Friday, April 30, 2010

OPINION: The Stage is Set for Another Disappointing ‘Reform’

The Pencil Warrior
By Dave Wheelock

Now that the President and his party have declared victory in the conflict over health care reform, I am reminded of the advice purportedly given by a Vermont senator to then-President Richard Nixon as the likelihood of a military failure in Vietnam became increasingly clear: “Declare victory and leave.” And behold, with both health care and in Southeast Asia that is fundamentally what happened.
Long before Obama’s 15 seconds of triumph, the corporations who profit from health care in the United States – the largest and virtually only economy on earth where levels of health are determined by profit margins – had gotten what they needed to maintain business mostly as usual: 32 million new customers, and all the cash they’ll need to yet again develop strategies to pervert the intentions of the law. While I can’t claim authority as a political strategist, I’m pretty sure the path to a more just and sane society won’t come by strengthening the predators on the other side.
Throughout the health care episode the American people were treated by the news media as children incapable of grasping the mechanics of anything more complex than a soap opera or NASCAR race. Instead of frank and ongoing discussion of the incredible amount of money being showered on Congress by the rulers/referees of health; instead of professional follow ups on Congressional testimonies of industry insiders outlining systemic fraud and corruption; instead of a national debate focused on the principle of health care for profit, we got a running commentary that treated murderous corporations as respected parties in a two-sided debate.
Now that Democrats have declared victory, it ironically may be easier for them to turn to the next crisis, rather than watch the oncoming destruction of their hard-won “reform.” I hope I am wrong. Perhaps true reformers will be able to retain the strength of outrage long enough to bring on additional reforms (perhaps in the individual states) that will give deadbeat companies the choice Medicare for All would have - provide a public good or hit the road.
As the prez turns his attention to reform of the finance “industry,” it’s déjà vu all over again. I’m not talking about a short-sighted, integrity-compromised Democratic Party versus the spectacularly sold out Republicans. No, this struggle, like the last, is between a few free-market capitalists and the rest of the world. The same deep thinkers that assured us that billionaire health care industry CEOs were the best agents of change are now telling us the Wall Street banksters, if left alone, will do what’s best for our economy.
Figures who made their fame through a “free market” laissez faire ideology proven mercilessly wrong by real world events have not only been invited to operate the levers of government economic policy, but continue to be lent legitimacy by a subservient press terrified of losing “access” to their walking meal tickets in government. Case in point: Obama’s Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, presumably the nation’s top bank regulator, was for 12 years before his 2005 appointment by George Bush a lobbyist for the banking industry. The other day Dugan went before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, charged with investigating the causes of the financial meltdown, and basically lied his ass off. "We made very clear that predatory lending . . . was not something we would tolerate," Dugan said. "Honestly, those practices never really took root." Not only did members of the commission allow this ridiculous pronouncement to go unchallenged, but no one bothered to ask Dugan anything about his lobbying background, nor why his public positions so often mirror that of the biggest banks.
While elected officials and those who should be informing the people about what’s happening to their country go along with this charade, the stakes in this fiasco could hardly be higher. On one level, the jobs, homes, future security, and mental and physical health of millions have already been destroyed by an ongoing economic crisis which is likely to worsen as another wave of mortgages adjust to higher rates. On an even wider scale, this emergency couldn’t come at a worse time, as we engage in two massively expensive wars while facing the necessity of diverting capital to deal with climate change and the conversion to a post-carbon infrastructure.
The biggest loss of all in this slow-motion train wreck may be our national morale. Only a few years ago most Americans would have told you they lived in a participatory democracy. Now, even as the folly of free market fundamentalism lies bare, we find we may have left it too late to ask the hard questions about the odds of a corporatist state giving a damn about human beings. If nothing else was learned from the health care debacle, may it be that it was government intervention, not industry promises, that was able to make even a dent in the wall.

Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, is a collegiate sports administrator and coach. His history degree is from the University of New Mexico. Reach him at davewheelock@ Mr. Wheelock's views do not necessarily represent those of the Mountain Mail.

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