By Ralph Nader
March 27, 2020
Many of us have heard that the Chinese character for “crisis” is also the character for “opportunity.” During the coronavirus crisis, we have a duty to apply political solutions and emerge much superior than before the pandemic struck an unready country. The time for serious civic reforms is now! Here are five fundamental opportunities for structural reforms and transformations:
1. The U.S. needs a permanent framework of explicit Congressional standards and accountability procedures for gigantic corporate welfare grants, loans, and other guarantees especially during emergencies. Without these standards, the U.S. government has repeatedly bailed out capitalism with “socialism for the rich.”
The most recent example is the $2.2 trillion salvation package for big corporations, small businesses, local and state governments, workers, and a little for consumers. The bailout package is nearly 1,000 pages of vague language, loopholes, and other gateways for waste, fraud, and corruption.
To put it mildly, Congress is granting the Treasury Department huge discretion to provide more taxpayer welfare to the business community. We know how this is going to turn out in the highly partisan, corporatist, secretive Administration of Donald Trump.
The same lack of standards and openness afflicts the corporate “socialism” of the Federal Reserve even more deeply. The Federal Reserve has occult ways of incurring debt and printing money to save the big boys of Wall Street and those in their dependent commercial circles.
2. Congress must be held to a higher standard and must carry out its constitutional duties. Congress is the duly authorized branch of the government to establish clear public missions and exercise prudent oversight of government initiatives. But as constitutional law specialist, Bruce Fein, has testified repeatedly – “Congress is an inkblot,” abdicating its constitutional duties either to the Executive Branch, the courts, or to the ether.
Working a 2½ day week, when not on recess, Congress has less time to conduct rigorous appropriations and oversight hearings to be followed by competently drafted legislation.
So pathetic is Congress that since 1992, it has allowed the Defense Department to violate the requirement for annual auditable budgets—with impunity. Congress has rubberstamped trillions of dollars for the Iraq and Afghan wars under a special escape from customary Senate and House hearings. The military contracts with giant arms contractors are a wildly out-of-control fleece-fest marked by greased palms and golden handshakes.
And most troubling, Congress is complicit in endless wars, neither to be declared since World War II, nor to be evaluated regularly by the most powerful of our three branches of government.
3. We must never allow ourselves to be driven into a state of perilous domestic unpreparedness due to the grotesque misallocation of federal funds behind the warfare state. The Empire’s insatiable demands worldwide has created new enemies and starved funding for domestic necessities. Of the federal government’s operation budgets (excluding self-funded insurance and social security) nearly 70 percent goes to the military budget, interest on deferred debt for wars, the Veterans Administration, and pieces of other Departments such as Energy and Homeland Security.
The coronavirus assault finds the mighty, often-forewarned U.S.A. without adequate emergency planning for a pandemic. The U.S. has been unable to ready hospitals, add skilled staff, and conduct critical pandemic medical research. U.S. hospitals even lack basic equipment such as ventilators, facemasks, and – astonishingly, swabs. U.S. readiness requires a social safety net like what citizens in other Western countries have. It means more self-reliant production in the U.S. for pharmaceuticals (now outsourced heavily to China and India) along with the production of all basic necessities. The rules of corporate-managed “free trade,” have left us without a national defense from corporate avarice run amok.
The days of abandoning crucial elements of our protective economic sovereignty must be declared over once and for all. Our country must take care of itself right down to producing critical swabs, now rationed by a dominant Italian manufacturer besieged with virus-induced needs in Italy.
4. The media has to be smarter, dig deeper, and not wallow in official source journalism, while ignoring the knowledge and experience of citizen groups. Members of the media spend too much time ditto-heading each other, interviewing their own reporters, and not covering the daily power struggle between the haves and the have nots. Instead, some editors pursue long investigative features in search of prizes. Unfortunately, too many (but not all) journalists are content to rehash the news of the day with establishment talking heads.
Like politicians running for public office, the mass media mostly ignores the devastating impact on our country of the devouring, corrosive, burgeoning military-industrial complex (remember President Eisenhower’s warning) desperately looking for enemies abroad to justify their gigantic contracts.
5. The foundation on which all of the above relies— is the citizenry. Focusing on the 535 members of the Congress, a mere one percent or less of citizens forming Congressional watchdog groups over their two Senators and Representatives in every Congressional District can regain command of Congress. Only through citizen action will Congress perform its constitutional duties and turn the ship of state from corporatism to a functioning democracy.
In my small paperback, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier than We Think, I outline specific, modest actions citizens can take to laser-beam focus back home on their legislators. What is needed is a left/right alliance on many fundamental changes. Such a latent, converging alliance, where people live, work, and raise their families, is politically unstoppable.
Marshaling decisive public opinion can overwhelm the divide-and-rule tactics of manipulative plutocrats. It happened before in our history and it can happen again in major ways—starting small and building quickly in each District.
Wide reaching, predictable crises, such as the coronavirus, invite long-overdue advances in the evolution of democratic societies. These include full Medicare for all, living wages, and law and order for big business. We need to make the most of these life-sustaining opportunities. Right now!