__DPRK - A
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Instead of talking about Kim's eating with silver chopsticks while the people of North Korea are starving, we need to be reminded that in 1995, the year after Kim Jong Il came to power, North Korea suffered a massive natural disaster that wiped out cropland, schools, homes, and infrastructure on a scale comparable to Katrina. They have never been able to recover because they have had floods and drought almost every year since then.
After last year's harsh winter, heavy rainfall and subsequent floods in October 2011 damaged about 134,000 hectares of agricultural land leaving many children in North Korean countryside severely malnourished, with little chance of survival without access to proper nutrition and medical treatment. As in the past, Kim Jong Il requested foreign assistance. North Korea has allowed monitoring which shows that the aid reaches the people in need. Before the death of Kim Jong Il the U.S. was poised to resume food aid. Will we now delay food aid for political purposes?
Before we accuse Kim Jong Il of starving his people, we need to remember the size of our own military budget, when we have so many people who are homeless, hungry and without health care in our own country. Kim Jong Il held summits with South Korea's two "sunshine policy" presidents. As a result, during ten of the 17 years Kim Jong Il was in power, there was unprecedented inter-Korean cooperation, including the Kaesong Industrial Park just across the border in North Korea. There 120 South Korean firms hire 48,000 workers to manufacture products which in 2010 produced $323 million in output.
Of this amount there is a revenue stream of about $20 million that goes to the North Korean government from the salaries paid to the North Korean workers. This kind of economic cooperation can help maintain stability on the Korean peninsula and expose tens of thousands of North Koreans to outside influences. During this time a railway opened from South Korea to North Korea. In 2002 the North and South agreed that private South Korean companies could run tours to Mount Kumgang. Thousands of South Korean tourists visited Mount Kumgang every year bringing profit to both North and South Korea. In July 2005 the North and South agreed to open up more areas to tourism, including Baekdu Mountain and Kaesong.
In 2007 Kim Jung Il and South Korean President Rho Moo Hyun signed an agreement to work on a peace treaty to replace the 1953 armistice. They even talked about cooperation in the disputed waters of the Western Sea. Unfortunately, South Korean President Lee Myong Bak announced at his inauguration that he would "get tough on North Korea." He refused to honor the agreements made by his predecessors. Except for the Kaesong Industrial Park, most of the cooperative projects have ended.
As a result Kim Jong Il kicked out the international inspectors and resumed his nuclear program. If the "sunshine policy" had continued, the tensions of 2010 could have been avoided. South Korean peace activists remind us that the military budget of South Korea is comparable to North Korea's entire GNP. North Korea has no way of matching the military might of the South Korea. Now what would you do if you were the president of North Korea? While North Korea has a policy of Juche, self-reliance, the failed U.S. policy of 60 years of sanctions has pushed North Korea further into being the most isolated country of the world.
South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's vision for "constructive engagement" offered the most hope of bringing peace and prosperity to all Koreans and to the world. Instead of making Kim Jong Il look like an idiot, we must remember that Secretary of State Madeline Albright characterized Kim Jong Il as intelligent and well-informed, saying the two had wide-range discussions during her visits to Pyongyang when Bill Clinton was U.S. president. The division of Korea was not the fault of the Korean people. Their country was divided by the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the end of WWII. The suffering of the Korean people has continued for 66 years.
Ten million family members were permanently separated; people in the north and south live in fear of war; the resources of their country are used for military buildup. On both sides of the division, repression has been used in the name of national security. Only in 1987 was there a revolution which replaced South Korea's military dictatorship with a democratic government. The same people who worked so hard for democracy and human rights in South Korea are the ones who are the voices for peace in Korea. At this time of great uncertainty, when the North Korean people have lost their leader, how we respond, or don't respond will set the tone for the possibility of important negotiations with North Korea.
It is very important that the United States and South Korea send a sign that we desire peace. Putting the troops on alert is not very comforting, especially when we have just been conducting military exercises right off the North Korean coast.
We should remember that Bill Clinton sent condolences to North Korea when Kim Il Sung died, even though South Korea's President Kim Young Sam did not, and in fact made it illegal for South Koreans to send condolences. That set the stage for Clinton to get agreements that kept North Korea's nuclear program under the control of international inspectors for eight more years until President George Bush refused to support South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's policy of constructive engagement, and called North Korea part of the "Axis of Evil" at a time when he was invading Iraq. Military might and sanctions will not work. The only way to end the suffering on both sides is to consider the economic and security needs of both sides, and to negotiate a peace treaty to end the Korean War.
Demand Grows for Australian Dental Care Plan
_BY Peter Mac
Pressure is mounting on the federal government to establish a national dental care scheme, because of an alarming report presented to the government last week by the National Advisory Council on Dental Health (NACDH).
However, the government has deferred taking action to deal with the situation, and there are indications that if it does change the current arrangements they will take the form of a subsidised private insurance system, rather than an extension of Medicare.
Although the report recommends urgent action to deal with national dental health care problems, the government has stated that the report could not be released until after the announcement of next year’s budget, because it is of an “interim nature”. Nevertheless, the Greens have received copies and have revealed the report’s findings and recommendations.
The report has revealed that shockingly poor dental health is widespread among those on low incomes, and that the disparity between the richest and poorest is very high.
For example, the report indicates that 17 percent of the lowest income group have no teeth, because they cannot afford regular dental check-ups, compared with only 0.3 percent of those in the highest income group.
The report recommends the establishment of a national dental health plan, and provides a number of options for the implementation of such a plan, One option, surely the most simple and direct, involves an extension of the current chronic dental disease scheme, which is part of the Medicare scheme.
The NACDH report’s findings have been confirmed by a second report commissioned by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which found that 50 percent of Aboriginal people and 40 percent of people with incomes less than $20,000 per annum have untreated tooth decay, and that children in the poorest areas had 70 percent more tooth decay than well-off children.
Even after allowing for private health insurance, people pay 60 percent of the cost of dental treatment, compared with three percent of hospital bills under Medicare. People have huge waiting times for treatment under current public dental health arrangements. In one typical case quoted in this report a 44 year old patient has been waiting two years to have his wisdom teeth removed.
Poor dental health costs the national economy more than $1.3 billion per annum in direct and indirect costs, with the loss of at least a million work days and 600,000 school days.
A remedy long delayed
Because dental care is so highly specialised, dentists have come to be regarded as a distinct profession, quite separate from general medical practice. In Australia this impression has been reinforced by the failure to include dental coverage within the Medicare system.
However, this impression is highly misleading. Teeth certainly require specialised attention, but when all is said and done, they’re just part of the human body. Dentists must gain general medical qualifications in order to practice, and doctors in general practise are required to gain a working knowledge of dentistry.
Moreover, medical problems in other parts of the body may damage oral health, and dental ailments may adversely affect the general health of the patient – especially if untreated for long periods, as demonstrated vividly in the NACDH and Brotherhood of St Laurence reports.
As far as the provision of health coverage is concerned, the effective separation of dental treatment from the treatment of the rest of the body is totally artificial. Inclusion of dental coverage in the Medicare arrangements was discussed before the system was established by the Hawke government, and has been the subject of numerous conferences, proposals and debates ever since.
A number of “stop-gap” schemes have been introduced, for example the current chronic dental disease scheme. But successive federal governments procrastinated over extending Medicare to provide a comprehensive national dental health care system. They seemed to prefer doing nothing at all about dental health, and doing it as slowly as possible.
A lethargic response
The government’s decision not to release the NACDH report until after the next budget was not because of the report’s “interim” nature. Rather, the government wants to avoid any new initiative requiring major funding, prior to the government achieving its much-publicised goal of a debt-free federal economy. The scheme recommended by the NACDH report is estimated to cost $9 billion over the next four years.
Rather than committing to a national dental health scheme immediately, the government appears quite willing to prolong the appalling current situation in order to achieve its rigid budget objectives.
It is entirely possible that the government would prefer not to introduce a universal dental care scheme, or to defer indefinitely making a decision on doing so. After all, it has been in office for four years and has taken no serious action to deal with the dental health crisis.
It is also likely that if the government agrees to make major changes to the current dental health care arrangements it wants the private health insurance industry to have a dominant position.
During discussions on the subject last year the government indicated it was considering introducing a scheme under which patients would be entitled to a government refund for dental bills, with the balance covered by private personal insurance, rather than simply extending Medicare to meet the current situation.
To put the government’s response in the kindest light it is just possible that it merely wants a little time to fully implement the NACDH report’s recommendations. Nonetheless, judging by its tight-lipped silence on the report, its refusal to release the document to the public and its previous statements on the issue, it seems far more likely that the government’s primary purpose in introducing new dental health measures would be to prop up the health insurance industry.
We will need to scrutinise the government’s statements and actions in the coming months, in order to ensure that this does not happen, and that the public is not cheated of the chance to remedy our dental health crisis by the introduction of a free universal dental health care program.