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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Is Government Now a Tool?

It is, as they say, past time to speak plainly about what must be done to rescue this country from an errant path.  It is past time to admit that money and privilege, and the power that accompanies them, are keys integral to many of our societal problems and our inability to effect necessary changes in our systems of economics and governing. 
It’s been said that “Money is the Root of all Evil.”  That axiom is not totally true: it is not money per se that causes problems and chaotic outcomes: it is the love of money.  Moreover, it is the abuse of wealth or riches that causes difficulties for others and for the institutions that enable us to function as an ordered and benevolent society and government. 

When wealthy men and women, corporations and retail giants, as well as for-profit service enterprises believe that they have no particular responsibility for the un-wealthy or the unhealthy, the uneducated, or for those with challenges brought on from beyond ordinary human control, there has occurred a disconnect of profound consequences.  When the wealthy no longer see themselves as defenders of those who are poor, widowed, orphaned; sick, infirm, or who happen to be different in class or status from them, there has occurred a wrenching twist of democratic and humanistic values.  This is a crisis of major proportions; for when the rich see no obligation or responsibility for persons in need, or for a society that has enriched their fortunes, they have abandoned a moral compass that binds societies together, especially those societies that have a basis in democratic values of human rights, dignity, opportunity and mutual responsibility for each other. 
 The present situation in which we find ourselves is not simply one of inequality and disconnect.  It is rather a situation akin to highway robbery and criminal neglect. By eschewing the responsibility of caring for people who lack what they possess, or by taking from the poorer and middle classes a goodly portion of their wages, rights and opportunities, certain wealthy individuals and businesses and corporations have gained ever broader wealth, privilege and power but we do not.  They advance on the backs of the rest of us by their well- planned (perhaps nefarious) schemes and scams designed to rob the 99% while fulfilling or enhancing the status and power of the 1%.  What is terribly sad is the lack of understanding by too many of the 99% that the rich and the powerful tend to want to control our society. (See the list of questions posted on 4/5/2017 to illustrate just this point).
We will not have true service of the People again by citizen representatives committed to their constituents until we break the stranglehold that the Elite 1% now exert at so many points in our economic and governing systems.  Let’s take a brief look at some of the manipulations they perform as a part of “doing business” in three common areas of our lives.   
A)    Insurance – taking advantage of life’s exigencies: we have been thoroughly bamboozled and ripped-off by private insurance companies and yet we continue to believe in them and even protect them from “government encroachment or takeover.”  The word “socialism” applied to government operation and oversight of health care apparently still frightens many to the core of their being.  Other key words and phrases continue to extend one of the largest scams in the history of economic propaganda.  We are quick to react when we hear that government-run plans will take away choice of ‘doctor’, or cause ‘waiting lines’ for treatment and surgery, or ‘take away’ our freedom to choose a plan that suits a person’s or family’s particular needs. Yet, we fail to recognize that private health insurance companies are the very ones who perpetrate all of these restrictions and penalties.  If "Trumpcare" becomes law, we shall soon enough experience all the penalties, limitations and restrictions that they will be free to impose once again. 
What other rip-offs and scams do the insurance giants foist upon the public.  We have enough time to mention a few out of many:
·         They use the language of insurance policies to confuse the consumer.  So, before we ever use our insurance or file a claim, we are mesmerized by the language of the policy to the extent that we finally give-up and trust in what the agent tells us is in there.
·         Have you ever in your life been given a thorough explanation of how your premiums are calculated, and to what purposes they are assigned?  Have you ever understood how your premium increases are figured or what exactly the increases cover?  Have you ever been appraised of what portion of your premiums goes to administrative overhead and how much is applied to your benefits?  Do you have any idea whatsoever how much your insurance company spends on overhead like staff, buildings, advertising, equipment and supplies and upkeep, and how that affects your premiums and your benefits and the restrictions placed on your policy?  Of course not.... 
·         To carry this just a bit further, do you happen to know that the CEOs of the major health insurance and drug companies receive outrageous salary packages that influence how premiums are figured and how claims are processed?  Ever considered why it sometimes takes forever to process large insurance claims while premiums must be paid on-time or you risk losing coverage? No?  well maybe the following list of salary packages paid to CEO’s in healthcare insurance and drug companies will help you put this in some perspective.
Leonard S. Schleifer Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN)        $28,337,520                          
Michael F. Neidorff Centene (CNC)                                          $21,968,983  
Christopher A. Holden Envision Healthcare (EVHC)             $21,726,391  
Daniel P. Amos Aflac (AFL)                                                        $20,412,010                                       
Alan B. Miller Universal Health Services (UHS)                        $19,823,149   
Walter W. Bettinger II Charles Schwab (SCHW)                      $19,547,649    
Yes, we are talking here of compensation packages in the millions per year, and some reports include other types of income not included here.
B) New Car Purchases – the system is rigged and you are the victim.  “MSRP” (‘Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price’) is the beginning of several steps designed to develop as much profit as possible for the dealer.  MSRP – nothing more than a mark-up on what it actually costs to manufacture the car. Find actual costs of car parts and accessories on websites like www.edmunds.com or www.carbuyingtips.com.
By the way, in how many cases when you are buying something, must you sit down and negotiate a final price?  Except for those who make negotiation a way of life, ordinary consumers usually pay a fixed or advertised or sale price for merchandise or services, except perhaps for a big-ticket item like a house or a car.  And why is that negotiation so important?  Because it gives the advantage to the seller who is the only party present who knows the actual value or worth of the product.  The consumer is generally in-the-dark, unless, of course, he or she does some extensive preparation by trolling web sites for ‘wholesale prices’ or ‘stock prices’ ‘dealer cost’ or ‘average selling price in your area.’  How many consumers actually prepare in that manner?  Who knows? – a small fraction most likely. 

So, what else goes on that is likely to leave you, not only bamboozled, but less solvent than when you started down this road to a new vehicle?
·     Extra Fees – beware the dealer’s ‘prep. fee’, a ‘destination fee’ that manufacturers supposedly charge the dealer, and a ‘doc. fee’ to cover all the documents that have to be filled out.  

·    Extras you Don’t Need—beware the “sit-down” with the “financial advisor” or the “business manager” who wants to wrap up the deal but who first wants to make sure you know about items that may be crucial for you and the life of your new car, like: under-carriage protective coating or over-all rust protection or an extended warranty or a lifetime service contract, or some other useless gimmick that increases your final cost but mainly adds to the dealer’s profit.
·    Added Accessories – the salesman by a certain point has probably sized-up your characteristics as a consumer, and will inevitably attempt to draw your attention to some of the quality accessories not regularly available on the model you have chosen.  They will range from specialty tires to extra protection for the finish of the car like mudguards, side panels, rear bumper guards, etc.  How about an enhancement of the computer system or of the GPS or of the sound system, or maybe of the alarm system?  Or, perhaps you might like the special they have this month on a one-time-only basis.  It could be just about anything, and you might jump at its exclusivity.  Don’t! You can probably buy it cheaper at some auto supply store.
·    Financing—these dealers are good customers of banks; they have an inside track but you do not.  They can up the dealer’s profit by selling you a dealer interest rate on which they are earning a profit.  Best practice if you can: have financing all worked out before you even enter the dealership.  Or, if you can’t do that, at least have knowledge of the various rates available at local and nation-wide lenders, so that you know what rate is acceptable and not exorbitant.

We could go on forever about auto dealer and manufacturer scams, but instead, let’s see what is happening with the retail treatment of death and sorrow.  It’s not pretty.



C) Funeral Business—built on the human inevitabilities of death and sorrow, the funeral industry encompasses a wide-range of products and services that ultimately depend upon deeply ingrained emotions, myths and beliefs.  Profit-mongers tend to take advantage of such built-in feelings and biases in every business because of the ability to manipulate and influence the people caught in their strong hold upon the psyche. The funeral business is apt to use acceptable forms of manipulation such as sympathy, empathy and personal attention and support as their tools in well-hidden attempts at squeezing out the most profit imaginable from caskets, flowers, burial fees, preparation of the physical corpse for viewing, or even of the action of cremation. 

Of course, the ‘advance planning’ of funerals is now in much favor because although made in advance without the deep emotions attendant upon a current death, there is a tendency to play upon feelings of what is appropriate and meaningful and thoughtful and acceptable within society’s norms and standards.  So, there is still a manipulative set of emotions, myths and beliefs upon which to feed. Let me mention just a few of the ‘tools’ used to boost profit.
·         The Lists:  “at initial contact, federal law requires that funeral homes provide you with three pricing lists: one for all goods and services offered, another for caskets and a third for grave liners or "outer burial containers. This so-called Funeral Rule also forbids funeral homes from requiring services that must be optional by law (such as embalming), or insisting that caskets and other items be directly purchased from them as a condition of providing memorial services. Nor can you be charged extra for services if you choose to buy the casket elsewhere, a common way to save money.  The Federal Trade Commission (which oversees the Funeral Rule) conducts undercover visits to test compliance. In recent years, roughly 1 in 4 funeral homes surveyed by this method was in violation in some way, most often for failing to provide pricing lists.” (AARP)
·         Pre-Paying: another AARP caution relates to pre-payment for funeral services during advanced planning.   “A recent FBI bust of a prepaid funeral scheme (found) some 97,000 people in 16 states lost more than $450 million in funeral goods and services that were paid for in advance but never provided. Even with well-established, legitimate funeral homes... you need to consider: ‘If you retire out of state, will your prepaid funds be honored? State laws vary on whether prepaid funds are transferable — or by how much. Will that home still be in business when you die’?”
  • Protective Gasket Scam – according to www.scambusters.org, “
    “The protective casket has been called the biggest rip-off in the funeral industry. The gasket costs $12 to $20, yet funeral homes typically charge $700 more for models with gaskets than for those without.  The Funeral Help Program says the gasket can actually have exactly the opposite effect. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that “protective” features like the gasket help preserve the remains indefinitely, because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket.”

Again, let me be clear:  Not all businessmen and women are involved in schemes and scams that bilk the public in order to boost profit.  On the other hand, the profit motive is very much ensconced in all business operations and in those who operate them.  And for those who seek to reach a high degree of success and wealth, it is the prime motivation.  For everyone in business, it is at least a part of their modus operandi and of their guiding purpose and principle. 
Let me also be clear in saying that I have chosen three examples of businesses that indicate that the profit motive is very real, and, because it is present in all of business-for-profit, there is no one who is free from the temptation to boost profits by the use of some form of consumer manipulation or by actual fraud.  In fact, some manipulative measures are so accepted or ingrained that neither the consumer nor the seller realize they have taken part in a rigged system or a rigged transaction.

In conclusion, I venture to offer the following thoughts for your consideration:
1.   We cannot continue to allow business and the wealthy to dictate the outcomes and directions for this country; to dictate public policy, or to direct public functions like elections and voting, the military, education, etc. 
2.   We cannot continue to believe and act as though government is best run according to business principles or values because the pursuit of profit or monetary power is a hindrance to equality, liberty and the public’s interest. In addition, there is no such thing as “free markets” or “laissez-faire” capitalism; there are only advantages/disadvantages; buyers/sellers; winners/losers; boosters/detractors, power/lack of power.  In essence, we might want to take seriously the proposition that business principles and free market and trickle-down ideology are basically anti-democratic.
3.   We must resist all attempts to de-regulate business and industry, including the financial industry.   Well-reasoned regulation in the public interest is a necessity or our democratic form of government will be put at risk.  It is already at risk under the de-regulatory orders issued by authoritarian Trump, and it will be in final jeopardy if Congress is not provided with the necessity and incentive to reverse course.
4.   Capitalism and Democracy can co-exist, can cooperate for the good of the private citizen, and can work together to achieve great things for society, with one caveat.  Big Business or Capitalism cannot be allowed to capture and direct government, as it now does through highly- paid lobbyists, large unaccountable third-party PACs, and complete access to sponsored and bought politicians.  In order to protect and defend our constitution and its democratic principles, government must always be the regulator of industry and business, not the other way around (as has been made clear in just a few months under the Trump regime!)  

5.  The basic principles of Capitalism and Democracy are not the same (see the chart in my last post), and business will always use and manipulate governmental entities to its own ends.  In case you haven’t realized the danger before, remember--to all who live by profit as their primary motive, Government is a tool to be used for profit-making, not a democratic structure meant to preserve human rights, individual equality, freedom for all, equal justice, or the pursuit of happiness through equality of opportunity.
6.   It is my opinion that Donald Trump epitomizes this.  He is clearly using every governmental tool under his command to enhance his fortune – why else do Ivanka and Jared get to attend meetings with (and apparently negotiate with) government officials from other countries in which Trump either already has projects operating, or countries in which he wants to build, develop or sell to the advantage of Trump Enterprises?  And what is the Russian connection all about? I believe fervently it is about money being laundered and funneled to Trump Enterprises in expectation of Trump support for a “new relationship” with Russia. Wait and watch...and always “follow the money.”
What can we do as private citizens?  Hit where it hurts the most – at profits.  If companies that support Trump (and support all or some of his “de-construction” of democratic values and government) begin to feel the pinch of monetary boycotts, they will in the determinate pursuit of profits, begin to reverse their support of Trump.  So you might begin where a group called CPD (Center for Popular Democracy) has already started: by contacting certain CEOs whose companies (CPD claims) are “Backers of Hate” and should be boycotted.  Check this out at: http://www.backersofhate.org/en/?source=cpda

 NEWS ALERTTonight on NBC, 'Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly' began broadcasting, and one of the stories included an account from a whistleblower.  The targeted business was known for a drug product that is very restricted as to its use.  It is a toxic drug and is capable of injuring people; even capable of causing death and has already done so. The story of the company's complicity in manipulating people (including doctors) and of unrestricted sales to increase profits was the theme as it is in this Blog post. How long will it take to understand the toxic consequences for all of us when the business sector's obsession with profit is placed above the prime importance of human lives?