Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Shameless

Gadfly
by Mort Malkin

Shameless

To great accord, the great majority of Americans and the active environmental community both praised Michelle Obama’s announcement that she would take a pitchfork to a swath of the White House lawn and turn it into an organic garden. Imagine — food from soil, water, and sun. The air would be a little cleaner for those vegetables absorbing CO2. But, the cheering is not universal. The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA), which is the megaphone for Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont, sent an email to the White House objecting to the First Lady’s demonstration garden. They used phrases such as “conventional agriculture” and “crop protection” in their argument. Conspicuously absent were the words “pesticide” and “chemical.” The Gadfly Revelry and Research gang suggests they change the last word of their organization to “Establishment” so it will have a more appropriate acronym.

Shamelessity is not limited to chemical companies that fool with atoms and molecules, with life itself. The health insurance industry has quietly warned the White House and Congress to take government provided health care off the table of health care reform. Both branches of government have obliged them, never mentioning those seditious words “single payer.” So emboldened, the insurance companies publicly objected to a government program side by side with private plans to offer coverage for 47 million uninsured Americans. The status quo folks say they will be unable to compete with a low-premium government plan. But, that can never be — private enterprise is always more efficient than government (according to private enterprise and Ronald Reagan). Well, the actual numbers say otherwise. Medicare has administrative costs of less than 3% of total funding. Costs beyond medical care typically run 15% to 25% in private plans — after all, they have to pay their CEO, their stockholders, and their marketing people. No contest. Big Pharma has added a voice for free-for-all enterprise so the government will pay them full retail prices. We can’t allow a government plan to negotiate a market price the way the Canadian Health system does. Whatever happened to competition in the land of Capitalism?

Perhaps shameless arrogance is going public because of the examples set by Dick Cheney. When Congress was crafting a Resolution to oppose any further escalation of the Iraq war, (Iraqis call it the American war), Cheney famously said, “That won’t stop us.”

Another time Cheney shot a hunting partner in the face and chest. Poor Harry Whittington, 78 years old, didn’t get out of Cheney’s line of fire quickly enough. Cheney got Whittington to apologize for causing the Vice President’s family such anxiety.

Just last year, Cheney was interviewed by Martha Raddatz who was ready to do any necessary follow-up. She noted that “Two thirds of Americans say [the Iraq war] is not worth fighting.” He responded with a simple, “So?” Raddatz was incredulous, “So?? You don’t care what the American people think?” Right there on Good Morning America.

Cheney, no longer in office, is a private citizen. Why didn’t the Founding Fathers have had an Amendment in the Constitution that allowed him to continue to: fire people, leak the identities of select secret agents, and bomb disloyal foreign nations? Trigger Dick would look after the national interest. When he was Vice President he ran the most secretive office (the OVP) of the Bush Administration — nicknamed the Black Hole. The most sensitive work, however, was done in “an undisclosed, secure location.” Nowadays, he is not so secretive, nor so private a citizen. In informal partnership, he and Karl Rove are appearing as the Katzenjammer Kids on Fox (Fixed) News. He shamelessly defends torture as enhanced interrogation at every turn. Curiously, the man who used to classify everything, Mr. Secrecy himself, has now asked the CIA to declassify a few select pages of documents from his OVP records so he can prove that torture works. It may be a matter of money versus ideology. Dick Cheney is planning to write a book about his recent eight years in the White House and figures that a few declassified documents would be worth a larger advance. He surely can use the money whatwith insurance coverage for quail hunting so high of late.

Congruent with Cheney’s elevation of arrogance to an art form, Henry Paulson was receiving several million per year in salary and stock options. But millions counts as pocket change on Wall Street. When Hank became Secretary of Treasury in 2006, he asked Congress for $700 billion (that’s Billion with a b) in TARP funds with no strings attached. Now, that’s world class chutzpah. Goldman Sachs, his old firm, initially received $10 Billion. Then AIG (Arrogance, Incompetence, Greed) was given $170 billion that it owed to various others — Bank of America, Watchovia, CitiBank, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, UBS, and, oh yes, Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs duly received more than anyone else. How could anyone think Paulson was possessed by conflict of interest?

Is Sauvage Capitalism hopeless? Of late a few glimmers of hope have appeared, but you have to have a search engine to spot them. In April, The NY Times published the compensation package of the CEOs of 200 of the largest US companies. At the end of the list is the median income — over $8 million. Hidden away in the middle we see Google’s chief executive at $508,764 and Apple’s at $1, no hidden stock options or deferred income. Could this be the start of an epidemic of spreading the wealth around?

You might expect revolutionary financial ideas from such companies as Apple where technology rules over dollars and from Google whose motto is “Do no evil.” But, US car makers say that health benefits for workers add more than $1000 to the ticket price of a car. Other manufacturers also complain that health benefits for workers and retirees are making their products uncompetitive. No wonder companies are outsourcing US jobs even as they send their hidden profits to the Cayman Islands. Halliburton shamelessly moved their entire company to Dubai. Shameless.

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