Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mr. Smith never went to Washington

So Trent Lott wants to cash in after 19 years in the Senate by retiring just one year after beginning his fourth term. So he's got an eye on K St. and the oodles and oodles of money that awaits him after he begins what it certain to begin an exceptionally lucrative lobbying career. So he didn't really mean it when he told Mississippi voters in 2006 that he was there for the long haul so he could continue to direct hurricane relief back home. So he persuaded his Republican colleagues to return him to a position of leadership after he was ousted over his remarks praising Strom Thurmond's early commitment to segregation so he could garner more influence over legislation and deal-making, Setting the stage for his return to those battles as a high-priced lobbyist with unparalleled access.

So this is surprising . . . why? Just what the hell is so shocking about an American politician looking for more money? Should Lott move to K St., he'll join 37 former senators and 158 representatives as registered lobbyists on Capitol Hill. You would think Lott is the first senator to forsake the "honor of public service" for largess in the private sector by the reading the Washington Post's editorial this morning, which chastised Lott for his "unseemly" decision.

Please.

The American political system is hopelessly corrupt. Money and who spends it has everything to do with what happens in American politics, whether the issue involves the ethics of allowing private contractors to have law enforcement and quasi-military powers in Iraq to what industries get protected and why under the guise of economic regulation to whether Congress should intervene to prevent life-support from being withdrawn from Teri Schaivo, a decision that was pushed by the powerful Christian right-wing of the Republican party. Americans are in a fundamental state of denial about the power that the moneyed classes have in politics. The rich write the rules, not the poor. Why can't most Americans see this? No matter how much they complain about the Iraq war, home foreclosures, health care, education, the dearth of well-paying jobs, Americans don't seem to want major change. Over 95% of the time, they return the same senators and representatives to office year after year. We spend more time finding scapegoats that have little or no power to alter the flow of the American political economy -- Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the Duke English department, Yale Law School, Al Sharpton, gun control advocates, Michael Moore, Jenna Jameson or NPR -- than demanding that our political leaders explain why the distribution of income in the United States continues to skew more and more towards a relatively small professional class that enjoys the overwhelming share of income in the United States, leaving the middle and lower classes further and further behind.

Americans are desperate, as so many visitors from foreign countries, dating all the way back to Alexis de Tocqueville, have observed, to believe the narrative handed down to them by our myth-making industries. American television, the advertising business and the public relations departments of American-based multinational corporations spend billions of dollars per year reminding Americans that ours is the greatest country in the world, that no other country is as free, as healthy, as well-to-do, as imaginative or as open as the United States. Rather than confront the realities of living in a political society that equates social justice with the distribution of income and rights through economic markets, Americans choose denial. By 2009, China will become Detroit-based General Motors biggest car market. Sales of GM cars outside the United States now account for a majority of the auto maker's business. GM is eliminating jobs by the thousands in the United States while creating them abroad. Do you think the industry chieftains who keep their favorite politicians in power care that we will make China our largest trading partner even though it uses government-mandated abortion as a form of birth control? Do you think President Bush is losing sleep over that paradox? Not a bit.

I finished watching yesterday Michael Moore's newest movie, "Sicko," which is nothing less than a full-scale, no-holds-barred indictment of the American health care system. I know enough about Michael Moore and usually enough about the subject matter he chooses to know whether he's entertaining me or educating me. This is very, very powerful documentary . . . far more authentic and devoid of the sometimes clamoring self-righteousness that Whole Foods customers like to strut on the way to their Mercedes and Range Rovers and sporty Lexus coupes, persuaded, despite their personal wealth in the renumerative private sector, that they are keeping it real and representin' the working man by buying non-petroleum based bathroom cleaners and cheeses delivered by unionized hands from a simple but friendly native from a faraway land. Whatever you want to say about Moore's methods, this much is clear after watching "Sicko": American don't have a health care system. We have providers of health care services like we have providers of iPods, Tinkertoys and the complete line of Bed Head hair products. We have a system that is based on the profit motive and is answerable to share holders and other investors. For most Americans, medical treatment is determined by insurance companies, not doctors. For the approximately 55 million Americans without health insurance, their medical treatment is determined by their income. They have no guarantee to health care. We know all this and yet we continue to resist -- fail to demand, is more accurate -- a true universally accessible health care system funded by tax dollars and shared collectively. America spends more money than any other country in the world on health care and yet is the only developed nation that does not have a publicly funded national health care system.

I don't even bother listening to what the different candidates have to say about health care because no talk of any "reform" without a call to completely junk our current approach and follow the European or Canadian models has any meaning. Too many people have too much money and power to lose. Our horrible national health care crisis will continue unless we take the for-profit motive out of medicine. And that's not even getting to pharmaceuticals -- another awful problem because of our privately held health care model.

Americans should be shocked when they see these stories but they're not. We'll talk about how corrupt Russia or Pakistan's political system is and then look the other way when talking about our own. We cannot even regulate campaign expenditures and donations because powerful private interests have succeeded in persuading the courts their money is really speech. Not to let them get behind a candidate amounts to a First Amendment violation of the worst sort.

This is the world we live in. For whatever reason we choose to believe that it's not.

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