Just before Congress went back to work after the August recess, a rawboned man waved a sign, "A Sure Option -- Capitolism!" That was either a simple misspelling or an inspired pun, a shorthand expression for the crisis. U.S. federal political corruption has become a cheap, safe investment with an unimaginably huge return for multinational corporations. Heathcare reform is therefore a race between those politicians for hire and unprecedentedly massive citizen activism. "Capitolism."
According to former Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] Special Agent Carl Christiansen, the FBI has for decades understood how government corruption works, but as law enforcement officials, FBI agents can act only if given a law to enforce. Asked why the U.S. Congress had not passed a realistic law governing corruption at the state and local level, Christiansen said, "Maybe because it works the same way in Washington." In order to get nailed for accepting a bribe under current law, a U.S. politician would have to promise an "up," "down" or "abstain" vote on specific legislation while taking something of value in exchange, preferably in full view of a FBI agent with a videotape recorder.
Few are that stupid, so corruption in the nation's capitol is effectively legal.
If a mega-corporation, for example a multinational drug company, invests $100,000 in a few U.S. campaigns, the mega-corporation can through those politicians get back millions or billions in subsidies, tax relief and protection from unwanted laws. Regulatory staffers are professionals, ordinary heroes concerned with protecting the public. Therefore in return for campaign contributions, some corrupt politicians have also inserted industry hacks as regulatory agency heads, above the staff, and they in turn have purged the staffs of inconvenient professionals who actually wanted to regulate food, pollution or a specific industry. The Obama Administration and reformers in Congress are reportedly scrambling to undo all that but in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission the U.S. Supreme Court may remove the last bonds, allowing corporations to "contribute" directly to politicians, unleashing the full torrent of foreign and domestic corporate money on the U.S. Congress.
A former journalist, business owner and publisher, Congressman John Yarmuth [D-KY] has in his first term in the House of Representatives risen swiftly to membership on the Ways and Means Committee and in interviews, reports from inside the government in blunt detail.
He was no less direct with his constituents in a town meeting last week. "Healthcare legislation is the most intensely lobbied bill in the history of the United States....The insurance industry is spending $1.5 million a day. The drug companies have hired two lobbyists for every member of Congress....Lobbyists give hundreds of millions in 'political contributions' to both Democrats and Republicans, then there is a subtle or not so subtle pressure for you to do what they want you to do....The American people -- individual ordinary citizens -- will never get a fair shake until we get the Big Money out of the system."
To 1400 booing and cheering citizens, Yarmuth added, however, "This is the first time that the American people have been so thoroughly engaged in the federal legislative process."
The Internet is humming on healthcare reform. To an extent the enormity of citizen activism may be hidden from those offline, since people on the Net are not necessarily out in the streets, but the phrase "health care 2009" alone pulls up three hundred million links. Average Congressional representatives have received 1000 emails and phone calls a day for years. Returning from the August recess, Congressional representatives reported that 200,000 people attended the town hall meetings and video conferences. Marches like the "Mad As Hell Doctors' Cross-Country Tour" are about to start...
None too soon. Zoom in:
Waiting in a long line to see her congressional representative, dancing a green plush frog on the foot of her radiantly happy baby Mark, Rachel Newton told a story that perfectly exemplified the trap that Americans are in. She said, "I'm very lucky, because I just got a new job that gives me health insurance, but I have advanced arthritis and need multiple operations. Those operations could have been avoided with proper care but before I got this job, I went seven years uninsured. I had a job; my employer just didn't provide insurance or pay me enough to get it on my own. Even my new job's plan does not cover dependents, so my baby is not insured through my work, and -- because I'm working -- he doesn't qualify for Medicaid. What if the new insurance doesn't cover the operations that I need? What if I can't afford the co-pay? What will happen if Mark is seriously ill? What will happen to us?"
Here's the way the mess looks from a distance:
Consumer spending is about 70% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product [GDP]. In 2003-2008 it surged, superheating the economy, leading overdressed TV anchors to chatter (they should talk!) about "spoiled U.S. consumers." Yet ALL that sudden five-year increase in consumer spending, which primed the U.S. economy for the fall, can be attributed to health care costs, as was demonstrated by John Authers, investment editor of the highly respected Financial Times.
Authers' "Short View" graph showed two horizontal lines. The lower line traced U.S. consumer-spending with the health care dollars subtracted. While there were mild bumps up and down, there was no increase over time. The top line, showing consumer spending with health care costs added back in, skyrocketed off the chart. Multinational corporations want that money. Repairing the U.S. economy, business and family without fixing those runaway costs, however, is impossible.