Capitalism is Dying

     Capitalism is dying, boy. It’s dying of its own internal contradictions.[He was, after all, a Wall Street financier, so I listened carefully.] You think the revolution’s gonna take five years. It’s gonna take fifty! So keep your head down and hang in for the long haul, because I’ll tell you something. The sons of bitches running things don’t give a shit about their children or their grandchildren, and they certainly don’t give a shit about you! They’ve paid their dues, and they want to get out with theirs! They’re gonna sell off everything that’s not nailed down to the highest bidder. Don’t get crushed when it topples down. Take care of yourself and your family. If you can make a difference, do it, but there are huge forces at work here, and they have to play themselves out according to their own design, not yours. Watch yourself.     
       Wall Street Financier, Morris Cohon, to his son, Peter Coyote—Winter of 1969/1970

     The above passage is from Peter Coyote’s excellent memoir, “Sleeping Where I Fall”. In the next sentence, Coyote adds,
     As far as I can determine, everything he prophesied has come true.

   Sure enough, last year, 2008, balls out free market capitalism stepped on its dick and fell on its ass. We had lived a fantasy for nearly thirty years. In the interest of short term gain, Reagan peeled back New Deal banking regulations designed to avert thirties style crashes, Clinton peeled them back some more. The elder Bush knew Reaganomics was folly, he called it “Voodoo Economics” when he ran against Reagan, but by the time he got in, there was no stopping the allure of the fantasy. To step out in front of it would have been political suicide, so he didn’t try. Greed was seen as a good thing, markets were deemed to be infallible. We failed to see Enron’s implosion as the  microcosm for the global economy that it proved to be. Suddenly we witnessed an economic crash, the scale of which us forty somethings had been raised to believe we would never see. We had always been told we were safe now, the daddies were in charge, and they had learned from the Great Depression, they had put in safeguards . . .

Oops, they took the safeguards out, too cumbersome and restrictive of the free market.

     Yet we cling to the notion of capitalism as if it were the only thing that keeps us American.  We still demonize any form of Socialism. Long ago, the term Socialism was, in our country, linked to Soviet Communism, which was reciprocally linked to the devil. It’s very easy for the right to get their base stirred up, because the buzzwords have been in place for nearly a century. All that mean little parrot, Phil Gramm, ever had to do was start squawking the words “Socialized Medicine! Socialized Medicine!”, then throw in a dash of Harry and Louise and the Clinton Health Bill’s threat to the private insurer and pharmaceutical corporation dominated status quo was over and done with.

     My paternal grandfather railed against the prospect of Socialized Medicine and always hated Lyndon Johnson, but he took his Medicare just like everybody else. Socialized Medicine is ok as long as we call it something else, like “Medicare”. Johnson was for sure a genius, folks. Yes, he was also crooked, but he got some good things done.

    I personally, have no problem with Socialized Medicine, even when called by its proper name. To me, Socialized Medicine means the lady that checks me in at the hospital doesn’t first ask me how I intend to pay for services rendered, but rather asks me, “Where does it hurt?” I know people who have had such an experience, people who live in countries that we now call Socialist, places like Britain and France, NATO allied nations who stood with us against the “Evil Empire” during the cold war, nations that were considered to be part of the free world then, Socialist attitudes toward medicine notwithstanding. True, citizens of France do pay high taxes, but they get something in return, universal free health care. Our tax money mostly goes to the military, half of it anyway. We Americans don’t want our government all up in our business, so rather than pay for government health care, we prefer to pay private insurers who do everything in their power to keep from honoring claims, to keep from actually providing the care that our insurance dollars are supposed to guarantee to those few of us to whom they actually grant policies.  I don’t have insurance. My insurance company was bought out by another. The new parent company staggered the premium schedule and I missed a payment while on the road with my band. I came home to find I was uninsured. That particular insurance company was lame anyway, so I didn’t much care, but I dicked around and didn’t get aggressive about finding a new insurer until after I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Sure, you can argue that in this environment, my predicament is my own fault. Fair enough, I did know the rules here. But I have friends who are much worse off than I, friends for whom “this environment” is poisonous. One has a child with a bone disease. He had insurance, but his insurer was allowed to go bankrupt, leaving my friend’s child uninsured with a serious pre existing condition. Texas High Risk Pool is his only option, ten thousand dollar deductible, I believe. My friend’s experience is just one of many examples that illustrate the pure immorality of our healthcare for profit system.

     Healthcare for profit capitalizes on illness. To profit on drugs and surgeries one must have a steady supply of sick people. We have some very sick people among us and we seem hell bent on keeping them sick. Every time I go to the supermarket, I see fat people, and I don’t just mean regular old fat, I mean grossly obese. Many are diabetic amputees in electric wheelchairs. Soft drinks seem to be a popular item with them. I don’t remember seeing such people when I was a child, when I pretty much lived on Dr. Peppers, which were then sweetened with cane sugar, rather than the high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten nearly everything today, a sweetener that our bodies just don’t know how to handle. I don’t know if the corn lobby is in cahoots with the makers of those electric wheelchairs, but I would say the times are good for both. I make my living driving across the country, occasionally stopping at Walmart for fresh socks. I see obese people in the Walmart and miles and miles of nothing but corn from eastern Nebraska to eastern Ohio, one big cornfield. Correlation does not imply cause, but one does notice.

     I don’t understand the preoccupation, fanciful or not, of the angry white people at the town hall meetings, with the notion that the government might tell them which doctor they can see. Even if the fear mongers were right this time and the government really was going to dictate to us our choice of doctors, so what? If  I could see a reasonably competent doctor for free, I’d be perfectly glad to see the doctor of my government’s choice. Most of us can’t really choose our doctors anyway. If we don’t want to pay out of pocket, then we must find a doctor who takes our insurance. And as for the  “death panels” hysteria, we already have death panels. We call them private insurers. Insurers decide who gets coverage and who does not, in effect, who lives or dies, and they base their decisions on potential profit.  And in the arena of potential profit, white people still tend to fare better that the rest.

     I believe that our chief objection to any form of socialism is, and has always been, rooted in racism. Thirty years ago, the specter of the Cadillac driving black welfare mother was the A-Number One bogeyman for the angry white man against socialism crowd. The notion that that same Cadillac driving black woman might receive federal dollars to pay for an abortion would really get the bibles thumping(funny how fathers are always left out of the abortion equation. No one blames the irresponsible male who knocked up the Cadillac driving black welfare mother. And the same people who want to ban abortion don’t seem to favor open discussion of contraception. weird).

     Now, it seems that the illegal alien has eclipsed the black welfare mom as bogeyman du jour. Our bigots have progressed. Fearing a backlash of political correctness(and subsequent loss of funding), they no longer engage in unabashed racism. Now they cloak their racism in nationalism, the second string motivator of the paranoid moron masses, easily spun as patriotism, a supposedly more noble virtue. But what sort of illegal aliens do they fear?

     I once employed an illegal alien, a tour manager from New Zealand, white fella. Once, while traveling East along interstate 10 back in the pre-Homeland Security days, we came to a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. When the man in the green uniform asked if everyone in the van was a U.S. citizen, the tour manager simply answered, “Sure mate”. The man in the green uniform was eyeing our San Antonio born and raised Hispanic bass player rather suspiciously and didn’t seem to notice the tour manager’s Kiwi/Aussie accent. He eyed the bass player for a second or two longer and then waved us on.

     I don’t think the town hall hooligans are worried about Kiwi tour managers receiving health care on their dime. When they say “illegal aliens” they mean “brown people”.

    Why would it be such a terrible thing for a brown person from another country to receive free healthcare here in the U.S.? My current bass player was recently treated for a bad flu while touring in Germany. I think the doctor visit cost about twenty-five dollars and they didn’t mind that he wasn’t a German citizen or that he didn’t pay German taxes. He was sick, so they tried to help him.

We don’t seem to have any trouble finding the money to fly planes halfway across the world to drop bombs on brown people. That gets pretty expensive you know. I’d be willing to bet that socialized medicine is cheaper than war. Maybe Iraqi oil revenue could pay for our healthcare, just like it paid for the invasion of Iraq . . .   right, it didn’t pay for the invasion, our great grandchildren will have to do that, but when Rumsfeld put forth that wonderful piece of fiction, did any future town hall storming, bible thumping, constitution waving pissed off red faced white guy question Rummy’s logic? Nope

     Europeans can be racists too. They don’t necessarily like it that the dark skinned natives of their former colonies came home to them when the great colonial empires collapsed, but they grant them citizenship and extend to them the requisite benefits of citizenship while occasionally grousing about the dilution of their national character. They have their extreme nationalist factions and lunatic fringes, but they recognize them as such and for the most part behave sensibly. They’re not afraid of big government, because to them, governments are service organizations designed to aid the people. And when they don’t like their governments, they throw them out. Remember W’s “coalition of the willing”? It consisted  mostly of our troops, a good many British, a few Aussies and Italians, and a hundred or so Spaniards. The Spaniards all went home after their people caught their government in a lie. Bombs had gone off in the Madrid Metro. At the behest of our government, the Spanish government blamed the bombing on ETA, the Basque separatist movement. The Bush administration didn’t want anyone to think the bombings could have been done by Al Quaida, so they talked the Spanish government in to blaming ETA. But Spaniards aren’t stupid. They’re sick of ETA, but they know that ETA does not indiscriminately bomb subway stations. They saw through the lie, tossed their government out on its ass, and brought their troops home from Iraq. Spain, it seems, is an actual democracy. Perhaps we’ll be a democracy someday.

   We have recently made bold strides towards democracy. We flipped the majorities in both houses of congress and voted in a President from the previously underdog party because a vast majority of us were sick of the status quo.  And I did say “vast majority”.

     Obama won by a fucking landslide, people. Unlike Bush’s two elections, Obama’s election was nowhere near close enough to steal. We, the vast majority that voted for Obama, knew he would try to reform healthcare. So, why are the town hall mobs getting so much media attention? They can’t constitute that much of the electorate. Probably, the media needs a story to sell, and they can sell it more effectively if they add suspense by making the playing field look even. Republicans aren’t acting like the field is even. They are snarling like cornered wolves, booing and hissing at the President during his address to the joint session of Congress. People get mean when they feel outnumbered. Joe Wilson and his ilk can still stir up their base, but their base is shrinking.

     Still, they might block healthcare reform one more time. The drug companies and insurers have so much money with which to combat common sense, that we may have to go another round. But universal health coverage will come to the people of the U.S. and its opponents know it. The only question is, how broke will Americans have to be before they no longer care whether or not their health care system would once have been considered Socialist and rise up and demand the reform that should have been theirs long ago? It’s true that when it is ultimately implemented, our newly socialized healthcare system will be an unholy mess for a while, because we don’t yet know how to do universal healthcare. If we’d let President Truman have his way, and implemented universal health care sixty years ago, when the rest of the free world did it, we’d probably have our system worked out by now.

     I’ve noticed that some of the people who don’t want healthcare reform are also upset by Obama’s stimulus package. They were also upset by Bush’s stimulus package, and I don’t blame them. I’m upset too. I don’t like it that we have to bail out the people who ripped us off, but that seems to have been the only viable course of action. Paul Krugman seems to think it worked, at least for now. From my hotel window in downtown Cincinnati, I don’t see any bread lines. I’ll pose a question to those who’s greatest fear is socialism. Those bankers that you hate so much, those bankers whose bailouts your grandchildren will be paying for while they’re also paying for the wars and maybe a bit of healthcare, those terrible evil banker people . . . are they socialists?

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