by Gilles d'Aymery
"Capitalism justified itself and was adopted as an economic principle on the express ground that it provides selfish motives for doing good, and that human beings will do nothing except for selfish motives."
—George B. Shaw (1856-1950)
(Swans - September 21, 2009) THE ASYLUM GOT LOOSE: A bill to reform student loans is going through the US Congress. At present loans are made through a convoluted scheme. The government provides capital (taxpayer money) to private banks, then subsidies (taxpayer money) so that the private banks can make loans to students, and to make sure that the banks can profit from the enterprise, the government guarantees the loans with what else but taxpayer money. Some smarty in the august chamber (maybe there was more than one) started to scratch his (or her) scalp and wondered: Wait a minute, since we provide the capital and the subsidies to these private banks in order that they provide loans to needy students, make a hefty profit out of these loans, and get insured against any losses, why don't we simply cut out the middlemen and make the loans directly? That is what the bill going through Congress proposes -- the government will make the loans directly to students. According to estimates it will save between $45 and $87 billion over 10 years -- what it costs the banks to operate the system and make a profit. You'd think this is simple arithmetic and sheer common sense, which it is, but you'd forget the ideological part of the equation. Lawmakers don't want a single-payer system. They rail against the subsidies (taxpayer money), but they'll take it so long as a) it benefits the recipients (the banks) in their district and b) the recipients (the banks) contribute to their re-election piggy bank. With a single-payer system, there is no money for the piggy banks. Get it?
THAT'S EXACTLY what's going on with the sick care (non)reform bill that has come out of the US Senate Finance Committee. The government will provide subsidies (taxpayer money) so that a slice of the presently uninsured people can buy insurance from private insurance companies or else be penalized. The insurance companies love the plan. It will bring them some 35 million newly mandated customers, financed by the government (taxpayer money), and add to their orgiastic profits. Of course, you could have a Eureka moment and find out that a single-payer system would cut out the middlemen and shave 33 cents to the dollar in administrative costs and profits, but hey, that would be so un-American. Remember, we privatize profits and socialize losses.
PEOPLE FEEL that since we live in a democracy the wishes of the majority are supposed to be followed by our lawmakers. Wrong! Leaving aside for a moment that we live in a corporate kleptocracy -- or corpocracy -- the people forget the epithet in front of the word democracy, representative. We go to the polls, vote for guys and gals who then march on to the Capitol to "represent" the interests of their constituents, the amorphous American people. Sure enough, in its majority the people, including physicians and nurses, want a single-payer system -- Medicare for all -- or at the very least they want to have the choice to select that public insurance system. The problem arises from the fact that once our "representatives" have joined the two august chambers, they now face other "constituents" that are next door on K Street -- the vast array of lobbying and public relations firms, influential think tanks, and strategic groups that promote the interests of their corporate clients.
JOURNALIST Andy Kroll writes in "Obama vs. the Lobbyists: A Scorecard for the Future of American Politics" (TomDispatch, September 15, 2009) that there are about 12,500 registered lobbyists in Washington -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Tens of thousands of "influence peddlers" join the fray. Kroll reports that according to Bloomberg News, "As of mid-August, there were six lobbyists trying to influence health-care legislation for every single member of the House and Senate." He adds:
That's 3,300 lobbyists working on a single issue (three times the number of defense lobbyists) with nearly three new lobbyists joining the fray each day. So far this year, $263 million (or more than one million dollars a day) has been shelled out just for lobbying health-related issues, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Industry players have waged war to sway public opinion, spending $75 million on TV ads. Lawmakers up for election in 2010 have already seen $23 million flow into their nascent campaign coffers.
THEIR MAIN agenda was to keep the single-payer system off the table and kill the public option. The bill that came out of the Senate Finance Committee last week did just that. No single-payer system and no public option. The chairman of the committee is Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana. Kroll again: "[Baucus] is one of the top five recipients of health industry-related money in Congress, pocketing $2.9 million in his career. For his 2008 reelection campaign, the unassuming Baucus took in $1.2 million from health industries, $690,050 of which came from health-related political action committees, the most for any Washington politician." The ranking member, Senator Chuck "they'll-kill-Grandma" Grassley (R-IA) "has received $2.1 million from health industry players." And on and on.
DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, appeared on Democracy Now! (Sept. 18) to explain that "Baucus's plan is a complete sellout to the insurance industry" and to discuss the latest study called "Health Insurance and Mortality in US Adults" that shows that almost 45,000 people die every year due to lack of health insurance. (On this topic, see "Meet the Real Death Panels," by Russell Mokhiber, the founder of Single Payer Action, on Counterpunch.) Dr. Woolhandler pleaded with the TV viewers to contact their US representatives and senators to request a single-payer system, hammering the "fact" that we live in a democracy -- that the voice of the vast majority should be heard loud and clear. I'm sure Max Baucus and Co. will be glad to hear the sound in his echo chamber!
TIME TO REPEAT the three little tidbits I gleaned from Harper's Magazine: The average premiums paid to large US health-insurance companies have shot up 87 percent in the past six years. During that same period the profits of the top ten insurance companies have multiplied by 428 percent. Seven in 10 American families bankrupted due to medical bills have health insurance. Get the picture?
PROGRESSIVES like the good doctor must learn that such a socially criminal lunacy, which extends to all facets of life on this earth, is a reflection of a dystopian socioeconomic system that is beyond contempt, beyond redemption, and above all beyond any capacity to be reformed. As John Bellamy Foster, the professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and editor of Monthly Review, said recently in an interview on The Financial Crisis and Imperialism: "The age-old choice of 'Socialism or Barbarism,' raised by Rosa Luxemburg, is giving way today to an even more momentous choice of 'Socialism or Exterminism,' as the prospect of annihilation of the earth, as we know it (that is, the Holocene), lies before us under business as usual." It's not simply the health care system that needs to be changed, it is The Entire System!
SIXTY YEARS AGO, Albert Einstein called for such a change when he wrote one of the simplest and most cogent texts that I have ever read, "Why Socialism?", published in the very first issue of Monthly Review in May 1949. This is where Dr. Woolhandler and like-minded people should start. Einstein explained in laymen terms the cataclysmic consequences of the "economic anarchy of capitalist society" and "how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible." It's a short, comprehensible text that I read time and again, especially when my moods darken and I flirt with despair. A brilliant exposé by one of the most talented intellectuals of the 20th century, with a message of hope for a socio-ethical future in which war is obsolete, profits abolished, and the community controls property. Call it Socialism or Ethical Humanism. Call it whatever you wish, but help make it happen.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.