Friday, January 24, 2014

Corporate profiteering at it's very best!

Milo Minderbinder, was the war profiteer extraordinaire in Joseph Heller's Catch 22, one of the earliest anti-war books after the end of WWII. His mantra was "If it's good for business, it's good for America!" His frenetic profit seeking had stuck his syndicate with a useless shipment of Egyptian cotton. It threatened to bring down his empire. While protesting the war by sitting naked in a tree at a fellow pilots funeral, Yosarian, Heller's protagonist, is approached by Milo to talk to him about the cotton. He gives Yossarian some chocolate-covered cotton and tries to convince him it is really candy. Yossarian, preoccupied with his own plight, tells Milo to ask the government to buy his cotton, and Milo is struck by the intelligence of the idea.

The Wounded Warrior project strikes me as  real life war profiteering that Milo would be proud of. If you haven't seen the poignant commercials on TV you don't have a TV. The project has come under fire by charity watchdog groups. You can find argument pro and and con about the efficiency, or lack of efficiency of this group but that is not the point I am trying to make.

The need for the Wounded Warrior project shouldn't exist. An agency already exists to take care of victims of the war - the Veterans Administration. They could and should take care of these "Wounded Warriors." The problem is, they have been underfunded. Why is it underfunded? It is underfunded because the corporations for whom the wars have been waged have the power to cut the funding.

Not only does it shift the burden of funding from themselves as taxpayers to the consumer which excludes them, it provides just another lucrative way of making money. For example, it has been reported that the CEO earns, or is payed, $200,000 a year and thousands of dollars more are made by the advertising industry. One way or the other, care of war victims, should be by the government. I am hesitant to call them heroes even though they were crippled doing heroic deeds because it is more accurate to refer to them as victims. Victims of the greed and lies of the corporate world which generates obscene profits for oil and war related industries. These young men and women are told they are fighting for our freedom. They are not. Our freedom is not under attack from outside - just from within. They are not over there for me, I want them home building things not over there destroying things.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Oh, the humanity or it's a matter of perspective!

Nothing much happens unless the corporate media tells us it happens. It was bad enough when ownership of the news media was widely dispersed and there were skilled and honest reporters and true investigative reporting but even then the primary goal was selling papers and newspaper owners were more concerned with the spectacular.

On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg, a passenger-carrying zeppelin (called blimps today) exploded over the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It caught fire and 37 people were killed. The tragedy was covered on the radio by Herbert Morrison and in his horror made the now famous remark, "Oh, the humanity." To put the disaster in perspective, nearly 3000 people were killed on 9/11. Oh, the humanity!

Unreported by the press, in 1929, nearly 23,000 Americans ended their own lives. This amounted to approximately 19 persons per 100,000 of population. In 1928, before the crash, 15,600 Americans committed suicide - a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 of population. The great crash increased the suicide by 7400 persons per year. By 1937, improving conditions decreased suicides to 20,640, a decrease of approximately 2360 per year. In 2011, nearly 3100 people in the USA, died of starvation, 11,000 were killed by handguns, and nearly 32,000 were killed in traffic accidents. Oh the humanity! I haven't cited sources here because the figures are easily found on the internet.

Turning to health care, when the government website which was set up pursuant to the ACA to furnish affordable health insurance crashed, thousands of Americans seeking to purchase health insurance were turned away. Oh, the humanity. The news media was all over it.  Citizens who are ready to jump on the Teaparty bandwagon should take a look at the creation of Medicare in 1965 and the "Oh the humanity" alarms that went off then. An inexorable and irreversible march to Marxist socialism opponents screamed. Their standard bearer was none other than the man who destroyed the laws that created the middle class - Ronald Reagan.  In behalf of the American Medical Association he made a recording warning Americans that the new law was part of the liberal Socialist revolution. Today, Medicare is so accepted by both users and providers of health care that it is political suicide for a politicial to try to abolish it. There have been several futile attempts to privatize it or kill it with kindness but it is here to stay.

When Medicare started, there was at least as much resistance or anticipated resistance as there has been to ACA today. From the Washington Post in March 1966:
"Medicare workers in Washington are learning that door-to-door selling is a rugged job," a writer in this newspaper declared 47 years ago.
It was March 3, 1966, after a Washington Post reporter had spent the day trailing Medicare workers who tried to sign seniors up for new program. Some didn't answer the door. Others slammed doors in their faces. One man reportedly stuck his nose out the door to say: "I'm not 65. I'm 57 — just today."
"Sometimes they peek through the windows when they see me coming and they won't answer the door," Medicare worker Jim Anderson told The Post. "They must think I'm selling books or something."
No one expected it to work. Most hoped it wouldn/t or knew nothing about it. I was one of the ignorant ones back in 1966. I was a young police sergeant on the Anaheim Police Department and my five year-old daughter developed cancer. I had insurance. It saved me from bankruptcy but even with the coverage, it left me in debt for many years. Today, Medicare is much better for those of us who are fortunate to have it; and soon the ACA will do the same for millions more. The rollout was a disaster, a disaster that was forseen by experts and should have been avoided by Obama. There has never been anything wrong with the law except many of us, me included, had a problem with the individual mandates. Many of us also had a problem with the seatbelt law too but we routinely fasten our belts before we start our car today and are glad the law, which has saved millions of lives, was passed. Most of will soon be happy that ACA was passed.

While continues to have problems, there is enough progress to assure that it will eventually work. It has been reported that, as of December 2, 2013,  enrollments have quadrupled from the start up date. It has been much smoother with the state operated websites who have smaller data bases. Were it not for the GOteaParty in states with republican controlled government, Obamacare would be up and running. In spite of their opposition, it will happen anyway. It is difficult today to find any news on the progress. As a matter of fact, the websites are not absolutely required for enrollment - they just make it easier. As a matter of fact there are seven alternatives to the websites for enrollment. As enrollments increase, insurance companies will be clamoring to climb aboard. Ironically, the ACA will be one of Obama's primary claims of success. He will be happy for the handle that the opposition hung on it as a derogatory term. He deserves very little credit and, with his support, it could have been a truly landmard law. A government option would have sounded the death knell for health care insurance profits.

The rollout was all you could read about last October and when it is completely in the rear view mirror, the news will be preoccupied with the weather. Oh the humanity! Studies show that more government involvement in the health care industry saves the consumer money.  It will become a nightmare to the GOP who are banking their slim hopes on it in this year's election.  The Teaparty will unlikely be neutered, however, and the 2016 election will lead to at least two more years of GOP stalemate.

The real disaster still looming ahead for Americans is the total government takeover by international corporations. The Oh the humanity cry will take on a much more ominous significance. This one will not just be a matter of perspective. This will, I'm afraid, put the rest of the disasters in American history so far below that we will be looking at this period of time as the good old days. Already, today, corporations control our lives. From the Thom Harmann blog of January 2:
"In our nation, finance has a hold on almost every single part of our lives - from the day we're born, until we take our last breath. Capitalism and the quest for larger profits have taken hold of our healthcare, our education, our homes, our communication, and even our government. Today, most babies are born in for-profit hospitals, and their medical claims are paid by for-profit insurance. As children grow, many go to for-profit charter schools or private schools, and our public education system continues to crumble. Young adults are forced to deal with for-profit lenders to go to college at for-profit universities, and everything from their backpack to their first home will generate a profit for someone on Wall Street.
Throughout our lives, we are forced into paying huge monopolies for access to phones and internet and communication, and all that data is turned over to for-profit corporations who spy on us for our government. Even the vast majority of our elected leaders answer first to corporate lobbyists, and second to the American people. Corporate power has a strangle hold on the entire American existence, and it has turned our entire lives into a profit-making venture.
There is a place for profit in our world, and a reason for corporations, but we must shift the power back to actual people. Without us, corporations would have no production to make their goods, and no customers from which to make a profit. Business should be here to serve American needs, not control us and commercialize everything that we do. We must regain our power by declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Only then can we stop the cycle of putting profit before people."
We are well on the road to corporate feudalism and unlike the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby "Road To" movies of the forties, this one isn't funny.  It had already started before the Citizens United decision but that gave it the momentum that may have the ball rolling downhill too ferociously for anyone to stop it - IF there is anyone left who wants to stop it. Many of us saw hope in the election of Barach Obama but, sadly, he has become part of the problem. I'm not sure that he even is aware of it. It may be that he is just incompetent. As an aside, it is impossible for me to understand how anyone can love Bush and his Project For a New American Century and hate Obama's more intellectual approach of surgical drone strikes. Both killed innocent people and cost a lot of money and both accomplish(ed) nothing more than making more enemies. OBama has cut the cost down from Trillions to merely Billions. Obama's policies have also made Dinesh D'Sousa's nonsensical movie look... well, nonsensical.

Sadly, Obama is continuing the process of privatization. He has brought a lot of troops home from the Middle East but has replaced them with private contractors and a much higher cost. A small company called Protection Strategies Incorporated, for example, pays contractors up to $100,000 a year to monitor surveilance cameras outside military bases, a job that could be handled by a trained private first class for $15,000 a year (estimate). This enables the government to make political points by showing how we have brought the troops home.

Look at the situation today. The oil corporations and the corporations who make money on the oil business have their own security forces free of charge. While the tax payers at the lower end of the food chain are supporting the military, the international corporations are getting tax breaks from the government for oil exploration and avoiding taxes by depositing the money in overseas banks and by moving their headquarters to foreign countries. Our military is 100% volunteer now so there is no political fall out from forced service. Young men, and now young women, are conned into volunteering by corporate propaganda convincing them they are protecting our freedom. It is clear to anyone who actually thinks about it that our freedom is not being threatened by any foreign country. Our freedom is in more danger through erosion resulting from the Patriot Act than from a foreign government or Al Quada.

There are few sports event anymore without some kind of presentation honoring someone returning home or who has been crippled in military operations.  Young men and women see these and are moved by them. They are not aware, indeed they are prevented from being aware, of the fact that after their service and in too many cases after they have received the Purple Heart, the government turns its back on them. Private organizations like the Wounded Warriors are formed to "take care of them." In reality, they are little more than profit making schemes. The corporations whom they have protected tell the folks who can least afford it, "it is your patriotic duty to take care of these people." Let me be the first to say that those courageous young people are not over there for me. I don't want them over there and I don't want them volunteering to go over there.

The war profiteers have done it. With the help of two administration, they have converted an act of mass murder into an endless war attracting very little public concern.  The rich folks' kids are not involved, there is no draft, the voters were distracted with an extension of a deficit bulging tax cut and we are borrowing from a communist nation to pay for it. What's not to like, at least until some future group of voters are forced to pay for it....somehow. And the profits just keep rolling in. As Milo Minderbinder, the war profiteer extraordinaire of Heller's Catch 22,  said, "In a democracy, the government is the people, Milo explained. "We're the people, aren't we? So we might as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I'k like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry."  Actually, today's corporations have exceeded Milo's dreams. Government is still involved but as a pawn and funder of the corporate war. 

Getting back to Obama and the irony of the political right's hatred for him, there has never been a president who faced more irrational and immoral opposition than him.  The Clinton impeachment sat the bar very high but the Teaparty has raised it. They have learned that they can cripple the government by controlling one branch of the government through gerrymandering. With NO government, the big guy can just beat up the little guy and take his lunch money. Another aside, don't be fooled by Obama's low popularity ratings. It's an historic fact that, moderate independents change with a president's policies or performance. Right wingers stick by the republican candidates regardless and the left wingers, like myself, turn on the president who lets them down. Obama has lost support of moderate independents and liberals. He never had the support of the right. Bush just lost support of moderates. The right still love him - and hate Obama even though he is really just an intelligent and articulate version of Bush. One of the mantra's of the Limbaughesque ditto heads is that over the years, the Republican have passed fewer laws than the Democrats. Duhh.  Laws like child labor legislation, civil rights legislation, lend lease before WWII, consumer protection laws, traffic laws, etc.  The list goes on.  Insulated from the real world by the corporate media like Fox News and WSJ, they are not aware of facts that counter their extreme views. 

Meanwhile, time marches on! With support of the corporate media we are inexorably moving toward corporate feudalism and we don't even realize it! Oh the Humanity!