From the boardroom to your livingroom

You often hear people complain that our elected officials ignore the needs and desires of the folks on Main Street, but that's not really true, is it? Public opinion and perceptions play a major role in political campaigns, and a candidate ignores them at his or her own peril. But that doesn't mean we're getting closer to sound policy solutions either. Those opinions and perceptions can be manipulated by powerful people with an agenda, who sit back and watch each act of the play unfold.

The controversy surrounding Climate Change and the costs associated with remediation techniques has been raging for some time now, but with Congress gearing up to address the issue it will be front page news, and separating neutral assessments from agenda-driven creations is going to be difficult at best. But if you take the time to vet the sources and search for (real or potential) conflicts of interest, that separation may become more clear.

For instance, this NY Times article seems like a pretty objective piece:

A quarter century from now the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels will have declined only marginally, according to a projection from Black & Veatch, the engineering and energy consulting firm.

In 2034, a mix of coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels will supply 68 percent of the nation’s energy needs, compared to 76 percent today. The share of energy production from renewable sources, including solar and wind, in 2034 will rise to 13 percent from 5 percent. Nuclear power will supply only 2 percent more electricity than it does in 2010, the firm said.

But if you boil down the implications presented and fit them into the current debate, you get the conclusion "Very little will change" followed by "It's not worth the costs". And if you look at the Board of Directors of the company who did the assessment, you might get an idea why they would want you to think that way:

Dean Oskvig became President and CEO of B&V Energy in 2006, where he oversees the company's energy business on a global basis.

More specifically:

The division's seven business lines include Power Delivery; Gas, Oil & Chemicals; Combustion Turbine; Coal; Air Quality Control Systems; and Nuclear and Consulting Engineering Services. Mr. Oskvig is responsible for effectively deploying project management and production resources in these areas to the Americas, Asia and a third region comprised of the Middle East, India and Europe.

Up next, we have:

Don Buck joined the Black & Veatch Board of Directors in 2000 following a 26-year career with Fluor Daniel.

More specifically:

Formed in 1989, Duke/Fluor Daniel designs, builds, operates and maintains power plants on a global basis...Duke/Fluor Daniel provides comprehensive engineering, procurement, construction and operating plant services for fossil-fueled electric power generation facilities worldwide.

And then there's:

Fernandes had a 30-year career with the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and retired as an Executive Vice President in 1999. He was a member of the ARCO BOD, Chairman of ARCO Chemical Company, a NYSE company 80% owned by ARCO, and also President of ARCO Coal, a subsidiary of ARCO, from 1990 to 1994.

More specifically:

Atlantic Richfield Company, better known as ARCO, is the seventh-largest U.S. oil company. A vertically integrated company, ARCO explores for, produces, refines, and markets crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids. Although the company has operations in the North Sea, Indonesia, Russia, Venezuela, Pakistan, China, and Algeria, its largest reserves and most productive operations are in Alaska.

And you gotta have access:

Joseph Nemec, Jr., joined the Black & Veatch Board of Directors in 2000. He has more than 35 years of management consulting experience. Prior to joining Booz Allen in 1970, he was an assistant professor of engineering at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

More specifically:

Citizens rely on government to deliver the services they need when they need them; government agencies rely on Booz Allen Hamilton to help improve their capability to meet this expectation. Booz Allen provides high-level management and technology consulting services to federal, state and local agencies, and not-for-profit organizations. Our work spans the full breadth of civil government including health and benefits, finance, energy, environment, international development and diplomacy, law enforcement, space, and transportation.

Also at the table:

Steven Wunning joined the Black & Veatch Board of Directors in 2004. Wunning is a group president and Executive Office member of Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, and industrial gas turbines...a member of the Board of Directors of Kennametal Inc. in Latrobe, Pennsylvania

More and more specifically:

Mongolia’s revised minerals law further opens investment by foreign mining companies to extract hundreds of millions of tons of mineral resources of mainly, coal, copper and gold. Wagner Asia Equipment LLC is the Caterpillar, Inc. (CAT) dealer in Mongolia responsible for supplying the mining sites in the South Gobi region with heavy duty machines such as the 250 ton 785C mining trucks. The transportation and logistics is well coordinated from the factories in the mid-West to the desolate project sites with challenges once the shipments arrive in the border town of Zamyn-Uud, Mongolia a few miles across from the People’s Republic of China.

We offer a comprehensive selection of mining tools, accessories, and wear-related products. And we provide cutting system capabilities for designing, building, tooling, and servicing longwall shearers, continuous miners, roof bolters, surface miners, and crushers.

If you haven't got the picture in your head yet, consider this: That Board of Directors has over 120 years of employment in the fossil fuel industry, and I'm sure their stock portfolios reflect that. And your opinion of their opinion should reflect that, too.


This is really important... a commentary on the main stream media. Thank you for breaking it down for us. I think we could probably analyze many, many MSM pieces by looking at their sources critically. It's unfortunate that we have to do this, but we do.

The spin we get on the stories of the day is tightly controlled by the corporate media, but in a pretty subtle way sometimes. Most people have no idea. We have to figure out how to break through the mainstream media noise with less biased information.

Multiply this times a few hundred thousand

teams of consultants, boards of directors, opinion manufacturers, gurus, experts and elected officials and you have a full frontal view of the extent to which national public policy is shaped by corporate interests. As Green Mom suggests, however, the media today are owned and operated by those exact same interests.

Thank goodness for the Intertubes.

On the other hand: boardroom bungling

For all the credit private companies get for innovation and problem-solving, it’s remarkable how badly business interests have fared in the health reform agenda. Not all business interests, mind you. Insurers are making out like bandits. But it’s hard to see how the vast majority of companies outside the insurance industry – as well as the people they employ – have much to gain in this next new wave of regulation.

That’s not to say there aren’t broader benefits. As Adam Searing at NC Policy Watch reports, several elements of the pending legislation are noteworthy and have immediate value.

  • Parents can keep dependent children on their health plans up to age 26
  • No annual or lifetime limits in health plans
  • New limits on insurance company profits
  • Community health center funding
  • Closing Medicare drug “doughnut hole”
  • Small business tax credits to help buy health insurance
  • Temporary expansion of state high risk pools

None of these benefits, though, have anything to do with the sky-rocketing cost of care, the 800 pound gorilla that is ripping apart American competitiveness. This legislation is about access. Simply put, of the 60 or so million uninsured today, about half will be eventually covered by the new legislation. Thirty million new people covered – you can’t sneeze at that.

But by digging in their conservative heels and siding with insurance providers in this battle royale, broader commercial interests have chosen to invite regulators to micromanage their health programs, establishing new standards for whom gets covered and who pays what to make it happen, complete with a fancy new catalog of eligibility, compliance and reporting requirements.

Even worse, this legislation locks in what any thinking person would say is a fundamentally flawed delivery model – a system of healthcare that depends on employers as its foundation. Instead of doing the right thing and getting behind a single-payer solution that would have gotten get them out of the healthcare racket altogether, the geniuses running American business said, “We’d rather have federal regulators monitoring every move we make in terms of employee health benefits, coverage, eligibility, and more.” No one cares about cost, it’ll be passed along somehow, some way, driving the stake deeper to undermine America’s ability to compete.

People I respect have argued that this legislation is better than nothing because of all the good it does. And that may be true. But if I were still a business owner, I’d be furious at Republicans for torpedoing meaningful reform, at Democrats for taking single-payer off the table before the debate even began, and at American business lobbyists for being dumber than a sack of rocks.

You're right, it doesn't make sense

that other business sectors would oppose single-payer, especially considering how drastically reducing health care-related bankruptcies would reinvigorate consumerism.

I guess it could be a knee-jerk reaction to the "nationalization" of the biggest sector (currently) in existence, or it could even be something as simple as corporate board members holding health care stocks in their personal portfolios. I don't know, but it might be worth devoting some effort to figure it out.

Broader cultural underpinnings

I hear your main point about the illogic of business opposition to single-payer, and can't fundamentally disagree. Broadly speaking, though, I've concluded that waiting for logic alone to win out in a political debate is usually a hopeless proposition.

In this specific instance, I think that the broader cultural underpinnings of our societal body politic are at the root of this (and many another) position. Let's take as a given that a business owner is probably to a great degree a self-starter used to relying on private action. That would mean they're more likely than most to buy in, on a gut level, to our society's basic distrust of large institutions generally, monopolies especially, and government in most particular.

When big is bad, monopoly is even worse, and government monopoly is the devil incarnate, an attempt to crank up a reason-based examination of the pros and cons of establishing what effectively becomes a new government monopoly on anything is pretty well doomed from the start.

Dan Besse

Gut distrust of big institutions

I have that distrust myself, so I understand what you're saying. Except it's many of the giant employers who stand to suffer most ... hospitality, fast food, and retail in particular. On the other hand, I've heard that Walmart has been a supporter of the reform scheme, thinking they're ahead of other retailers in terms of compliance with likely mandates.

Business owners don't rely on private initiative in all areas. They come with their hands out to beg for incentives all the time. They're happy to peddle their influence in rezonings and transportation planning if it will give them a chance to make a buck. And they even build entire companies just to slop at the public trough. Anti-government zealot Fred Smith is a case in point.

All that said, I'm sure your right about this. Sad, but sure.

Ask your local chamber of commerce

What have you budgeted for your health insurance increases for the last several years?

If your local chamber answers truthfully, they will tell you they've been budgeting double-digit percentage increases for the past several years. That's PERCENTAGE increases.

If they've stuck with Blue Cross Blue Shield NC, then they've been slammed with more than double digit PERCENTAGE increases this year.

So, leaders of NC Chambers of Commerce, what in hell is sustainable about such a business model?

Not one damn thing.

If you're a member OR on a board of a local chamber of commerce in NC (or better yet, the NC Chamber), raise hell about how your dues are filtering money to the US Chamber of Commerce AND Blue Cross Blue Shield NC to keep jacking up insurance rates at wildly unsustainable rates -- for any business model.