By Ralph Nader
Reporters at major newspapers and magazines are hard to reach by telephone. Today it is increasingly hard to converse with them about timely scoops, leads, gaps in coverage, and corrections to published articles.
We just started an online webpage: Reporter’s Alert. From time to time, we will use Reporter’s Alert to present suggestions for important reporting on topics that are either not covered or not covered thoroughly. Reporting that just nibbles on the periphery won’t attract much public attention or be noticed by decision-makers. Here is the second installment of suggestions:
1. In recent years we have read about massive hacking of major databases at major retail chains (Target etc.), the federal civil service, national security agencies, credit card companies, and the list goes on. Tens of millions of people have had their personal files invaded by these mostly unknown remote hackers. These reports are accompanied by grave warnings of forthcoming untold damage to privacy, business propriety information, workplace labor information, and secret government databases.
Yet, with the passage of time, we are not informed about what, if any, grave consequences materialized, even with the warnings about many forthcoming identity thefts. How about some follow-ups to these announcements of big hacking?
2. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were knowledgeable estimates that, at the very least, some 5000 people on average died in U.S. hospitals every week due to “preventable problems” in these institutions. Not included in this Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine peer-reviewed study (2016) were the preventable casualties from clinics and doctors’ offices. When the Johns Hopkins report came out, it was a one-day story, (not on the front page), in The Washington Post and The New York Times. There was neither follow up from the media nor from Congressional or state legislative bodies. Medical Associations, such as the AMA, scarcely blinked. There were some resolutions encouraging staff to wash their hands to reduce infections. Some hospitals emphasized this simple measure. Otherwise, 250,000 fatalities a year – a conservative figure by the authors – was relegated to “old news,” rather than opening all kinds of media-driven doors.
3. If you asked a reporter or editor: “Who owns the bulk of the wealth in America?” Chances are the response would be the top “ten percent.” A more specific response might be that a dozen of the richest Americans own more wealth than the combined wealth of the bottom 50% of American people. The subject is private. What if the question was “Who owns the most wealth of all kinds – private and public?” The answer would be the people. They own trillions of dollars in pension, mutual funds, and personal savings. They own the enormous “commons,” the public lands (one-third of America, not counting offshore), the public airwaves, and should own the intellectual property created by huge R&D grants from the federal government to build most of the newer industries, and so on.
Why should the reality that corporations control most of what people own, either directly or indirectly through indentured governments, take away from the deeper reality that ownership of, by, and for the people gets so little attention and therefore little deliberation about what we can do to restore control to the people of what they own? What might result from this overdue merger of ownership with control in a democratic society?
4. The largest single discretionary spending budget in the federal government is that of the Department of Defense. Yet, the Pentagon has gotten away with violating federal law. The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires all government departments and agencies to provide Congress−the Government Accountability Office (GAO)−with auditable data. Auditors said the DOD FY2018 auditors could not express an opinion on the financial statements because the financial information was not sufficiently reliable. Given all the GAO and DOD audits of waste, fraud, and abuse in DOD’s contracting history, defying Congress and the law here should be a matter of continual media reporting. The DOD budget accounts for more than half the operating budget of the U.S. government. Secretaries of Defense always promise to produce audits, but outside of a costly audit of the Marine budget one year, promises have not been kept.
5. Here’s one gigantic story in plain sight afflicting many millions of elderly people seduced into the Medicare [Dis]advantage plan. This corporatization of Medicare by giant health insurance companies keeps getting bigger every year. Now about 40% of Medicare beneficiaries, aided and abetted by both Parties in Congress and exploited by AARP, and some labor unions (SEIU) automatically enroll their retirees without first giving them a choice to go with traditional Medicare. As one knowledgeable physician declared about the glossily promoted deception of Medicare Advantage, “It’s not what you pay, it’s what you get.” Not to mention we are subsidizing Medicare [Dis]advantage plans at the expense of taxpayers and traditional Medicare beneficiaries. Trapdoors are pervasive in Medicare [Dis]advantage plans – starting with narrow networks and hassling when people get sick, prior authorization hurdles, and obstacles to returning to traditional Medicare. Deceptive promotions and advertisements go unrebutted by the FTC, progressive members of Congress, AARP, and the media that carry deceptive Medicare [Dis]advantage ads. This erosion of traditional Medicare provides Aetna and UnitedHealthcare with windfall profits. See Dr. John Geyman’s books (http://www.johngeymanmd.org/). See Dr. Don McCanne’s critique on the PNHP website and Diane Archer’s recent column: The Ghost of the Trump Administration Is Haunting Medicare.
6. Congress, busy increasingly over recent decades in abdicating its constitutional powers to the Presidency and Executive Branch, has created an impressive record of government by waivers. Congress tells the Executive what it shall do, then inserts “waiver” rights without standards. This lets the White House get away with unbridled power to escape the legislative intent of statutes. (Trump really exploited these exits).
Waivers are declared in the thousands every year – waivers from tariffs, waivers from arms sales, waivers from reports, from varieties of law enforcement actions, and so forth. Waivers create new lobbying businesses and invite corruption, favoritism, and the privileges of the big boys over the little guys. For example, in 2020, Apple got a tariff waiver from the US Trade Representative on paying a 7.5 percent duty on Apple Smart Watches imported from China. A key to abuses here is the absence of adequate boundaries (standards) or oversight by Congress.