Sam Uretsky

Ownership Society

We haven't heard much about the ownership society lately, perhaps because everything that's available to be owned is already spoken for. While the president has yet to veto a single bill, he has threatened so many times that there's probably a recording somewhere that's played on suitable occasions.

There is one recurring theme: If it's good for corporations it's okay; if it's good for people, veto it.

On Oct. 7, 2002, the man who inspired so many "Support the Troops" bumper stickers threatened to veto a military appropriations bill that would have increased disability pensions for injured soldiers (so much for "he must have loved them, he made so many of them" as part of Bush's legacy.)

He threatened to veto another military spending bill because it contained Sen. McCain's amendment prohibiting torture (October 2005), and said he would veto a tax cut proposal because it included some modest tax increases for oil companies (November 2005). He threatened to veto proposed changes to Medicare part D that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for lower prices (February 2005). He threatened a veto of any bill that would prevent Dubai Ports from managing American ports, showing a remarkable lack of sensitivity before the Dubai-based company agreed to give up the US ports. Ground Zero is located near the tip of Manhattan, an easy walk to either the East River or the Hudson River piers. New Yorkers might feel entitled to some concern. But President Bush has always favored corporations over people.

The pattern applies at almost every level. The Republican Party has spoken over and over about "personal responsibility," yet personal responsibility has become a tool for protecting corporations from people. Bills have been either proposed or passed that exempt gun sellers, drug manufacturers, private airport security screeners and pharmaceutical manufacturers from lawsuits. The law assuring that credit card companies will be able to hound even those people who declare bankruptcy was touted in the name of personal responsibility. It has been proposed that automobile makers be protected from lawsuits arising from SUV rollovers as long as the vehicles meet Federal Standards -- even if the standards don't provide adequate protection for the occupants of the vehicle.

The pattern of favoring corporations over the needs of people is evident even at the state level, even in laws that appear, at first glance, to espouse liberal causes.

Recently, there has been a furor over pharmacists' willingness to dispense emergency contraception. Women who might need a product such as levonorgestrel 0.75 milligrams (Plan B) have been refused the drug by pharmacists who oppose any sort of birth control other than abstinence. This has resulted in many states passing laws either allowing the pharmacist to refuse to dispense or requiring dispensation.

But, even those states that require pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception routinely have a provision for refusal if the drug is not in stock. The easiest way to circumvent a legal obligation to provide emergency contraception is not to stock the product. This takes the matter out of the hands of the individual pharmacist and hands responsibility to the store owner, whether individual or corporation. Wal-Mart, with 3,400 pharmacies and the scourge of independent retailers everywhere, simply does not stock emergency contraceptives (although Wal-Mart has announced they will change this policy since Massachusetts passed a law requiring that Wal-Mart pharmacies stock emergency contraceptive medications.)

This is consistent with policies that allow hospitals to determine whether they will provide reproductive services -- regardless of the feelings of the medical staff, or presumably the needs of the patients. In most cases, the hospitals that have refused emergency contraception have been part of Catholic hospital systems, but the Westchester (New York) Coalition for Legal Abortion has reported instances in which hospital mergers and affiliation contracts have required nonprofit hospitals to discontinue providing reproductive services. A January 2006 survey, sponsored by Catholics For a Free Choice, found that some hospitals were avoiding state requirements that they provide emergency contraception for sexual assault victims by not treating sexual assault victims.

And, as if to confirm that our government exists for the corporations, take these news stories in context. On Feb. 27, the Pentagon announced that it would pay nearly all of the bills submitted by Halliburton, in spite of the fact that the Pentagon's own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified. On Feb. 9, it was reported that the US Army notified 1st Lt. William "Eddie" Rebrook that, before he could leave the Army, he had to pay for a body armor vest he'd lost. Medics had destroyed the vest because it was soaked with Rebrook's blood when he was wounded.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2006

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