unemployment and uninsurance, and the powerful men who rob us of our
The U.S. Department of Labor claims we have an unemployment rate of 4.9%
. According to "the Economist, " however, the true unemployment rate in
the U.S. is over 8%, or 12.6 million Americans . The difference is due to
the fact that the U.S. Government doesn 't count people as unemployed after
six months without a job .
I recently joined the ranks of our many unemployed citizens. The termination
of my employment as a Vice President at Pfizer was subject to intense media
interest , partly due to the fact that Pfizer notified the press before
they informed me.
Contrary to press reports, however, I have received no severance payments
and for the first time in my life I am eligible for unemployment benefits;
$13,078 . At this annual income level my family of four would actually
fall below the federal poverty level ; quite a difference from a year ago
when my salary was over half a million .
I 'm also uninsured for the first time in my life and I have to pay the full
price for drugs, just like 67 million other uninsured Americans .
Contrary to many others, however, I do have a choice. In accordance with
federal COBRA law, I was offered the opportunity to continue my health care
coverage for 18 months. There was only one hitch; I had to pay $15,269 per
year to receive this benefit . I decided that with an income of $13,078
that didn 't make sense.
Clearly the system we have today isn 't just broke. The system is utterly and
completely sick and our weakest citizens are paying the price, every day.
And while I have belatedly been forced to share some of the experiences of
our poor, uninsured, and unemployed, my situation doesn 't even start to
compare with people with no resources, no voice, nowhere to go and no one
who listens to them. For those citizens we have something that 's called the
Government; a government that is supposed to look out for the people who
can 't look out for themselves, but instead focuses on "pay to play money. "
Today 's system is built on greed. Greed is defined as an excessive desire to
acquire or possess more than someone needs or deserves. Greed is not a
corporate executive who builds an organization such as Microsoft, creates a
lot of jobs, and happens to get rich. Greed is to become CEO for a drug
company such as Pfizer, be responsible for a stock price drop of 40% over
his five year tenure, twice as much as the AMEX Pharmaceutical Index ,
secure a $100 million retirement package  while firing 16,385 Pharmacia
and Pfizer employees , and get a 72% pay increase to $16.6 million as
his reward .
According to the New York Times average worker pay has remained flat since
1990 at around $27,000, after adjusting for inflation, while CEO
compensation has quadrupled, from $2.82 million to $11.8 million . Our
CEO 's are in a position in which they can basically use public companies as
personal piggy banks. And this is perfectly legal as long as they get
someone else to sign their check. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has
remained at $5.15 an hour since September 1, 1997. In fact, after adjusting
for inflation, the value of the minimum wage is at its second lowest level
since 1955 .
At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry spends over $100 million on
lobbying activities to stop lower drug prices, according to the Center for
Public Integrity. There are 1,274 registered pharmaceutical lobbyists in
Washington, D.C. and during the 2004 election cycle, the drug industry
contributed $1 million to President Bush . For an industry that makes
$500 billion on a global basis , spending one million on a president or
$100 million on lobbying is pocket change.
This money was well spent. It stopped legalized import of cheaper drugs and
instead we got a new Medicare drug program. This $720 billion law includes
$139 billion in profits to drug manufactures and $46 billion in subsidies to
HMOs and private insurance plans . The program has been such a disaster
for our poor that at least twenty-four states have enacted emergency
measures to ensure access to medications in the last couple of weeks .
That 's what a million dollars buys in Washington.
So how could this happen? The answer is simple. The American democracy has
been stolen by our new class of Robber Barons --the CEO 's of our big
corporations. A political system dependent on charity from rich men in
hand-tailored suits with $100 million retirement packages is no democracy.
It is a kleptocracy . It is not what our founding fathers envisioned.
But we have the power to change this; to free our corporations from
sticky-fingered CEO 's, to free our elected representatives from "pay to play
money " and to free our people from all these tyrants. We have the power to
be free, at last.
5. NJ Department of Labor Notice to Claimant of Benefit Determination BC-3C
9. Cobra Fact Sheet, January 6, 2006
Peter Rost, M.D., is a former Vice President for the drug company Pfizer. He
first became well known in 2004 when he started to speak out in favor of
reimportation of drugs.
His fight for lower priced drugs was covered by more than one hundred radio
and television broadcasts, among them "60 Minutes " in 2005, and five hundred
newspaper articles, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal,
Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
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