Shortly After Major Bush Donor Takes Over MSNBC, Network Selectively Applies Rules To Suspend Olbermann

November 5, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Earlier today, MSNBC declared that it would be suspending progressive host Keith Olbermann because he violated NBC’s ethics rules by donating to three Democratic candidates for Congress. As many bloggers have noted, conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough has donated to Republican candidates for Congress while promoting the same candidate on air, but has never been disciplined. Moreover, Gawker notes that MSNBC has been exempt from the formal NBC ethics rules for years. It is still a mystery why MSNBC selectively applied NBC’s ethics rules to Olbermann. However, it important to realize that MSNBC has undergone a fundamental change in leadership in the last two months.

Late last year, Comcast — the nation’s largest cable provider and second largest Internet service provider — inked a deal taking over NBC Universal, the parent company of MSNBC. Comcast moved swiftly to reshuffle MSNBC’s top staff. On September 26th of this year, Comcast announced perhaps the most dramatic shift, replacing longtime MSNBC chief Jeff Zucker with Comcast executive Steve Burke. Burke has given generous amounts to both parties — providing cash to outgoing Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) as well as to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and other top Republicans. But as Public Citizen has noted, Burke has deep ties to the Republican Party. Public Citizen’s report reveals that Burke served as a key fundraiser to President George Bush, and even served on Bush’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology:

Comcast – the country’s largest provider of cable TV and broadband Internet services – has increased its political giving along with its mergers and acquisitions. CEO Brian Roberts was a co-chairman of the host committee at the 2000 Republican Convention. Comcast Cable President Stephen Burke has raised at least $ 200,000 for Bush’s re-election campaign. […] Comcast’s political giving has increased along with its mergers and acquisitions. The company was a “platinum sponsor” at the 2000 GOP convention, and Roberts was a co-chairman of the host committee at the Philadelphia event. Burke was appointed to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology in 2002.

Why would Comcast be interested in silencing progressive voices? Historically, Comcast has boosted its profits by buying up various telecommunication and media content companies — instead of providing faster Internet or better services (overall, American broadband services are far slower than in many industrialized nations). Many of these mergers, as Public Citizen and Free Press have reported, have been allowed by regulators because of Comcast’s considerable political muscle. Comcast’s latest regulatory battle has been to oppose Net Neutrality — a rule allowing a free and open Internet — because the company would prefer to have customers pay for preferred online content.

Olbermann has been a strong voice in favor of a free and open Internet. Republicans, on the other hand, have supported the telecommunication industry’s push to radically change the Internet so corporate content producers have the upper hand over start-ups like blogs, independent media, small businesses, etc. As Reuters has reported, the incoming Republican Congress has signaled that it will vigorously side with companies like Comcast against an open Internet.

It is not clear why MSNBC has selectively suspended Olbermann indefinitely without pay — but the move showcases the limits of the corporate media. While modern technology has created a seeming multitude of entertainment and television choices, the reality of corporate media consolidation has resulted in fewer investigative news options and less voices in the media with a critical perspective on powerful business interests. Olbermann has stood out as a voice for working people in a media universe dominated by “reality television” and business lobbyists posing as political pundits. It is unfortunate that Comcast and MSNBC have chosen to suspend him.


Levi Strauss Exec Says Measure To Suspend Global Warming Law Would ‘Turn Back The Clock’ For Business

October 5, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

levi straussLevi Strauss & Co., the California-based apparel giant that invented blue jeans over a century ago, has come out in strong opposition to Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that would suspend the state’s landmark global warming law, calling it “backward thinking.” In a blog post by Senior Vice President Amy Leonard, the company describes how the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) has spurred “the clean technology industry and clean energy businesses.” Backed by out-of-state oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce, Tea Party groups are trying to suspend the law, which Leonard says has given California businesses “critical tools” for “energy and climate innovation“:

Proposition 23 would eliminate critical tools recently put in place to promote energy efficiency. It would discourage energy and climate innovation by making it more expensive for businesses to invest in necessary research and development. It would turn back the clock by removing incentives intended to move us ahead.

Levi Strauss is joined by other California-based global companies in opposing Proposition 23, including Clif Bar, The North Face, the Gap, and eBay, the company once run by Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman — who stands in opposition to AB 32.

Think Progress

Will Wells Fargo Suspend Foreclosures After Official Admits He Didn’t Verify Foreclosure Filings?

October 4, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

ap0810030154761Over the weekend, Bank of America announced that it is suspending foreclosures in 23 states after a BofA official admitted he signed 7,000 to 8,000 foreclosure filings a month, but did not read them “because of the volume.” BofA joined JP Morgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage in halting foreclosures amidst revelations that foreclosure documents have been processed by so-called “robo-signers,” without any sort of due process or verification.

Last week, Wells Fargo, the second largest mortgage servicer in the country, offered assurances that its foreclosure process is sound, telling HousingWire, “Wells Fargo policies, procedures and practices satisfy us that the affidavits we sign are accurate. We audit, monitor and review our affidavits under controlled standards on a daily basis.” But, if a deposition obtained by the Associated Press is any example, that rosy assessment may not be based in reality:

An executive with Wells Fargo said he checked only the dates on up to 150 foreclosure documents he signed daily. The admission was made during a deposition in May when the executive said he relied on co-workers to make sure the information was correct on paperwork, according to news reports Sunday. The deposition of the Fort-Mill, S.C.-based Wells Fargo vice president, Herman John Kennerty, was reported over the weekend by AOL Daily Finance and obtained by The Associated Press.

In Florida, “a recent sample of foreclosure cases in the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida showed that 20 percent of those set for summary judgment involved deficient documents.” That means one in five foreclosures in a state devastated by the housing crisis may be improper.

At least six states are investigating potentially improper foreclosure practices, and legal experts told the New York Times that courts “may impose sanctions on lenders or their representatives or may force banks to pay borrowers’ legal costs in these cases.” “[The banks’ actions] reflects the hubris that as long as the money was going through the pipeline, these companies didn’t really have to make sure the documents were in order,” said Kathleen C. Engel, dean for intellectual life at Suffolk University Law School and an expert in mortgage law.

At the same time, a new study from Professor Douglas Massey of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University shows that “predatory lending aimed at racially segregated minority neighborhoods led to mass foreclosures that fueled the U.S. housing crisis.” Massey found that “living in a predominantly African-American area, and to a lesser extent Hispanic area, were ‘powerful predictors of foreclosures‘ in the nation,” as subprime lending in those areas skyrocketed.

So will Wells, like BofA and JP Morgan, suspend foreclosures until this mess is sorted out? Or will it continue to throw people out of their homes, when its own officials admit to not having done due diligence on foreclosure documents?

(HT: David Dayen)

Wonk Room

ObamaCare Leads Minnesota Insurers to Suspend Sales

September 24, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

By Michael F. Cannon

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Two of Minnesota’s biggest health plans said Thursday they have temporarily suspended sales of individual health insurance policies because of uncertainty related to the new federal health reform law.

The moves by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and HealthPartners came on the same day some of the federal government’s most-heralded consumer protections came into effect…

The insurers that have suspended individual sales say they are awaiting guidance on new rules, including those around coverage of kids with pre-existing conditions…

Pam Lux, a spokeswoman for Eagan-based Blue Cross, said she expects the suspension of individual sales to be brief but could not say if it would be days or weeks.

Cato @ Liberty

Rep. Loretta Sanchez: States Should Exclude Insurers That Suspend Child-Only Plans From The Exchanges

September 22, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Several large health insurers have announced that they would suspend child-only insurance plans “rather than comply with a new federal healthcare law that bars them from rejecting youngsters with preexisting medical conditions.” Most Democrats have remained mum about how to address the problem, but this afternoon Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) appeared on MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and suggested that states should prohibit such “bad faith” insurers from participating in the exchanges in 2014. Under the health care law, states can exclude certain insurers from the exchanges if they demonstrate a pattern or practice of excessive or unjustified premium increases.

Sanchez said that states — rather than the federal government — would be primarily responsible for holding insurers accountable and encouraged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a California bill that would prohibit insurers that stop offering child-only policies, from participating in the exchanges for a period of five years:

SANCHEZ: So obviously, one of those things is when we do set up exchanges in three years, we are going to get to choose. We are going to have a commission that is going to get to choose what policies are put in there. Certainly, I would call a company that is not writing children’s insurance a bad faith company and I would suggest they wouldn’t be found in that new 30 to 40 million-person market that we will create.

Watch it:

Some insurers may have decided to leave the child-only market because the new take-all-kids regulation made that product less profitable, but it’s also possible that other companies suspended their plans in order to avoid possible premium increases (that could have made them ineligible for the exchanges.) Still, the very notion that members of Congress are calling on states to use their regulatory authority to clamp down on “bad faith” insures, is quite encouraging.

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