National Restaurant Association Thugs

Wow, the more I look into these business lobbies the worse it looks.  Today I'm going to preview the National Restaurant Association, one of the Bush-supporting 'Gang of 6', and the primary opponent of the minimum wage.  The National Restaurant Association has claimed that a minimum wage hike will lead to massive job losses, to

So who exactly is going to fight the minimum wage?

So we have a Universal Health Care System Run by Thugs - if you go to the emergency room you get treated at great cost to the taxpayer, though the insurance industry is basically dedicated to denying normal health care and preventative care to individuals and shipping the money to executives and lobbyists.  Let's talk food supply for a second

http://www.restaurant.org/government/iss ues/issue.cfm?Issue=estatetax

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Universal Health Care Run by Psychotics

I'm glad there's widespread liberal discussion about the health care system and the need to fix it.  Paul Krugman made a forceful argument about it today in his Op-Ed, but it's really the same argument that heroic blogger nyceve makes on a regular basis on Dailykos - the policy questions aren't the problem, the insurance companies themselves are the issue at hand.   There are two pieces of the puzzle in health care - the policy and the politics.  Clinton's failures in 1993-1994 were the result of a lack of willingness to handle the politics appropriately - read this timeline from Digby and you'll see that we could have won the fight - public support for a different health care system was extremely high, even after Clinton's plan had been defeated.  

From what I can see, what happened in 1993 is that a wonky Clinton team tried to preemptively compromise with the insurance companies, and did zero organizing to deal with a backlash they didn't foresee.  The right-wing innovated to the defeat his plan, using a new combination of genuinely poisonous Congressional politics, direct mail, and cable news punditry.  Instead of understanding that they had been outmaneuvered, Clinton Democrats took the lesson that any policy challenging corporate power had low public support, whereas the business community took the lesson from this fight that bad faith poisonous aggression can pass any policy they want.  It was a nice little partnership that worked through the 1990s, though it fell apart with George Bush as corporate elites used the opportunity Bush presented to rape America, and Democrats sat helpless on the sidelines.  The K-Street project and the cronyism we are dealing with today are a direct legacy of this fight, but so is the new and pugnacious generation of Democratic politicians who grew up watching us get bloodied with corporate money.

Now I've done a fair amount of blogging onChamber of Commerce and its President Thomas Donahue, who has built the Chamber into the $100 million a year institutional manifestation of this sickness.  Donahue has been on the board of both Union Pacific and Sunrise Senior Living when they were found to have serious safety concerns that end up killing or hurting people, and Donahue never loses an opportunity to lobby for relaxed regulations to allow his companies to kill more efficiently.  He's going to fight tooth and nail to kill any attempt to change the system for the worse, and he has $100 million to do it.  And with the new Democratic Congress undominated by Dixiecrats for the first time in a hundred years, the fight for universal health care is going to mirror a whole series of clashes with corporate power that include the Employee Free Choice Act, negotiations with Medicare, net neutrality, media consolidation, war profiteering, corruption in the food industry, shareholder abuses, etc.  It's that bad.  And these are not problems that can be solved this cycle - they are going to require big fights and then one or multiple elections during which the public must ratify our anti-corporate populist message.

The problem with health care in other words is not passing technically interesting policy, which is why the Wyden plan should be seen only as a somewhat besides-the-point rhetoric gambit.  The problem is convincing the public that the Republicans and their corporate backers are bent on attacking the American way of life, and that Republicans simply need to be voted out of office.  Only then, when Republicans are sufficiently convinced that they cannot survive in office by bucking the public, can we reign in corporate power and implement good health care for all and other nice economic goodies that reduce risk for most of us.  To get to this place, we need to present a series of obviously good proposals and let the Mitch McConnell-led Republican Congress filibuster them, and then make 2008 about the national question of who controls the economy.  that creates the space for 2008 contenders to be progressive and build a movement around them.  Let's not be afraid to take this to the voters, as they are with us.

As part of this, ">Atrios thinks, and rightly so, that getting politicians behind universal health care needs to happen.  That's true.  I'd like to think a little bit about framing, though.  It's been clear for some time that America already has a universal health care system, it just works through pushing costs to states and localities and shunting people to emergency rooms where they die faster and their care costs more.  Once we accept the framework that American taxpayers already pay for health care coverage for everyone, we just do it in the worst way possible, the argument changes from 'should the government pay for health care' to 'who's ripping us off'.  And the answer is the health insurance industry.

These companies render our health care system bloated and inefficient, but let's be honest, that's somewhat dry language to describe what they are really doing.  Through their immoral decisions to deny care and coverage based on excessive bureaucracy, the executives of these companies are simply killers.  Their wealth is literally built with blood money.  And their chief lobbyist, Tom Donahue, probably believes that there should be a special tax exemption for equipment to clean the blood off their hands.  You might think I'm being rhetorically hot or irresponsible, but dealing with horrible customer service designed to deny you care when you have, say, cancer, demands a certain level of honest outrage.  It isn't wrong to disdain these people, though I suppose that Very Serious People like to pretend that decisions made by a corporate elite denying millions medical care isn't actually murder by spreadsheet.  But it is.

As progressives, we are going to be fighting these terrible people who use poisonous political tactics for a long time.  They are well-funded, they are smart, and they have a lot of institutional allies.  I don't know what it's going to take to convince Democratic wonks that this is a very aggressive time in politics, and we ought to change our strategies to emphasize public persuasion.  But we ought to.

So anyway, to recap, we already have universal health care, it's just run by psychos.  These psychos happen to wear nice suits and drive fancy cars and have titles like 'CEO' and credentials like 'Harvard Business School' graduate.  These psychos will resist any attempt to take away their power.  Taking away their power is a necessary part of any solution.

You do the math.

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Tom Donahue, the 'Gang of 6' and Red America

Well, it turns out that the Sunrise Senior Living scandal isn't the first time Mr. Donahue has been involved in corporate accountability problems, but I'll save that for a later post.  I want to explain why I'm blogging about Tom Donahue and the US Chamber of Commerce, because it gets at the heart of the problem for the progressive movement.  A substantial amount of political power in this country is controlled by a relatively small number of people.  These people sit on corporate boards, they know each other, they pay each others' salaries, they go to conferences in Davos, and they fund campaigns for both parties.  They are willing to invest in substantial sums - like hundreds of millions of dollars - and make alliances with right-wing Christian groups to eviscerate the power of the Federal government and progressive policies to be effective.  

The 2001 tax cuts, for instance, aside from giving billions to the wealthy, destroyed the capacity of the government to do much affirmative good work.  By crippling governance, these elites are pushing the public to accept private goods in lieu of what should be public services.  Private schools, bottled water, health food, private and chartered travel, elite medical institutions - these are all part and parcel of building what John Edwards calls the 'Two Americas'.  It really is quite stark.  If you are in the business or political elite, compared to normal Americans, you live in different areas, have different crime rates, eat different food and drink different water, send your kids to different schools, travel more efficiently, are subject to a different set of laws, and have access to superior medicine.  The public at large responds to this in different ways - liberals get despondent and cynical, and blue collar ethnic whites begin to rely on right-wing church networks for what had been public services.

The key to building and sustaining this reactionary America is allowing individuals like Thomas Donahue to act above the law for personal profit, while lobbying to weaken agencies that might hold them accountable.  It fits perfectly into this destruction of the public sphere, and allows bad actors to profit from doing bad.  We will not and cannot build a progressive America as long as we have an economy that incentivizes people like this to steal from investors and use that money to lobby against us.

I would encourage you to read this article by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum on the power of the Chamber of Commerce, and the revolution in business lobbying that Donahue helped to usher in.  Long story short, the Chamber of Commerce used to be a trade association that advocated in a bipartisan manner for narrowly tailored policies to benefit its members.  Since 1997 or so, it has become a fully functional part of the partisan Republican machine, with Donahue raising its budget to $150M a year from corporate chiefs satisfied with his ability to move policy through a Republican Congress.  

Thomas Donahue plays extreme hardball; he has called investigations by New York state Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer "the most egregious and unacceptable form of intimidation that we have seen in this country in modern time." He creates a climate of fear and intimidation in DC, and along with the 'Gang of Six' trade associations - the "Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Restaurant Association, NFIB and NAW" - pushes for extreme right-wing policies that don't make any sense unless you look through the lens of a greedy and unaccountable management class.  

It's a formidable group and it's not going away.

The chamber eagerly deploys every weapon in the lobbying arsenal and can be counted on by the president to get things done. It has demonstrated its success repeatedly in the past four years on issues as disparate as loosening ergonomics standards and creating health-savings accounts.

Its lobbyists blanket Capitol Hill. Its Web sites and telemarketers stir up voters back home. It donates generously to political campaigns coffers, and it bankrolls multimillion-dollar ad campaigns for the politicians and policies it supports.

...

In the first half of last year (the latest figures available), the chamber ranked first among all organizations in lobbying expenditures, at $30 million. The chamber also contributed more than $4 million to the November Fund, a group that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry for choosing a former trial lawyer, John Edwards, as his running mate. Today, the chamber is solidly in the black, its $150 million annual budget triple what it was when Donohue took over. It also is staunchly Republican in most of its legislative positions and played a pivotal role in cutting the tax on dividends and approving free-trade pacts, among many other Bush priorities. Whenever the president or his people called, the chamber assembled coalitions of like-minded groups and contacted its 3 million member firms to step up political pressure and donate lobbying-related funds.

...

For the 2004 elections, the chamber dispersed 215 political operatives to 31 states, mailed 3.7 million letters to targeted voters, made 5.6 million phone calls and sent 30 million e-mails to persuade pro-business voters to go to the polls.

Donahue is really smart, and the Chamber isn't going away.  If you read the full article, you'll see that he hired Al From, head of the DLC, to make sure that right-wing policies succeed in both parties.  

The key though to understanding Donahue and the ascendance of the right-wing corrupted elites is that they don't really have a base.  Local Chambers of Commerce are largely unaware of Donahue's work and record.  They don't know that he was on the board of Qwest and Union Pacific when both companies faced serious legal problems due to either fraud or lack of investment in safety procedures, or that he was just caught selling shares of Sunrise Senior Living - another company on which he is a board member - in advance of the release of damaging accounting information .  Local Chambers are mostly composed of businesspeople who get together in communities and are mostly ethical normal folk looking to network and support local commerce.

It is a cornerstone of Bush's ascendance, and more than that the right-wing movement that built him up, that corrupted groups like the Chamber and the 'Group of Six' can operate as arms of a partisan vicious political movement to destroy the government without the people they purport to represent knowing about it.  It's a larger institutional problem of management capture, the same lack of accountability among elites that let Enron and Iraq happen.

I mean the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, a guy who's pushing to weaken every tool of the public to possibly hold corporations accountable for unethical behavior and a rabid Bush supporter, was just caught selling shares ahead of bad accounting news.  That's not good for investors, for corporations, for employees, or even for profit.  It's only good for Thomas Donahue.  And that's what his America is all about.

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Corrupted Commerce: Thomas Donahue

If it were possible to pick one person as the representative for American business in Washington, Thomas Donahue is that man.  He is the President and CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the most important business lobbying group in the country.  He is also on the Board of Directors and the Audit Committee of Sunrise Senior Living, and was caught selling stock ahead of the revelations of accounting problems.  That is a serious no-no for any board member or any business executive.  It's deeply unethical and possibly illegal, because it's stealing from investors.  If there's any indication that the business lobby under Republican rule became unbelievably corrupted, look no further than Thomas Donahue, the man that the business community picked to represent them to the Republican power structure.

It's time for the business community to turn over a new leaf.  Donahue needs to go.  Progressives, New Democrats, and Blue Dogs have different relationships with the business community, but all of us agree that corruption is wrong and that having someone like Donahue attempting to make policy recommendation is egregious. And let's be clear - Donahue and the Chamber of Commerce are very very powerful.

But it's not of course just the stock sales and theft from investors.  These assisted living facilities are managed badly, and that often means that they are a living hell for the people taking care of fading elderly and the patients themselves.  My grandfather lived in an assisted living facility before he died, and his stuff was stolen by an undertrained staff that was clearly badly managed.  I was little, but I remember the stress as my mother had to worry about whether he was being fed and taken care of properly, juggling two kids and a full time job.  It's not just that business corruption is some abstract problem, in this case its consequences are horribly cruel and immoral.  I know I'm not alone in these kinds of stories; we do not treat our elderly well in this country, because these relatively unregulated industries are allowed to flourish and rip everyone, including investors, off.

Here's an investigation from USA Today on these facilities:

Staffing worries caregivers themselves

Sunrise administrators would periodically say, "Get more staff in here," says Stilabower, who resigned in 2001 and now is co-owner of a nearby adult day care facility. "Then, two or three weeks later, after they've gotten the profit and loss report and the numbers were not on, I'd be asked to see if anyone wanted a day off, or would work less than eight hours."

During the two years after Stilabower left, three residents or their families filed lawsuits against the Sunrise facility. Two of the lawsuits alleged inadequate staffing and training, and the third involved allegations of a medication overdose. Two have been settled. State health officials cited the facility for several violations in January 2003, including failing to adequately care for an incontinent resident and failing to properly change the dressings on a resident's wound.

But the center has been free of violations since May 2003, according to the Indiana Department of Health.

Sunrise credits the change to a new executive director, who began work in May 2002 and soon moved to replace the facility's management team by hiring seven new supervisors. Sunrise spokeswoman Sarah Evers said employees who did not embrace Sunrise's model that "no task is beneath any team member" were let go. But the staffing level was not increased.

"It wasn't changing the number of people working there, but it was changing the people who worked there," Evers said of the improvement in the facility's record.

Still, assisted living staffers across the country voice complaints similar to Stilabower's.

That Donahue is still President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce is an outrage.  He should step down.  Members of the US Chamber, Forture 500 companies, ought to think better of themselves than to let a sleazy and unethical man represent them in DC, one who makes millions stealing from small investors in an industry known to mistreat the sick and elderly.  Rarely is a situation this stark, morally speaking.

The business elite in this country has a responsibility to ethical corporate governance and business practices, but I still don't hear any of them speaking out.  And as for Democrats, this is an easy one.  We need a healthy and honest business lobby in this country, one that operates in good faith and can faithfully represent corporate interests.  If you take money from corporate lobbyists and meet with them to discuss business objectives, then you have an interest in speaking out here.  It's time to let the business community know that the rampant corruption tolerated in DC under Republican rule is no longer acceptable.

I'm going to stick on this one.  I'm just outraged that Donahue is still in charge of the Chamber.  Please send me any statements from elected officials, corporate executives, or local Chambers.  This is egregious, and it's an easy one.

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