We, the People: Black or White Hats, Shirts or Skins?

by c. alexander parms

Which is Good?

(Photo: c. alexander parms/www.seekinggood.blog)

Such categories are never real.  Nor have they ever been. But we like to feel in control, that we know this and that with an assurance that allows us to move forward into the world with confidence.  Sadly, too often, such clarity is not to be had. Us and Them is always a fiction, a shorthand used to bind us together and to give the appearance that we combat a common, definable foe.  The recent political rally in Newark, New Jersey—touted as “Our First Act of Resistance”—clearly accentuated the greyness of the political arena.

With more than 600 people in attendance, the focus of the rally was to “stop the Republican attempt to dissolve the Affordable Care Act (ACA)”.  Politicians and leaders of various community organizations presented statistics regarding how many New Jersians (this was a regional rally) would lose their healthcare if the act is repealed.  A few citizens (non-elected officials) testified how ACA had changed their lives, pulling them back from the brink of a single illness driving them into financial ruin. As with all rallies, speakers led chants such as “People united will never be defeated!” and “Fired up, ready to go!” The audience was jazzed, ready to dive into whatever action was proposed.  This was a political rally, after all.  It all sounded “good”.  Or did it?

The irony of the event was that two of the most prominent guests—Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez (as well as eleven other Democratic members of congress)—had only days before voted against a bill sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar that would have permitted the importation of prescription drugs from Canada.  For those of you who do not know, from the perspective of most people, such importation is a good thing since drugs purchased from Canadian sources are usually cheaper than those bought from US outlets. Lower priced drugs is considered one of the benefits of the ACA.  Access to drugs imported from Canada would increase “affordability” of healthcare for all Americans.

Needless to say, these Democratic senators who voted against the Sanders/Klouchar bill were not so well received by many at the rally.  Indeed, every time the names Menendez and Booker came up, a large portion of the rally crowd booed and chanted slogans very different in spirit from those enthusiastic cheers heard earlier in the event.  During his speech, when Senator Menendez boldly stated, “This is a fight for healthcare in this nation”, a chant tussle erupted between “Fired up, ready to go!” and “People over profit”.

The profit chant was an attack on the fact that the thirteen Democratic Senators who voted against the drug importation bill significantly benefited from donations from U.S. pharmaceutical companies. While we cannot know the full motivations of these politicians, the coincidence of their vote and their sources of campaign funding certainly raises suspicion as to where their loyalties reside.

But the plot thickens

Prior to the rally, when Senator Booker was questioned regarding his vote against Canadian drug importation, he issued the following statement.

“Any plan to allow the importation of prescription medications should also include consumer protections that ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards. I opposed an amendment put forward last night that didn’t meet this test.”

His contention here focuses on “consumer protections”, referring to the ability of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to invoke control over the quality of drugs sold in the United States.  Sounds good.  But wait.  In December of 2016, this same Senator Booker voted for the 21st Century Cures Act, often described as a huge giveaway to the pharmaceuticals industry. The Act effectively limits the ability of the FDA to control the quality of drugs released into the prescription drug marketplace. This Act basically lowers the safety standards for drug testing.  It benefits U.S. pharmaceutical companies in that the standards imposed by the FDA will no longer be as stringent as they were.  The surface rationale presented suggests that companies can bring drugs to market quicker—so they can serve people better (and so they can make more profit).

By enacting the Cures Act, Booker and others reduced the power of the FDA to scrutinize (researched) drugs, then used the lack of the FDA’s ability to scrutinize (imported) drugs as a reason for rejecting Canadian prescription drug imports. The higher “consumer protections” demanded by Mr. Booker and others were the same protections Mr. Booker voted to lower. What is wrong with this picture?  We might never know the full story, but this juxtaposition of circumstances smells a bit like collusion.

Who will tell you the full story?

The Newark rally as reported by NBC News

The photo above was taken at the Newark rally, from the back of the auditorium.  You can see the visual news battery on the left of the photo.  I was standing on the right, amid the many signs, NONE of which were supporting the politicians present.  By contrast, notice the photo at the top of this article, the one displaying a person holding the “Corporate Dem Don’t Speak for Working Peocanple”.  I took that one myself.  That photo was taken amid the white signs you see on the right of the above NBC image.  The NBC article briefly mentions Sen. Booker being taken to task by some people for what appears an incongruous stance on healthcare.  Other news reports do not mention this decent at the rally at all.

(Photo: Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com)

While most news outlets focused on the unity of the really, in actuality, the rally attendees were strongly divided–certainly not a promising way of kicking off the first stab at resistance.  The situation was sad for us, the People. How much we can we trust our elected officials to truly represent us?  Furthermore, to what extent are we being given the whole story through the news outlets available to us?

Mobilization through interaction with elected officials is a must if We, the People are to begin to take back control of the country from politicians.  But we must scrutinize those officials—especially those we think we can trust—to insure they act in a manner which supports our ideas about common Good. Similarly, if we are to act in the world for Good, we must remain vigilant with regard to the “news” we acquire. We can no longer settle for one or two sources of information.  We will need to work hard to uncover the full story.  We need to talk to one another, comparing notes, particularly with others who do not share all of the same views as ourselves.  If we stick together, We, the People can eventually get the truth.  “We, the People …united, will never be defeated!”

c. alexander parms, January 2017