military alliances between the U.S. and the two other countries, as well as to justify increased military co-operation between the three states which would only worsen the current situation on the Korean peninsula and hasten another Korean war which could trigger a nuclear Third World War.

The joint statement turns truth on its head and accuses the DPRK as the main threat to "peace and stability on the Korean peninsula" and called on that country to "stop its provocative behaviour and to abide by the terms of the 1953 Armistice Agreement to preserve peace and stability in not only Northeast Asia but also in the wider region." The fact is that the DPRK has always abided by the terms of the 1953 Armistice Agreement while the U.S. has not. For example, the Armistice Agreement called for the conclusion of a peace treaty between the U.S. and the DPRK to replace the Armistice Agreement as soon as possible -- which the U.S. has repeatedly refused to do, including once again in January 2010. The refusal of the U.S. to sign a peace treaty demonstrates that the U.S. is not interested in "promoting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula" but wants to maintain a volatile state in order to justify a war of aggression and conquest against the DPRK.

The joint statement also suggests that a condition of the U.S., ROK and Japan returning to the Six Party Talks would be for the "DPRK to make sincere efforts to improve relations with the ROK as well as taking concrete steps to demonstrate a genuine commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization." This is another provocation because the government of the DPRK has worked might and main for over 60 years to normalize relations with south Korea, and all that work has been sabotaged time and again by the U.S. which wants to maintain its military presence in the strategic Korean peninsula. The work that was done to forge the historic June 2000 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Agreements between north and south Korea, to normalize relations between north and south and promote co-operation in various fields was all initiated by the DPRK. All this work and positive development from 2000-2010 has been wrecked by the current U.S.-installed anti-communist, retrogressive regime of Lee Myung Bak, and so to taunt the DPRK about "normalizing relations" with the south goes beyond the pale.

Regarding the Six Party Talks to Denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, it has been the U.S. that has always sabotaged these talks and their agreements because of its insistence that the DPRK should disarm its nuclear energy plants before the U.S. will provide aid and normalize relations with it -- this even after the U.S. did not honour its pledges to provide fuel oil, normalize relations and so on -- following the 1994 Agreed Framework between the U.S. and the DPRK -- -- although the DPRK had mothballed its Yongbyong nuclear plant, causing serious damage to the DPRK.

On the basis of this massive disinformation and attacks against the DPRK and China, the U.S., Republic of Korea and Japan re-affirmed in their joint statement the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the U.S., as well as the ROK-Mutual Defence Treaty, and agreed to further strengthen their military and economic co-operation on the basis of having "shared values" and "responsibilities to maintain stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region and globally." In other words, the U.S. is demanding that Japan and south Korean partake more aggressively to impose U.S. dictate in Asia-Pacific and the world.

What the ROK-U.S.-Japan joint statement kept hidden is that it was the U.S. that carried out the military occupation of both Japan and south Korea after World War Two. This, after it had atom-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in an act of mass terror, and snatching victory from the Korean people who had defeated the Japanese military occupiers of their land. It was the U.S. that rehabilitated Japanese war criminals and put them in charge of post-war Japan and did the same in south Korea by installing a government of south Korean traitors and pro-Japanese elements as well as pro-U.S. anti-communists to govern south Korea against the will of the Korean people. This was done to create an anti-communist bulwark against China and the Soviet Union and it is doing the same today when the U.S. is aiming to strengthen its hand and impose its dominance in East Asia against China and Russia.

The joint statement keeps in the shade the fact that the Japanese and Korean people have from day one demanded the scrapping of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security signed in 1960 and the Mutual Defence Treaty between south Korea and the U.S. in 1954, and have continued to demand that U.S. troops leave their respective countries. The Japanese and south Korean people do not support their reactionary governments in these aggressive alliances because they have direct experience of U.S. imperialism -- not only the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Korean War but also the rule of impunity enjoyed by U.S. troops on the U.S. bases which occupy their countries at their expense. It is they who continue to pay for the U.S. military occupation of their respective countries. Today Japan forks out billions of dollars for "reconstruction" in Afghanistan and south Korea also has to send troops to that country.

The ROK-U.S.-Japan joint statement is a recipe for disaster on the Korean peninsula, throughout Asia and the world. All justice- and peace-loving Canadians and people around the world must denounce these aggressive military plans for more aggression and war on the Korean peninsula and in Asia, and step up support for the Korean and Japanese people to oust U.S. troops from their countries and secure peace.

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U.S. Sidesteps Proposals for Dialogue

Seoul, Korea, December 16, 2010: The newly-elected chairpersons of the pan-Korean university student association issue an anti-war statement to denounce the Lee Myung Bak government's war-mongering, including its refusal to dialogue and the upcoming live fire war games. (Tongil News/No Base Stories Korea)

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) released a statement on December 16 denouncing the U.S. for its refusal to engage in a dialogue for peace and its continued machinations for war in the region. The statement points out that the U.S. is keen on stirring up a war atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula and in its vicinity while persistently sidestepping proposals for dialogue with all kinds of preconditions.

Behind this U.S. intransigence "is a sinister strategic scenario to obstruct the economic construction in the DPRK and dominate us militarily and thus use its military deterrence against neighbouring countries," the statement adds.

The DPRK is channelling all its efforts into economic construction so as to attain the goal of opening the door to becoming a thriving nation by 2012. It is also expanding foreign investment in the country. These efforts require a stable peaceful atmosphere, not a war atmosphere. Thus, "in order to disturb the environment necessary for focusing efforts on the economic construction in the DPRK the U.S. is employing trickery to strain the situation," the DPRK statement points out,

The foreign ministry spokesperson also points to U.S. attempts to implicate the DPRK as the cause of tension in the region, saying, "This is evinced by the fact that the U.S. is trying to make the public believe that the situation remains tense and dialogue is not opened because the DPRK 'violates' international agreements and perpetrates 'provocative actions'."

"History and the reality go to prove that it was none other than the U.S. that has systematically breached all the international agreements calling for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

Furthermore, "It was again the U.S. that introduced nuclear weapons into south Korea, scrapping the Armistice Agreement (AA) and causing the nuclearization of the peninsula, not content with shipping war equipment there in gross violation of the AA in 1953. It is still not implementing the Resolution 3390 of the UN General Assembly of1975 which calls for replacing the AA by a peace treaty and disbanding 'the UN Forces Command."

The DPRK statement also clarifies that it was also the U.S. which violated the 1994 DPRK-U.S. Agreed Framework, thus negating then President Bill Clinton's assurances that the U.S. would provide two light-water reactors to the DPRK by 2003.

It was also none other than the U.S. which increased the military threat to the DPRK in violation of the DPRK-U.S. joint statement adopted in June, 1993 which called on both sides to refrain from using armed forces, including nuclear weapons, and the DPRK-U.S. joint communique adopted in October 2000 in which both sides vowed not to antagonize each other.

The U.S. also violated the spirit of mutual respect and equality, a fundamental principle of modern international relations, the provisions for the normalization of relations and ensuring peace and the principle of simultaneous action-for-action by both sides which was the basis for the agreement reached at the Six-Party Talks on September 19, 2005.

Lastly, the foreign ministry statement notes the hypocrisy of U.S. objections to the DPRK's nuclear program: "It is also preposterous for the U.S. to take issue with the DPRK's nuclear activities for peaceful purposes under the pretence of dodging dialogue.

"The DPRK's independent building of light water reactors and its production of enriched uranium for their fuel are nuclear activities for the peaceful purpose of producing electricity. The right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy is a universally recognized right which countries inside and outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty substantially exercise based on the principle of equality and this right of the DPRK is stipulated in the [1993] joint statement, too."

The statement concludes by reiterating that the DPRK supports all proposals for dialogue, including the Six-Party Talks, in the interest of preventing a war and achieving the denucleariszation on the Korean Peninsula, however noting that it will never do so from a position of subservience.

In related news, the DPRK military on December 17 urged south Korea to immediately stop its plans for yet another live fire military exercise around Yeonpyeong Islet. The message was sent via the head of the DPRK delegation to the DPRK-South Korea general-level military talks. South Korea plans to carry out the exercises in the waters southwest of Yeonpyeong Islet, sometime between December 18-21 depending on weather conditions, the Korean Central News Agency reports.

The DPRK warned south Korea that if it persisted in its plan to hold the exercise, the DPRK would deliver a second and third "unpredicted self-defensive counterattack" that would be bigger and more powerful than the previous one on November 23 to defend its territorial waters. It urged south Korea to hold "deep deliberations" on this warning.

The KCNA notes the nefarious role of the U.S. in supporting the plan to hold more war games and that it intends to dispatch forces to take part in the drill as yet another provocation.

(Korean Central News Agency)

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