Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who owns US policy: let’s not forget who the bad guys are

The New York Times, March 7, 2010, (US enriches companies defying its policy on Iran, by Jo Becker and Ron Nixon) reveals that the US is supporting, primarily through government contracts, many companies that are involved in doing business in and with the government of Iran, a country that official US policy is to discourage companies from doing business with. Moreover, most of these corporations are doing business in the energy (especially gas and oil) sector, which is not a surprise given that Iran is a big oil producer, and also in supplying the technology for, say, developing nuclear power. Or nuclear weapons. A bunch of politicians are now posturing about this (after all, Iran is a fundamentalist Islamic state that is led by a Holocaust-denier who routinely attacks the US that many think is in the process of developing nuclear weapons), but we will see what, if anything, will happen.

So, maybe it is upsetting, but it is scarcely surprising. The US government supporting the interests of big multi-national corporations even when they are operating against the interests of the American people? If this is a shock to you, where have you been? We (the US, the world) are in the middle of (despite the pronouncements that we are “coming out of”) an enormous financial crisis brought about by the overt support by the US government of policies based upon supporting the unmitigated and unencumbered greed of the financial industry. And those policies, which have included trillions of dollars in bailouts of those companies, continue essentially unimpeded. If anyone is “coming out of” the financial crisis, it is those who brought it on, happily and blithely making their millions and billions again while a huge percent of people even in the US are unemployed, working in poor-paying jobs, and have no reasonable prospect of finding the kind of job that allows the dignity of supporting your family, having good food and a good home, sending your kids to college, and expecting a reasonable retirement. And, oh yes, having health care. The breadth of this crisis is spread wide, but those who were already poor and on the edge, disproportionately although scarcely only racial and ethnic minorities, have of course been the hardest hit. This is no joke and has people angry, angry at the financiers and angry at the government that has talked tough but not “walked the walk”. Democrats have a lot of blame, from the Clinton era policies to those of Obama and his recycled-Clinton financial advisors, but it is absurd for that criticism to be coming from Republicans. Not only was the Bush-era so aggressive in its de-regulation and support of the financial industry (and the energy industry currently involved in Iran) that it makes Clinton and Obama look good by comparison, but even now the Republicans in Congress are pushing policies that would make it even worse than those of the Administration. And that is not easy.

In health care, often the subject of this blog, the insurance industry is getting attacked. The President’s speech indicted them 13 times. But they are still there, they are still making billions in profits, and we still have at least 75 million people who are uninsured or seriously underinsured (and most of the rest of us who will find out when we get sick!). In response to great pressure, Anthem Blue Cross of California* (let’s not forget who the bad guys are!) withdrew, at least temporarily, its planned up-to-39% rate increases, but these guys are not going bankrupt, they are still making a fortune. It would not be too far-fetched to suggest that they proposed this just so they could roll it back, and make it look like they gave something up, in order to prevent people and regulators from demanding that they give up some of what they currently have. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched, but it probably underestimates their greed; I expect to see quieter efforts to increase rates return soon.

We have a conflict here. Politicians, Democratic and Republican, want to condemn the excesses of powerful corporations while continuing to take their money. Regular people, including me and a lot of teabaggers, believe the solution should be that portrayed by Wiley Miller in the March 7, 2010 comic “Non Sequitur”. (Check it out.) Somehow, we are being hosed; by the financiers, by the energy companies, by the insurance companies. (On the latter, and while we’re on comics, see “Shoe”, Thursday, March 11, 2010.)

Why would I be surprised?

*”Anthem” is the name that Wellpoint, the stock exchange-listed holding company, uses for the for-profit BlueCross/Blue Shield plans it owns, such as the one in California. Not all BC/BS are for-profit; many remain not-for-profit (e.g., BC/BS of Kansas, based in Topeka, KS, whose planned sale to Anthem was, I have previously noted, blocked by then-Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius in 2002, and BC/BS of Kansas City, based in KC, MO.) Unfortunately, market competition often has the not-for-profits behaving almost as badly, in terms of exclusions and rate hikes, as the for-proftis.

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