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Kyrsten Sinema’s Tax Flip

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/10/2021 - 1:46pm in

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Click to share this on FacebookKyrsten Sinema’s Tax Flip

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is attempting to single-handedly block Democrats from paring back Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations to fund their health care, climate, and anti-poverty reconciliation bill — even though she voted against those Trump tax cuts in the House and then campaigned against them during her Senate bid.

Politico reported Wednesday that “Sinema remains opposed to one of the party's chief goals of raising tax rates on high-income earners and corporations,” adding that this “increasingly appears like a red line” for the senator. The Wall Street Journal separately reported that Sinema “has told lobbyists that she is opposed to any increase in those rates.”

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Neither story mentioned Sinema voted no on the Trump tax cuts as a House lawmaker and also opposed them during her 2018 campaign for Senate.

“A broken Congress failed again to deliver for hardworking Arizonans,” Sinema said of the tax law when it passed in late 2017. “Arizonans want fiscally responsible tax reform that gives families a chance to get ahead.” She added: “I’m ready to fix the problems and mistakes that will inevitably become clear as we learn more about the harmful consequences of this rushed and partisan tax bill.”

Sinema did vote to make the Trump law’s individual tax cuts permanent in September 2018.

But a few weeks later, during the final days of her Senate campaign, Sinema ran a digital ad criticizing the Trump tax law, attacking Trump and her Republican opponent Martha McSally for supporting "huge tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations at the expense of our middle class.”

Another Sinema ad on Facebook said: “Why would McSally and Trump cut taxes for the wealthiest and deny women and children access to affordable and safe health care? Because they don't work for us. Our vote can elect someone who will. Vote Kyrsten Sinema for U.S. Senate.”

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Sinema also criticized the Trump tax law during a debate with McSally on the grounds that it significantly increased the federal deficit.

“First, it increased our deficit by what we thought would be $1.9 trillion,” she said. “It turns out from that report this morning that could even be higher.”

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All The News That’s Fit To Spin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/10/2021 - 8:43am in

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Democrats in Washington have been negotiating the terms of President Joe Biden’s economic, health care, and climate bill for seven months, and most Americans have no idea what’s in it — or which popular provisions conservative Democrats are helping their corporate donors try to kill.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., has laid some of the blame for that on news coverage, arguing that “the mainstream media has done an exceptionally poor job in covering what actually is in the legislation,” and asserting that while there has been endless coverage of Capitol Hill gossip, there has been “very limited coverage as to what the provisions of the bill are and the crises for working people that they address.”

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The Vermont senator’s assertions are backed up by a series of studies from Media Matters documenting how corporate media has often written the climate crisis out of its coverage of the legislative battle, and how that coverage has decontextualized the bill’s topline price tag.

The corporate press corps seems so busy celebrating West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s temper tantrums and prognosticating about Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s style, it isn’t bothering to consistently tell America how Manchin’s climate denial may doom the planet, and how Sinema’s corruption would let seniors continue being fleeced by drugmakers.

The big question is: why?

To answer it, you have to do the thing fewer and fewer media outlets ever do: follow the money, and follow it all the way down to the bedrock of the political media ecosystem — the Washington gossip rags that are quite literally “presented by” a rogues gallery of corporate villains trying to buy politicians and kill the reconciliation bill.

The Corporate Newsletter At The Bottom Of The News Ecosystem

In general, corporate news outlets aren’t aggressively covering what’s in the reconciliation legislation and are instead focusing on meaningless numbers, useless palace intrigue, and vapid debates about personalities. One reason is because they have a vested financial interest in preserving the status quo. Same thing for their advertisers like Big Pharma and Big Oil, which are lobbying against the legislation as they spend huge sums sponsoring news content.

As a result, it is common to see a corporate newspaper turn Sinema’s obstruction of anti-poverty and health care initiatives into a tale about her sartorial choices, and for a Comcast-owned TV outlet to publish a story about mailers touting her “iconoclast image” in Arizona without even mentioning that the flyers were sent out by a pharmaceutical industry front group that wants her to kill the bill’s drug pricing provisions.

These kinds of editorial choices are being made so frequently, they aren’t even conscious decisions anymore — they are media culture. While it’s not accurate to say there is an explicit newsroom quid pro quo in such editorial focus, it’s also ridiculous to presume that all that cash from corporate sponsors has no influence at all.

That corporate influence, though, does not necessarily begin in the stratosphere of elite newspapers and TV outlets — it starts all the way down in the muck, where corporate newsletters storify the granular details of the legislative process and hollow out all its substance.

This new foundation of political news was originally constructed by now-disgraced Washington gossip Mark Halperin and his ABC News email called The Note — a publication founded in January 2002 as an internal staff memo proudly boasting that it only cared about the so-called “Gang Of 500” people in Washington who allegedly matter.

Today’s copycats like Politico, Punchbowl, and Axios have made this arrangement even more explicit: Their innovation was baking corporate ideology directly into their news via snarky voice and so-called “native advertising.” In practice, their primary raison d’etre is not to publish accountability reporting, but to instead play tone policeman and frame the parameters of the policy discourse so that it best guarantees outcomes that corporate sponsors want.

These publications aren’t shy about their business model. Politico pioneered the “native advertising” model, where the news arrives in your inbox with a special message from big corporations or their lobbying groups. As the outlet itself puts it, Politico says: “We imagine and deliver intelligence-led brand content solutions that earn clients a seat at the table in Washington and in power centers across the globe.”

Axios, launched in 2017, promises corporate sponsors that its “team of writers, illustrators, and producers break through the noise, distilling your brand’s message into its most effective form.” And the email newsletter Punchbowl News, which was launched earlier this year by veteran writers from Politico, says it is “a news community about power.” The outlet brags that its members “include some of the most important political figures in Washington,” including several congressional staffers-turned-corporate consultants and lobbyists.

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In the rip-and-read world of news and politics, these newsletters are the talking points torn out by pundits, TV bookers and lobbyists and then turned into newspaper columns, to-camera diatribes and pitches to lawmakers. They are, in other words, the prefabricated scripts distributed throughout news industry superstructure, wrapped in the veneer of objectivity, and then blasted out to the general population under the banner of corporate media mastheads.

Indeed, take a look at even the so-called liberal media: MSNBC and CNN are owned by the telecom giants Comcast and AT&T and provide these corporate pamphleteers recurring television guest slots to tell the masses how to properly interpret what’s happening in Washington. They have sources, and you don’t.

But, of course, these newsletters aren’t written for you. They are written for an audience of business insiders and influence peddlers. These publications sell corporate advertisers on their position as the agitprop everyone in power reads, and they focus on pleasing those sponsors, who they brag their newsletters are quite literally “presented by.”

And they aim to coddle — rather than hold accountable — the bankrolled politicians who give them scoops about the various ways they are trying to protect big businesses.

As Talking Points Memo publisher Josh Marshall notes: “The highly influential insider newsletter publications — Politico, Axios, Punchbowl et al. — have become what amounts to a cheering section for the two holdouts” on the Democrats’ reconciliation bill, Sinema and Manchin.

“The more or less open cheerleading for this duo is so enthusiastic it almost starts to seem like part of the background noise of the moment — so obvious and so taken for granted that it starts to seem unremarkable,” Marshall writes.

Politico co-congressional bureau chief Burgess Everett, who is often handed insidery Sinema and Manchin scoops, put a really fine point on the situation on Wednesday, cheering a new report that Manchin could leave the Democratic Party if he doesn’t get his way.

“Hell yeah time for a Manchin party switch news cycle,” Everett tweeted — to enthusiastic applause from other Capitol Hill reporters.

Manchin is denying the report, but leaving the party could flip control of the Senate, make Mitch McConnell the majority leader again, and doom any chance of climate legislation amid a climate emergency. Celebrating this is pure nihilism, and Everett soon doubled down, transforming from reporter into de facto Manchin press secretary demanding Democrats stop pressuring the West Virginia lawmaker to allow his own compromise voting rights bill to pass the Senate.

“Not sure it makes sense to simultaneously pivot to whipping (Manchin) on changing the Senate rules that he's ruled out countless times,” Everett tweeted.

Democrats’ To-Do List, “Presented By ExxonMobil”

The best way to see how this corporate blood sausage gets made on a day-to-day basis is to take a close look at the email newsletter Punchbowl.

Each day, Punchbowl’s missive is sponsored by fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil or Chevron, an investor-owned hospital behemoth like HCA Healthcare, the drug lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), or tech companies like Facebook and Uber — as all of those companies are actively trying to sway and manufacture the discourse parameters for the legislation Punchbowl is covering.

Sponsors get to tell Punchbowl’s audience of lobbyists, pundits, and television bookers any self-serving lie they want. For instance, as international scientists have been begging lawmakers to shut down the fossil fuel industry before it incinerates the ecosystem that supports all human life, ExxonMobil was just permitted to tell Punchbowl readers that “ExxonMobil is working to advance climate solutions.” Meanwhile, Chevron said: “At Chevron, we’re taking steps toward a lower carbon future. Because it’s only human to help power a better tomorrow.”

And under those big corporate sponsorship logos, Punchbowl is often spinning and framing the news in exactly the way that corporate lobbyists want it presented.

On Monday, Punchbowl’s morning email was headlined, “The Democratic leadership's to-do list,” and “presented by ExxonMobil.” The email noted that West Virginia’s coal-mogul-turned-senator Joe Manchin opposes including a “Clean Electricity Performance Program” in Democrats’ reconciliation bill. The proposed measure was designed to push electric utilities to transition to renewable energy sources.

Punchbowl didn’t mention Manchin’s ties to the fossil fuel industry in general, or his specific links to its newsletter sponsor, ExxonMobil. Instead, it described Manchin’s move as “a blow to both President Joe Biden... as well as advocates who want to use the reconciliation package to push the United States into taking a leadership role on global warming.”

To be clear, the development is actually a blow to mankind. Scientists warn that we will all face catastrophic weather-related consequences if politicians don’t swiftly move to decarbonize the planet within the next several years. Worst-case scenarios suggest big chunks of the D.C. metro area could be underwater by 2100. Oh, and Manchin’s own home state is the nation’s most threatened by climate-intensified floods. But none of these inconvenient facts got a mention.

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Tuesday’s Punchbowl newsletter was somehow worse. The email, headlined “Try believing Joe Manchin,” was yet again sponsored by ExxonMobil, the oil company whose lobbyist recently accidentally admitted he talks to Manchin’s “office every week.”

Punchbowl actively revised history in a way that no doubt pleased ExxonMobil, declaring that “if you have listened to Manchin and you’re still surprised by or enraged at his positions, that may be because you’re irrationally hopeful he will change his beliefs, or you’re engaging in wishful and likely unrealistic thinking.”

But, in January, Manchin said lawmakers should spend as much as $4 trillion on infrastructure. In August, he voted to advance Democrats’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure reconciliation legislation despite expressing concerns. He’s now insisting on $1.5 trillion max.

Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, points out: “What is actually most consistent about Manchin has been the fluidity and imprecision of his positions.”

And yet, Punchbowl continued: “Here’s what you have to understand about Manchin: He says what he means. When he gets heavy pressure from the left, it helps him back home.”

But Manchin has faced very little actual pressure from the left. You won’t find any sustained advertising campaign targeting Manchin for working to deny dental, vision, and hearing benefits to seniors through Medicare, even though seniors in his state desperately need the help.

On the other hand, if you live in West Virginia, you may have seen ads from a health insurance industry front group claiming “Manchin has fought for seniors,” by which they mean that Manchin wants to make sure private health insurers keep making huge profits from the Medicare Advantage program.

Nor has Manchin faced significant pressure from the Biden White House. Earlier this month, in a call with progressives, Biden laid out a $1.9- to $2.2-trillion range for a reconciliation compromise — not even trying to land halfway between the $3.5 trillion and the $1.5 trillion the West Virginia senator has demanded.

Among the only pushback Manchin has faced was a single op-ed by Sanders published in a West Virginia newspaper calling on him to support the party’s reconciliation bill — a piece that prompted a public meltdown from the Wolf of West Virginia.

But the most insulting part was Punchbowl writing, “Here’s the reality: Joe Manchin is a filibuster-supporting conservative Democrat who is also an ardent supporter of coal, skeptical of big government, and massive spending packages.”

Manchin is not just an ardent coal supporter — he is a literal coal baron. He makes more money every year from his family’s coal brokerage, for doing no work at all, than he does as a U.S. senator. Punchbowl did not mention Manchin’s coal interests in either newsletter.

Another recent Punchbowl email blast was sponsored by Chevron six days after the oil giant’s chief critic, Steven Donziger, was sentenced to jail for the alleged crime of helping a poor community win an environmental lawsuit against the company.

In this missive, Punchbowl expressed alarm that Democrats might eliminate or reform the legislative filibuster in a way that could give environmental activists a slim chance to pass legislation that could block Chevron from boiling the Earth’s climate.

“Once the door is opened, it'll be hard to close it again,” Punchbowl warned. “If you allow an exception for the debt limit, why not voting rights? Or guns? Or health care? Or climate change?”

In the real world, legislation to protect voting rights, strengthen gun safety, expand health care and rescue humanity from ecocidal extinction are wildly popular and considered necessary — but corporate media’s rip-and-read machine and its sponsors don’t want that fact getting out.

“Ambitions Slam Into Reality,” Presented By PhRMA

We don’t mean to single out Punchbowl. It is no anomaly — it embodies a capital city where many reporters are paid to cover the news as if it were a sports story. CNN president Jeff Zucker admitted that's exactly how corporate media views events in Washington – in 2017, he told The New York Times: “The idea that politics is sport is undeniable."

Politico takes that ethos to heart. On Wednesday, Politico Playbook decided to publish a literal scorecard of winners and losers so far on the Biden reconciliation plan. “ON CLIMATE… Winner: Manchin; Loser: Environmentalists,” they wrote. “The entire climate agenda of the Biden administration is in question right now thanks to one man — and it’s unclear if this dynamic will change, given the positions of the senator from coal-mining West Virginia.”

That newsletter was mercifully only sponsored today by tech giant Google. But sponsors’ interests can explicitly overlap with the news content.

Earlier this month, Politico Pulse — the Beltway outlet’s health care newsletter — sent out an email headlined: “Democrats’ domestic ambitions slam into reality.”

The newsletter was sponsored by PhRMA, the powerful Washington drug lobby that is working to kill Democrats’ plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. PhRMA, the $500-million-a-year lobbying colossus, is the “reality” that Democrats’ drug pricing ambitions are slamming into.

All The News That’s Fit To Spin

Politico previously put together sponsored content for PhRMA touting how the organization had demonstrated its “groundbreaking commitment to improve health equity when it announced the first-ever industry-wide principles on enhancing clinical trial diversity.”

In the Politico Pulse post, the authors wrote: “Top Democrats dreamed of making generational progress this year on health coverage, drug pricing, family leave, and all manner of other big priorities — and doing it in a single masterful stroke. But if that dream isn’t dead after this week, it’s barely breathing."

The newsletter added that “​​drug pricing is on the chopping block, despite the fact it would potentially save significant money.”

The post ended with a message from PhRMA: “Some in Congress are considering a plan that would tie medicine prices in Medicare to those in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

“This misguided approach is just the latest in a series of government price-setting proposals that threaten patients’ access to medicines and future innovation,” it read.

Politico was recently purchased by German publisher Axel Springer. The company’s CEO, Mathias Döpfner, told the Wall Street Journal last week that Politico staffers will now be required to adhere to a very particular set of principles, including supporting Israel and a free-market economy.

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Axios, another outlet built around the native advertising model, published an ostensibly objective news piece that same day framing Sinema as a powerful, unconventional “force to be reckoned with.” The piece noted, “Sinema’s political allies have some free advice for anyone trying to bully the wine-drinking triathlete into supporting President Biden's $3.5 trillion budget bill: She doesn’t play by Washington’s rules — and she's prepared to walk away.”

While Sinema previously campaigned on the need to lower drug prices, she has recently emerged as one of the chief roadblocks in the Senate to Democrats’ drug pricing plan.

The ads on Axios stories rotate, but for a moment the banner at the top of the article contained a message warning: “Treatments and cures for rare disease patients are under threat from Congress.”

That message was sponsored by the Rare Access Action Project, a dark money group bankrolled by PhRMA.

“It’s Blame-The-Media O'clock”

These are but a few emblematic grains of bullshit from the mountain of misinformation to which corporate media is now anchored. Since these Beltway outlets have now scaled up to produce metric tons of such bullshit every day, there is now a perpetual dust storm of propaganda “presented by” industry sponsors and enveloping the entire political conversation — as intended, and as promised to influence-seeking corporate advertisers.

You can see that immersion a few levels up the mountain, when outlets like The New York Times use their news pages to cast progressives defending Biden’s agenda as supposedly complicating his agenda; or when a CNN anchor demands that progressives back off even the most minimal climate and health care policies that might help people; or when NBC News publishes a story declaring as fact that “progressives have to give a lot to get a little,” and insisting that it’s not clear “they will gain anything at all” by trying to deliver on their popular campaign promises.

There are, of course, exceptions to all of this: Politico has periodically mentioned Sinema’s pharma cash haul. Axios helpfully broke the news about Manchin’s Dr. Evil-esque plan to slash the child tax credit (though the outlet cast it as merely a political problem for Biden rather than a real-world problem for the millions of people who could be thrown into poverty).

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, meanwhile, pointed out that Manchin’s demands on the child tax credit — work requirements and means testing — could result in 190,000 children in his home state losing out on the benefit. And Post reporter Jeff Stein has consistently framed the political discussions about what items could get from the reconciliation bill in human terms, enraging conservatives.

The Times, to its credit, published a hard-hitting story about how Manchin’s behavior imperils his flood-threatened state. (The dispatch is an example of how the best reporting from that newspaper is usually far away from its political desk.)

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But these are the outliers and not the norm, which is why independent non-corporate media have been growing of late. Put simply, more and more Americans can see that when it comes to the day-to-day coverage of Washington, the bullshit, spin, and Orwellian talking points are so interwoven into the news coverage that propaganda isn’t the momentarily bad weather of the news cycle. It is now the news atmosphere all around us — and a cable TV diatribe this week made clear that corporate media plans to defend rather than fix that atmosphere.

The screed from CNN’s Brianna Keilar came in response to Sanders lamenting the press corps’ refusal to consistently cover the details of the reconciliation bill. Keilar upbraided Sanders for having “trolled” Manchin by publishing his West Virginia op-ed politely outlining the details of the legislation. CNN briefly flashed a few rare stories on the screen as alleged proof that corporate media had consistently reported on the bill’s provisions. Promoting her televised tirade like a practiced social media influencer, Keilar tweeted that “it’s blame-the-media o'clock and Sen. Bernie Sanders is right on time.”

The video was four minutes of precious television airtime defending corporate media — four minutes that could have instead been used to inform viewers about the landmark legislation.

But that’s not what the “corporate” in corporate media wants.

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LIVE CHAT: Reconciliation Battle Update W/ David Dayen & Ryan Grim On 10/21

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/10/2021 - 5:17am in

Click to share this on Facebook Reconciliation Battle Update W/ David Dayen & Ryan Grim On 10/21

On Thursday 10/21 at 6pm ET (3 pm PT), David Sirota, Julia Rock, and Daily Poster subscribers will speak with The American Prospect’s David Dayen and The Intercept’s Ryan Grim about the rapidly shifting battle to pass a Democratic agenda bill that retains vital tax, climate, and social-safety-net provisions. Over the past few days alone, progressives notched a key meeting with President Joe Biden, while corporate Sen. Joe Manchin, W.Va., has reportedly threatened to leave the Democratic Party if he doesn’t get his way — so where does the fight go next?

Dayen is the award-winning executive editor of The American Prospect and author of Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power and Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud. Grim is The Intercept’s D.C. bureau chief, and he previously led HuffPost’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington bureau and authored the book We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement.

Sirota, Rock, Dayen, and Grim will discuss the state of the reconciliation battle, whether progressives have enough leverage to hold steady on their demands, why corporate media is missing the real stakes of the political fight, and how Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are just the latest examples of the long line of rotating villains who have worked to sink the Democratic party’s agenda on the behalf of their corporate masters.

The event is exclusively for Daily Poster subscribers. Click here to subscribe for free.

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“Kyrsten Sinema Fought For Seniors”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/10/2021 - 9:31pm in

Click to share this on Facebook“Kyrsten Sinema Fought For Seniors”

As Medicare Advantage continues to drive profits for the nation’s major health insurance companies, the industry is lobbying against a provision in the reconciliation bill that could save the government nearly $150 billion over the next decade on a much-needed expansion of the country’s Medicare program and prevent even more money from being funneled to private health insurance companies.

Medicare Advantage — the privatized version of the national health insurance program for people over the age of 65 and people with disability status — has become a cash cow for private health insurers. As small- and medium-sized employers struggle to keep up with the skyrocketing costs of health care, private insurers are increasingly expanding into the Medicare Advantage market to buffer their profits.

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A provision being considered as part of the reconciliation bill would add dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare without including those benefits in the calculation of the rate at which the federal government reimburses Medicare Advantage plans. Doing so could cut the cost of expanding Medicare benefits by 41 percent, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.

The vast majority of Medicare Advantage plans already provide dental, hearing, and vision benefits. But that hasn’t stopped private insurers and their front group, the Better Medicare Alliance (BMA), from demanding more money from Congress and spending $3 million on advertising campaigns since September to try to ensure their reimbursement rates go up if those benefits are also added to traditional Medicare plans.

Some of the BMA ads misleadingly thank conservative Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, claiming the two main opponents to expanding Medicare have actually “fought for seniors.” The Sinema ad says: "We need her now more than ever, because Washington listens to her.”

Meanwhile, BMA sent a letter last month to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urging them to “to ensure additional benefits are structured in a way that fully reflect the cost of adding dental, vision, and hearing to Medicare in the benchmark calculation.”

Increasing that benchmark calculation would mean private insurers get additional reimbursement for services they already provide — it would amount to a taxpayer-funded windfall for insurance companies that are already raking in money off of Medicare Advantage.

“The insurance companies that participate in Medicare Advantage are making huge, huge profits off of taxpayers in that program, and they absolutely could afford to give up the overpayments that Congress is making to keep the program going at its current level,” said Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive who became a whistleblower and is now a Medicare for All advocate.

Gaming The Medicare Advantage System

While Medicare has contracted with private insurance companies since the national health insurance program was formed as part of the Social Security Act in 1965, the current iteration of Medicare Advantage has only existed since 2003. Similar in policy design to charter schools, Medicare Advantage offers people the choice of private insurance plans instead of traditional Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans offer baseline benefits, and insurers are paid to provide them by the government.

Utilization of Medicare Advantage has grown steadily since it was launched. According to health policy experts, that’s largely because private insurers invest in marketing tactics to draw people to their plans, highlighting perks like extra benefits that aren’t covered by Medicare and an annual cap on out-of-pocket costs. More than 40 percent of Medicare recipients now receive their coverage through Medicare Advantage.

For insurers, meanwhile, the business is increasingly lucrative.

“One of the reasons why they are so focused on Medicare Advantage is they are finding that the commercial insurance market, private side, is not growing,” said Potter, the former insurance executive. “It hasn't been growing for years. The unsustainable increase in premiums year after year and their constant shifting of out-of-pocket costs, is making health insurance unaffordable for businesses, so there is no growth there.”

Ahead of the current open enrollment period for Medicare plans, which began on October 15, major insurers including UnitedHealth Group, Humana, and Aetna announced new expansions into the Medicare Advantage space.

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Profits come from the generous reimbursement structure for Medicare Advantage. The federal government calculates a “benchmark” rate for benefits, based on what it spends on those services under traditional Medicare coverage.

Private insurers submit estimates as to how much it will cost them to provide the average Medicare Advantage customer with the benefits of traditional Medicare, and the federal government reimburses them at a rate that is slightly higher than that estimate but below the benchmark.

This calculation results in considerable profits. In 2019, when the most recent data is available, private insurers averaged 4.5 percent profit margins on their Medicare Advantage plans. Between 2016 and 2018, Medicare Advantage plans reported nearly double the profit margins per customer compared to individual and employer plans.

The returns are so high in part because Medicare Advantage providers have devised ways to spend less on their customers than traditional Medicare. “They've figured out how to game the system in ways that enable them to make outsized profits,” said Potter.

One stratagem is that Medicare Advantage, unlike traditional Medicare, is allowed to require prior authorization for procedures. And high denial rates can deter people from seeking care in the first place, which saves insurers money. The federal Health and Human Services Department has found that “there are persistent problems related to denials of care and payment in Medicare Advantage,” and that in most cases when denials are appealed, insurers overturn their own denials.

At the same time, taxpayers spend more per person for Medicare Advantage plans than they do on traditional Medicare plans. A recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 2019, the federal government spent $321 more per Medicare Advantage enrollee than traditional Medicare enrollee.

Another method insurers utilize is a shady practice known as “upcoding,” in which they manipulate the government’s system for coding diagnoses in order to get larger reimbursements from the government. The Department of Justice has brought lawsuits against multiple insurers in recent months for upcoding.

In some cases, insurers simply illegally underspend on their customers, for which they face few consequences. Last month, UnitedHealthcare was penalized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for having spent too small a percentage of premiums on providing benefits for three years in a row. In response, the company has been banned from enrolling new subscribers in certain plans in a handful of states, which represent a small fraction of the insurers’ overall enrollment.

Hundreds Of Billions In Savings

Adding dental, hearing, and vision benefits to traditional Medicare through the reconciliation bill could make Medicare Advantage plans less attractive to consumers, cutting into private insurers’ profits. Such an expansion of the national insurance program would likely cost the federal government more than $350 billion over the next ten years.

However, a proposal to include those benefits in Medicare without increasing the rate at which the government reimburses Medicare Advantage plans could cut that cost by 41 percent, according to a recent analysis by Matthew Fiedler, an economist at the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy and former chief economist on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. With corporate Democrats demanding a smaller reconciliation bill, such a drastic cost savings should, in theory, be a very attractive move.

“Most of the federal savings from excluding the cost from the benchmark would be coming out of reduced plan profits,” Fiedler told The Daily Poster.

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More than 98 percent of Medicare Advantage plans already offer dental, vision, and hearing benefits. While some of those plans could be required to improve their dental, vision, and hearing benefits to meet the new proposed standards for traditional Medicare, and a few would be required to expand their coverage to include those benefits, the plans can afford to do so without the government increasing the benchmark, Fiedler explained.

If the new benefits were included in a new Medicare Advantage benchmark calculation, it would contribute to already high profits for private insurers — with very little of that funding going to people on the plans. Past research has found that when Medicare Advantage increases its reimbursement rate, only one in every eight dollars of reimbursements is passed along to customers in the form of savings or better coverage. A larger share is passed to insurers in the form of profits.

On the other hand, said Fiedler, expanding Medicare benefits without changing the benchmark calculation would only lead to modestly lower profits for insurance companies.

Misleading Ads And Mounting Industry Opposition

In August, Politico reported that an insurance industry source said proposals to add benefits to Medicare had insurers “freaking out,” because they “worry that seniors will drop their private plans en masse and migrate to traditional Medicare once the new benefits are in place.” Politico added that their source “said the industry is mindful of the optics of publicly opposing coverage of eyeglasses, dental care and hearing aids, and is largely lobbying behind the scenes.”

To do so, the insurance industry has turned to the BMA, a dark money group representing insurers and business groups. Health insurance giant Humana and CVS Health, which owns Aetna, each donated $2 million to the organization last year, according to company disclosures.

The BMA has spent nearly $3 million on TV and radio ads since the beginning of September, according to data from AdImpact.

Those ads included paid spots on cable news in Arizona this month that featured the faces of elderly people who, according to a voiceover, are among the more than 625,000 people in the state who “have come to rely on something vital: Medicare Advantage.”

The raspy masculine voice warns, “Now there’s talk in Washington of cutting Medicare Advantage and raising our premiums.” But, the voiceover says, “Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has fought for seniors and Medicare Advantage.” The advertisement ends with an image of the senator’s face alongside the phone number for her office, encouraging viewers to thank Sinema “for fighting for us.”

In West Virginia, viewers are seeing a similar ad, featuring Manchin.

Since September, BMA has spent $516,000 on ads in Arizona and $266,000 in West Virginia, as well as nearly $550,000 in the Washington, D.C. area. They have also targeted conservative Democrats in the House, including Reps. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Jared Golden (Maine), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), and Cindy Axne (Iowa).

In reality, there is no proposal in Congress to “cut Medicare Advantage” or raise premiums, and moreover, no evidence that Sinema or Manchin have “fought for seniors.”

Instead, the BMA is running ads thanking Manchin and Sinema because they have become the most prominent obstacles to passing Democrats’ social safety net legislation — and because they do not support the party’s plan to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing benefits.

As a supposed fiscal hawk, Manchin might be expected to welcome the cost savings that would come with expanding Medicare benefits without changing the reimbursement rate going to private insurers — but instead, he appears to be parroting the talking points of his corporate allies, who don’t want the benefits expanded at all, much less without scoring a better reimbursement rate.

Manchin has said he thinks Democrats need to shore up Medicare’s finances before expanding the program, and he also wants any new benefits to be means tested and only help poorer Americans — an idea that would undermine Medicare’s draw as a universal program.

Sinema, meanwhile, refuses to say anything about Democrats’ plans publicly, but Axios recently reported that she is “less interested in offering new dental and vision benefits in Medicare.”

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Sinema does appear interested in protecting the Medicare Advantage payouts to private insurers, however. On Oct. 15, she sent a letter, co-signed by Manchin, to CMS “to express our support for the Medicare Advantage (MA) program.” The letter continued, “To ensure this continuum of care, we stand ready to protect MA from payments cuts, which could lead to higher costs and premiums, reduce vital benefits, and undermine advances made to improve health outcomes and health equity for MA enrollees.”

The BMA subsequently issued a press release thanking the signatories for their “unwavering leadership.”

In addition to the BMA advertisements, the health insurance lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the right-wing think tank American Action Forum, and UnitedHealth Group’s employee lobbying arm have been mobilizing to ensure that taxpayer dollars continue to prop up the Medicare Advantage program.

AHIP commissioned a study that showed that adding dental, vision, and hearing to Medicare without including them in the benchmark calculation would leave Medicare Advantage with fewer rebate dollars to be spent on supplemental benefits.

The American Action Forum — a think tank affiliated with the American Action Network, a dark money group that bankrolls House Republicans — has opposed adding new benefits to Medicare on the grounds that Medicare Advantage already provides those benefits.

“If Democrats are really looking for pain-free ways to cut back on their $3.5 trillion spending spree, scrapping the dental, vision, and hearing additions to Medicare would be a good place to start, because the benefits are already available through Medicare Advantage. Perhaps advocates for enhanced Medicare coverage should instead focus on bolstering MA, which already provides a range of tailored benefits to the Medicare population,” wrote the organization’s health policy analyst in a blog post earlier this month.

At the same time, UnitedHealth Group has pushed its employees to call Congress and ask them “not to cut Medicare Advantage” through its internal political engagement platform, called United For Action.

“While action is entirely voluntary, consider lending your voice to protect seniors in Medicare Advantage,” noted a September 16 email sent to employees by management of the company, which was found to have been spending too little on seniors’ care for years.

“Policymakers are currently debating and considering proposals that may impact the Medicare Program and other health policies,” the email said. “To protect Americans enrolled in Medicare Advantage, ask Congress to ensure any reforms to Medicare maintain stability for the 27 million seniors currently served by Medicare Advantage.”

On an earnings call last week, the company announced that it had surpassed $4 billion in profits last quarter, $1 billion more than the same quarter last year. UnitedHealth Group’s chief financial officer John Rex pointed to Medicare Advantage as a source of ongoing growth, and said the company plans to bring on 900,000 more customers through Medicare Advantage this upcoming year.

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Call Their Bluff Right Now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/10/2021 - 3:39am in

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Click to share this on FacebookCall Their Bluff Right Now

As millions of Americans are being cut off from jobless benefits, pulverized by health care costs, bankrupted by the COVID economy, and battered by the intensifying climate apocalypse, the country has spent weeks watching Sen. Joe Manchin issue royal edicts from the deck of his luxury yacht, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema toggling between spa fundraisers and a European vacation. The Senate apparently has so little to do, it has time this week for a confirmation hearing to deliver disgraced Chicago mayor-turned-Wall-Street-mogul Rahm Emanuel a cushy ambassadorship — an insulting spectacle scheduled on the 7-year anniversary of Emanuel’s police force murdering teenager Laquan McDonald.

The interminable delay of an up-or-down Senate vote on President Joe Biden’s agenda serves no one other than Sinema, Manchin, and their corporate donors who want the bill gutted or killed. Every day Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stalls a vote on an already-scaled-back $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, Senate Democrats become more complicit in the betrayal of their party’s campaign promises, the evisceration of the working class, and the destruction of the climate.

They can make a different choice and hold a vote right now.

As Sunrise Movement co-founder Will Lawrence said: "Put the bill on the floor, load it up with extra investment for West Virginia and Arizona, and dare them to vote it down."

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That’s not what Manchin and Sinema want - they and their corporate paymasters love the current slow-walk. As the process drags out, the pair get to keep making ever-changing, mercurial declarations about parts of the legislation they and their donors dislike, and then they get to continue raking in campaign cash from industries that would benefit from hollowing out the bill. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and the White House keep responding to the jeremiads by promising to whittle down the legislation all in the name of to appease the Wolf of West Virginia and the Arizona Attention Freak.

If this is a grand game of poker, both Manchin and Sinema have so far played their hands masterfully, bluffing a $6 trillion proposal down to $4 trillion, then to $3.5 trillion, then down to $1.9 trillion, and potentially on its way to two bucks and a used Casio wristwatch. Now they are doubling down on their strategies, expecting nobody in power to call and make them show their cards.

Sinema is once again saying she won’t even consider voting for the reconciliation bill unless the Republican-backed, lobbyist-sculpted infrastructure legislation she and Manchin negotiated passes first.

At the same time, word leaked this week that Manchin wants the bill's major climate provisions watered down or deleted. Then we learned that the West Virginia senator wants to subject the child tax credit to work requirements.

Considering the existing child tax credit's success in reducing poverty, Manchin's latter demand is not even pretending to be a serious policy, it's quite obviously just a sadistic idea deliberately crafted to inflict harm. It is so cartoonishly mean-spirited and has so much Dr. Evil energy that it suggests Manchin has transformed into a movie villain gleefully engineering a pain-tolerance experiment to see whether the American population is going to tolerate his expensive loafers repeatedly kicking the face of the working class.

As grotesque as they are, the gambits from Sinema and Manchin do at least give us a glimpse of their overall strategy. The pair is not only wagering that House Progressives will ultimately bail on their “no climate, no deal” pledge to hold out, but also that Democratic leaders will capitulate on anything and everything. More specifically, Sinema and Manchin are betting that concern trolling the bill in the press will prompt party leaders to once again hack away at the legislation before the two senators are ever put on the spot to vote yes or no.

And so far, the wager is working. In the name of appeasing the two apostates, the White House is reportedly firing up the legislative blowtorch to further incinerate the climate provisions, even as scientists are begging them to instead stop the incineration of the Earth’s ecosystem.

“We Have Very Little Time”

For his part, Schumer previously — and accurately — went on record suggesting that gutting his party’s promised agenda would be both a political and ecological disaster.

Earlier this year, he promised that Democrats had learned their lesson from the election debacles of the Obama era, and were “not going to make the mistake” of scaling back their ambitions to try to appease conservatives. Then, in August, Schumer sent an letter to every Senate Democrat saying that when it comes to the reconciliation bill, “we have very little time to prevent the most horrendous outcomes for our children and grandchildren,” adding that “I do not believe we have the luxury of failure if we are to provide a good future for ourselves and our children.”

He’s correct, and he could force the issue by simply putting the compromise $3.5 trillion reconciliation package on the floor of the Senate for an up-or-down vote — a call-the-bluff, with-us-or-against-us move that Manchin and Sinema probably do not expect, and do not relish facing. After all, they’ve got a great situation right now. They get to keep sitting at the poker table making gestures and grunts that prompt Democrats to continue folding. If things keep progressing like this, they may be able to bluff their way into gutting the bill and generating a big payout for their donors, without ever having to show their cards.

But if Schumer and Biden and their party actually wants to pass a real reconciliation bill that isn’t gutted (granted, that’s a big “if”), then they should remember that old adage about rigged games: The only winning move is not to play.

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One way to stop playing the game Manchin, Sinema, and their corporate sponsors are playing is to schedule a vote on a bill. And to really up the ante, Democratic leaders could add a bunch of programs that will target aid and investment to West Virginia and Arizona.

Holding a vote would make this terrible twosome go on record voting against paid family leave, universal pre-K, free community college, and every other wildly popular and desperately needed initiative in the legislation.

Holding a vote would make Manchin try to explain why he would deny an expansion of dental care to seniors in West Virginia, who are facing a dental health crisis. It would compel him to explain why he takes orders from Exxon lobbyists, and is trying to kill climate initiatives when West Virginia is the most flood-threatened state in America, and only a tiny fraction of its jobs is actually in mining.

Similarly, holding a vote would make Sinema head back to the desert and explain why she is betraying her own explicit prescription drug promises and killing drug pricing legislation for Arizona seniors, and make her explain why she’s voting down climate legislation when the climate crisis could soon make large regions of her state uninhabitable.

Hold the damn vote. Now.

A Calculated Gamble

Polls show the reconciliation bill remains wildly popular, despite corporate media obscuring its details in vapid horse race coverage. Even so, forcing the issue and holding a vote is, admittedly, a bit of a gamble. While there is little historical precedent for a pair of Democrats tanking their own party’s agenda at the legislative finish line, these are unprecedented times. On a final passage vote on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, the two could opt to join Republicans and reject the bill.

But ask yourself: Why would that official rejection be so tragic, compared to where we are now? The answer is, it wouldn’t be.

For some reason, lots of people seem to believe that a bill getting initially voted down means it’s all over, and the bill cannot be quickly tweaked and brought up again — even though that’s happened all the time throughout history. Indeed, some huge bills — Medicare, the TARP program, etc. — have taken a few tries to pass.

If that happened again now — if Manchin and Sinema voted “no” on an initial reconciliation bill — the legislation wouldn’t be in a different place than it is right now. In fact, some form of the bill might actually have a better chance of ultimately passing, because more people would be even more pissed off and willing to mobilize against the duo in response to their obviously reckless behavior.

But there must be a real campaign, not just press releases and tweets. There has to be everything from television ads shaming the targets, to a full White House arm-twisting operation, to public protests. That’s the only way to have any chance to make Manchin, Sinema, and other potential apostates feel extremely uncomfortable.

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If that happened, the wavering senators would be put on the spot, which is a place most professional politicians — even the corrupt narcissists — typically do not want to be.

In an up-or-down vote scenario, Democratic traitors following through on their bluffs and threats would be required to withstand what could be an absolutely withering amount of pressure and shaming. Their permanent legacy will be destroying their party’s presidency, and potentially their party’s long-term viability.

Maybe that doesn’t matter to Manchin and Sinema, because they are sociopaths and because they’re positioned to get paid out for just such a “no” vote when they leave office. But maybe it would matter to them because at least in theory, they are still human beings, and most human beings don’t like to be world-famous pariahs whose ecocidal narcissism will be permanently enshrined in the geologic record.

And again, if the bill can just be brought up again, what is there really to lose?

A Democratic apologist might counter that, all evidence to the contrary, their beloved party leaders are playing some brilliant game of 15-dimensional chess and the reason the bill hasn’t been put to a vote yet is because Manchin and Sinema may get their precious feelings hurt and get mad if they are put on the spot.

Sure, that’s possible — but if this amoral pair is really willing to take down their entire party’s agenda, they’ve already made that lobbyist-directed decision. If that’s what’s going on, compelling them to vote isn’t going to be some sort of trajectory-changing setback — and it at least presents the chance to make them think twice.

It Only Works With A Real Campaign

Of course, there are many “ifs” at play here — the most important being the existence of such a carrot-and-stick pressure campaign. Put simply: Calling their bluff and holding a vote doesn’t work if the White House, the party apparatus, and Washington’s constellation of liberal advocacy groups aren’t all in on a campaign to shame Manchin and Sinema for obstruction, and reward them for support.

So far, Sinema has been hit with a nasty resolution from the Arizona Democratic Party and the threat of a real primary in 2024, and Manchin is now throwing a temper tantrum after Sen. Bernie Sanders published an op-ed in a West Virginia newspaper politely suggesting that he help working people and support the bill. That reaction from Manchin is encouraging – it suggests he could end up completely freaked out if he ever faced real, sustained pressure at home.

But those reprimands have been the exceptions. In general, the Biden administration and much of the professional liberal establishment in Washington have shown no appetite for any kind of intra-party conflict. In fact, Biden’s political machine actually aired ads thanking Sinema for supporting a drug pricing policy she has been helping her pharmaceutical industry donors stymie.

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That kind of feeble obsequiousness reflects the modern Democratic Party’s nihilistic culture of conflict avoidance.

Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are still rightly celebrated for bullying, intimidating, and cajoling conservative Democrats into supporting the New Deal and Medicare.  But today’s Democratic politicians, Democratic voters, and Democratic-aligned media voices have been inculcated to get the vapors and have fainting spells any time one Democrat pressures another Democrat. The 2020 Democratic presidential primary’s ahistorical aversion to any robust conflict proved that, and the legislative debate is so far proving it as well — with potentially horrific consequences for the economy and the environment.

Those consequences are not preordained — at least not yet. There is still time to avert a disaster, but only if the party that controls the lawmaking process is willing to use hardball tactics and have a long-overdue fight with itself — right now.

If it isn’t, Democrats will be admitting they aren’t even willing to sit down at the poker table, ante up and play a real game. They’ll be letting us know that either they are unwilling to muster the courage to deliver for their voters, or they are knowingly and deliberately complicit in the problems their corporate donors are creating.

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WEEKEND READER: Making Sense Of The Great Supply Chain Disruption

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/10/2021 - 12:31am in

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Click to share this on Facebook Making Sense Of The Great Supply Chain Disruption

Ports are overflowing with shipping containers, manufacturers are scrambling to find materials, stores are running low on goods, and banking experts predict spiraling inflation as the world grapples with the so-called “Great Supply Chain Disruption” of 2021. Are the global shortages simply the effect of pandemic-related shutdowns, or is the planet’s production system in need of a massive overhaul? In this edition of Weekend Reader, we highlight several stories that delve deep into the supply chain woes spreading across the globe — and explore how part of the blame can be traced back to corporate monopolies and neoliberal outsourcing policies.

Read all about it in this week’s Weekend Reader, exclusively for paying subscribers below.

YOU LOVE TO SEE IT: National Monuments Restored

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/10/2021 - 12:31am in

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Click to share this on Facebook National Monuments Restored

Good things are happening! Three major national monuments have had their environmental protections restored. Meanwhile, California passes sweeping police reforms, and voters suggest they’ve had enough of Kyrsten Sinema’s craven behavior. Finally, Scabby the Rat makes his big television debut!

All that and much more in this week’s Weekend Reader, exclusively for paying subscribers below.

Big Pharma’s Reward

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/10/2021 - 5:48am in

Click to share this on FacebookBig Pharma’s Reward

Pharmaceutical interests have been flooding in donations to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has emerged as the chief roadblock to Democrats’ plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.

Between July and September, Sinema raised at least $100,000 from the pharmaceutical industry and donors at a private equity firm in the business of outsourcing pharmaceutical research and development, according to her campaign finance report filed Friday.

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While Sinema previously campaigned on lowering drug prices, Politico reported last month that Sinema had informed President Joe Biden that she opposes the party’s signature drug pricing initiative, which would finally allow Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to lower prices.

Democratic leaders have planned to include the drug pricing measure, which would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years, in the party’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, as a way to finance other portions of Biden’s economic, health care, and climate agenda.

According to a recent Politico newsletter, “Democrats would be lucky if they managed to convince Sinema to support a version of drug pricing reform that raises even $200 billion.”

News of Sinema’s opposition to the drug pricing legislation arrived shortly after a pharmaceutical industry front group launched a TV and radio ad campaign in Arizona praising the freshman senator for her “independence,” calling her “a bipartisan leader” in the mold of the late Sen. John McCain.

Sinema’s new federal election filing shows she raised roughly $55,000 in the third quarter from drug industry executives and political action committees.

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The donors included PACs for drugmakers Abbvie, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Astellas, Eisai, Eli Lilly, EMD Serono, Horizon Pharma, Lundbeck, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

She also received donations from executives at Abbvie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, Lundbeck, Merck, Otsuka, and Sage Therapeutics, and the powerful drug lobby Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Sinema additionally received about $47,000 from executives at Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. The private equity firm owns a big stake in Abzena, a company it describes as an “outsourced research, development and manufacturing services provider to biopharmaceutical companies.”

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VIDEO: Exposing Rahm Emanuel’s Corrupt Ties

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/10/2021 - 3:38am in

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Click to share this on Facebook Exposing Rahm Emanuel’s Corrupt Ties

Each week, we partner with Breaking Points to review some of The Daily Poster’s most impactful reporting in a video discussion with Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. In this week’s discussion, Julia Rock reviewed our big scoop on how corporate interests funneled millions to Rahm Emanual after he left the Chicago mayor’s office in disgrace. She also detailed how Biden’s health secretary Xavier Becerra could lower drug prices using a government power he has long championed — but now seems reluctant to do so.

Click here to watch the discussion:

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We send out the clip of these discussions once a week — and we encourage you to subscribe to Breaking Points here. You can also find their YouTube channel here.

This collaboration adds to our partnerships with Jacobin, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Hill, The American Prospect, The Intercept, and Earther. All of these partnerships help defray the costs of doing our labor-intensive investigations, allow our work to have wider distribution and a bigger impact, and add to the movement to build an independent, non-corporate media.

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Stagecoach in Scotland: next stop, strike action - News from the Frontline

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/10/2021 - 11:18pm in

Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles.

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