It was 5:00 in the morning. As per my regular routine, I had just gotten out of bed and was watching the news while I waited for the coffee to brew. Now, we all know that few enough news stories are positive these days, but what I saw this particular morning gave the typical bad news a run for its figurative money. Since President Obama has declared the H1N1 influenza a national emergency, doses of the vaccine were to be delivered for the use of those at especially high risk of complications from disease. These groups are children, pregnant women, health care workers, older people with respiratory conditions, and evidently, Wall Street executives! That’s right, financial wizards have been getting H1N1 vaccinations on a priority above such unworthy recipients as hospitals! MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” reported that some hospitals have actually been provided with fewer doses of the crucial vaccine than Goldman Sachs and Citibank’s corporate offices.
I was furious. Livid. Boiling with incomprehensible rage. “How greedy can these bastards be,” I thought to myself, “that they would actually put children and people in critical condition at risk of death to make sure they got the vaccine?” I wasn’t the only one. News outlets all day were pounding their fists on their formica desks in an expression of heated dissatisfaction at such ridiculous preferential treatment to the “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street.
Then I got to thinking… Why is this surprising?
At 30 years old, I cannot remember a time when the unofficial (yet completely obvious) policy of the government was to benefit big business at the expense of the common, working taxpayer. From Reagan’s trickle-down economic plan (to which my father has always referred as “trickle-on), to Bush Sr.’s continuation of most of the same policies, to Clinton’s passage of NAFTA and welfare “reform,” my childhood was dominated by leaders who were clearly beholden not to the majority of voters, but to the majority of campaign contributions.
This didn’t change in my adult years, most of which were spent lamenting the illegal (yet somehow in power) George W. Bush administration. Through those years, we saw massive tax breaks for the top 10% of the population, many of whom have never actually produced anything of intrinsic value in their lives. We also saw a level of financial deregulation that enabled Wall Street to create the debacle in which we currently find ourselves, wars fought and Americans soldiers (almost entirely composed of the working class) killed in order to maintain clear shipping lanes for huge petro-businesses, and no-bid contracts awarded to military contractors on a cost-plus payment schedule that rewarded inefficiency with ever more of my hard-earned tax dollars. For those of you who don’t already know, cost-plus is a payment structure that reimburses contractors all of their costs plus a percentage of whatever that cost may have been. So if you’re paying 5% on that, you get $50,000 of profits for every $1 million you spend. If you spend more, you get more. In essence, Haliburton, KBR, Blackwater, and others were given our money to spend, and a bonus if they wasted it all and didn’t come in under budget.
Finally, there was the armed-robbery-by-proxy known more commonly as TARP. Since the government had deregulated banks so much, they were free to gouge us to the point that there was no more money left for them to gouge. When that happened, investment firms’ finances collapsed, and so their friends in the federal government took what will eventually amount to over $13 trillion away from us and gave it to the guys who had been ripping us off for the last 30 years. Nice.
With Barack Obama’s election, based on ideas like “hope” and “change,” I really thought all this chicanery would end. Boy, was I wrong. More and more it looks like the feds are going to require us all to purchase private health insurance, with the vaunted “public option” being available only to about 10% of the public. TARP continues unabated and in some ways even strengthened, as many regulations forcing smaller brokerages to prove honest accounting have been wiped from the law books. Now, finally, when there is a declared public health emergency, the owners and executives of big banks are being given preventative treatment, on our dime, ahead of the regular folks truly in need of the vaccine. Yup, sounds about par for the course.
Here’s the thing. I should have known better than to hope. I had no reasonable expectation that the continued predation of the super-rich upon the rest of us would cease, or that the people who are supposed to be my employees would stop helping these greedy scumbags with their Robin-Hood-in-reverse schemes. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, “we the people” are crazy as hell. Government will not solve your problems. The fabled free market will not solve your problems. They are working together to create your problems, just like they’ve been doing for my entire life and certainly even before that. No matter what party we follow or for whom we vote, it all turns out just as the great Robert Plant said back when Zeppelin was still together and awesome, “the song remains the same.”