The New Four Freedoms

franklin roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt (Wikipedia)

On January 6, 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the annual State of the Union address and it was especially memorable because he identified Four Freedoms that he believed all people should enjoy:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

WWII had been going on in Europe for fourteen months when Roosevelt gave the speech. Hitler’s armies had already conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. And his air force was busy trying to bomb Britain into submission. On the other side of the globe, Japan was continuing its invasion of China.

Roosevelt’s speech was a response to this ongoing fascist aggression, and it identified what he believed was America’s responsibility to oppose totalitarianism and defend basic human rights throughout the world. It was well received because most people understood that freedom comes with responsibilities. But many Americans were wary of getting involved in the war, so the U.S didn’t enter it until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December. In the meantime, Roosevelt succeeded in getting the Lend-Lease Act passed in March. It allowed the U.S. to provide material support to the Allies, fulfilling Roosevelt’s earlier promise to make America the “Arsenal of Democracy”.

The majority of Americans considered the Four Freedoms important within their own country too. But conservative Republicans criticized Roosevelt’s speech as an attempt to justify government regulations and social welfare programs. The right-wing faction of the party wasn’t very successful then. But they never gave up, and today they’re holding their party and the entire United States hostage.

American voters responded to the right-wing extremism of Republican Pres. Donald Trump and his supporters in the November 2018 midterm elections by electing many more Democrats – enough to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Soon after the election, progressive billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer announced 5 Rights he thinks all Democrats should champion in the upcoming 2020 elections.  They are:

  1. The Right To An Equal Vote: So everyone has an equal voice to demand justice from our government and can vote with no discrimination and no barriers.
  2. The Right to Clean Air & Clean Water: So everyone can breathe fresh air and drink clean water, free from industrial poisons.
  3. The Right to Learn: So everyone has the right to a free, quality, public education from preschool through college and on to advanced skills training.
  4. The Right to a Living Wage: So no one needs to work more than one full-time job.
  5. The Right to Health: So everyone has a chance to live a healthy life, with universal healthcare.

These rights are the modern successors to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.

The Danger of Fascism in the U.S.

franklin roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Wikipedia

On Monday, January 26th, 2015, the nonprofit organization overseen by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch announced plans to raise $889 million toward promoting their right-wing political agenda in the 2016 elections. The announcement was made in in Palm Springs, California, to about 450 potential donors attending the annual winter meeting of the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce,  the 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization that will oversee distribution of the money to a vast conservative political action network which is often referred to as the Kochtopus .

To put the $889 million goal in perspective, it’s estimated the Republican Party’s campaign committees spent just $657 million in the 2012 elections.

The amount of money spent on U.S. political campaigns has risen sharply since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FECC decision, which found that these types of nonprofit organizations can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for political advertising while concealing the identities of their donors.

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism – ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 29, 1938

The Medicare Part D Scandal

george w. bush
George W. Bush (Wikipedia)

One of the worst things the George W. Bush administration inflicted upon the American people, second only to the debacle in Iraq, was the sweetheart deal for drug companies that was included in the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (also called the Medicare Modernization Act or MMA). The primary feature of the MMA was the creation of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries, now called Medicare Part D. While prescription drug coverage, of course, is vital to many senior citizens, the way the Part D program was implemented is disgraceful.

Speaker Dennis Hastert introduced the MMA, with Bush’s support, in the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives in June of 2003. While Congress was debating the bill, Thomas Scully, the Bush administration’s head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), lied to Congress about the projected cost of implementing the Part D benefit. Scully also threatened to fire Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, if he revealed that the true estimated cost of the Part D program was $500-$600 billion over 10 years, instead of the $400 billion that the White House was telling Congress. (A subsequent report by the Congressional Research Service found that the Bush administration broke federal law by withholding this information from Congress.)

A Sweetheart Deal for the Drug Companies

Congress finally approved the MMA in November after some close and suspicious votes. The drug industry lobby, the biggest lobby in Washington, D.C., undoubtedly paid a major role in its passage. The new law, for example, didn’t include any significant cost-control provisions. In fact, it specifically prohibited Medicare from establishing a drug formulary or from negotiating prices with drug companies. Also, after the bill’s passage, former Congressman Billy Tauzin, R-LA, who steered the bill through the House, retired and took a $2 million a year job as president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the main drug industry lobbying group. Furthermore, Thomas Scully was found to have been looking for a new job as a pharmaceutical lobbyist while the bill was still working its way through Congress. And a total of 14 congressional aides went to work for the drug and medical lobbies after the bill’s passage. Subsequently, according to a 2013 CMS report, the Medicare Part D program added about $318 billion to the national debt through 2012, and is projected to add $852 billion over the next 10 years.

The social service agencies of most foreign governments negotiate for volume discounts with drug companies. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is allowed to do it, and it’s been estimated that the VA pays between 40% and 58% less for drugs, on average, than Medicare Part D. Economist Dean Baker estimated in 2012 that Medicare could have saved taxpayers at least $332 billion and possibly as much as $563 billion if the agency wasn’t required by the MMA rules to pay whatever prices the drug companies want.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices would obviously be fair way to significantly cut government spending and reduce the federal budget deficit. But that would reduce the profits of drug companies, and most Republicans believe drug company profits are more important.

Updates

On May 11, 2018, President Donald Trump announced his plan to lower drug prices for Americans. During the 2016 presidential election campaign Trump had promised to allow Medicare to negotiate discount prices for the drugs it buys. But Trump’s proposal failed to include that measure. The stock prices of drug companies rose after his speech.

On May 17, 2018, the FDA released a list of 52 drugs it said faced delays in getting generic versions on the market because of “gaming” by drugmakers.

On June 5, 2018, the U.S. government’s annual report on Medicare and Social Security said that, unless some changes are made, Medicare will become insolvent in 2026.

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