By Ralph Nader
In an oft-reported exchange between Gertrude Stein, an American widely known for her wisdom and glittering 1920s Parisian literary salon, and one of her earnest admirers, the admirer asked her – “What are the answers, Madame Stein?” She replied “What are the questions?”
Within our media/political/corporate culture of self-censorship and taboo topics, we should restate Ms. Stein’s rejoinder—what are the questions of gravity and relevance that are chronically unasked?
Here are some questions that should be asked, until answered!
Why are Supreme Court nominees, including Judge Brett Kavanaugh, not asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee about corporate crime, tyrannical, one-sided fine print contracts, weakened tort law and U.S. violations of constitutional and international law affecting all Americans?
Why do reporters and elected and regulatory officials decline to ask questions about peer-reviewed studies concluding a minimum of 250,000 Americans are losing their lives every year due to preventable problems in hospitals? (see Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s May 2016 report). Five thousand fatalities a week on the average plus many more preventable injuries and illnesses should be an ongoing subject of urgent inquiry for action.
Computerized billing fraud is rampant. Last year in the health care industry alone, computerized billing fraud amounted to about $350 billion dollars. The leading expert, Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow, and a Congressional GAO report estimate at least 10% of all health expenditures are a result of fraudulent billings. Why aren’t the TV networks, PBS and NPR, and the major newspapers all over this massive ongoing heist?
Sanctions imposed on foreign agencies and personnel are flying out of Washington. What are these sanctions, how are they enforced, are they legal under international law, is there any due process to protect the innocent or indirect victims, and how are they countered? There are regular stories about the U.S. government announcements of sanctions, but no follow-up questions about this burgeoning unilateral foreign policy.
The Taliban is composed of no more than 30,000 to 35,000 fighters without an air force, navy or heavy ground armor. Why are they holding down for over a decade U.S. forces and their allies many times their number, with advanced weaponry, and enlarging their territorial control? Is it because expelling foreign invaders motivates their astonishing determination? And who are all those suicide bombers and what is motivating them to stand in line waiting for the call?
Why has the Congressional scrutiny of the wasteful, unauditable military budget crumbled as never before with the Democrats voting for more money than even Trump initially asked for in the last funding cycle? Over 50 percent of the federal government operating expenses goes to defense? Both parties act as if adequate money for infrastructure repair in this country is nowhere to be found.
Why aren’t the hundreds of full-time reporters covering Congress demanding to know why members, or their staff, routinely do not reply to substantive letters, calls, or e-mails, without constant hammering by citizens? The exception is if you are a campaign donor. Why are Congressional offices often so unavailable during working hours? If you are lucky you can leave a message on the office voicemail. Inside the heavily guarded Russell Senate Office Building, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) even locks the door to his suite of offices.
Similar non-responsiveness holds true with government agencies in the executive branches at the federal and state levels. A group of citizens, including me, has been waiting for months to get a reply from the Justice Department about their request for the Department‘s position on starting a long needed corporate crime database. One would think that newspapers, begging for readers, would do regular, random surveys of these agencies who, after all, work for the people they are shutting out. Small wonder citizens are turned off government when they can’t get through to get answers to their critical inquiries.
When I manage to get through to them, I tell newspaper, radio, or TV reporters and editors about agencies that do not respond (corporations are another dark void of obstruction) they invariably say that this would be a good service story for their readers, viewers, and listeners. Yet somehow, they never do such surveys of agencies, perhaps because as news people they have an easier time in getting through.
Have you had a serious personal or critical inquiry put to your U.S. Senator or Representative that has gone unanswered? Send us your ignored letter or email or telephone request by October 1, and we’ll try to get you an answer from your hired hands on Capitol Hill. Or shall we call the place “Wuthering Heights”?