Healthcare: First They Came For The Banksters

banking imagesWith apologies to Pastor Niemöller:

First they came for the banksters, and showered them with money and put them in the Administration in a way that was not change we could believe in.

Then they came for the military industrial complex, and sent more and more of our children to die in faraway lands that had never attacked us in a way that was not change we could believe in.

And now they’ve sold out our hope for a national health care system not run by millionaire gangsters in suits.  And who is left to speak for us?

President Obama is playing the Bill Clinton game of throwing people a bone and telling them it’s steak.  Perhaps he’s doing it because he thinks it’s his only choice; perhaps it’s because he’s surrounded himself with Bill Clinton advisors (and Hillary as Secretary of State); whatever the reason, while it worked for Clinton, it won’t work for Obama.

It worked for Reagan, and for the first Bush, and even worked somewhat for George W. Bush.

But it won’t work anymore.  Here’s why.

From 1929 until the 1980s, most Americans were “high information voters.”  They were paying attention to politics.  The Republican Great Depression of 1929-1938, World War II, the Korean War, Kennedy’s election, and the War in Vietnam were all Big Events that caused Americans to pay attention.  Americans of that era needed to know what was up in Washington, DC, because they felt the consequences directly.

This is why in November of 1954, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter to his John Bircher brother Edgar, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

The voters knew.  Even as late as 1977, when George W. Bush ran for Congress from Texas on a nearly singular platform of privatizing Social Security, he lost badly.  The voters knew.

Then came Reagan.  He seemed so nice.  He talked friendly.  At the very minute – to the second – that he put his hand on the bible to be sworn in, those nasty Iranians let go the hostages they’d been holding (a kidnapping that had so humiliated the Carter administration that Carter lost the election).

America was once again a “shining city on the hill” and even though there were a few small invasions, Panama and Grenada and all, and a small recession, and a few S&L bank failures, mostly people lost interest in politics.  TV was going big, home entertainment was huge, blockbuster movies were coming onto the big screen, and America was prosperous.  Americans partied on cheap debt.  We went to sleep.  It was the beginning of the era of the “low information voter.”

During the 1980s, the right wing was working hard.  Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and most of the media Americans consumed was consolidated in the hands of about a dozen very conservative-leaning corporations.  Top tax rates were cut from over 70 percent to around 30 percent, so salaries at the top exploded, including those of the stars on TV…including the “news” stars.

The newly-rich TV news people began to hang out with the becoming-fabulously-rich business people, never again criticizing them because they now worked and played together and were members of the same clubs and their kids went to the same best schools.  Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous became our new religion, “greed is good” our new mantra.

Conservatives began a war on textbooks, stripping from them references to the labor movement, so that anybody who went to middle school or high school during or after the mid-1980s can’t today tell you why phrases like “Pullman Porter” or “Haymarket Square” or “Great Flint Sit Down” have any meaning.

Reagan, and then Clinton, serially deregulated the media so it came into fewer hands still, while right-wing voices exploded across the landscape.  By the mid 1990s there was virtually no corner of America, not even the smallest town, where a person couldn’t hear Rush Limbaugh.  After Rupert Murdoch lost $100 million a year for a half-decade, finally around Y2K Sean Hannity and Fox News began to turn a profit and became equally ubiquitous.  They all made sure that voters were “low information” or “wrong information.”  The labor sections of the newspapers had vanished; NPR and 60 Minutes no longer did corporate-expose investigative reporting.

Reagan used our collective somnambulance to cut taxes for his rich buddies and throw trillions their way in defense contracts.  George HW did more of the same, albeit without the elegance of Reagan.  Bill Clinton smiled nice and raised taxes a few tiny points – from 33 to 36 percent on the most wealthy – and just that was enough to balance the budget, and during all those years it seemed like peace and prosperity were here.  Politically, people stayed asleep.

The attacks of 9/11 woke a lot of Americans up, but they didn’t know what to believe.  Retired generals taking million-dollar payoffs from defense contractors were wall-to-wall on the corporate news, telling us we needed more wars and more contractors and more military toys.  The two dissenting voices – Bill Mahr and Phil Donahue – were immediately silenced.  Keep the people asleep.  Other than a few old lefties from the 60s who showed up for anti-Iraq-war protests, it mostly worked.

Then came Barack Obama.  People were sick of Bush, and Obama’s campaign for the presidency reminded the oldsters of what it meant to be politically active, while it taught the same lesson to the first generation to really involve itself in politics since the Vietnam War.  Weeks before the election, the Bush crew had to admit that the phony-baloney Reaganonics games played by Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush while we were all asleep were collapsing.  The economy was about to disintegrate.  A wave of foreclosures, followed almost immediately by layoffs, swept the land.

People woke up, just like they had in 1929.  They began to pay attention.  And they had more than just Limbaugh and Fox to learn from; this new thing called the internet proliferated information without corporate control; Air America was birthed and liberal talk radio is now heard coast-to-coast; MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann caught fire (followed by Rachel Maddow); and even the normally cynical and innocuous Jack Cafferty at CNN began to go off on screeds worthy of the movie “Network.”

The Great Depression of 2008 – or what was billed as such – and the election of an African American president who used a ground-up instead of a top-down campaign caused high information voters to emerge again for the first time in 30 years.

Many, of course, were high with the wrong information.  They showed up at tea parties and Palin rallies.  But their passion is real, and their grievances are mostly legitimate.  Thirty years of Reaganomics/Clintonomics has destroyed the labor movement, hollowed out our industrial sector, put us on a permanent war footing, wiped out the equity of the middle class, and created an entire generation of college-loan-indentured-servants.   Who are now fully awake and seriously pissed.

We slept while Clinton’s boys Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and the whole gang, Republicans and Democrats together, signed us up for NAFTA and GATT; created the WTO; moved our jobs to China; sold off our airwaves; and “financialized” our economy (fully a quarter of all corporate profits in 2007 were from the “financial services industry” – an “industry” that creates nothing whatever that can be used or eaten or has any other real-wealth value).  We slept through the explosion of the private prison industry and the wars in the Balkans (who knows where Kosovo is, anyway?).  Seinfeld was far more interesting.

But now both the Vietnam oldsters and the Hip Hop youngsters are awake.  Even the Reagan generation is awakening, but confused, as they’ve grown up on Limbaugh and Fox, and didn’t learn much in school about politics after Reagan’s guys stripped most classes of in-depth civics requirements.  (It’s interesting – when Michael Medved and I debated in Chicago last year in front of 1000 people, 500 tickets sold by each of our radio stations, my side of the room was mostly people over 50 or under 30.  His side of the room was almost entirely 30- and 40-somethings.)

And that’s why Obama is heading for a disaster.

He’s betting that he can do like Bill Clinton did to us with NAFTA and the World Trade Organization – hand us a turd and tell us it’s gonna blossom beautifully if we’ll just wait a year or three or five.  Rahm’s betting that if he can “deliver health care reform” – even if the fundamental system of gangster corporations standing between us and our doctors while skimming 40 percent off the top for their mansions and private jets is intact – we’ll be all excited at his “victory” and elect more Democrats in 2010 and reelect Obama in 2012.

Ditto for cosmetic repairs of the banks, which is really just trickle-down Reaganomics on steroids. Rahm and his DLC buddies truly believe that this “change” brought to us by Bush’s man Tim Geithner or Clinton’s man Larry Summers is something we’ll “believe in.”

We don’t.

We oldsters of the Vietnam era, and the youngsters coming up who see how college loan banksters are screwing them as badly as their Clinton-era parents were screwed by the mortgage scammers, are all now fully awake.

President Obama, sir: Meet what is in large part your own creation – the High Information Voters of 2009/2010.

We’re awake, we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more.  Natalie Portman to Matt Taibbi to Arianna Huffington to Bill Moyers represent the span of our four awakened generations; generations who have figured out how the game is played.  And don’t like it.

First Obama continued Bush’s policy of giving the banksters money, and we protested feebly.

Then he expanded Bush’s wars, and we protested more loudly.

Now he’s going to force us to give trillions to the gangsters who run the “health insurance” companies (while they promise to behave nicely in return) and thinks we’re going to go along with it and it’ll get him re-elected.

He’s wrong.

Please, President Obama, step up and lead.  We’d like some that “change we can believe in” that’s actually the real thing.

Kill the bill.


Eric (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

We all fell for the Obama change. Everyone was so fed up with the worst administration in the US history, that Obama looked like a bright shining light. But as early as January of this year I kept hearing from some that Obama would be a centrist at best, and that he will not deliver the progressive goods. Well, Obama was bought and sold long ago. Progressives had no chance. The people had no chance.

For all the hoopla about the historic importance of Obama as a presidential candidate, people forgot that Obama was also being sold to us like a corporate product. His was a campaign as much about the brand of Obama as anything else. The image of Obama became bigger than his substance. But this is how our corporate run political system works, and it should come as no surprise.

If anything, Obama's election has shown that skin color will not matter when our entire political process is captured and flushed with corporate money. Black, white, male or female, by the time a candidate has been "processed" through the political system they are all tamed to serve the purposes of those who own our nation, and it is not the public.

Jimmy Reefercake (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

I feared that Obama would land in my naughty list of HYPOCRITES this holiday season. I still have some faith that he will listen to us, but we need to be more informed than ever, and WAKE THE F UP!!!

Markov (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

Great essay, Thom, but don't forget the carbon market.

The media has both sides played on this issue.. they've got the green left thinking that this is "the only workable solution for now", when it's entirely a non-solution with huge gaps (like the un-explained military gap) and double-counting and ripe for massive fraud.
And, they've got the right thinking that there are "carbon taxes" coming and that we're heading for scary, scary, red "socialism". The right will, of course, be relieved when the time is right to understand that the carbon market is a "free market" solution.

The carbon market is a fascist system run of, by and for corporate profit, where the government only fills the Milton Freidman roles of "contract enforcement" (enforcing international agreements that leaders sign, no democracy required, nor desired) and "national defense" (no doubt, defending the national government from populist riots that will inevitably follow like the water privatization riots in Bolivia, or .. name your favorite anti-fascist uprising).

The carbon market is widely expected to be the world's largest derivatives market and is often projected to be worth $3 trillion/year. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently wrote an op-ed in the WSJ estimating the *transaction costs* for the carbon market at $500 billion/year. That's 16.6% off the top, just for trading. Talk about a rip-off! Why don't normal stockbrokers charge 16.6% on a trade? Because they can't. Nobody would use them. They don't have a captive market whose participation is mandated by law.

Also, it's something to note that our perennial favorite, Goldman Sachs, has a three-sided interest (at least) in the carbon market. They own 10% of the Chicago Carbon eXchange, and own both BlueSource, a carbon brokerage, and APX a carbon certification company. All of this is verifiable in the space of a few Google searches.

I know that nobody seems to understand what a conflict of interest is in a post-Cheney world, but it basically means that GS is setting themselves up to game the system and lie, cheat and steal all they can. The frightening thing is that a "high information voter" like myself can detect this from the comfort of my home but government, media and market are all either oblivious or colluding.

The "best" rationale that we're given for mandated carbon trading is that "it's better than doing nothing".

"Better than doing nothing" was also one of the key rationales used behind the Iraq war and every pig in a poke we've ever been sold.
Umberto Eco calls this rationale the "cult of action for action's sake" and describes it as a key distinguishing feature of fascism:

We cannot go down this road, because it will be intolerable not just at the end, but even just around the bend.

Michael (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

Thom, first things first, thanks for finally get PO'ed enough to call this new bunch of criminals out.
I don’t know why anyone is surprised by any of this. The neo-con agenda has moved over so far to the right they make the Third Reich seem like the peoples party. Where to start;
1. We should have known this was coming when they took impeachment off of the table. If that process would have begun in 06 then we could have at least found our way to the center by now. But loose all of those important maneuvers that Bush left them… They don’t know what to do with them anyway! The ruling party of Dem’s are wimp’s! Or at least they would like us to believe that they are. Could it possibly be that this party is so infiltrated by the neo-con agenda that no mater if an R or a D is in, they run and control it? Makes you wonder…
2. I honestly believe that we are in the final stages of the Starve the Beast objective. Think about it. Infiltrate the D’s to make the people think there is a choice while starving out the American people into submission. Now they want to reduce the minimum wage to boot. I thought slavery was abolished with the emaciation proclamation. But now we have one of “our boys” in there with the Congress to boot. Obama is more right than Eisenhower and more dangerous than Nixon because of the flag he fly’s. Folks grab your ankles. I want to believe in Santa Claus too but this is happening right before your eyes. Your Democrat party is beginning to party at your expense! Just wait I can almost here Obama saying “I’m not a crook!”
3. Last but not least a personal word to Mr. Obama himself. Sir, I still have every speech you made recorded. I watch them about every other month. Mr. President you are a liar and a thief. What Bush didn’t complete it looks like you will finish while making the Republicans look sane. Hell maybe you’re a genius I didn’t think that was possible. Either way it’s the American People that are loosing here… How much did you make? You’re just another criminal tearing down the house!

SG1983 (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

Please take time to consider. God bless you.

Betty Ann (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

You state that the tea partiers’ grievances are mostly legitimate. While I think that is true, I believe they are demonstrating in the wrong places. They should be marching down K Street, and Wall Street and downtown Hartford. I recognize that those in power in Washington DC are elected to be our advocates, not the corporate lobbyists, and we should all petition and lobby our government to fix what is wrong. But therein lies what I feel is unfair praise given to the tea party crowd. Prior to praise or mainstream acknowledgement of their power and numbers, the media must report FIRST that they are a top-down, corporate funded organization designed to further corporate interests. What they perceive as wrong with government was in full bloom during the Bush Administration. Why weren’t they out in numbers back then?

Thom, you need to stop giving the tea party crowd a legitimacy they do not deserve.

I think these people are low information voters. And they are voters. And they are important by that sole measure. But so were segregationists.

Look at the signs they carry. It’s not about too much government. It’s about a black man in the White House. Why else would a 90 year old Grandmother attach a sign to her government paid wheelchair saying she doesn’t want the government involved in her health care? This group of people look at a black person and they think he and those like him are just trying to milk the government for everything they can. It’s an old stereotype: one I was raised on. They had no problem with Republicans growing government for themselves and their corporate friends. Tell me why that is? Is it because Bush gave the nation a feeling of safety and comfort? No, he scared the crap out of people. He said there are people who are evil, and they are in this country. And it was his job to keep them out of any sphere of influence. Naturally, liberals and progressives fell into that evil crowd. Now they are in power. And it scares the crap out of a lot of white people.

Picture a debate about healthcare without the scare tactics of death panels, rationing, higher taxes or President Obama looking in on your pelvic exam. Or picture this healthcare debate without the enormous deficit bequeathed to us by Bush.

I share your desire to see President Obama get out there and kick some butt. I’d like to help. And I am. I am a leader in my community of a state-wide Progressive advocacy group that works to elect Progressive candidates and further Progressive issues. It’s hard work. Most of all, my recent involvement has had a deleterious affect on my idealism. I am much more practical and measured. I look to small consistent steps. I’m still an activist and I have big voice. That won’t change.

In my gut, I think I know how the President feels right now. A lot a good work has been done on this legislation. We are not done yet. I think consistency and forthrightness will prevail. Not scare tactics and ultimatums.

Dave at collinda (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

In large part, I find myself in agreement with Thom's commentary. However, I do question the assertion that Obama voters represented "High Information Voters." I most certainly reject the notion that the "Birthers' and "teabagers" and such are of that "High Information" class. They are, instead, the epitome of willful ignorance and a degree of gullibility that would be P.T. Barnum's best dream come true. But to the Obama supporters.

First, full disclosure. I did mark my ballot for Obama. As a resident of Texas, my vote in Presidential races is usually a wasted vote, so it was merely a rather muted protest against the very concept of the Bimbo of the North being one frail heartbeat away from "The Football" (nuclear launch codes). But I was not an Obama supporter. I read his policy positions and, in foreign policy understood him to be entirely in the thrall of the beltway consensus (as he expressed directly in his recent pronouncements) that the US is fully entitled to build bases where it wishes and to assert military force as it sees fit - unilaterally, to use his term from Oslo. So, the escalations in his "Af/Pak" war are no surprise and could not be to any well informed voter not acting under the influence of cognitive dissonance. As for domestic policy, it is certainly true that as a campaigner Obama presented an apparently progressive agenda that all but a very few of his actions, beginning with his very first appointment, belie. But, a High Information Voter would have looked beyond the campaign hype about ma and pa donations of $10 and $20 contributions to build the largest campaign fund in history. If they did not, as intelligent and informed voters, already know to check campaign finance reports the announcement that Obama would be the first candidate to reject public campaign financing since the program was started in 1976 should have sent them to the web pages of the FEC.

The great tragedy of what has transpired is that, as Thom suggests, the campaign did build excellent grassroots organizations across the country, even here in 19th century Texas. Once the Electoral College met, that fine organization (enabled to no small degree by Howard Dean's courageous leadership as DNC chair when he forced the 50 state strategy on his party) was thrown under the bus (as was Dr. Dean - Rahm knows how to play hardball with friends and allies even if not with his adversaries). If the Harvard Law Review editor and millionaire was really the community organizer he claims to be, he would have been using that army of Fairly Well Informed Voters as a lever to overcome his opponents and we would not be facing a welfare bill for the insurance, health care and pharma industries, a pointless and deceptively dangerous "climate" bill, or phoney-baloney financial services "reform," to mention the most glaring examples of "more of the same." But, Barack learned well that in politics you do dance with the ones that brung ya' and it was those very industries who led the pack in paying for that most expensive ever campaign.

Joel (not verified) 14 years 26 weeks ago

Very well written Thom. I have written to white house, I have written to both Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in my home state of Washington urging them to rethink this bill. This should not be about Obama's legacy this should be about giving Americans good health care. I also wrote to Bernie Sanders, whom I believe is the best senator we have, urging him to threaten a filibuster if the public option is not put back in.

We can't let these hacks like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson dictate health care for the American people! This bill is nothing but a giant corporate welfare check written to the insurance industry paid for by you and I the taxpayer. Mandating people to buy health care with no public option, no caps on rates, no competition, and the insouciance companies will regulate themselves? Right. We've heard all this before. We need to band together as progressives and let our voices be heard. Write to your senators, write to the president, network with fellow progressives. Why don't we organize and have a few hundred thousand or a million people show up in Washington DC and demand that our needs be met! I am sick of complacency, I am sick of being told we have to wait, I am sick of being lied too and I am sick of compromise! It is time to stand up, it is time to reclaim our political process. If anyone else out there is mad as hell like I am lets start banding together, lets stop talking about it and lets do something!

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