Maybe We Really Do Want Government to Make the Decisions

This post was written for the Commonweal Institute Progressive Op-Ed Program. I am a Fellow with the Commonweal Institute.

Do we really want government making decisions? I hear the same question repeated a number of different ways: “Do we really want government making decisions about our health care?” “Do we really want government deciding how banks should be run?” “Do we want government making decisions on whether drug companies can release new products?” “Do we want government telling businesses what they can and can’t do?”

The immediate, emotional reaction is, “Of course not!” But what happens when these questions are examined more closely?

Health care reform is in the news so let’s look at decision-making in health care first. Currently insurance companies make decisions about our health care – not government, not doctors, and certainly not us. They make these decisions based on whether a procedure or drug will be expensive. But “companies” don’t make decisions, people do – not to maximize benefits to the patient but for their own financial gain.

What about decision-making around how banks do business? Since the 1980s more and more banking rules have been relaxed at the behest of a few who stood to make fortunes. Credit card interest rates reached as high as 30%. Huge bets were made on credit default swaps, bad mortgages and other banking products. Deregulation led first to the “Savings and Loan Crisis” and then the recent financial crisis and resulting bailouts. The decisions in these companies were made by a few for personal gain at the expense of the stability of the entire economy.

What about drug companies? There are complaints that the government “holds back” drug companies from releasing new products. But the recent deaths caused by Vioxx, Baycol and other drugs showed that the government was on the right track by requiring sufficient testing and reporting. The pressure to sell these and other unsafe drugs came from a few people who stood to gain fortunes.

What about “burdensome” government regulation of business in general? We all remember what happened when regulations were lifted on companies like Enron. Employees lost their retirement savings. Investors were tricked out of millions. People and businesses were scammed into paying very high prices for electricity. Again, these problems happened because a few people stood to make fortunes so they got government to deregulate rules protecting the rest of us but that stood in their way.

With these and other examples in mind, let’s look at what the purpose of our government is supposed to be. According to our Constitution government is literally, “We, the People,” banded together to “promote the general welfare” which means we watch out for and take care of each other. The Constitution’s promise to “secure the blessings of liberty” means that we will enjoy the stability of the rule of law instead of being subjected to the whims of the rich and powerful.

Before deciding whether or not government should make decisions let’s look at the alternative. Not enough consideration is given to the real question: if We, the People don’t make decisions, then who does? As we saw in the examples above, the “corporate” decisions that were made in the absence of government rules always favored a few wealthy people. Sometimes, as in the case of Enron, they even destroyed their own corporations while collecting large sums for themselves.

History shows that in the absence of a strong government decisions will always be made by those with the most money and power. In today’s society this means that people in the biggest corporations will be making the decisions, always for their own benefit and at the expense of the rest of us

Unfortunate things always happen when the interests of a few people are placed ahead of the rules. In a functioning, democratic society, government is about establishing and enforcing rules that are set up to protect all of us on the basis of one-person-one-vote and not one-dollar-one-vote. Today’s alternative to government decision-making is the biggest corporations making decisions instead.

Royalty, dynasty, inheritance, corporatocracy, whatever you want to call it, there are always a few people who have gathered most of the wealth and power to themselves, and then set up systems designed to keep it that way. The United States government was designed to enable We, the People to make the decisions rather than just the wealthy and the powerful.

So when you hear people ask if we really want government making the decisions, they are really asking if you want to have your own say over your own affairs, instead of some rich CEO. The answer should be “Heck, Yes!

This article was produced as part of Commonweal Institute’s Progressive Op-Ed Program

Creative Commons License

Stimulus Cobra Subsidy Running Out – Millions More To Lose Health Care

The “stimulus plan” included a 9-month subsidy that paid 2/3 of COBRA for newly-unemployed people.
That subsidy runs out in a couple of months and millions of people will lose their health care.
In my opinion the reasons we did not enter a depression had less to do with bailing out the big banks than with the following:
1) FDIC Insurance meant that people felt safe keeping their money in banks and didn’t “run” to remove deposits. THIS is why the banks didn’t all close.
2) Unemployment insurance kept millions of people from losing all of their income and having to turn to breadlines. This starts running out soon for the people laid off during the crash.
3) The stimulus plan subsidized COBRA for millions of people. This starts running out soon for the people laid off during the crash.

Healthcare Propaganda from Tobacco/Exxon

I received an email from the Tobacco/Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) promoting this video. The email said it is by Lee Doren (more here), not the video or the page it is on — I had to track that down. There also isn’t any info describing who made the video, or the connection with CEI. Doren heads “Bureaucrash,” one more lobbyist astroturf group (a subsidiary of CEI).

“Bureaucrash is an international network of activists, called crashers, who share the goal of increasing individual freedom and decreasing the scope of government.”

Actually, it is a subsidiary of a Tobacco/Exxon-funded lobbyist group that advocates replacing democracy with corporate rule. But who’s counting?
The video is about how government is bad, public schools are bad, the post office is bad. “Health care is essential. Food, clothing, housing are all essential but we don’t want the federal government paying for all those services for everybody.” “Taxation equals force.” “Advertising is a good thing.” “Profits are essential. Profits prevent misallocation of resources in the economy.” “CEOs make millions of people wealthy.” “If insurance companies are forced to cover preexisting conditions it wouldn’t be insurance.” It even says Medicare is bad, and even advocates that firefighting be for=profit and at the same time run by volunteers not the government!
It actually says the only reason we need lobbyists is because of the socialists who are against corporations. The core message of the video is that corporations are better at making decisions for us than democracy.
Oh, one more thing, the video is entirely against Medicare-For-All single-payer health care, which isn’t even on the table. Its very premise is a lie itself!
Anyway, take a look at what your corporate tobacco/Exxon dollars are paying for.

So why is Tobacco/Exxon paying for astroturf groups to fight against healthcare reform? Or is CEI getting checks from a new source lately?
Update – The following comment was trapped in the spam filter. It is posted now, but I am also highlighting it here:

Just for the record ExxonMobil does not fund the CEI. ExxonMobil has not provided any financial support to this organization since 2005. A simple check of our website shows the companies ExxonMobil supports. The report is published annually and can be found at http://www.exxonmobil.com/corporate/community_contributions_report.aspx

I’ll look into this. CEI is still putting out climate-change denial stuff.

On Trusting Obama

I trust President Obama’s instinct and leadership. Unfortunately I am realizing that I don’t trust his judgment in advisors. It is becoming clear that he has surrounded himself with a groupthink crowd of disloyal, corporate-influenced careerists who do not share our long-term progressive vision. They are sheltering the President from hearing progressive viewpoints, and are advising short-term political approaches to problems rather than risking his offering a moral basis for positions that they fear are outside the “mainstream” of Limbaugh-influenced Americans.

One-Two Punch On Healthcare

Who could have known?
First we learn that there is a big effort by insurance-company lobbyists to use August to portray the health care effort as unpopular. Several lobbyist firms were involved in organizing loud, near-violent disruptions of Congressional town hall meetings, etc.
Then at the end of August we get lots of Republicans saying that we all saw how unpopular health care reform is: GOP senator signals fading hopes on health care,

“I heard a lot of frustration and anger as I traveled across my home state this last few weeks,” said Enzi, who has been targeted by critics for seeking to negotiate on legislation. “People in Wyoming and across the country are anxious about what Washington has in mind. This is big. This is personal. This is one of the most important debates of our lifetime.”

Gosh, do you think we are seeing a strategy unfold?

m4s0n501

President Obama’s Upcoming “Section 421 Tire Case” Trade Enforcement Decision

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
When China was accepted into the World Trade Organization, they agreed that if we experienced import surges of Chinese goods that caused “market disruption,” we would be allowed to limit the import of those goods. The particular section of the agreement is called “Section 421.”
When the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) determines that the level of imports from China cause or threaten to cause market disruption to American producers of competitive products, it proposes a remedy that can include quotas or other relief. The President of the United States then makes a decision whether to enforce that recommendation.
President Bush repeatedly (seven times) refused to enforce Section 421 even when our own ITC found that American companies, factories and jobs were being lost. Bush claimed at the time that the destructive effects of dramatic, sudden increases in Chinese imports that Section 421 was meant to mitigate were actually good for the U.S. economy. Bush’s policy was the opposite of “protectionism” — it actually favored China’s companies over our own! (I think we’ve seen how that has worked out.)
Very soon we will have an opportunity to see where President Obama comes down on this issue. The ITC has decided by a 4-2 vote that the U.S. tire industry has been harmed by a large increase in imports. They have recommended increasing tariffs starting at 55%, falling to 35% over three years. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative now has to give its recommendation on this to the White House by Sept. 2.
President Obama has until Sept. 17 to make a decision. This is just one week before the upcoming G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. There is considerable pressure on him to to signal that the US will restore trade balance and help manufacturing in America, by following the rules of the WTO that China agreed to.
According to the United Steel Workers, which represents workers in the tire industry, thousands of jobs are being lost and tire plans in the US are shutting down. Also at this page is a chart from the ITC showing that the benefits of enforcing remedies “are two-and-a-half times greater than the costs” to consumers.
Mike Elk wrote the other day at the Campaign for America’s Future blog,

President Obama stands at a crossroads in the fight to rebuild the American economy.
President Obama has made a commitment in the past to uphold previously signed trade agreements. China, however, is violating these agreements by flooding the market with a massive 300 percent increase in tire imports in an attempt to wipe out American tire manufacturers. In 2004, China sent 14 million tires to the U.S. valued at $453 million. By last year, that had increased to 46 million tires valued at $1.7 billion.

Mike also points out,

Chinese importers, in conjunction with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, have ironically formed a lobbying front group ironically named American Coalition for Free Trade in Tires. The coalition is run by Jochum, Shore & Trossevin, a Washington D.C. lobby firm run by former Bush trade officials who are cashing in on their years of U.S. government service to advise foreign competitors.

Jim Wansley, former USW Goodyear local president, testified about the impact of the closing of the Goodyear plant in Tyler, Texas where he had worked for 39 1/2 years:

The closure put hundreds of workers, many of whom had given decades of service to the plant, out of work. The closure was devastating to the workers and their families, but it is also being felt throughout the community of Tyler, Texas. Tyler has a population of about 100,000. Like many small and medium-sized towns that depend on manufacturing for middle class jobs, the loss of these jobs has taken its toll. The Goodyear plant directly benefitted the local economy by supporting local small businesses who served as its suppliers and service providers.
The plant also provided enormous indirect benefits. Jobs at the plant paid good wages and benefits, enabling workers to lead decent middle class lives, buy homes, send their kids to college, and save for retirement. These are the kind of jobs that support an entire community as families pay their doctor bills, buy new cars, and contribute to local charities. The plant and its workers were also an important source of tax revenue for the city, the county, and the state.
. . . The victims will not only be the workers and their families, but the suppliers, service providers, local businesses, and entire communities that depend on the industry. In sum, there is an enormous cost to doing nothing. If more plants like Tyler close, we can expect to suffer total additional losses of almost a billion dollars per plant, per year.

On the other hand, The Washington Post points out,

If Obama backs the tariff, he risks upsetting the Chinese at a time when the United States needs China to keep buying U.S. government debt to fund stimulus efforts.

This is not just an intellectual discussion. This, like all trade issues, is about American workers losing their livelihoods and communities losing their economic base. At the same time the policies of the Bush administration — borrowing trillions of dollars from them while allowing our manufacturing base to deteriorate — have placed China in a very strong position of economic advantage which gives them the power to demand concessions.
For more information:
USW fact sheets, background, other info related to tire trade case against China
Statements by Senators, other lawmakers supportive of USW unfair trade case claim against Chinese tires
More Members of Congress, Senate praise ITC ruling in tire trade case
A post at TradeReform.org: Trade Community Awaits President’s Decision on China Tire Safeguard
Testimony of Senator Sherrod Brown before the U.S. ITC on the tire issue.
Gilbert B. Kaplan, Former Deputy Assistant and Acting Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Department of Commerce, writing at Huffington Post on this and other trade issues with China.
ManufactureThis.org: Making the Case for Relief from Chinese Tire Imports
One group in opposition to this ruling is American tire distributors, who benefit from the low prices of Chinese imports. (Note this is published by the Chinese Xinhua News Agency.)

A New Deal – Style Industrial Policy is Crucial

Here is a great post. Please read it. Excerpt:

A New Deal – style industrial policy is crucial as well for over the politically elusive, white working class. The New Deal was successful in creating a lasting political coalition because it created lasting political constituencies. As a result of the wide range of people it helped: Social Security for seniors, labor unions for workers, subsidies for small farmers, and jobs for the unemployed, these groups were brought into the Democratic party and stayed there for nearly forty years.

Stop The Teabaggers, Give Them Green Jobs: Lessons From the Coalfields of West Virginia

Obama Hunting Licenses – Idaho Repub. Gov. Candidate

This is pretty serious. This is indicative of a culture developing around the idea of assassinating Obama: BlueOregon: Look out teabaggers, birthers and deathers, the eliminationists are going to upstage you

From Oregon’s Spain comes a story in which Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell pops off about buying an “Obama tag”:

After an audience member shouted a question about “Obama tags” during a discussion on wolves, Rammell responded, “The Obama tags? We’d buy some of those.”

Rammell later tried to couch his words as a joke, but apparently not enough of a joke to keep him from sending out a press release bragging about saying it.

The Medicare-For-All Opportunity Is Here Now

The Republicans have shifted their attack on health care reform by claiming that it endangers Medicare. They have even introduced a new “Health Care Bill of Rights for Seniors” proposal to “protect Medicare.” The Blue Dogs have stepped up their own attack, claiming that the costs are too high. The insurance industry flacks are claiming that at over 1000 pages the bill is too complex. Etc.
The Republicans and Blue Dogs have given us an opportunity here. This is the opening to introduce to the bill the idea of adding people to Medicare by phasing in age groups starting with the youngest and oldest at the same time.
Immediately lower age eligibility to 55 and immediately cover everyone up to 21. Every year add 5 eligibility years on each end so 2011 it would be up to 26 and down to 50, etc.
Someone in the Congress can add a few paragraphs called the “Save Medicare Clause” or something to the reform bills. Just say you are addressing the concerns of the Republicans and their new “Protect Medicare” demands, and the Blue Dogs concerns about costs. The cost reduction from adding the youngest balances the added costs of adding people who are older, and this lowers all the costs in the current plan from covering these people. And the costs of doing this is so much less than the cost of covering these people under the current reform plans that this greatly lowers the costs of the overall reform schemes.
How to fight for this? Simple: Answer anyone who says it is a “government takeover” Republican-style. Just say it isn’t, that we’re just adding them to Medicare. Then let the Republicans then explain to everyone that Medicare is a government program! I am sure we can find ways to answer every objection to this proposal using this kind of Republican-blunting argument. In fact it would be fun. The Blue Dogs say it is costly, just point out that it is much less costly than their own plan. And much less complicated. Medicare already exists, is already set up to cover millions and add millions every year, etc…
We can point out how this simplifies everything people are worried about in the reform fight. Everyone loves Medicare — so much so that the Republicans are using Medicare as a club to kill this complicated and expensive health care reform scheme. So what the hell, give them what they want, while giving the people what they want at the same time.
This is an opportunity to achieve Ted Kennedy’s and our own health care goals that we did not have at the start of this reform effort. The opponents have stirred people up so much and raised so many objections that everyone is looking for something simpole to get us out of this. “Medicare-For-All” answers every objection that the opponents of health care reform have raised.

Goldfellas

For those who need some background:
Goldman Sachs announces they plan to give out record bonuses this year, despite taking billions in TARP money from the Fed to “survive,” soaring unemployment and companies collapsing coast-to-coast. In his memo, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein tells his employees to keep a low profile and not to spend lavishly when they get their massive bonuses!
Comedian Matt Rittberg creates a hilarious spoof of “Goodfellas” based on Goldman Sachs outrageous compensation. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s CEO, sent out a memo recently telling his top employees not to buy anything flashy with their bonuses. Remind anyone else of the scene from Goodfellas where De Niro tells his gang the same thing after the big heist?
Written and Directed by Matt Rittberg
Director of Photography – Matt Kohn
Starring:
JL Cauvin
Nick Turner
Matt Rittberg
Barry Rothbart
Laura Prangley
Aimee G
Sam Russell-Guliver