Shooting the Messengers

The final financial solution

We’re living in a cuckoo’s nest that would have baffled Ken Kesey. Consider just three items at the top of our agenda. (1) Astronomical military spending at a time when there’s nobody left in the world big enough to fight us, (2) the health care farce, which makes us the most expensive, least effective (at least #47) and largest laughingstock in the world, and finally, (3) the final triumph of corporate governance in Washington, which is icing the decline and fall of both capitalism and democracy in one fell swoop.

Witness the final humiliation: Warren Buffett, the richest deckhand on this ship of fools, recently announced how he could cure all our ills in about five minutes: every time Congress screws up by deadlocking itself or filibustering over the people’s business, we suspend their Congressional salaries and munificent benefits, such as the real health care system they deny us. The result would be guaranteeing the immediate end of deficits, debt problems and unemployment. Inadequate, Warren, but like drowning lawyers cum politicians, a good start.

Take the Pentagon, as Rodney Dangerfield might say. Please. While every politician is shit-hemorrhaging over the budget deficit, military spending has reached such ridiculous proportions that multi-billion dollar items (such as the recent F-35 horror) click automatically into place, even though nobody — including the Pentagon brass itself — wants the bloody thing. It’s just fixed, embedded national policy.

(And by the way, who are these old men, these peacetime war heroes, with eight or ten layers of fruit salad on their left chests, which are probably replicated on their fatigue uniforms and pajamas? To me, they come off about like those other old men of the Holy See who wear red and gold dresses and rule the world. To me, the real military authorities, the veterans I remember with regret and respect, are the G.I.’s that came back from Iwo Jima or Guadalcanal, or Ortona or Bastogne, who preferred to make a point of displaying nothing but the starkly simple blue and silver combat rifleman’s badge. For them, it alone was enough because it said it all.)

If you total “Security spending,” adding in all other spending for intelligence and Homeland Security, whatever that means, (and which is exempt from any cuts) suddenly our total defense budget is not $750 billion, but closer to $1.2 trillion. And name me one single politician in the country, including the Oval Office, with guts enough to raise even a question about this mountainous nonsense. Because it’s all about what’s dearest to the American heart: protecting our freedom against something or other. What ever happened to “we strove with none, for none was worth the strife?”

Healthcare? Don’t get me started. H. Woody Brock, writing in Barron’s, made the well-trammeled point:

“America’s biggest economic problem these days is health care. Health care is consuming more than 18% of GDP and, if unchecked, that number could grow to 35% by mid-century. It could bankrupt the government and lead to economic collapse.”

Then he dished into his solution: that both the Democrats and the Republicans are wrong, because they consider only the demand side and how to pay for it, whereas all we have to do is expand the supply side. Like Reagan economics. My answer to Woody is, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the demand-supply equation that can’t be remedied by making the delivery system as simple as it should be, the way the rest of the world does it. In a word, it’s time to shoot the messenger.

In the wake of Obamacare, that pitiful scarecrow that Congress and the Senate shot so full of holes in committee that both sides no longer recognize it, 300-odd million people, the richest 1/20th of the world’s population, stand around looking at each other with their palms elevated. Meanwhile politicians continue to argue over why we, like Yogi Berra on one of his worst days, spend more than any other country in the world on a system that is the finest in the world but nobody can afford to go there.

And the answer, under everybody’s nose but which nobody has figured out yet, or if they have, haven’t the guts to mention, to say the obvious, is that all those other 46 civilized countries have better, more affordable and quite viable plans for the health of their people because they’ve discovered that — are you ready? — they don’t need fat-ass insurance companies creaming billions off the top.

There, I’ve said it, and you can send the boys in white coats — or the men in black suits — for me any time. Because right there, I seem to have said something that sounds like socialism, which even to mention in contemporary America is to be bracketed with Lee Harvey Oswald and Julius Rosenberg.

All of which explains why your neighbor who needs a triple by-pass can get on a plane, fly to Mumbai or Johannesburg, have it done, recuperate for a few weeks and fly home, all for less than it takes in that lavish hospital around the corner.

But if defense spending for combat avec tes defenseurs and a health care system (that is neither healthy nor caring) both sound like acts of idiocy, the most tragic failure in America is our failure to heed either Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower. Not to mention Honest Abe himself. Because all three of them were Republicans with foresight, which is to say, an extinct species.

The wresting of the nation’s governance out of the hands of its people by a bought-and-paid-for government (in all three of its constitutional branches – executive, judicial and administrative) by the immense and insidious infiltration of corporate power, greed and ultimate influence, has already resulted in the crippling of our means of going forward, has already wrought financial, social and political inertia.

Abe Lincoln would surely turn over in his stovepipe and string tie, confronted by a government (1) of the oil oligopoly, (2) by the insurance industry and (3) for the pharmaceutical giants. An exaggeration?

(1) Heavily subsidized, even while producing net earnings in the billions, BP, placidly regulated by government goof-offs, succeeded two or three years ago in trashing the Gulf of Mexico to such an extent that the natural wild life will never recover, while the residents around the hundreds of miles of the Gulf’s shoreline, their maritime and land-based industry have lost billions of dollars which will never be recovered. And yet currently, unblushingly, BP is eagerly taking credit for a ridiculous five-state ad campaign — endorsed by all five of those right-wing state governments — attracting tourists to this “vacation wonderland.” Seriously.

(2) The insurance industry in central Florida, after pocketing hurricane premiums for 75 years, in 2004 following Hurricane Charley, first quadrupled premiums and then opted out of offering further hurricane coverage, with the blessing of an obliging Republican state government. An even greater insurance industry rip-off would follow with Obamacare.

(3) The greatest boff of all belongs to the pharmaceutical industry and its standard-bearer GlaxoSmith Kline. Normal operations, sanctioned by a well-juiced government and its trained seal the FDA, consist of developing top-drawer medications which are then marketed for billions, whether or not they’re dangerous, or even criminal. Found guilty last year of both civil and criminal fraud in marketing lethal, although legal, drugs, GSK (NYSE) agreeably peeled off a $3 billion fine, and then continued on its merry way. Three billion bucks to a multi-hundred-billion dollar empire is tantamount to little more than petty cash. Do the GSK stockholders know this? They EXPECT it. All through the trial process, conviction and penitential paying of the fine, GSK stock hardly showed a tremor of remorse, swinging narrowly between $44.50 and $46.50.

Will the post-America world, with its new industrial revolution save us from corrupted democracy and trashed free enterprise? Will a brave new world of the internet medium fueled by natural power sources rescue us and arise from the ashes of the old world of power and greed?

Don’t bet your food stamps on it. Just over a year ago, the Messiah of the new order, Mark Zuckerberg (there’s a Zucker born every minute), managed to out-master the Masters of the Universe by convincing Wall Street to price his stock at $38, thereby earning him $18 billion in an afternoon. Current price? On a day recently, FB stock traded 27 million shares at around $24 and change.

All the old foot-dragging arguments for the restoration of the status quo in our economy are as dull as Zuckerberg’s dance card. Writing in Smart Money, Reshma Kapadia makes the case that “enormous new oil and gas discoveries under American soil are having a game-changing impact on the entire economy.” He’s right, of course. We can indeed be fossil-fuel independent, simply by giving up our dependency on water.

Where to from here? Ask Robert Reich, former Minister of Labor in the Clinton administration:

“We are perilously close to losing an economy and a democracy that work for everyone, and replacing them with an economy and government that exist mainly for a few wealthy and powerful people…

“Cut the budget where the real bloat is. Military spending and corporate welfare. End weapons systems that don’t work and stop wars we shouldn’t be fighting to begin with, and we save over $300 billion a year. Cut corporate welfare – subsidies and special tax breaks going to big agribusiness, big oil, big pharma, and big insurance – and we save another $100 billion.”

Reich didn’t mention the biggest problem — which Will Rogers 85 years ago described as “the best Government money can buy” — and which has replaced Abe’s version, with footnotes added by Teddy and Ike. But short of drowning 573 politicians, what Reich suggests sounds like a good start.

The politicians will tell you that they’re only the messengers, delivering what the people want. Believe that, and I have a bridge to sell you that stretches from just abaft of Wall Street to Canarsie.

It’s high time we shot the messengers.

Bill Annett writes four newsletters: The Canadian Shield, American Logo, Beating the Street, and The Oyster World. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Bill.