Snapshots of Our Economy and Politics†
by Ralph Nader
May 12, 2003
This is a column of tidbits -- to be sure, important tidbits. I think they are part of a mosaic of our times. But I'll let you decide your favorite theme that runs through them. Here goes.
1. Congress refuses to raise the federal minimum wage to the level of purchasing power that existed in 1968. At $5.15, it is over 33% less now in the goods and services it can buy than what workers received 35 years ago. Yet Congress increases its own salaries just about every year -- presently indexing it to inflation at over $75 per hour plus great benefits and perks.
2. After deceiving investors of tens of billions of dollars, ten Wall St. Firms were slapped on the wrist by the SEC and the New York Attorney General. The "settlement" amounted to a total of $1.4 billion (much of it deductible) which is the equivalent of two drops in the bucket.
There were no signs of any prosecution of the big boys. No signs of investors getting much money back, though the bidding arbitration clauses make any real litigation unlikely. No interest in facilitating the banding together of millions of investors through compulsory notices in mailings from these firms to their customers that invite investors to join together and become a powerful group for a change. The best Senators could do at a recent hearing on this fraud was to wonder whether "Wall Street gets it." Hope rather than tough sanctions is what springs eternal on Capitol Hill.
3. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams issues two statements in four years on his grand vision for the D.C. Library system, declares doing something about the District's 37% functional illiteracy rate, and then cuts the tiny budget of the starved Library system with its 26 branches even further. At the same time, he announces a $338 million tax package for a desired new major league baseball stadium.
4. The Wall Street Journal reports that some insurers and critics believe that the giant insurance company -- AIG -- is overstating the severity of the medical malpractice litigation crisis as a way of justifying large rate increases inflicted on physicians and hospitals. No kidding! This is what the insurance companies have been doing every time the stock market and interest rates go down on their investments.
Since the physicians never want to be sued and since organized medicine, like the American Medical Association and its state counterparts, refuses to crackdown on the small percentage of bad doctors who account for the lion's share of the liability payouts, they become willing tools of their insurers.
Abandoning their patients in gross violation of medical ethics, all too many physicians march on the state houses demanding variations of immunity from the less than one in ten litigating victims of incompetence or negligence that is taking 80,000 American lives a year, according to the Harvard School of Public Health studies. "Patients Face Cancellations, Delays, Prescription Hassles," headlines the Journal.
Lost in these mindless manipulations is insensitivity to the enormous loss of life and preventable injuries from medical and hospital mayhem.
As for those costly insurance policies for physicians, take all their premiums and divide the dollars by the number of practicing physicians, the average premium would be under $10,000 a year for each doctor -- about a third of what physicians pay for a seasoned receptionist. Instead, insurers break out physicians into over 20 classifications to reduce the insurable pool -- as for OBGYNS -- and skyrocket the premium.
5. President Bush wants to bring democracy to Iraq but stubbornly refuses to support Congressional voting representation for the people of the District of Columbia whose sons and daughters are in Iraq. Residents of the District pay full federal income taxes but have no Senators or Representative.
6. The biotechnology industry's grip on the Food and Drug Administration continues to deprive American consumers of their strong desire to have biotech food labeled as such in the supermarkets. While the fish farms growing salmon oppose any disclosure and labeling of the dyes they are using to color the salmon pink from their real color which is gray. Unlike ocean salmon whose pink color comes from their consumption of crustaceans, expanding farm-grown antibiotic-doused salmon have no such luck.
So what do you make from these snapshots of our economy and politics? What do they add up to? What is your mosaic of interpretation?
Ralph Nader is Americaís leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martinís Press, 2002)