Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gangs

Ross Gittins has a tremendous article on the most powerful gangs in America today. The article discusses these gangs from the perspective of a new book by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs. These gangs are wealthy, well-connected, and impact all of our lives on a daily basis. They have cost us trillions of dollars since they got started, and their influence is only getting worse as time goes on.

The four great gangs are the Military-Industrial Complex, the Wall Street-Washington Complex, Big Oil-Transport-Military Complex, and the Healthcare industry. Together, these four powerful industries have a huge stake in our economy and the direction of our nation.

The Military-Industrial Complex is an easy one to figure out. Defense contracts being given out without bid, decades of militarization all over the world, and a constant demand for better defense technologies have created a mass industry in America around war. That industry has paid for politicians for years who push for more military funding, more war, and more autonomy for the military and its contracted companies. Look at the state of perpetual war that has been going in the Middle East for over a decade now. That's not by accident; it's an investment in these powerful companies who make millions or even billions of dollars off of bloodshed, and then spend that money on politicians who will keep the ball rolling. This is why we have hyper-militarization and a DOD that is willing to whack anybody over anything.

Then there's the Wall Street-Washington Complex. Anyone who's paid attention for the last few years has probably heard about the issues with rampant speculation and risky investment on Wall St. But the trouble runs deeper than that. Many of the financial regulators in Washington come from backgrounds on Wall St. This "revolving door" between Washington and the financial sector has created major issues when it has come to regulating and prosecuting these institutions. Take Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most well-known and well-documented example. Cronyism is so common that it's not even surprising anymore. And like the analogy suggests, this is a two-way street, with people from powerful government positions in groups like the SEC going to Goldman, and Goldman execs taking their place.

The Big Oil-Transport-Military Complex is a little less apparent, but is perhaps one of the oldest gangs around. Big oil companies have a long history of working closely with automakers to produce the mutually beneficial situation where fossil fuels are the one and only source of energy used in our vehicles. Look at the history of the electric car, which was invented in the 1880's and then bought out and killed by oil-backed automakers. And the need for cheap, plentiful oil reserves have meant increased focus on places where those reserves are: the Middle East. It's an open secret that our interest in Middle Eastern affairs has less to do with spreading Democracy and more to do with getting at the oil there, as well as giving our government a reason to hand over billions in military contracts to folks like Halliburton, former VP Cheney's company.

Finally, we have the healthcare industry. Like the other gangs, healthcare has made billions of dollars for itself over the years, has bought lawmakers and pushed laws and deregulation, and has essentially monopolized it's own niche. The difference here, at least in my mind, is the devastating impact this has had on individual Americans. Think about it. Many insurance companies will not cover generics, will not allow you to go to certain homeopathic specialists or seek certain treatments because they are "untested." In reality, this means that the treatment has no financial incentive for the institution of health care. Not only does our medicine cost more, it has worse outcomes than in Europe. The healthcare industry grosses about 17% of our national GDP every year, the largest chunk from any one source. And do you know why? Because laws and regulations have been put in place that keep costs for pills and procedures at a premium, forcing people to pay for insurance programs, or get into Medicare or Medicaid, even for simple things.

Taken together, it's a very well-connected and distinctly corrupt group. These gangs are constantly pushing their agenda in Congress, using their financed politicians, lobbyists, and lawyers to craft, pass, and implement laws that benefit them, and tax and regulation reforms that help them. What we need is a way to break up these groups and suck the money out of them.

How do we do that? First, limit how much they can contribute to campaigns of politicians. I know that money comes from a lot of shady corners, but it doesn't have to be that way. Then, once we've cleaned the monopolist, globalizing puppets out of Congress, start passing tough regulations and laws that restrict the actions of these groups. Third, invest in those regulations. Right now, we've slashed the funding to the very organizations that are supposed to be routing out waste, fraud, and abuse. We need to give them the money to do what they are meant to, protect the interests of the American People.

If we can do that, we'll be on a firm footing to stop the wholesale fleecing of our nation by private organizations who see only profit, operate for their own benefit, and have been controlling the political discourse for decades. If we want a Democracy that includes us as a part of the solution, we have to be willing to do something about the problems.

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