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May 10-16, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Wrong Party?

By Peter Byrne

Joe Nation dropped by my office on a rainy March morning for a chat. The state assemblyman is aiming to defeat Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in the Democratic primary on June 6. Energetic and well-mannered, Nation put himself through college working as a Pan Am flight attendant. He earned a B.A. in economics from the University of Colorado, a masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and a Ph.D. in public policy from the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica. In addition to his job representing Marin and southern Sonoma counties, Nation owns California Data and Analysis, which creates demographic databases for RAND. He also creates economic reports for the California Healthcare Institute in La Jolla.

Nation says that the Patriot Act "over-reached." In his opinion, Bush's decision to invade Iraq was "horrible," but American troops should stay there until the country is "stabilized." He has introduced an Assembly bill to add up to 25 cents per gallon to the retail cost of gasoline in order to "reduce dependence on foreign oil." As a believer in the "equilibrium" of the capitalist market, he supports the local economy-crushing actions of the World Trade Organization and NAFTA and CAFTA. He also fears that China will dominate the global battle over intellectual property "rights" and patents.

Nation is virulently opposed to assemblywoman Sheila Kuhl's single-payer universal healthcare bill pending in the legislature. Twice in two years, he has proposed legislation designed to kill Kuhl's path-breaking bill--while feather-bedding the future of large insurance companies. Last year, his AB 1670, which failed in committee, would have ordered every person in California to buy a commercial health insurance policy with a deductible of up to $5,000. Since cheaper policies have higher deductibles, the poorest people stood to be out of pocket most in a health catastrophe. And those without coverage would have their tax refund seized.

A major sponsor of Nation's mandatory insurance law was his employer, the California Healthcare Institute, which "strongly opposes" single-payer, universal healthcare. After Nation's bill was shot down, he resurrected it, with changes, as AB 1952. Now people who do not obtain health insurance (at prices set by the insurance cartel) will be fined twice the cost of the average premium. Opponents argued before the legislature that "the bill repeals the Patient's Bill of Rights, potentially excludes . . . immunizations and prenatal care . . . [as well as] care for those who are disabled or suffer with chronic illnesses." Workers will be obligated to pay their employers up to 50 percent of the cost of insuring themselves and their families.

Nation's bill proposes to force 6.5 million Californians who already cannot afford healthcare insurance to buy it anyway! That will be a pretty good windfall for the insurance companies that contribute major campaign money to Nation, such as Hartford Financial Service Group and NORCAL Mutual Insurance. No doubt about it: Nation is in league with pharmaceutical companies that loathe the idea of a single-payer system that might result in lower drug prices. For example, Nation says he was paid to do three economic impact studies for the California Healthcare Institute, which describes itself as "the advocate for California's biomedical industry." This industrial group exists to "educate policymakers"; i.e., it lobbies state officials to oppose price controls on life-saving medical practices.

The 200 corporations that fund the activities of the California Healthcare Institute include such pharmaceutical firms as Bayer Corporation, BioMarin Pharmaceutical, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Pfizer, Genentech, Hoffman-La Roche as well as firms that specialize in intellectual property rights (really, it should read "wrongs") and the cuddly investment bankers at Goldman Sachs.

The grossly misnamed California Healthcare Institute "educates" legislators to abort universal healthcare in favor of Nation's perpetual subsidy for insurance and pharmaceutical businesses. The trade organization is paranoid that "foreign governments" are "threatening" to cut themselves lose from the WTO's enforcement of trade and patent laws. It will do anything to keep Third World people from breaking Euro-American corporate monopolies on the genomes of life.

A look at Nation's campaign contributors suggests that he might be more comfortable running for office in Orange County. Clearly, his Republican backers see through the quasi-liberal spin he dishes out in public. William Oberndorf of SPO Partners in Mill Valley blessed him with a chunk of cash ($2,100). In the last gubernatorial election, Oberndorf gave $100,000 to conservative zealot William Simon. Members of the super-rich Fisher family--of the child-labor-exploiting GAP Inc.--have blessed Nation with big bucks ($9,400), as has urban developer Barbara Kaufman ($2,000), who just happens to run Arnold Schwarzenegger's San Francisco office.

It appears that by running for the Democrats, Nation has entered the wrong primary.

Contact Peter Byrne or send a letter to the editor about this story.