Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category
Extremely interesting report in The Intercept by Robert Mackey, and definitely worth reading in its entirety. It begins:
HASHTAG ACTIVISM HAS its limits, and most social-media reaction stories are predictable and boring, but the discussion of Colin Kaepernick’s “Star-Spangled Banner” protest taking place in #VeteransForKaepernick threadson Twitter and Facebook right now is more varied and interesting than almost all of the commentary on the subject cramming the airwaves.
Dear America stop speaking for me you don’t care about us either we’re just your mask for racism and prejudice#VeteransForKaepernick
— Beige Rob (@MrRedMartian) August 30, 2016
— Josh Howell (@lesscrazyplease) August 31, 2016
My colleague Jon Schwarz startled many Americans by pointing out that our national anthem “literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans” in a rarely sung or talked about third verse about slaughtering escaped slaves who chose to fight for their freedom, and against the United States, in the War of 1812.
In the heated environment of the election campaign, it is also notable that Kaepernick explained that his attempt to draw attention to racial injustice — which was criticized by Donald Trump — is not something he expects to be resolved by the victory of either candidate. . .
And definitely read the whole thing. I didn’t know that about the third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” for example:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Well worth reading: a blog post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.
Debbie Wasserman Schulz is, in effect, a corporate shill—or even worse, a corporate plant: someone who will sit in Congress, accept money from payday-lending industry lobbyists, and attack the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when it attempted to protect consumers from that rapacious industry. She seems to operate on one single principle: “Show me the money.” It was she who changed the rules so that lobbyists could officially be part of the Democratic Central Committee—because, in her view, you cannot have too much corporate influence on the government.
I am disappointed, to say the least, but this is truly the direction the U.S. is going, as fast it can. Bernie was our best chance—in part because he recognized that the change we need is not something any one person can do (a sentiment with which I believe President Obama would wholeheartedly agree) but requires a movement, a national group of people who connect with each other to drive a change from the ground up.
I don’t think that will happen. At least, I see few signs of it. EpiPens are a case in point: they cost less than $12 in Canada, and the new special “generic” wholesale price is $150 each (a two-pack for $300).
But it will have a wholesale list price of $300 for a pack of two, half the price of the brand-name EpiPen.
When Mylan bought EpiPens, they sold in the US for $57 each.
The Mylan CEO is the very sort of person whom Debbie Wasserman Schulz has elected to serve. That, I think, is telling.
Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
Democratic primary voters in South Florida’s 23rd Congressional District ignored the Democratic National Committee scandal that has engulfed Debbie Wasserman Schultz and gave the incumbent a 56.46 percent win over her Democratic challenger, Tim Canova, who claimed 43.54 percent of the vote. Unfortunately for Canova, who had the backing of Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Independents were not allowed to vote in this closed primary.
Wasserman Schultz will still have to compete against a Republican rival, Joe Kaufman, in the November 8 general election. Her District is heavily Democratic, however, and she is expected to achieve an easy win – unless new scandals arrive between now and election day.
Canova is a law professor at Nova Southeastern University. This was his first endeavor in running for public office. His strong showing in this race and his ability to raise $3.3 million from predominantly small donors around the country suggests that voters have not heard the last from Tim Canova.
Fundraising data at the Center for Responsive Politics shows that Wasserman Schultz’s main campaign committee raised a similar $3,373,950 but her Leadership PAC spent an additional $1,193,571. According to Politico, the “super PAC Patriot Majority PAC also spent $640,000 to back her.”
Unlike Canova, whose small donors constituted 75 percent of his fundraising total, only 23 percent of Wasserman Schultz’s main campaign committee donors were small.
During the primary campaign, Canova had repeatedly challenged Wasserman Schultz on her ability to fairly represent the interests of her constituents when in her role as Chair of the DNC she has allowed the Wall Street takeover of the Democratic party. Campaign records for her primary campaign committee and/or her Leadership PAC show she was receiving large checks from many of the same Wall Street billionaire hedge fund or private equity titans as Hillary Clinton’s committees and PACs: S. Donald Sussman of Paloma Partners, Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investments, and Haim Saban of Saban Capital to name just a few. (See related articles below.)
Hedge funds and private equity firms are desperate to hold on to . . .
Michael Winship writes at BillMoyers.com:
Cash and carry has become nothing more than standard operating procedure in politics and government, and it’s wrecking the republic. The whole system is rotten to the core, corrupted by big business and special interests from the seventh son to the seventh son.
Or daughter, as we learned these past few days when the news introduced us to Heather Bresch, CEO of a drug company called Mylan and daughter of Democratic US Sen. Joe Manchin III, who’s also the former governor of West Virginia.
Mylan manufactures and sells EpiPen, the emergency delivery system for an allergy drug, epinephrine, that can make the difference between life and sudden death. The cost for a two-pack of the devices has soared nearly 550 percent to $608.61. That’s a price far beyond the means of most families with kids threatened by possibly fatal allergic reactions.
At the same time, Bresch has seen her own compensation increase a whopping 671 percent, from $2,453,456 in 2007 (the year that Mylan bought EpiPen) to $18,931,068 in 2015.
She should resign for price gouging rather than get a raise, but like so many of her fellow executives Bresch sails serenely on as her fellow Americans drown in health care debt. Her career and the success of her company epitomize everything that so enrages every voter who believes that the fix is in and that the system is weighted in favor of those with big money and serious connections.
According to reports, Bresch got her first job at Mylan working in the factory basement, when her well-connected dad asked the company’s then-CEO, Milan Puskar, for a favor. Later, a scandal erupted when it was discovered that West Virginia University, which had received a $20 million donation from Puskar and whose president was a Manchin and Bresch family friend, had awarded her an MBA although she had not completed the required coursework.
The school president and other administrators were forced to resign, but Bresch survived the controversy and has done very well indeed in the pharmaceutical business, rising through the ranks and at the same time learning how to adroitly manipulate government and its regulations — lessons for which life in a successful political family with its network of friends and colleagues prepared her well.
For a time, she was Mylan’s chief lobbyist (working to help pass the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, among other legislation) and Anna Edney at Bloomberg Politics writes that “Mylan spent about $4 million in 2012 and 2013 on lobbying for access to EpiPens generally and for legislation, including the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Office of the Clerk for the House of Representatives. Mylan also was the top corporate sponsor of a group called Food Allergy Research & Education that was the key lobbyist pushing for the bill encouraging schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors, of which EpiPen is by far the leading product.”
The company also took advantage of what President Obama has called an “unpatriotic tax loophole,” making a deal in 2014 with Abbott Laboratories to incorporate in the Netherlands — one of those infamous “inversions” that allow companies to pay a much lower tax rate abroad than here at home — even as they rake in profits from US taxpayer-subsidized programs like Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits. Political expedience and maybe embarrassment saw Joe Manchin denouncing his daughter’s inversion deal. But no one stopped it.
Like so many businesses eager to purchase politicians all their own, Mylan has made significant cash contributions to both sides of the aisle. Emmarie Huetteman at The New York Times reports, “Mylan’s political action committee has given at least $71,000 to congressional candidates from both parties this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with about 72 percent of those contributions going to Republicans.”
Dad got a taste, too: “It has been one of the biggest donors to Mr. Manchin since he joined the Senate in 2010, giving more than $60,000 in total.”
Mylan also has brushed up against . . .
Jon Schwarz reports at The Intercept:
There have been dozens if not hundreds of news articles about Aetna leaving the Affordable Health Care Act’s online marketplaces in eleven states, and whether this signals serious problems for Obamacare down the road.
But none of them have truly explained that what’s happening with Aetna is the consequence of a flaw built into Obamacare from the start: It permits insurance companies to make a profit on the basic healthcare package Americans are now legally required to purchase.
This makes Obamacare fundamentally different from essentially all systems of universal healthcare on earth. (There is one tiny exception, the Netherlands, but of the four insurance companies that cover 90 percent of Dutch citizens, just one is for profit.)
Why does this matter? The answer is complicated but extremely important if Obamacare is going to avoid collapsing.
Insurance companies like Aetna complain that fewer young people than anticipated are buying insurance on the exchanges. The Obama administration was aiming at over 38 percent of the exchange pool being between 18 and 35 years old, but right now that number is just 28 percent. That means insurers have to pay more in health costs for customers who are older and sicker than anticipated, making those insurers more likely to abandon the exchanges. So a big swath of the U.S. now has just one insurance company offering Obamacare plans, and one county in Arizona has none.
The failure of young people to sign up in expected numbers is connected to the weakness of the Obamacare mandate. The amount that people who don’t buy health insurance must pay in penalties started off very low, and while it’s increased, it’s still usually significantly less than the cost of even the cheapest plan on exchanges.
By contrast, in other countries with private health insurance, the government response is ferocious if you don’t buy the basic package. Switzerland will seize your wages to pay for the necessary insurance. If you get sick in Japan without buying insurance you have to come up with all your back premiums before your insurer will pay your medical bills.
It is, of course, technically feasible to set up something similar in the U.S. But it will never be politically feasible. That’s because there would, rightfully, be an intense political backlash if the government started garnishing our paychecks and sending the money to Aetna, whose CEO made $28 millionlast year.
In Healing America, probably the best book ever written about how different countries provide universal healthcare, T.R. Reid explains that . . .
How Veterans Are Losing the War at Home: Making America Pain-Free for Plutocrats and Big Pharma, But Not Vets
Ann Jones writes at TomDispatch.com:
A friend of mine, a Vietnam vet, told me about a veteran of the Iraq War who, when some civilian said, “Thank you for your service,” replied: “I didn’t serve, I was used.” That got me thinking about the many ways today’s veterans are used, conned, and exploited by big gamers right here at home.
Near the end of his invaluable book cataloguing the long, slow disaster ofAmerica’s War for the Greater Middle East, historian Andrew Bacevich writes:
Some individuals and institutions actually benefit from an armed conflict that drags on and on. Those benefits are immediate and tangible. They come in the form of profits, jobs, and campaign contributions. For the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries, perpetual war is not necessarily bad news.
Bacevich is certainly right about war profiteers, but I believe we haven’t yet fully wrapped our minds around what that truly means. This is what we have yet to take in: today, the U.S. is the most unequal country in the developed world, and the wealth of the plutocrats on top is now so great that, when they invest it in politics, it’s likely that no elected government can stop them or the lucrative wars and “free markets” they exploit.
Among the prime movers in our corporatized politics are undoubtedly the two billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their cozy network of secret donors. It’s hard to grasp how rich they really are: they rank fifth (David) and sixth (Charles) on Business Insider’s list of the 50 richest people in the world, but if you pool their wealth they become by far the single richest “individual” on the planet. And they have pals. For decades now they’ve hosted top-secret gatherings of their richest collaborators that sometimes also feature dignitaries like Clarence Thomas or the late Antonin Scalia, two of the Supreme Court Justices who gave them the Citizens United decision,suffocating American democracy in plutocratic dollars. That select donor group had reportedly planned to spend at least $889 million on this year’s elections and related political projects, but recent reports note a scaling back and redirection of resources.
While the contest between Trump and Clinton fills the media, the big money is evidently going to be aimed at selected states and municipalities to aid right-wing governors, Senate candidates, congressional representatives, and in some cities, ominously enough, school board candidates. The Koch brothers need not openly support the embarrassing Trump, for they’ve already proved that, by controlling Congress, they can significantly control the president, as they have already done in the Obama era.
Yet for all their influence, the Koch name means nothing, pollsters report, to more than half of the U.S. population. In fact, the brothers Koch largely stayed under the radar until recent years when their roles as polluters, campaigners against the environment, and funders of a new politics came into view. Thanks to Robert Greenwald’s film Koch Brothers Exposed and Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, we now know a lot more about them, but not enough.
They’ve always been ready to profit off America’s wars. Despite their extreme neo-libertarian goal of demonizing and demolishing government, they reportedly didn’t hesitate to pocket about $170 million as contractors for George W. Bush’s wars. They sold fuel (oil is their principal business) to the Defense Department, and after they bought Georgia Pacific, maker of paper products, they supplied that military essential: toilet paper.
But that was small potatoes compared to what happened when soldiers came home from the wars and fell victim to the profiteering of corporate America. Dig in to the scams exploiting veterans, and once again you’ll run into the Koch brothers.
Pain Relief: With Thanks from Big Pharma
It’s no secret that the VA wasn’t ready for the endless, explosive post-9/11 wars. Its hospitals were already full of old vets from earlier wars when suddenly there arrived young men and women with wounds, both physical and mental, the doctors had never seen before. The VA enlarged its hospitals, recruited new staff, and tried to catch up, but it’s been running behind ever since.
It’s no wonder veterans’ organizations keep after it (as well they should), demanding more funding and better service. But they have to be careful what they focus on. If they leave it at that and overlook what’s really going on — often in plain sight, however disguised in patriotic verbiage — they can wind up being marched down a road they didn’t choose that leads to a place they don’t want to be.
Even before the post-9/11 vets came home, a phalanx of drug-making corporations led by Purdue Pharma had already gone to work on the VA. These Big Pharma corporations (many of which buy equipment from Koch Membrane Systems) had developed new pain medications — opioid narcoticslike OxyContin (Purdue), Vicodin, Percocet, Opana (Endo Pharmaceuticals), Duragesic, and Nucynta (Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) — and they spotted a prospective marketplace. Early in 2001, Purdue developed a plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars targeting the VA. By the end of that year, this country was at war, and Big Pharma was looking at a gold mine.
They recruited doctors, set them up in private “Pain Foundations,” and paid them handsomely to give lectures and interviews, write studies and textbooks, teach classes in medical schools, and testify before Congress on the importance of providing our veterans with powerful painkillers. In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration considered restricting the use of opioids, fearing they might be addictive. They were talked out of it by experts like Dr. Rollin Gallagher of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and board member of the American Pain Foundation, both largely funded by the drug companies. He spoke against restricting OxyContin.
By 2008, congressional legislation had been written — the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act — directing the VA to develop a plan to evaluate all patients for pain. When the VA objected to Congress dictating its medical procedures, Big Pharma launched a “Freedom from Pain” media blitz, enlisting veterans’ organizations to campaign for the bill and get it passed.
Those painkillers were also dispatched to the war zones where our troops were physically breaking down under the weight of the equipment they carried. By 2010, a third of the Army’s soldiers were on prescription medications — and nearly half of them, 76,500, were on prescription opioids — which proved to be highly addictive, despite the assurance of experts like Rollin Gallagher. In 2007, for instance, “The American Veterans and Service Members Survival Guide,” distributed by the American Pain Foundation and edited by Gallagher, offered this assurance: “[W]hen used for medical purposes and under the guidance of a skilled health-care provider, the risk of addiction from opioid pain medication is very low.”
By that time, here at home, soldiers and vets were dying at astonishing rates from accidental or deliberate overdoses. . .
Lael Henterley reports in the Seattle Times:
Cedric Smith learned that a warrant for his arrest had been issued when he was turned down for an apartment.
The warrant connected back to a pending low-level assault charge stemming from a complaint made after a drunk woman tried to barge into his apartment but was blocked by the door, and he was confident the case would be dropped as soon as he explained the circumstances. Smith took a day off work at K2 Sports and headed to Seattle Municipal Court to resolve the warrant. He expected he’d be given another court date—after all, he’d shown up to take care of this on his own free will.
The judge set Smith’s bail at $10,000; he went from the courtroom to the ninth floor of the King County Detention Center to await his next court date. Smith, who was employed and had some money saved, thought he’d be able to put up $1,000 and bond out. But the bail-bond agency said he lacked the collateral to secure his release. After 10 days the court offered Smith time served in exchange for a guilty plea, but he refused. He sat in jail and waited until, 41 days later, his case was dismissed.
When Smith went into court at the beginning of the ordeal, his life was as stable as it had ever been. He had a full-time job, a stable place to live, and the means to support himself. After his release, he found himself back on food stamps and struggling just to make it to the next day.
Smith isn’t the only low-level defendant whose life has been turned upside down because he was accused of a crime. A 2015 study by the Seattle Municipal Court’s Research, Planning and Evaluation Group found that in 2014, 31 percent of in-custody defendants charged with misdemeanors in Seattle Municipal Court—the busiest court in Washington—ended up waiting for their next court date in jail because they couldn’t come up with the cash to secure the freedom they’re supposedly entitled to until found guilty. While there, they lose jobs, homes, children, and dignity.
This isn’t how bail is supposed to work in Washington. State law mandates a presumption of release in all but capital cases. All pretrial defendants should be released on their promise to show up for court unless a judge determines a person is likely to fail to appear in court, commit a violent crime, tamper with witnesses, or obstruct justice. When conditions are imposed to guarantee appearance at future court dates, the law says they should be the least restrictive conditions necessary. Electronic home monitoring, day reporting, and community court are all far less restrictive than incarceration, but only 11 percent of those arraigned in custody at Seattle Municipal Court are assigned to specialty courts or less-restrictive supervision. Instead, judges are quick to assign bail, even in cases where defendants don’t have the means to pay $50, let alone $10,000, creating a two-tiered justice system.
“The system is flawed when people with money can afford to bail out who might actually be a danger to the community and poor people can’t afford to get out on a simple misdemeanor trespass charge,” says Twyla Carter of the King County Department of Public Defense. . .