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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Care Reform: By the Corporations, For the Corporations

Health Care Reform: By the Corporations, For the Corporations
Image © Austin Cline
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People's disappointment at the health care "compromise" should not be surprising. Was there ever any serious doubt that we'd get a "reform" which transfers massive amounts of money from the people to the corporations while doing little to genuinely relieve the pressures created by a broken, for-profit system? Real reform would not only reduce profits but increase people's security, both of which are anathema to corporations that thrive on fearful people sending them money (keep in mind that Bernanke is comfortable with 10%+ "official" unemployment for the foreseeable future — and he will not be risking any of his own comfort). Of course health insurance corporations are getting what they wanted.

Yet many liberals do seem surprised and are looking for some place to lay the blame: Democrats who are afraid of conservatives, conservative Democrats betraying the party, Joe Lieberman behaving exactly as Joe Lieberman typically behaves, etc. If any of these were the true problem then there would be no real justification for surprise because they are all so predictable, but none are the ultimate or primary problem — and maybe that's why so many liberals are surprised. They haven't been looking in the right direction: we didn't get the change so many are dying for because those ostensibly behind it were never very interested in more than what we have right now.

It's the Corporations, Stupid

Few will want to seriously consider this possibility and even fewer will be willing to believe it. That's understandable because it suggests that they have been betrayed by political leaders in whom they've invested a great deal of faith, trust, money, and even a bit of their very sense of self. A fair and objective look at the evidence, though, makes this a strong likelihood. It's far more consistent with the current facts of American political culture than the idea that the "good guys" have been pure of heart but were merely out maneuvered or stabbed in the back.

First, there is clear and unambiguous evidence of Obama handing a major concession to the health care industry which protected their profits and undermined the interests of the people: his deal, struck behind closed doors, to ban bulk price negotiation and reimportation of drugs. Ratified by Democrats in Congress despite many promises to the contrary during election campaigns, this not only proves a willingness to put corporate profits and interests ahead of the lives and interests of the people, but also a willingness to go back on earlier promises to act in the interests of the people. What's more, the resulting lack of mass protests and objections proved to them that they could get away with it. So why would they stop with just this?

Second, there has been a consistent track record with this administration and Congressional Democrats to give major corporations just about whatever they want, with few or no strings attached and certainly with no efforts at major structural reform. There is little-to-no evidence of even giving the basic interests of the people the same weight as that of corporations and the ruling class, let alone more weight. Why expect anything different when it comes to health care and health insurance reform?

As I discussed in greater detail in my last sermon, this is exactly the sort of behavior we should be expecting: Obama and other politicians owe far more to corporations and the ruling class than to us for both their current positions and their future security. They are only acting in their own self-interest by acting on behalf of the interests of those whose support they require most.

Actions, Not Words

Third and finally, who in the Obama administration or the Congressional leadership has actually been behaving like they really want true reform — a robust public option, expanded Medicare, etc.? Actions speak louder than words, so look to their actions first and their words second, then evaluate whether their actions accurately reflect what their words say they want. (I'm talking about the leadership — I know that there are a few individual Democrats whose actions match their rhetoric).

Where was the political horse-trading, the threats, the arm twisting, or the pressure? Granted, much of that would occur behind closed doors and we shouldn't expect to hear about all of it, much less all the details, but we'd surely hear about some of it, and there would also be some occurring in public. We should contrast this absence of pressure with how the administration has behaved in other matters.

For starters, look at the threats issued to liberal Democrats who expressed opposition to the June war funding bill. No such pressure was placed on conservative Democrats expressing opposition to robust health insurance reform. We can also look at how the administration has behaved towards liberals on this very issue: more pressure has been placed on them for threatening to oppose a bill that isn't progressive enough than on conservatives threatening to oppose a bill that is too progressive.

Look at how the administration has issued faster and stronger criticism against Howard Dean for his denunciation of the weakened bill than against Joe Lieberman or any other conservative Democrats for threatening to prevent a progressive bill from even coming up for a vote. If you think it's just because "Dean isn't voting," then why hasn't the administration reacted as strongly against non-voting conservative critics and insurance industry lobbyists?

I think that liberal activists would accept it if the bully pulpit were being used to corral critics and detractors of all sorts, but it's not. Indeed, isn't there a consistent pattern of the administration coming down harder and faster against liberal critics than against conservative critics? Isn't there a pattern of the administration doing much more to satisfy the concerns of conservatives while just taking liberals for granted, assuming that liberals will vote for whatever "compromise" appears because they have stopped expecting anything better?

Power Must Be Seized, Not Begged For

I have to note that none of this should be treated a some sort of evil conspiracy spun by a mad cabal in secret. Nothing could be further from the truth — it's all a product of powerful corporations and a ruling class acting in what they fairly perceive to be their self-interest. They are acting to preserve, enhance, and expand their power.

This isn't "evil" from their perspective because the evil consequences for so many others won't affect them, and they have no reason to care very much about what happens to the others. They certainly aren't going to sacrifice their own power and security in order to help others whom they don't know. It's not very secret, either — they may not be going out of their way to publicize their actions and intentions, but they aren't doing much to hide it all either.

Corporations and the ruling class won't hand over power if they are asked nicely — never have, never will, and so of course they aren't doing so in this case. At best they may hand over some power when they fear that far more will simply be taken away by force. Roosevelt managed to accomplish as much as he did because, at least in part, the people in charge had what they thought was a legitimate fear of a socialist revolution.

No similarly credible threat exists today — no one is marching in the street in defense of progressive reforms and if the people aren’t going to fight for their interests, why should anyone else? Well, that's not entirely true. There is one group of people engaging in something like the sort of popular demonstrations that could help: the Tea Baggers. These are the sorts of people who would be helped the most by progressive reform, but they cannot currently be reached by progressive reformers. They have been co-opted by the corporate interests: not only are the corporations behind much of the current Tea Bagger organization, but the corporate-backed GOP long ago got them to identify more with moral issues (abortion, homosexuality) than with class concerns (jobs, wages, health care).

Even worse, they can't be reached by progressive reformers because they correctly see that the Democratic Party is also compromised by corporatism. Thus even ignoring their deep objections to Democrats' stances on issues like abortion and gay rights, they know that the Democrats simply have no legitimate answers to offer on how to fight the growing power of corporatism. In that, they have been more insightful than the progressive activists.

In a relatively short period of time, and without using many actual facts, the Tea Baggers have almost entirely captured the Republican Party — Republican politicians are falling all over each other to appeal to extremists without any apparent conception of reality. What's stopping progressives from achieving something similar but with actual facts and realistic policy proposals?

But Isn't It Better Than Nothing?

If you think that some particular health care or health insurance reform proposal is ultimately good for the people, then you should be able to point to provisions that transfer power from the corporations to the people — but I don't see any in the bill which the Obama administration is trying to defend. It's true that health insurance companies wouldn't be able to deny people for pre-existing conditions, for example, but they would be allowed to charge people a whole lot more for pre-existing conditions — and they'll get it, too, even if it requires federal subsidies.

Indeed, all of the so-called "reforms" in the bill supported by the Obama administration are coupled with provisions that allow the corporations to charge more and more money for health insurance. By all accounts, the insurance corporations like everything in the bill and oppose nothing. Everything that they did oppose — everything that would have negatively impacted their power and profits over the long term — has been stripped out. Shouldn't that tell you something very, very important? When you give the other side everything they want, and with little or no fight, that's not called "compromise," that's called "being compromised."

Apologists for the weakened "reform" legitimately argue that even a bad bill gets the ball rolling and creates a foundation to build upon, but this requires that we trust that those in power will act in our interests to improve things down the road. Should we? Given how poor their performance has been so far, I don't think so. This argument would be much stronger if the current bill were more balanced between good and bad, thus showing that the people asking us to trust them to fix it are already trustworthy enough to understand what real reform requires and to fight hard enough to get some of that when they set out to do so.

We certainly shouldn't fall for the fear mongering about how we have to act quickly or everything will fall apart entirely — that unless this bill is passed right now, that the government will go bankrupt or there won't be any attempts at reform for a decade or two. Notice the contradiction? If the results of not passing this bill right now are so dire, why would it take so long to revisit the issue? That only makes sense if the politicians are too incompetent to address an immediate crisis, in which case their current proposal definitely can't be trusted.

Money is power, so the transfer of money from the public to the private corporations is a transfer of power from public to private control. The corporations will end up with more power in the end, not less, which is necessarily the antithesis of reform. Corporations which already have enough power to prevent real reform now will be given far more power, thus making them both more reluctant to allow real reform in the future as well as more able to block it.

This isn't better than nothing, it's worse because transferring more money and power to the corporations and ruling class will make real reform harder and harder in the long run. The people asking us to trust them to improve a bad bill over time are therefore asking us to support a bill which will make accomplishing that goal harder over time, not easier. If they know this, then they are lying to us; if they don't know this, then they have been so compromised by corporatism that they will never truly represent our interests anyway.

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  1. As usual, you are correct and it is a pleasure to read concise analysis.

    But sadly, the majority of our cattle fed brethern are not going to risk their suburban homes, cable television and the hope of daughter/son getting in to a school that would enable them to leave the hell of fellow traveling bourgeois discount shopping for some utopian European dream of standing together.

    The ever growing number of lumpenproletariat are too up in arms over teh gays, muslims and the fate of their sports team to worry about how they get screwed day in an day out, let alone to fight about it.

    To the extent that this HCR is worse than nothing, the hope it brings is that if it is as open as it appears to be for more raping of your bank account while killing you in a hospital bed, maybe (just maybe) it is one more grain of despair on the scales justice that leads to our tipping from corporate serfs to self governing people.

    But it won't be arriving this Christmas or any Christmas in the near future.

  2. I don't disagree on any particular point, though I am curious as to what your potential solution would be.

    If the leadership of both major parties is bought and paid for my corporations then how to we force our interests to be recognized and fought for?

  3. "I don't disagree on any particular point, though I am curious as to what your potential solution would be. If the leadership of both major parties is bought and paid for my corporations then how to we force our interests to be recognized and fought for?"

    1. I doubt that there is any one silver bullet solution. Well, maybe there is, but if there is then I doubt we'll know it in advance. We have to try a variety of tactics. Unfortunately, this means splitting up resources and time, spending a bunch on tactics that might not work.

    2. Whatever is done, it should be done in a manner that it at least partly, if not largely, populist. I recognize that populism comes with dangers and problems, especially if taken to an extreme with xenophobia, but given what we're opposing the populist approach is indispensible.

    3. One thing which I thought I made somewhat clear, but perhaps wasn't clear enough, was to look to the Tea Baggers and see what might be learned from them. As moronic as many of their belief are, there are a couple of key points which can't be denied and must be taken into consideration: they are among the people which populist movmeents (including those with progressive aims) appealed to in the past, they are actually out in the streets doing something and making themselves heard, they have genuine underlying grievances (loss of jobs and security, loss of economic powers, etc. - sadly not the things they are actually complaining about), and they have successfully forced their complaints to the forefront of the GOP.

    If you think about it, they are achieving just that which you ask about how to achieve... and in just a few months, too. Some of their means we don't want to emulate (racist xenophobia, underhanded corporate sponsorship), but that doesn't mean they don't have something to teach others about successful rabble-rousing. And yes, I do mean rabble-rousing - quiet, polite, sober debates haven't gotten us much thus far but intemperate, harsh, uncivil rabble-rousing done big enough, often enough, and widely enough can achieve something. Preventing it from degenerating the way the Tea Baggers were even from almost the start would be tricky.

    4. You're probably wishing I had something less vague to suggest, and I suppose my chief non-vague idea is to pour support into unions right now. They can provide the financing and organization which we don't want to get from corporate backers, but which we know can be very helpful. Unions have in the past proven very effective in bringing pressure on politicians, organization large rallies and civil disobedience, etc. The more clout wielded by genuinely democratic unions, the more balance we can have against the power of corporations.

    5. Finally: no Democrat deserves your vote merely because they are a Democrat rather than a Republican. Contact candidates and current representatives to ask them questions about their positions, Go to their offices in person, if you can, even if they aren't there. Tell them in no uncertain terms that they won't get your support if they in turn aren't forcefully supporting critical progressive issues. Tell alternative candidates and more progressive Democratic challengers that you're supporting them and why. Volunteer if you can and get as many friends as possible to follow suit. If you don't have local unions to rely upon, organize even just a few people locally, like maybe with your local Drinking Liberally group. A dozen people writing letters (both to candidates and local media), asking pointed questions, and encouraging others might make a difference.

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  5. I think it's an excellent time to redefine what it means to be a liberal/progressive. We simply point to those things we fought for, and lost, with HCR this go round.

    On one hand people see bat-shit crazy republicans. On the other, corporation-serving democrats.

    If we can, for a moment, respect the confusion and cynicism that the muddled middle feel, and not mock them or call them stupid, we have in our grasp the "teaching moment".

    Carpe diem.

  6. Cline, because you're a whingeing liberal weenie, you don't glom the sheer BRILLIANCE of this move on "healthcare reform." Brilliance for helping Big Corporations (peace be upon them) that is.

    The allegedly "liberal" party, the Demoncrats, has passed a bill that will force average people to pay money to corporations, or the government will hit them with a fine, and maybe even put them in prison if they get stroppy about it. (Apologies for continuing to use Australian slang, but these Canadians don't seem to possess an indigenous lingo, except the 100 different words they have to describe doughnuts.) The government will also give taxpayers' money to corporations as subsidies for "health insurance." (Imagine me making great big smirky air quotes there to imply that I'm saying something that's the opposite of what the words mean.)

    So the corporations will get a lot more money and power, courtesy of those supposedly liberal Dhimmicrats. CORPORATIONS WIN!!!!

    But the Republiteabag Party will now be able to attack the DemoRats for being in favour of Big Government that is taking money from the people and giving it to big corporations. Count on it -- this will be a HUGE theme in the 2010 and 2012 pretenedelections.

    This will make Dimwitcrats lose power to Republicans, who favour coroprations. CORPORATIONS WIN!!!

    That's only a bad thing if you choose to resist corporations, Cline. And we all know what resistance is... You have to LOVE Big Corporations (hallowed be their stock prices) Winston. I mean Cline. Then you will know peace, freedom and strength.

  7. One more time:
    The central purpose of Government is the looting of the governed.

  8. Anonymous11:48 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Excellent post.

    I've seen the argument many times, from people who should know better (like Paul Krugman) which says we should pass a bill now and work later to improve it. Paul should be aware, if we take the example of banking reform as our model, that Congress is far more likely to weaken the law after it is passed, rather than strengthen it.

    I predict that the health insurance lobby will gradually chip away at this thing over the next few years until we end up with what we have now, only worse, as it will have the stamp of Congressional approval.

    Well, it was nice for a year, but I think come 2012 we'll have a return to Republican rule, because they are going to slaughter Democrats with this bill. When middle class families are paying 25% of income for health insurance, while poor families get their subsidized by the governemnt, we'll get the kind of class warfare that Republican absolutely love - the kind they win with.

    Today is the first day of President Palin's 11 year term.

  10. A tip of the hat to the senator from Connecticut for killing the first chance we've ever had for meaningful health care reform....

    Honestly, has there ever been as vengeful a little gnat as Joe Lieberman? You'd really have to search the archives of history pretty thoroughly to find someone comparable. There are many reasons why Al Gore was defeated in 2000 by a half-witted frat boy like George W. Bush. One of the main reasons was the abysmal choice of running mate Lieberman.

    It was obvious during the debate with Dick Cheney during that campaign that comical Joe was a useless drag on the ticket. When Cheney said that his success in the private sector had nothing to do with the government, Lieberman let the statement stand. Cheney made his fortune at Haliburton because of Government contracts! Government had everything to do with it! Did he purposefully sabotage the Gore campaign? Maybe it's pure paranoia on my part but a case could be made that he did.

    Say it ain't so, Revoltin' Joe.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen NY

  11. Good article, and I have just a few random thoughts on points that haven't already been covered:

    -- The major difference between FDR and Obama is that Obama, unlike FDR, has been poor most of his life. Obama's fairly young and wants to live well post-presidency; if he pisses off the wrong people, he knows he doesn't have a chance of staying wealthy after he leaves the White House -- if he indeed survived his one- or two-terms. The wealthy aristocrat FDR didn't give a damn -- he had money so the Power Elite couldn't touch him; aside from that he knew most of his moneyed opposition and, like the Kennedy brothers, no doubt had something on all of them.

    -- The Teabagger movement has been over-inflated by Beck and Fox News. Their largest demonstration in Washington attracted about 70,000. Compare this to Obama's inauguration (2 million est.); a January, 2003, Iraq War protest in DC (200,000 est.); and the various civil rights demonstrations in Washington over the years that had crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Aside from that, some of those Teabaggers are paid GOP operatives or Fox hacks pretending to be 'average Joes' ala the Florida 2000 recount fiasco.

    -- Finally, just a note on Gore/Lieberman 2000 -- I have no proof, but I have heard persistent rumors for years that Strokin' Joe was a mole inside the Gore campaign and did work to sabotage his own ticket's chances. What has transpired since would seem to bear this out.

  12. Comrade Clineheiserdorfbergfeldskimannwaldstein:

    As you will have undoubtedly noticed I have been boycotting your pathetic posts of late (okay, full disclosure--Mom only lets me use the keyboard after my homework is done) but I'm back with revengance.

    Why is that you commiefascists only care about what happens to the lunchpail cyphers of the underclass. Whose fucking campaign fund are those poor bastards donating to? I mean it's a well known fact as stated by none other than former GM chief Al P. Sloan that, "The business of MurKKKa is to take care of Big Business" or something pretty close to that. It's pain in the ass wimps like you that get the workaday slobs all riled up so's they occassionally look up from their slackjawed eatin' of flatscreen tv dinners and a steady diet of Notnews and Disinfotainments and say, "Hey, who the hell stole my future?!". Fortunately, there's always something shiny, this week it's Brittney Murphy's death by fludrugs,ex-boyfriendorsumpin',sumpin to draw their attention back to the business at hand.

    BTW, propagandaboy, there's a nice package waiting for you to pick it up down at the UPS store. Don't put it under the tree, put it under your bed. I guarandamntee that you will have an "uplifting" experience on Xmas morning.


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.