James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Past time to follow the health care money

Industries that profit hugely from America's health care scam – notably insurance companies and pharmaceutical makers, but others as well – have spent massive sums to prevent any genuine reform of the non-system.

Many news and even some of the pseudo news outfits have reported what those companies spent and are spending to lobby against reform.

The Washington Post, CNN, New York Times and others said repeatedly during the fall that the profiteers were laying out $1.5 million a day to make sure we don't get affordable health care for all Americans. No doubt the expenditures have increased over the past month or so.

Estimates of the total spent by the profiteers on anti-reform lobbying go to more than $500 million since last spring.

CNN noted back in September that the expenditures to that point would cover top-drawer insurance for more than 30,000 Americans for one year. By now that number has to be 35,000 Americans.


A very important set of facts has never been reported, so far as I can find. None of the badly educated, largely untrained stenographers who have replaced reporters seems even to have asked the big questions:

Exactly where is all the money going? Precisely how is it being spent? Who's collecting what the insurers and pharmas are paying?

Much of the money goes into the personal bank accounts of the lobbyists, of course.

The Guardian, a Brit news operation that does a better job of covering Washington than most U.S. news outfits, reported during the fall that the various health care industries had deployed a total of six (count them, six) lobbyists for each and every member of Congress. Of course, that's on average; some of the few unbought liberals may get only one or two or none at all, and Joe Lieberman probably has eight or nine brushing off his chair as he sits down for lunch while three others spread his napkin on his lap and four more serenade him. If you have a precious possession, you cherish it.

However, it is clear, on the face of it, that not all the money is being paid to lobbyists just to talk to members of Congress, sing them lullabies and massage them with expensive oils and ointments.

So where is the money going? To “charities” favored by legislators with power? To campaign funds? To wives and siblings and girlfriends under various ruses? To “nonprofit” employers of said wives, siblings and girlfriends? To PACs that saddle the various members' favorite hobby horses?

C'mon, “news” people. Where the hell is the money going, exactly? And I do mean exactly.

If the expenditures for lobbying are declared, and obviously a large percentage of the total is declared, then it is possible to find out who is being paid what.


Oh, and while we're at it, why do the corporate “news” media generally ignore the fact that Hadassah Lieberman, Joe's wife, has spent most of the past ten years or so as a highly-paid lobbyist for the major pharmceutical companies? She was director of policy, planning and communications for Pfizer, one of the biggest drug makers, and then a lobbyist for the pharma industry until quite recently. Before getting in the health care biz, she was a research analyst for Lehman Brothers, the big investment house that collapsed in 2008.

Her activities are highly relevant and should be noted in every story about his gun-for-hire activities.

And why don't the purported news outfits include in reports on the Senate farce the fact that the wife of Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who was involved in writing the Senate's bill, is on the boards of directors of three health care corporations and for a time sat on the board of a subsidiary of AIG, the government funds gulping insurance giant?

And why hasn't anyone made a big splash by reporting on the stock in pharmaceutical, insurance and other health care companies owned by members of Congress? Democraticunderground.com stated way back in June that more than 30 “key” members of Congress owned substantial amounts of stock in pharmas and that some are directors of drug companies.

I come near to weeping sometimes for what has happened to the craft to which I devoted my entire working life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Here again, at least for a while

Back around the end of May, I decided to take some time off from this blog and from other public writing, except for occasional letters to the editors of various publications. Initially, I did not intend to stay away for quite so long.

First, I knew that I was heading into a ridiculously busy summer, filled with many house guests and travel. We had one period of more than a month during which we had house guests continuously.

(Yeah, even if you love 'em, it can make you a little crazy.)

More importantly, it was time to step aside from the daily crises and distraction issues and try to figure out what's really going on in this mess of a country, which now can be accurately described as the world's largest and most powerful banana republic. It's official policies frequently are incoherent and often are patently irrational; it is almost ungovernable, yet swarms with authoritarian politicians, clerics and other demagogues eager to tell others how they should govern or be governed. It is greatly burdened with politicians too cowardly or too venal to act as they should.

It's very easy to get caught up in the latest, the almost daily scandals and hot stories –- what really is the significance of the fact that Tiger Woods cheated on his wife or that Sarah Palin is using her persona as a political Paris Hilton to make millions? -- and fail to see the massive changes taking place in our government and society. A lot easier, as well, to avoid facing those changes directly.

Americans are given to watching the ripples and entirely missing the shifting of the tides.

Even the health care battle is largely trivialized, while the real importance of that battle – important beyond even the question of whether Americans ever will get decent, affordable health care – is ignored.

Through the summer and fall, I read, listened and came to several mostly unhappy conclusions. Now, for awhile, I'll write again.

Yes, I know. Who gives a damn? I'm nobody and what I have to say doesn't matter.

I don't imagine myself to be a great pundit. Usually, only a few hundred people – very rarely a few thousand – ever see what I write. I'm a hick from the sticks, lacking a PhD and lacking a major newspaper or syndicate to inflate my importance. So read it or don't. At least I'll be able to consolidate my gleanings and get the conclusions down so that I can stop spending most of my waking hours ruminating on things over which we, the people, no longer have much power.

The first couple of articles to follow probably will not be on the really big subjects, but rather on things that offer clues to where we're going on the life or death issues.


Quiet shifts in the body politic

There are shifts in the body politic that are as yet not generally recognized, and some of them suggest that a major political realignment may be brewing.

I'm not talking phony astroturf movements, or bubba teabaggers being led by their noses to do the dirty work of right wing billionaires. Not even referring to the sometimes reported but poorly documented disaffection of a badly-defined “moderate” element of the electorate.

Even occasional news media references to an obviously enraged but unfocused non-bubba portion of the population don't quite get at what may be an important shift in political perceptions. So many angry people are just angry without having any clear sense of who is doing what to them; they know they're being screwed, but are more likely than not to blame the wrong people, because the flood of misinformation and lies from corporation-controlled “news” media, Fixed News and talk radio overwhelms a limited ability for critical thought.

An old friend of mine personifies the real change I think is happening, that has to some extent already happened.

He and I became friends in early childhood, which is to say more than 65 years ago. His parents were distinctly upper crust in our small town/suburb. His father was a banker. I was distinctly from the wrong side of the tracks. His mother openly disapproved of our friendship and would allow us to play together, other than at school, only rarely and only if she could keep a close eye on me. Guess she thought I'd steal his toys, or the silverware.

He is a calm fellow, an ideal member of any committee or board, always seeking to get things done while seeing to it that no one is offended or left out.

I tend to be more volatile, much less patient, and recognized years ago that I am not suited to committees. I don't do committees any more.

Yet we have been friends all these years. We get together with our spouses about once a month, sometimes more often. We spend a long weekend with two other couples every summer, fishing, cooking together, ambling through country shops and such. My old friend and I are both deeply interested in history; the two of us went to France a couple of years ago to tour Normandy invasion sites, museums and cemeteries.

I am a lifelong political liberal, considered myself a Democrat until just three or four years ago. My friend was a solid, active Republican until a couple of years ago or so. He held municipal office as a Republican. He was on a first-name basis with Republican governors and members of Congress. His political support was recognized and valued by those Republican politicians.

My working life was spent as a journalist, including 30 years with a metropolitan daily newspaper. I, too, was on a first-name basis with rich and powerful people in business and politics, though the relationships were more arms-length, as they were supposed to be.

So, for 50 or 60 years we argued occasionally, politely and respectfully, about government, business and politics.

Now we don't -- or if we do, it's about minor details rather than the big picture.

I am no longer a Democrat. My old friend is no longer a Republican. We are both appalled at what we see in government and politics.

A few evenings ago, we and our spouses had dinner together, with another couple. The third couple is a male-female odd couple. The lady is vaguely liberal. While a decent sort on a strictly personal level, the man is far right on all things having to do with politics and government. An ex-marine, he believes all wars in which the United States is involved are just wars or we wouldn't be in them. He believes that the Cheney torture program was justified, that maybe there really were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, that our economy would be perfect if government would just get out of the way, stop collecting taxes and let corporations do whatever they choose to do without interference.

That right-winger was quickly backed into confused silence the other night during a discussion of war, health care, the deteriorating condition of our beloved state of Minnesota and related topics. My old friend, the (until fairly recently) lifelong Republican. and I, the (until fairly recently) lifelong Democrat, argued from the same positions, arrived at separately. We each had loads of facts and details to support our shared belief that politicians of both major parties are ignoring the welfare of the American public, doing the bidding of the very rich at our expense and are generally pursuing inhumane and devastating policies.

The failure of this country to provide basic health care for millions of its citizens sickens that old Republican just as it sickens me. Domestic spying, use of cruel anti-gay propaganda to build support for a right-wing agenda, unnecessary wars, slavish catering to right wing Zionists and Cubans in Florida anger him as they anger me.

We disagree still on some details. Would this or that tax be right and appropriate, should this or that regulation be adopted? But the disagreements are not on basic points, and left to discussion we could work out the details. (Compromise. An interesting word. You can find it in a dictionary. It does not mean capitulation by one side in a dispute.)

Of course, my former Republican friend is just a single individual, as am I. But I know a large and growing number of former Democrats very like me, and I know several former Republicans who are very like, or increasingly like, my lifelong friend.

I also know adherents of both big parties who have gone to extremes -- especially, I must say, on the right -- but they are far fewer than those who are looking for some way to bring us back to a rational and democratic form of government.

We're not talking what the idiot press calls “moderates,” by the way. As near as it can be defined, that just means rightist Republicans who call themselves Democrats. The shift is not to radicalism, but it is to “the left” -- toward humanism and humanity, away from the amorality of the corporate world and corporate-controlled politicians.

It may be late, but the realignment is happening. If we are too late to save American democracy, at least we will be a pain in the butt to the oligarchy that seems close to establishing itself as the country's government.