Longtime insurance industry insider co-directs WaPo/Harvard healthcare polls
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 29, 2010 at 12:14 EST

The Washington Post published a poll on the special election in Massachusetts last week, as part of the Washington Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll series. The poll carried obvious implications for the health care reform debate (as did the election). And like other polls in the series, which are frequently health care-related, it was co-directed by Harvard professor Robert Blendon.

Blendon sits on the board of Assurant, an insurance company. As I’ve noted previously, Blendon consistently fails to disclose the affiliation in his healthcare polling work or in his various bios (here, here, here). It is so hard to find this affiliation noted anywhere — even his lengthy Harvard bio leaves it out — that I get the sense that Blendon feels he has something to hide.

Since Assurant has an obvious and substantial interest in healthcare reform, and Blendon’s polling work for the Washington Post frequently concerns healthcare, shouldn’t the Washington Post notify its readers of this conflict?

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Landrieu phone squad: the Boustany connection
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 28, 2010 at 13:57 EST

The four conservative activists arrested for tampering with the phones of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu earlier this week have been linked to the Pelican Institute, a conservative New Orleans think tank. Pelican is a relatively new organization, but it appears to have strong ties to members of the state’s Republican elite, most notably Representative Charles Boustany.

Though only one of the tamperers is from Louisiana, Pelican appears to have been the group’s home base there. The apparent ringleader, James O’Keefe — also the activist behind last September’s ACORN videotape — spoke at a Pelican Institute luncheon last week. Another one of the four, Robert Flanagan, is a paid blogger for Pelican (Flanagan is the son of the acting US attorney in Shreveport, Bill Flanagan). Pelican’s founder, Kevin Kane, blogs at BigGovernment, the site where O’Keefe first posted the ACORN video.

TPMMuckraker has found that Pelican “enjoys a prominent voice in Louisiana political circles.” A close look at its board of directors helps explain why this is the case.

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Geithner’s Big Lie
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 27, 2010 at 14:15 EST

The front page of the New York Times says it all this morning: “The treasury secretary told a House panel that failure to provide A.I.G. with the $85 billion bailout would have been “catastrophic” for the economy.” Both Paulson and Geithner also defended their actions with the old warning about the imminence of a “second Great Depression.”

As I noted yesterday, Geithner is also telling us that a failed Bernanke confirmation effort would have catastrophic consequences for financial markets. Geithner and other Wall Street policy elites are old hands at this: they’ve used the same rationale for every massive financial bailout of the past generation, from the Mexican bailout to Long Term Capital Management to AIG.

Notably, they’ve used the same excuse to argue against financial regulation. When Brooksley Born wanted to regulate derivatives, Summers, Rubin, and Greenspan told her that she was going to cause a financial crisis. Of course, the opposite was true: they didn’t regulate derivatives, and it caused a massive financial crisis.

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Fending off the Bernanke downgrade
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 26, 2010 at 19:41 EST

Ben Bernanke’s supporters are warning that a Senate vote against the Fed chair will send financial markets tumbling.  Tim Geithner recently chimed in by telling Politico that markets would find a no vote “very troubling,” before saying that he was confident Bernanke would be reconfirmed. 

Geithner’s chief mentor, Robert Rubin, deployed the very same argument about Enron. Rubin, then a top executive at Citigroup, made an 11th hour call to the Treasury Department as part of a campaign by Enron and its creditors to stave off a looming ratings downgrade. The call was later criticized as an improper use of the former Treasury Secretary’s influence, but Rubin defended his actions, saying that he thought an Enron collapse would imperil world energy markets.

The financial apocalypse trick has been turned many times by Wall Street’s policy elites, but the Rubin example is especially apt today: the high-level campaign to avert Enron’s ratings downgrade in 2001 appears to have been coordinated by the same Federal Reserve official lobbying for Ben Bernanke’s reappointment.

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Bernanke lobbyist authored Enron/Cheney energy plan
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 25, 2010 at 15:39 EST

The same lobbyist that sold Washington on Enron is now touting Ben Bernanke. According to Politico, former Enron lobbyist Linda Robertson has been managing Bernanke’s confirmation effort on behalf of the Federal Reserve — coaching him through the process in much the same way she coached Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling through the Washington influence game.

Robertson played a key role in some of Enron’s most scandalous moments in the year prior to its collapse. For starters, she was at the center of negotiations involving the highly secretive energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.  A review of Enron email shows that Robertson guided Lay through pivotal meetings with Cheney and other officials, and actually authored the Enron memo and talking points that were later integrated into Cheney’s controversial energy plan.

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Robber Barons United
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 22, 2010 at 18:05 EST

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United seems to represent a giant leap backwards for our democracy, after decades of gathering corporate influence in Washington.  It is difficult to find the words to keep pace.  Didn’t corporate elites already own our politicians?  Weren’t left and right already rebelling against the tyrannical center hewed out by mushy, big money interests?  Wasn’t our rhetoric already a bit overblown?

The New York Times managed to kick it up a notch in its editorial this morning, opening with this line:  “With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century.”

What now?

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Analyst roundup
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 20, 2010 at 14:58 EST

A brief roundup of what’s going on around LittleSis.org today…

* Inside the Obama White House. Priscilla, destructor & co continue to power through the Obama White House visitors list, which now includes over 150 visitors to top White House officials. Goldman Sachs has ties to more visitors than any other business, according to our current data.

* Cuomo. Andrew.stecker is digging deep into the networks of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is preparing for a gubernatorial bid against incumbent David Patterson. WileECoyote chipped in with a contribution of his own, noting that Cuomo used to be married to Kerry Kennedy.

* The Boston Chamber. Following on yesterday’s post on the Coakley campaign and making use of our new bulk upload tool (still in the testing phase), I added all 122 board members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to the database. Whew! (sometimes this site is far too addictive). In any case, advanced analysts will be able to turn all kinds of speedy tricks with this magical piece of software in the future.

* New analysts. Today’s new analysts include FlintFM, J.DANQUIST, and Justice4u. Welcome aboard! If you’re an experienced analyst, consider dropping them a welcome note and offering your support as they learn the ropes.

Coakley’s bipartisanship
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 19, 2010 at 17:01 EST

A Martha Coakley loss in today’s Massachusetts election will likely be interpreted as a repudiation of the current Democratic agenda and that of President Obama, in particular, and pundits will inevitably call for more bipartisanship on healthcare and other issues. It is interesting to note, then, that the Coakley campaign had strong Republican ties at its highest levels.

Coakley campaign co-chair Ralph C Martin II was a prominent Massachusetts Republican until recently. He served as the Republican District Attorney of Suffolk County throughout the nineties, and also chaired former Governor Mitt Romney’s Judicial Nominating Commission. He has been floated as a Republican candidate for Senator and Mayor in recent years, though he switched his voter registration from Republican to unenrolled in 2006. It’s unclear if he has since joined the Democratic Party.

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Interlocking economists
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 18, 2010 at 17:28 EST

MIT healthcare economist Jonathan Gruber has been caught up in a scandal in recent weeks after it was reported that he received large, undisclosed payments from the Obama administration for healthcare-related work while purporting to be an “independent” analyst of the healthcare legislation snaking its way through the Senate. The apparent conflict of interest was first exposed by a commenter at mcjoan’s blog on the Daily Kos, amplified by Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake, and has led to a number of corrections by media outlets like the Times.

Despite general consensus that Gruber should have disclosed the conflict, Paul Krugman stepped up to defend his fellow economist, writing that “the truth is that this is no big deal.” He then discounted Wheeler and FireDogLake as hot-headed scandal-mongers.

Krugman’s arguments are unconvincing — he distorts the claims of Gruber’s critics, makes non-issues the focus (eg, whether Gruber believes what he says), and misses key facts. For a full dismantling of his key points, see Glenn Greenwald’s latest post.

Krugman’s choice to defend Gruber is explained in part by the duo’s interlocks; they share some important institutional affiliations.

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Time, talent, and treasure at the American Museum of Natural History
By admin  •  Jan 15, 2010 at 11:27 EST

We are going to begin opening up the blog to LittleSis analysts over the next few months in order to offer more of a platform for their work and analysis and showcase the many ways in which the site is used. If you are an analyst and are interested in contributing, please drop Kevin a note.

Today’s post is by WileECoyote, an analyst who found LittleSis before it had even launched and has made steady and valuable contributions ever since. Wile E. is a fundraiser, and below details insights gleaned from research on the board of the American Museum of Natural History.

It took a bit of time over the last week to place all of the 50 Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History onto LittleSis, but it was an interesting process. As someone who has spent a career in fund raising and higher education, the group seems almost a perfect balance of the “time, talent or treasure” we typically ask a board member to contribute to our causes.

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