Archive | Corporate Statism

Go Sherrod

Down With Tyranny:

There is a small group of progressive Democrats– very small– who are actually independent of Wall Street. You may have noticed that last week Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced a bill targeting outrageous bonuses of banksters who are getting it out of TARP money.

Yesterday Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced an even more stringent bill that targets any bonus over $25,000-– where the Boxer-Webb bill goes after anything over $400,000. I’m with Sherrod on this one. He says he wants to use the proceeds to help small businesses expand and hire new employees. In a talk about how Wall Street benefited from the infusion of taxpayer dollars via TARP, he explained why he thinks Main Street needs to be helped along now and how this is a way to get that started. “It’s time,” he said, “for Wall Street to return the favor to Main Street. While big banks have rebounded thanks to the help of American taxpayers, small businesses are still struggling. If a big firm that received taxpayer help is now paying out massive bonuses, they should be able to help American small businesses expand operations and hire new workers. Small business growth will create jobs and get our economy back on track.”

Mole Man

I went to the dermatologist’s office last night to have another abnormal mole removed.

“Is there any way we can remove a lot of these at once?” I asked him.

“The insurance company won’t pay for more than one at a time,” he said.

I thought that was bizarre. “Why?”

“It loses the deterrent effect.”

“You mean, they don’t want me actually using the insurance. They want me to die,” I said.

He just smiled and said nothing. Oy.

Six down, six to go, $50 a pop. I spend more time in his office than I do at home.

The Corporate-Influenced Media

Great article in The Nation by Sebastian Jones. Send it to those people you know who still believe TV news is “fair and balanced”:

President Obama spent most of December 4 touring Allentown, Pennsylvania, meeting with local workers and discussing the economic crisis. A few hours later, the state’s former governor, Tom Ridge, was on MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews, offering up his own recovery plan. There were “modest things” the White House might try, like cutting taxes or opening up credit for small businesses, but the real answer was for the president to “take his green agenda and blow it out of the box.” The first step, Ridge explained, was to “create nuclear power plants.” Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an “innovation setter” that would “create jobs, create exports.”

As Ridge counseled the administration to “put that package together,” he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren’t told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power company. As of March 2009, he also held an estimated $248,299 in Exelon stock, according to SEC filings.

Moments earlier, retired general and “NBC Military Analyst” Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional “three- to ten-year effort” and “a lot of money.” Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. The first year is locked in at $644 million, but the additional four options are subject to renewal, contingent on military needs and political realities.

In a single hour, two men with blatant, undisclosed conflicts of interest had appeared on MSNBC. The question is, was this an isolated oversight or business as usual? Evidence points to the latter. In 2003 The Nation exposed McCaffrey’s financial ties to military contractors he had promoted on-air on several cable networks; in 2008 David Barstow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the New York Times about the Pentagon’s use of former military officers–many lobbying or consulting for military contractors–to get their talking points on television in exchange for access to decision-makers; and in 2009 bloggers uncovered how ex-Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe had guest-hosted Countdown With Keith Olbermann while working at a large PR firm specializing in “strategies for managing corporate reputation.”

These incidents represent only a fraction of the covert corporate influence peddling on cable news, a four-month investigation by The Nation has found. Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials–people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests–have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens–and in some cases hundreds–of appearances.

In Clover

New HCAN study:

The five largest U.S. health insurance companies sailed through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression to set new industry profit records in 2009, a feat accomplished by leaving behind 2.7 million americans who had been in private health plans. For customers who kept their benefits, the insurers raised rates and cost-sharing,and cut the share of premiums spent on medical care. Executives and shareholders of the five biggest for-profit health insurers, UnitedHealthGroup inc., WellPoint inc., Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp., enjoyed combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for Big Insurance.

The 2009 financial reports from the nation’s five largest insurance companies reveal that:

* The firms made $12.2 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008.
o Four out of the five companies saw earnings increases, with CIGNA’s profits jumping 346 percent.
* The companies provided private insurance coverage to 2.7 million fewer people than the year before.
o Four out of the five companies insured fewer people through private coverage. UnitedHealth alone insured 1.7 million fewer people through employer-based or individual coverage.
o All but one of the five companies increased the number of people they covered through public insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare). UnitedHealth added 680,000 people in public plans.
* The proportion of premium dollars spent on health care expenses went down for three of the five firms, with higher proportions going to administrative expenses and profits.

Endorsement Deal

Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario:

Being nice to the biggest banks will not save the midterm elections for the Democrats.  The banks’ campaign contributions will flow increasingly to the Republicans and against any Democrats (and there are precious few) who have fought for real reform.

The president’s only political chance is to take on the too big to fail banks directly and clearly.  He needs to explain where they came from (answer: the Reagan Revolution, gone wrong), how the problem became much worse during the last administration, and how – in credible detail – he will end their reign.

What we have now is not a free market.  It is rather one of the most complete (and awful) instances ever of savvy businessmen capturing a state and the minds of the people who run it.  Is this really what the president seeks to endorse?

The Big Lie of the Life of the Mind

Very interesting take on the class structure of graduate school, via AZSpot:

One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected. Wealthy students are not trapped by the system; they can take what they want from it, not feel pressured, and walk away at any point with minimal consequences. They do not have to obsess about whether some professor really likes them. If they are determined to become academics, they can select universities on the basis of reputation rather than money. They can focus on research rather than scrambling for time-consuming teaching and research assistantships to help pay the bills. And, when they go on the market, they can hold out for the perfect position rather than accepting whatever is available.

But the system over which the privileged preside does not ultimately depend on them for the daily functioning of higher education (which is now, as we all know, drifting toward a part-time, no-benefit business). The ranks of new Ph.D.’s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.

Again and again, the people who wrote to me said things like “Nobody told me” and “Now what do I do?” “Everybody keeps saying my doctorate gives me all kinds of transferable skills, but I can’t get a second interview, even outside of academe.” “What’s wrong with me?”

The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)

Unable even to consider that something might be wrong with higher education, mom and dad begin to think there is something wrong with their daughter, and she begins to internalize that feeling.

Everyone has told her that “there are always places for good people in academe.” She begins to obsess about the possibility of some kind of fatal personal shortcoming. She goes through multiple mock interviews, and takes business classes, learning to present herself for nonacademic positions. But again and again, she is passed over in favor of undergraduates who are no different from people she has taught for years. Maybe, she wonders, there’s something about me that makes me unfit for any kind of job.

This goes on for years: sleepless nights, anxiety, escalating and increasingly paralyzing self-doubt, and a host of stress-induced ailments. She has even removed the Ph.D. from her résumé, with some pain, but she lives in dread that interviewers will ask what she has been doing for the last 12 years. (All her old friends are well established by now, some with families, some with what seem to be high-powered careers. She lives in a tiny apartment and struggles to pay off her student loans.) What’s left now but entry-level clerical work with her immediate supervisor just three years out of high school?

She was the best student her adviser had ever seen (or so he said); it seemed like a dream when she was admitted to a distinguished doctoral program; she worked so hard for so long; she won almost every prize; she published several essays; she became fully identified with the academic life; even distancing herself from her less educated family. For all of those reasons, she continues as an adjunct who qualifies for food stamps, increasingly isolating herself to avoid feelings of being judged. Her students have no idea that she is a prisoner of the graduate-school poverty trap. The consolations of teaching are fewer than she ever imagined.

Such people sometimes write to me about their thoughts of suicide, and I think nothing separates me from them but luck.

House To Investigate Anthem BC

From McJoan at DK:

The Obama administration has already sent a sternly-worded letter to Anthem Blue Cross over the company’s excessive rate increase for individual policy holders in California. How excessive? Up to 39 percent. But that’s not all. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield also informed their customers that they are changing their practice of adjusting rates annually, and as of now are reserving the right to raise premiums basically whenever they feel like it.

You got that? They want to do exactly what the credit card companies were doing.

There’s little beyond sternly-worded letters that the administration can do, other than something like maybe advocating strongly for some kind of legislative remedy, say in the form of serious competition to private insurers in the form of a robust public option for health insurance. But there’s something Congress can do, and that’s put the insurers on the hot seat and investigate. From the Speaker’s blog, The Gavel:

As Secretary Sebelius pointed out, WellPoint [parent company to Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield] reported a staggering $2,740,000,000 in profits for the fourth quarter of 2009 alone – eight times more than the last quarter of 2008 – and more than $4,750,000,000 for all of 2009. In fact, the company reaped these record profits even as it lost more than 1.4 million members…..

Today, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak announced that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on February 24th regarding the premium rate increases.

The hearing, conveniently, will be held on February 24, the day before the bipartisan White House healthcare summit.

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