Americans have been voracious collectors of data as far back as 1790 when the first census was conducted. Examples abound from the many polls that are conducted to measuring traffic flow to tracking what we buy and even personal demographics. All this data then becomes massaged, analyzed, filtered, sorted and condensed to become information.
With the advent of the publicly available internet this era has become known as the information age. Some individuals are so caught up in the torrent of information that they become information junkies.
But information is good. Right?
Yes, information helps businesses and governments adjust their strategies and resources to the constant changes in human behavior in order to remain efficient, viable and, in the case of governments, better serve the public. At least this is what we are led to believe.
But where is the will of the people? When it comes to buying products and services, consumers vote with their feet and look for the best deal as contrasted with government where citizens are pretty much stuck. Voters typically don’t move to support a better politician. As voters we exercise influence with our politicians at the polls and the occasional letter, email, campaign contribution or phone call. Of course some have more influence than others but for now we won’t go there.
Two recent events highlight the importance of information in our democracy: the passage of the healthcare and financial reform bills. It should interest citizens to know that the deciding information was not provided by the people but by the big business lobbies. As we all should realize by now the lobbies won and with some minor exceptions it remains business as usual for the insurance companies and Wall Street.
So how did the lobbies win the day?
First and foremost big business lobbies are purveyors of information. This information is cast in a favorable light for the industry in question and offered up on a gold platter to our representatives. Lobbies even help craft the legislation or contribute legislation outright.
In the case of healthcare you can bet that the information offered had something to do with the role of insurance companies in our economy and jobs. For financial reform the emphasis had to be, again, their role in the economy, since by some estimates they now account for 43% of our economic activity, and our increasing role in world markets. As an aside, this global role of our financial institutions plays right into the hand of the Obama administration who participated in the establishment of a global economic government at the G-20 summit which will regulate our banks through an international Financial Stability Board. But that is another story.
Where was the voice of the people? The short answer is nowhere.
We have learned that in 2009 the Obama adminstration submitted a proposal to congress outlining how reform legislation would look. These guidelines were not made public and sure enough the bill that was passed conformed closely to the adminstration proposal.
For the healthcare bill it was predetermined that single-payer or the public option was off the table. Even though candidate Obama was in favor of single-payer. However, when it came to rug-cutting time we were told that it would be too disruptive. In other words, the information provided by the healthcare lobbies prevailed.
Sure, the citizens came away in both these 2000+ page bills with something: a stop to the abuse related to pre-existing conditions and dropping insurance when you get sick, and in finance, thanks to Elizabeth Warren, we got some consumer protection measures. But at what cost? The taxpayer has to pay for more government while it is pretty much business as usual for the subject industries.
72% of the voters wanted the single-payer or public option in the healthcare bill. But protesters were ignored and even arrested. In the financial overhaul the majority wanted restoration of Glass-Steagall and a breakup of the investment banks who were at least part of the root cause for the financial crisis. Basically, none of what the citizens wanted was taken into consideration. One has to feel that we are being taken for suckers; that these possible solutions are being put out on the street to keep the citizenry distracted, something to waste their time and energy rallying around knowing that it is a non starter.
Citizen input to the issues of the day tend to be primarily anecdotal and based on feelings or opinion and not real information. Stories from the citizens are nothing more than fodder for political speeches to make people feel like our views are being heard but those views don’t make it into legislation. As a result we get what the lobbies want.
The poorly informed and easily manipulated citizen is just a pesky part of the election process. Our politicians just want the vote and for us to then get out of the way.
One has to wonder what the predetermined outcome will be for other major issues like immigration reform in this new enlightened era of transparency.
That’s my view, what’s yours?
2. The post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America by Pamela Geller