Washington: Theater of the Absurd
The festering corporate government in Washington, DC, is a theater of the absurd. Some of the acts of this tragedy follow:
1. Start with the often hapless Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that administers Medicare. Medicare pays $1,593 per injection of Lucentis for wet age-related macular degeneration as well as $42 per dose for Avastin, a drug that has a similar molecular structure, used by ophthalmologists.
Both drugs are made by Genentech. Lucentis is FDA approved for the vision problem and the other, Avastin, is approved to treat cancer. Doctors can also use Avastin for vision treatment. A study by three officials of CMS and Dr. Philip Rosenfeld, a retina specialist at the University of Miami, reported that for Medicare patients 60% of eye injections were Avastin, while 40% used Lucentis. Note this: Medicare paid $537 million for Lucentis in 2008 and only $20 million for Avastin!
2. Saving about half a billion a year by using Avastin is small potatoes to another CMS shortcoming. For fiscal year 2009, CMS paid $65 billion in erroneous payments—to deceased doctors, fraudsters, delinquent or imprisoned contractors and other suspended or debarred firms.
Organized fraud of Medicare is becoming more systemic. So President Obama wants CMS to use a new fraud-detection program. Professor Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University, the nation’s leading expert on health care billing fraud told them how to do this many years ago, but they were not listening.
The President wants to reduce throughout the government “payments in benefits, contracts, grants and loans to ineligible people or organizations,” according to the Washington Post. Better trillions of dollars late over the decades, then never!
3. Five oil company executives, including from BP, admitted at a Congressional hearing this week that they did not have contingency plans worked out for catastrophic failures. What is, by comparison, the worst case scenario for offshore windfarms or solar/thermal conservation, or passive solar architecture? Energy Secretary Stephen Chu still does not note such a criteria to differentiate between energy supply priorities.
4. President Obama now, belatedly, recognizes that the notorious oil industry patsy, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) in the Department of Interior, was a washout non-regulator of offshore drilling inherited from the Bush and Clinton Administrations. Well he also better take a hard look at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which are variously pleased with being captured by the very industries they are supposed to regulate. Too many agencies, in essence, allow the companies to “self-regulate” — an oxymoron.
Each of these agencies may wake up some day to witness a catastrophic hazardous materials disaster or meltdown that they should have prevented with stronger standards, inspection and law enforcement. Heed this caution, Mr. President!
5. Another $50 billion request by the White House just whisked through Congress for the brutal, spreading, futile war in Afghanistan—the historic graveyard of empires. Republicans loved to vote for this raid on the taxpayers.
But this week, a united Republican cabal, joined by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), blocked a $120 billion package (the threat of filibuster again) to extend unemployment benefits, preserve Medicare payments, extend tax credits for corporate research, raise taxes on oil companies, other big companies and investment partnerships. The bill also includes $24 billion to aid state governments in preventing thousands of state layoffs, including teachers.
The point here is not arbitrarily to decry Republican questioning of this domestic bill. It is to show how an overall ignorant, rubberstamping Congress is not heeding the lessons from Vietnam and Iraq — the immense casualties, the destruction and poisoning of these countries by detonations, and laying waste to the environment, and the imperialist policies that also harmed our country in so many tangible and intangible ways.
6. Dana Milbank, the Washington Post reporter-satirist, was at the House of Representatives’ hearing this week where Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, saying the White House’s demand that BP set aside $20 billion for its huge toxic contamination to the Gulf coast and its people was “a shakedown.” He added, for good supplicant measure, that he doesn’t “want to live in a country” that treats a private corporation this way. He later apologized for his apology, at the behest of Republican House leaders.
The Barton outburst illustrates why it should be easy for the Democratic Party to landslide the Republicans in the 2010 Congressional elections. Probably the most craven version of the Republican Party ever, this team takes huge slurries of corporate money while blocking any safeguards for workers, consumers, small taxpayers, and the environment. They even defeated investor rights for shareholders, who own these companies, but whose bosses pay themselves obscenely to control them.
The Democrats have their hand out to the same commercial interests. But if they want to win, they’d better formulate the language of standing with the people over big business by November. And, if the Democrats don’t want November to mark their curtain call, their language of standing with the people needs to be followed by action.