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This Week In America, May 29, 2013

Weekly News, 5/29/13

Less coverage. Considerable maneuvering is underway, as companies seek to achieve the very minimum contributions to employee health plans under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. 

 “Benefit advisers and insurance brokers.... are pitching low-benefit plans across the country,” wrote the Wall Street Journal.  “Some of the plans wouldn’t cover surgery, X-rays or prenatal care at all.  Others will be paired with limited packages to cover additional services, for instance, $100 a day for a hospital visit.”

$18.5 Trillion. That’s the amount of money currently held in tax havens, according to a report out by Oxfam. If taxes were paid, said the international anti-poverty organization on the BBC, the revenue would put a considerable dent in world poverty. Grand Cayman Island and the state of Delaware – right here in the U.S. and home to VP Joe Biden – are among top havens.  

Taxpayer Money for Low-wage Jobs. According to findings from the public-policy think tank, Demos, “The U.S. government underwrites more low-wage workers than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s employ together.”   As reported in The New Crossroads, nearly 2 million workers earn less than $12 an hour at private companies to whom the federal government contracts out work.  This trend to contract out government work continues unabated, with tax dollars exiting the Treasury in the form of low wages.

“Through federal contracts and other funding, our tax dollars are fueling the low-wage economy and exacerbating inequality,” the report provided. “Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts, grants, loans, concession agreements and property leases go to private companies that pay low wages, provide few benefits, and offer employees little opportunity to work their way into the middle class. At the same time, many of these companies are providing their executives with exorbitant compensation.”

Demos observes that the jobs are funded through direct contracts and Small Business Administration loans, as well as through the contracting out of Medicare and Medicaid services, infrastructure work, child health services, and public building services.

More than half the poorly paid workers are employed in the health-care sector. These include close to 400,000  working as  nursing attendants, medical assistants, hospital orderlies and health aides, in home health care services and at least 785,000 others in hospitals, nursing homes and elder care.

Big Bank Shareholders Show “Wisdom”. Efforts to limit the role of the mega-bank JPMorgan Chase’s top exec, James Dimon, fell short last week, as a shareholder vote failed to strip Dimon of his dual title as “Chairman-CEO”  held by him since before the financial collapse of 2008.  Earlier this year Dimon was accused of “misleading” statements regarding  the real facts behind the bank’s big bets, including the so-called London Whale scandal that led to a $6 billion bank loss—more evidence of the enormous magnitude of speculative activity carried out by the big banks.

Despite efforts by union-led pension funds and others, the vote to limit Dimon did not add up.  Shareholders, wrote the Wall Street Journal, “value returns on their investment more than they do making political statements.”

The Journal added that  shareholders “showed wisdom” in voting down a resolution demanding the disclosure of details of the bank’s “spending on lobbying and grassroots lobbying communication…. another union-liberal hobby-horse, a step toward coercing corporations to abandon their First Amendment right to petition the government.”

As the vote was announced last Tuesday, shares in JPMorgan Chase were up on the New York Stock Exchange.

Speaking of Corporations and their First Amendment Rights. The Koch brothers are in the news with a story about how they control the news.   It seems the brothers have their hooks in PBS, after giving $23 million to public broadcasting, reports New Yorker magazine. One brother, David Koch, has a role at two major PBS outlets:  as trustee of WGBH in Boston and as board member of WNET in New York.

Many know the Kochs for their huge energy-and-chemical conglomerate and for the strident role they played in bankrolling anti-union efforts in Wisconsin. The Kochs are also known for their philanthropy – or what some would call strategic giving – as their names now appear on hospitals, culture centers and universities.   Think tanks count on  the Koch cash pipeline, which serves to prime the Koch pump against regulation (EPA regulators, after all, assessed the largest civil penalty in the history of that agency against the Kochs for more than 30 oil spills in 2000) and to fight unions.  The Koch’s main advocacy group is called Americans for Prosperity.

Last fall, the New Yorker reports, a documentary was scheduled to air on WNET,  entitled “Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream.”  The program focused on the residents of a very high-end address, 740 Park Avenue --  “an emblem of concentrated wealth” -- said the broadcast.   Included in the doc were details of David Koch’s life and life style.  

In the program, a former doorman at the richest residential tower in the richest city in America appears and recalls the tips he anticipated from residents, but did not receive: “These guys are businessmen.  They know what the going rate is – they’re not going to give you anything more than that. The cheapest person over all was David Koch. We would load up his trucks- two vans usually – every weekend, for the Hamptons… multiple guys, in and out, in and out, heavy bags. We would never get a tip from Mr. Koch.  We would never get a smile from Mr. Koch.”

Prior to the broadcast, WNET’s president called Koch as “a courtesy”.  U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s office got wind of the doc and complained in behalf of the Kochs.  As a result of these efforts, the program’s introduction was replaced and a statement calling the doc “controversial and provocative” was substituted.  

That was last season.

The new schedule at WNET was to include a new documentary due out chronicling the Citizens United case and the Koch brothers.  But the Independent Television Service (ITVS), that funnels and funds shows for PBS, informed the producers that it was withdrawing its financing, calling the doc “extraordinarily problematic.”  The New Yorker reports that the push back came from WNET.  “They seem to be putting themselves in the Koch brothers’ shoes and trying not to offend them,” is how Ruby Lerner, a backer of the film, put it.

Corporate free speech in action.

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