COLUMNS Stephen Berk

The Road to Oblivion

In the previous column, I discussed Mitt Romney’s closeness to the imperialist neocons and the likelihood that should he become president, the US and Israel would attack Iran. We might remember that when George W. Bush committed us to war, he simultaneously handed massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. And huge subsidies continued for such industries as big oil, which reaps many hundreds of billions in profits per year. Trillions to fight two wars were borrowed, thus bringing back the huge deficits erased during the Clinton administration. But Vice President Cheney reassured us that Ronald Reagan had taught us that deficits don’t matter. All that changed, of course, when a Democrat took over the White House, and then Republicans took the House after the Supreme Court handed control of our government to billionaires. Then Republicans, who had plunged the country into unparalleled war debt, suddenly became alarmed at Obama’s “wild spending.”

Romney takes his approach to domestic fiscal policy directly from the radical playbook of House Budget Committee chair, Paul Ryan. Ryan wants to privatize Medicare, an extreme move that would upend the medical care of many millions of seniors. Medicare is broadly acknowledged to be the most successful, fiscally efficient program we have in medical service delivery. But the Medicare drug benefit package recently added during the Bush administration has made it much more expensive. A boon to the pharmaceutical industry, a major player in congressional campaign financing, it eliminates competitive bidding, making prescription drugs far more expensive in the US than in neighboring Canada and in much of the world. There are many ways of streamlining Medicare, one of which is to eliminate the degree of expensive, mandated unnecessary tests, such as many MRI’s, but the medical services industry stands in the way of that. In addition, much of the cost of American medical service delivery goes to pay for executives who run the drug companies, hospitals and other care facilities. All this would get much worse under Ryan’s privatization of Medicare.

Ryan also wants to partially privatize Social Security, thereby handing trillions more dollars to big investment banks, which will securitize and sell them as derivatives, as they did with mortgages, thus conducting wild speculation with retirement incomes paid into by workers over the course of their entire career lives. Thus we will witness the Social Security bubble and bust, as we did the savings and loan, dotcom and subprime debacles, wreaking havoc with the economy and ultimately destroying the incomes of seniors throughout the country. Ryan’s plans of course take nothing from the bloated defense budget, which is greater than that of the rest of the world. Who is this terrible enemy that we have to spend so much “defending” ourselves against? It would seem to be those who would stand in the way of our plans to corner the world’s remaining oil supplies. And there are all those hungry defense contractors.

Ryan has been sharply criticized by the American Bishops Conference of his own Roman Catholic Church, as well as the faculty and administration of the Catholic Georgetown University in Washington, D. C. They accuse Ryan of seeking to “dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices.” Ryan’s budget plans also call for sharp cuts in the remaining programs that benefit the most at-risk populations. But Ryan doesn’t get his Social Darwinist ideas from any Catholic or other religious teaching. He gets them from the late novelist and erstwhile libertarian philosopher, Ayn Rand, requiring all his office staff to read her Atlas Shrugged. Rand admittedly romanticized the role of individual entrepreneurs in making America great, while disparaging unions and any government move to aid the poor and spur upward mobility. But Rand, an atheist who encouraged selfishness as a virtue, was idealizing inventors like Edison and Ford. Her fictional John Galt had invented a perpetual motion machine, the solution to all energy problems. Ryan’s capitalists are merely speculators with other people’s money, Wall Street casino gamblers. He would have us believe they are the “makers,” and the folks who paid into and are receiving Medicare and Social Security are the “takers.” Romney’s implementation of Ryan’s plan would further impoverish most Americans.

By Stephen Berk

Steve is a retired history professor from California State University at Long Beach. He's currently on the board of directors of Clatsop Community College, and teaches classes in the ENCORE program. He's written extensively on social, political and religious issues, and has been writing a column in HIPFiSHmonthly for over 5 years.