Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who's In Charge?

Who’s in Charge?
by Tom Adler


It’s important to know who’s in charge of any aspect of one’s life. It creates a sense of security. You know what to expect and who you are dealing with. This is not to say that you like it but at least you know where you stand. In the case of our government I always thought, at least for the past three or four decades, that I knew who was in charge; the rich people and the large corporations. A recent news article, however, has shaken my belief system to the core and caused me great anxiety:
”Pharmaceutical giants Merck and GlaxoSmithKline are gearing up for a bruising showdown with America's religious right after the US medicines regulator approved a new blockbuster cervical cancer vaccine last week. Conservative groups, including the influential Family Research Council (FRC), have voiced concerns that immunizing young girls against the virus that most regularly causes cervical cancer, Human Papilloma- virus, may lead to sexual promiscuity.”
A few years ago this story would have been amusing but not alarming. Today it may get a silent shake of the head and provide material for a few comedians. But how many of us will go to our windows and shout into the darkness the now famous words “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. Who is running this country? The answer is not clear. Until shortly after World War ll the people who lived here were in charge. That was a good time---not for everything, because there is never a good time for everything. There were crooks in government but somehow it was a discernable, understandable form of crookedness. For wont of a better term let’s call it a Huey Long kind of dishonesty. It could be dealt with. You knew it was there-not too many people got hurt by it, some people even chuckled, taking a sort of perverse pride in it—“What the hell you gonna do-this is Chicago” (or New York –you fill in the city). Once in awhile some public official went to the slammer amidst great fanfare but most stayed under the radar and retired to a nice house in the country. It was all manageable. But times have changed.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower who had been a five star general and the Supreme Commander of all allied forces in World War ll said in his farewell address to the nation in 1960:
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. “

It has become clear that the military industrial complex including Merck and Glaxo Smith Kline and other large corporations like Halliburton have been running the country as Eisenhower had predicted. How did this come to pass? The answer is clearly through the selling of public offices. Because of the absence of any meaningful campaign finance laws politicians are forced into the necessity of raising huge amounts of money just to keep their jobs. Thus they look to the individuals and corporations who can contribute the largest sums to their campaigns. Sometime during the last few decades politicians have become conditioned to only open their doors to the rich. Much like Pavlov’s dogs they y salivate in the presence of cash rather than principal. According to the Center for Public Integrity, between 1998-2004, California companies and organizations spent $806,427,813 on lobbying Washington. The natural consequence of this pervasive influence of money is that the poor, the minorities, the disabled and the young have been completely marginalized and have no voice. Money has displaced virtually every virtue discussed in the Bible which brings us to the paradox of how politicians have come to embrace the religious right. It’s almost as though they realize that they are not legislating in the people’s best interest any longer and seek absolution for this sin by attaching themselves to the supposed Christian ethic of the right wing.
Unfortunately their purpose is not so high minded. It’s rather simple. It’s just that the right wing preachers turn out the vote so the legislators mimic their thoughts by supporting a ban on gay marriages, stem cell research, abortions and a host of other issues that government has no business being involved in. And so the poor go unfed, the elderly can’t afford prescriptions, the public schools are in chaos, the rich get richer through unconscionable tax breaks and corporate executives rob shareholders.
The cervical cancer vaccine dispute puts the Congress in a really tough position. Do they go with the military industrial complex (Merck/Glaxo) or do they go with the neoconservative evangelists? In other words do they risk the loss of money or the loss of votes? I’ll bet the poor, disabled, minorities and disenfranchised are glad they don’t have to make these tough decisions. They just have to figure out how to stay alive in a country that doesn’t care what happens to them
©2006 Tom Adler

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