It is anyone’s guess. Congress felt full of itself when it passed a budget so members could go home for vacation. Never mind that those hypocritical penny pinching, billionaire protecting Republicans cut extended unemployment benefits to 1.3 million Americans. Then Republicans and Democrats treated the Defense Department to with a healthy 650 billion dollar budget. Not only is the military’s budget out of control and replete with wasteful spending; it continues to be greater than almost all of the other nations’ defense budgets combined. Our unproductive elected officials, nevertheless, then fled the Nation’s capitol to go home to a much undeserved vacation.
Some political pundits took solace that Congress could work together to approve a budget, even though it failed to undo the past stupid approval of the sequestration. Congress just kicked down the road all the disagreeable questions that would need to be addressed to create some long term stability in our government’s financial planning.
Our elected officials will vacation, raise money for more high cost elections from their benefactors, and plot to do one another in at the November 2014 mid term elections. Upon returning to work in January, these elected officials will mostly dig in and begin the election crazies cycle. We citizens can look forward to a further undoing of our nation’s infrastructure, a dismembering of the middle class, and an unchallenged expansion of our military employing its tools of terror across the globe.
At times there may be some clear distinctions between Democrats and Republicans. At other times most members of each party will join forces to perpetuate their own survival and endorse their support for an economy that is directed by the billionaires and global corporations. The economic titans are gobbling up our natural resources, consolidating their own political power over our government, and destroying our democracy.
There is no shortage of issues to use to measure just how this new year will go. Here are several to ponder.
The Affordable Care Act. I caught, by accident, some comments by former Pennsylvania Governor Ray Rendell on his view of factors that will make ACA a successful health care law. He focused on the importance that all Americans, especially the younger adults, obtain health insurance. He implied this will make health care affordable to all. His theory closely follows an underlying assumption believed by the Obama administration. Ironically, our Democratic President, in his effort to pass a much needed overhaul to the nation’s health care system, based the ACA on ideas and prior legislative proposals put forth by Republicans. Obama thought that with Republican ideas and proposals brought forth in the past, both parties would agree to transition from the most expensive health care systems of all industrial countries into a more affordable one.
Imagine Obama’s shock by all those 40 plus votes to repeal the ACA by the unified Republican House members in 2013. Even though they knew the Senate would not go along, they could have cared less cause all they wanted to do is close down government and ruin what is left of the Obama presidency. It kind of reminds me of Obama signing the sequestration legislation because he could not imagine that the Republicans would be so crazy as to let the cuts take place down the road. How wrong he was.
But the ACA and any other proposed health care overhaul will never succeed unless it uncouples itself from the concept that the health care system must must be a for profit system that caters to big Pharma and the health insurance industry. George Bush succeeded in obtaining bipartisan support to prohibit the government from bargaining with insurance companies over the cost of prescription drugs for the Medicare program. Obama made no serious effort to undo this taxpayer funded ‘gift’ to big Pharma. Then Obama, to get a ‘buy in’ from the health insurance industry, served them up over 40 million potential enrollees by creating legislation that mandated all Americans obtain health insurance. The initial information of the rollout of the ACA suggests, however, that the health insurance industry will make no serious effort to rein in their outrageous pricing structure for the policies they offer. And, why should they. They basically control government health policy.
The unavoidable fact is that a government can either effectively regulate something as important as health care or it can cave into the corporate behemoths. Unsurprisingly, the Republicans caved in long ago under the pretense of support of the free market. The Democrats bought it because they, for the most part, didn’t have the guts (nor the smarts) to embrace an expansion of the most appreciated and affordable health program our government ever devised-Medicare.
It would be a breath of fresh air to hear Democrats like Ray Rendell or other administrative spokespersons respond to questions about the ACA somewhat as follows: “First let me say that in one of the greatest countries in the world every American should have an absolute right to affordable health care. Most other industrial countries make sure their citizens do; so should America.
“The ACA was enacted to give all Americans an ability to obtain affordable health care. President Obama and Democrats hoped that the insurance industry and drug companies would finally reign in their pricing, which by the way supports multi million dollar salaries and retirements for their corporate executives while forcing families to go into bankruptcy or forego insurance because of hideously high premium costs.
“If the ACA does not work, then our government should open Medicare to all who wish to purchase health insurance from the government. Insurance companies can choose to compete for that market or close their doors. We should not return to the broken system that the Republicans wish to foist on the American people.”
The NSA. Unfortunately, too many Democrats and Republican are either too scared or too beholden to the defense industry to have a public debate about the creation of the most intrusive blanket surveillance system known in modern times. It wasn’t that long ago since our politicians used to hold up the KGB or the East German Stassi as examples of what a free, democratic society should never allow. Now a Democratic President and such influential members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee like Democrat Diane Feinstein tolerate and promote an Owellian 1984 world in the supposedly freest country in the world.
NSA officials came before Congress and committed perjury. Their criminal behavior has been winked at. They lied to the elected officials who are supposedly their overseers. These officials should have been fired the very next day after they lied to Congress. Instead the President has down played the situation and their roles in concealing information from the American people.
Diane Feinstein talks of being scared of AlQaeda as if it was an enemy larger than Russia or China. She proposes watered down, get it off the front pages type NSA legislation so our government can continue its assault on our privacy and constitutional rights. Californians would do well to vote her out of office, should she choose to run again. She is one of too many Democrats who make up the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party. She may be a social liberal, but that does not offset her negatives when it comes to defense, surveillance, and Wall Street support.
Do not expect a full public discussion of the NSA appropriate scope of powers. With the assistance of defense and technology companies, the NSA has created the world’s most intrusion surveillance state. We are seeing more and more documents and topics become ‘classified’, the revelation of which is cavalierly considered a threat to our national security. We are seeing the threat of and prosecution of journalists and individuals who divulge information that embarrasses those in power. We have created ‘secret courts’ (FISA) that make the King’s Star Chamber proceedings look mickey mouse in comparison. There can be no justice and democracy in a country which does its business behind a curtain and then lies about it and then prosecutions in secret chambers, with gag orders, whether it be the FISA courts, the Guantanamo trials, or any other forum.
Free Trade Agreements. Democratic and Republican administrations have been pushing so called free trade agreements for over a decade now. These are a far cry from real free trade. These treaties are really grossly protectionist of the corporate global traders.
Our government warmed up with the likes of NAFTA. But there are bigger surprises coming this year. If you have not read about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), you might want to familiarize yourself with both of them. These treaties, if they are approved, will create a global power structure that will put an end to the sovereign nation-big and small.
The TTP and TTIP are being teed up for ‘fast track’ approval to avoid even informed Congressional approval. The similarities of the two trade agreements provides another window through which individuals can see what the influential rich financiers and corporations have in store for the citizens of all countries that agree to the disastrous provisions contained in these documents.
But first, you might ask who is and how are these agreements being negotiated. The answer is simple. For the last several years over 600 representatives of big corporations and global financiers have been meeting behind closed doors to draft the agreement provisions. No environmental, labor, or health groups have been allowed to the negotiating table. No small corporations or local governments have been allowed. No civil rights or democracy advocacy groups have been allowed. The wealthiest corporations have assembled their wish lists and have exclusively been doing the drafting of the provisions. No member of Congress has been permitted to attend.
Soon, the Obama administration will ask that the approvals be fast tracked. If Congress agrees to abdicate its Constitutional authority to conduct hearings, there may never be a full airing of the provisions of these agreements. Should Congress not succumb to fast tracking, then there might be some hearings. But, given all those elected representatives who depend on Wall Street and big corporate campaign funds, don’t expect much good to come of this process. This has been a three year long global corporate effort and their money will talk the loudest. They are not about to lose this too good to believe dream.
One might then ask why these agreements are necessary. The short answer is they are not. There is no lack of trade between the US and EU or the US and the Asian countries. In fact trade is robust. These agreements are designed to create global corporate supremacy over sovereign nations and states.
The most noxious provisions in these agreement are intended to prohibit nations from enacting safeguards in food safety, chemical safety, energy exploration safety, water and air safety, and job safety. Corporations have used NAFTA or NAFTA like provisions to sue Canada, Argentina, and Uruguay when those countries tried to protect their citizens from corporate activities that would pollute water and land, or impose warnings on tobacco products to protect the public health of citizens.
The free trade that these agreements seek is trade free of responsibility to comply with a country’s environmental protection laws, labor laws, disclosure laws, patent law, and any other law that corporations find requires acting as a responsible business concern. These trade agreements would create global courts and laws that would put citizens, consumers, and nature at risk and liable for damages to the corporations who are promoting these agreements.
These agreements go much farther than simply addressing trade issues. They attempt to provide world wide patent protections, will dictate the rules for fracking, will limit the safety review of drug approval, and will prohibit nations from requiring companies to disclose what is in our food. And, while they are at it, they will create a corporate friendly scheme of internet rules and regulations. And, these trade agreements will seek to create global judicial forums to take precedence over court systems in the participating nations.
2014 is sure to be an interesting year. We Americans have too little influence in this Citizen United world thanks to our radically regressive Supreme Court. But, we still are allowed to write to President Obama, our Senators, and Congress persons. Anything we do is better than being bystanders. The Vietnam War demonstrations galvanized the American political scene. The time has come to be creative as to how we try to be heard and insist on our views being reflected in Washington and State capitols across our nation.