Category Archives: Business

California to Investigate Racial Discrimination in Auto Insurance Premiums

Pictures of Money / CC BY 2.0

The California Department of Insurance has launched an investigation into whether eight auto insurers in the state discriminate against drivers in minority neighborhoods.

The investigation was prompted by an April 5 article, co-published by ProPublica and Consumer Reports, which found that the eight California insurers were charging more for auto premiums in minority neighborhoods, on average, than in non-minority areas with similar accident costs. California law prohibits insurers from charging rates that are excessive or unfairly discriminatory.

“We have taken these pricing allegations very seriously,” Deputy Commissioner Ken Allen wrote on April 28 to an attorney at Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports. “… All necessary information to complete a thorough analysis on a file-by-file basis has already been or will be obtained from the eight insurers. The Department’s analysis will determine if there are inequities with respect to the pricing and treatment of any ZIP codes by these insurers.”

At the time our article was published, the California insurance department disputed ProPublica’s analysis. “The study’s flawed methodology results in a flawed conclusion,” the regulatory agency said in a statement.

But after hearing from groups including Consumers Union, Public Advocates and Consumer Watchdog, the department decided to initiate its own investigation. It will make the results of the review public, Allen told Consumers Union.

It’s not clear what data and methodology the department will use in its review, or whether it has the necessary data in-house. Allen wrote that the department will ask the eight insurers to submit “filings of their auto class plans and rating methodologies for review of discriminatory rating practices,” but the department regularly collects much of this information anyway.

The eight companies under scrutiny are subsidiaries of three major national insurers: Nationwide, USAA and Liberty Mutual.

Liberty Mutual and Nationwide both said that they don’t discriminate and that they cooperate with any review by the California insurance department.

“We support and embrace an inclusive environment that is free from discrimination in the workplace and in our businesses,” said Liberty Mutual spokesman John Cusolito. “… We are committed to offering drivers fair and competitive priced car insurance coverage options.”

“Nationwide develops its rates based on sound actuarial principles, relying on loss and expense experience and utilizing permissible and nondiscriminatory rating factors in compliance with each state’s ratemaking laws,” said Nationwide spokesman Eric Hardgrove.

USAA did not respond to a request for comment.

“We sincerely hope the California Department of Insurance will reaffirm what they had originally referred to as ‘flawed methodology’ that led to ‘a flawed conclusion,’” said James Lynch, chief actuary of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group.

Lynch said the institute hired an actuarial firm that has reviewed ProPublica’s data. That study has not been made public.

In California, which is a highly regulated insurance market, eight of the 21 insurers we examined had pricing disparities of more than 10 percent, led by Liberty Mutual. Its premiums were on average 33 percent higher in zip codes where most residents are minorities than in whiter neighborhoods with similar accident costs. The disparities at USAA and Nationwide were 18 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Disparate pricing was more prevalent in three other states, where insurance is less regulated.

In Illinois, 33 of the 34 companies we analyzed were charging at least 10 percent more, on average, for the same safe driver in zip codes where most residents are minorities than in other comparably risky zip codes. In Missouri and Texas, at least half of the insurers we studied charged higher premiums for a safe driver in high-risk minority communities than in comparably risky non-minority communities.

ProPublica could only examine insurance payouts in four states because they are the only ones that release the type of data needed to compare insurance payouts by geography.

As a result of ProPublica’s reporting, two Illinois lawmakers have proposed barring car insurers there from using a driver’s zip code to determine premiums. Six Democratic members of Congress have also urged the Treasury Department to appoint a director for the Federal Insurance Office, which monitors insurance pricing and availability in minority neighborhoods.

Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for San Francisco-based Public Advocates, said the California regulator’s actions may not go far enough. “We don’t know exactly what information he has asked for,” he said. “The whole thing is happening in a black box.”

He said that the department’s investigation should be conducted publicly, and the data used for its analysis should also be made available to the public. “It’s just too important an issue to have the public see conclusions without having any basis for understanding what went into them,” Marcantonio said.

Allen assured Consumers Union that this investigation is only the beginning. “The Department will continue this focus on ZIP code treatment in all subsequent class plan filings made by any insurer,” he wrote.

By Julia Angwin / ProPublica

Posted by The NON-Conformist

War, Militarism, and Middling Opposition Different Administration Same Story

In the run-up to budget discussions, the Trump Administration floated various proposals for a dramatic increase in military spending on top of the already bloated $596 billion Pentagon budget. This, figure doesn’t even represent the true expenditures devoted to war-making and militarism in the $1.1 trillion discretionary side of the national budget. The $596 doesn’t include the $65 billion in veterans spending and $26 billion for nuclear weapons. That brings the total to about $690 billion or 63% of all discretionary spending! To fund this outrageous theft of the peoples’ resources for the military/industrial/complex, the Administration called for unprecedented cuts to various Federal agencies and departments since everything is supposed to be revenue neutral.

Now a reasonable person might conclude that for an oppositional party that claims to be the voice of the downtrodden and committed to social justice informed by “liberal values,” Trump’s proposals to take a meat cleaver to state agencies in order to increase military spending and indeed his whole budget recommendations would be a godsend for democrats since militarism has a direct impact on working people and the poor. Even republican president Dwight Eisenhower understood this in what today’s right-wing U.S. culture would read as a radical statement:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

Yet, instead of vigorous opposition and mass mobilizations from the loyal opposition, the democrat party is still trying to hold the public’s attention with the nonsensical drama related to supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign., As though collusion between campaigns and foreign governments is something new – think Nixon’s efforts to sabotage peace efforts in the ‘68 campaign and Reagan’s campaign’s coordination with Iran and release of U.S. hostages that sunk Carter’s presidency.

What is so incredibly inept about the strategy to keep the focus on Russia is that the issues that could really begin the process of driving a wedge between the Trump administration and the independents and white workers who voted for Obama in ’08 and ’12 but voted Trump in 2016 — the healthcare issue, no support for an increase in minimum wage, tax cuts for the rich — are there to be exploited if the democrats were really a serious oppositional party with an alternative reform agenda. This is precisely the point. The democrat party is not a serious oppositional party.

The absence of any real opposition to the reckless use of U.S. military force — the attack on Syria, the macho demonstration bombing in Afghanistan, the provocations toward North Korea — exposed once again the unanimity among the U.S. ruling class and the state on the use of military force as the main strategy to enforce its global interests.

What this means for Black and oppressed people, in the capitalist centers in the West and in the Global South is that we cannot afford the luxury of diversionary politics when it is our bodies that are in the crosshairs of an F-16 in Libya and a Glock 9mm in the hands of a racist cop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For us, unrestrained militarism and war has always meant death and destruction.

It also means that attempting to build oppositional coalitions to confront and defeat militarism and neoliberal state austerity cannot depend on effective and consistent support from democrat party related structures both inside and outside of the democrat party such as many of the nonprofits and labor unions. It even means that it is becoming more difficult to build opposition to war and militarism among the U.S. left and progressives because these sectors along with the corporate media and the general public have fallen prey to what Rashna Batliwala Singh and Peter Mathews Wright calls “imperial privilege.”

Imperial privilege is this strange ability on the part of the U.S. public to “shrug off” the consequences experienced by people impacted by the direct and indirect result of U.S. militarism. That is precisely why pro-imperialist politicians like Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can be designated as “progressives” and vast numbers of voters can rally around a warmonger like Hilary Clinton without suffering much moral distress.

It is also why there is not much discussion of the consequences for the people of Korea if through macho posturing the Trump administration sparks a military confrontation on the Korean peninsula or why there are no calls from the public to stop Saudi war crimes in Yemen and it seems perfectly acceptable that the entire U.S. Senate would sign-on to a letter to the United Nations condemning it for its bias against Israel. And it is why “Trump became president” of all the people after ordering the military to engage in an illegal attack on Syria.

According to Batliwala Singh and Mathews Wright:

Imperial privilege makes it possible for even the liberally-inclined to turn a blind eye to the toxic footprint of U.S. militarism at home and abroad; to fall silent at any mention of the homicidal decisions of an American President; to exclude such matters from public political discussion and to prevent them from influencing their voting patterns in any way.

So, while Trump only got a $15 billion dollar increase in the budget compromise, the “commonsense” acceptance of war by the public at this point makes it more likely that the Administration will be successful in securing billions more of the public’s resources for war-making in the 2018 budget that will be debated over coming months.

The irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism, fueled by white nationalist sentiment has produced a toxic, proto-fascist politics. This is the context in which we must build an alternative to the neoliberalism of the Democrats and the nationalist-populism of Trump.

The drive toward war, domestic repression, and the militarization of society can only be stopped by the people. But that will not occur until there is a shift in the culture and consciousness of the public. A shift in which the inherent value of all lives is recognized and a new kind of politics is practiced in which the people are able to recognize that their interests are not the same as the interests of the capitalist oligarchy and that they have a responsibility to victims of U.S. imperialism around the world.

By Ajamu Baraka/Dissident Voice

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Why Obama’s Big Cash-In Matters

One of my little online entertainments this year has been to ask my social media network a question: “So, what’s Obama up to lately?”

I want to know, but I haven’t had the stomach to follow the man once he left the White House.

Truth be told, I burned out on Obama years ago.

I called him out as a corporate, neoliberal imperialist and a de facto white supremacist (as ironic as that might sound given his technical blackness) from the beginning of the nationwide “Obamas” phenomenon in the summer of 2004.

Empire’s New Clothes

From 2006 through 2011, I dedicated inordinate research and writing to the “BaRockstar.” Prior to his 2009 inauguration (an event I found likely once George W. Bush defeated John F. Kerry in 2004), I tried to warn progressives (and anyone else who would listen) about Obama’s coming presidential service to the rich and powerful, their global empire and the white majority’s desire to deny the continuing power of anti-black racism in the United States. I collected my warnings in a 2008 book that bore the deceptively neutral title “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.”

I continued to follow Obama closely. In 2010, my next book, “The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power,” detailed his dutiful fealty to the nation’s “deep state” masters of capital and empire (and to white majority opinion on race) during his first year in the White House. This volume exhaustively refuted partisan Democrats who insisted that Obama really wanted to do progressive things but was prevented from that by a Republican Congress. It was a nonsensical claim. Year One Obama had just won the presidency with a great voter mandate for progressive change and had a Democratic Congress. He could have steered well to the wide left of his corporate-center-right trajectory if he’d wanted. But he didn’t want to, consistent with Adolph Reed Jr.’s dead-on description of Obama after the future president first won elected office in Illinois:

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

By acting in accord with Reed’s retrospectively haunting early description, the “deeply conservative” President Obama ironically helped create the very Republican “Tea Party” Congress his loyal liberal defenders were then able to cite as the excuse for his right-wing policymaking. Governing progressively in 2009 and 2010 would have been good politics for the Democrats. It might well have pre-empted the “Teapublican” victories of 2010.

You’ve Got to Meet Real Socialists

But that’s not what “Wall Street Barry” was about. He was a Hamilton Project, Robert Rubin-sponsored actor who never would have gotten the elite backing he needed to prevail had he been the peoples’ champion so many voters dreamed him to be.

Obama set new Wall Street election fundraising records for a reason in 2008. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Ken Silverstein noted in a fall 2006 Harper’s Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.,” “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform. … On condition of anonymity, one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’ ”

After his 2012 re-election, Obama spoke at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “When you go to other countries,” Obama told the corporate chieftains, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans—we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines. … People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. [Laughter.] I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

It was what the socialist writer and activist Danny Katch called “a touching ruling class moment.”

The warm feelings made good capitalist sense. Fully 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during Obama’s first term. Obama won his second term partly by appropriating populist rhetoric from an Occupy Wall Street movement he’d helped dismantle with infiltration and force in the fall and winter of 2011. He did this after keeping Wall Street so comfortably bailed out and restored that plutocracy could reach the point where the top U.S. thousandth owned more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent.

By Paul Street/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

NYT Chides Obama Ever So Gently for Betraying His Own Words With High-Paid Speeches

The editorial board of the New York Times released a piece Monday titled “The Cost of Barack Obama’s Speech” which discusses the $400,000 price tag on the former president’s scheduled speaking engagement on Wall Street. Beginning with a quote by Obama himself on how fundraising disconnected him from the people he began his political career to protect as he found himself among the ranks of the 1 percent, the piece timidly suggests that America’s first black president could have broken the recently established post-presidential mold and chosen not to profit from his position by raking in ludicrous speaking fees.

In an email to staff members, Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer remarked on what the newspaper conspicuously left out of its commentary.

“The Times avoids the Obama payoff to Wall Street’s lavish financing of both of his presidential bids: a continuation of the massive Bush bailout of the very banks that created the Great Recession while doing next to nothing to aid the tens of millions of beleaguered homeowners swindled by his Wall Street underwriters,” writes Scheer.

Read an excerpt of the Times piece below and the rest here.

Since Gerald Ford enriched himself with speaking fees and board memberships after leaving office, every former president but Jimmy Carter has supped often at the corporate table. It’s not beyond imagining that Mr. Obama could break with a practice whose ills he observed so astutely, and which contributed to the downfall of the Democrat he hoped would cement his legacy. The tens of millions that Hillary Clinton raised from speaking to corporate interests most likely haunts her now — or should.

The Obamas are starting a foundation whose work will include “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America,” Eric Schultz, an Obama adviser, said in a statement. “President Obama will deliver speeches from time to time. Some of those speeches will be paid, some will be unpaid, and regardless of venue or sponsor, President Obama will be true to his values, his vision, and his record.”

The Democratic Party badly needs such an example to follow. As the presidential election clarified so painfully, the traditional party of working people has lost touch with them. In a poll released last week, more than two-thirds of voters, including nearly half of Democrats themselves, said the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of the American people. For the first time in memory, Democrats are seen as more out of touch with ordinary Americans than the party’s political opponents. There’s little doubt that Democratic leaders’ unseemly attachment to the party’s wealthiest donors contributed to that indictment.

Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Employers can pay women less based on previous salaries, US court rules

A ruling from a traditionally left-leaning federal appeals court allows employers to pay women less than men for the same job, as long as a man was paid more at his previous job and the employer’s policies justify using past salaries to determine pay.

On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Aileen Rizo, a female employee who sued the county public schools in Fresno after discovering she was being paid less than her male co-workers for doing the same job.

Rizo sued the school in 2014, arguing that although she was being paid a higher salary than her previous employer, her male counterparts had salaries more than $10,000 higher than hers.

According to the lawsuit, the school “conceded that it paid the female plaintiff less than comparable male employees for the same work.” Rizo complained to the County about the disparity, but they informed her that her salary was determined by a salary schedule known as “Standard Operation Procedure 1440.

When Rizo was hired as a math consultant in 2009, the school determined her starting salary by using a policy where they add 5 percent to the previous salary of any new employee.

The county argued that the pay bump incentivizes potential employees to leave their previous jobs since they are guaranteed to receive a raise. They also said the policy is objective, prevents favoritism and encourages consistency.

A three-judge panel overturned a lower court ruling from February, citing a 1982 ruling by the court that employers could use previous salary information as long as they applied it reasonably and had a business policy that justified it.

In the opinion written by US District Court Judge Lynn Adelman, he said that “prior salary alone can be a ‘factor other than sex’ if the defendant shows that its use of prior salary was reasonable and effectuated a business policy.

This decision is a step in the wrong direction if we’re trying to really ensure that women have work opportunities of equal pay,” Deborah Rhode, who teaches gender equity law at Stanford Law School, said, according to the Associated Press. “You can’t allow prior discriminatory salary setting to justify future ones or you perpetuate the discrimination.

The Fresno County Office of Education has since revised their policies after the California Equal Pay Act went into effect on January 1, 2016. Under the new law, employers in the state are prohibited from paying different wages to men and women with the same qualifications.

However, the lawsuit did not mention the state’s Equal Pay Act, since it went into effect after Rizo filed the lawsuit, and the courts have not ruled if the law would apply retroactively.

Rizo’s lawyer, Dan Siegel, told the Associated Press that they have not decided if they are going to take the case to the US Supreme Court.

The logic of the decision is hard to accept,” Siegel said, according to AP. “You’re OK’ing a system that perpetuates the inequity in compensation for women.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Don’t Fall for Trump’s Corporate Tax Giveaway

Trump wants to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, in order to “make the United States more competitive.”

This is truly dumb, for 5 reasons:

1. The White House says the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Baloney. After corporate deductions and tax credits, the typical corporation pays an effective tax rate of 27.9 percent, only a tad higher than the average of 27.7 percent among advanced nations.

2. Trump’s corporate tax cut will bust the federal budget. According to the Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation, it will reduce federal revenue by $2 trillion over 10 years. This will either require huge cuts in programs for the poor, or additional tax revenues from the rest of us.

3. The White House says the tax cuts will create a jump in economic growth that will generate enough new revenue to wipe out any increase in the budget deficit. This is supply-side nonsense. The Congressional Research Service reviewed tax cuts since 1945 and found no evidence they generate economic growth. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both cut taxes, and both ended their presidencies with huge budget deficits. Bill Clinton raised taxes, and the economy created more jobs than it did under Bush or Reagan.

4. American corporations don’t need a tax cut. They’re already hugely competitive as measured by their profits – which are at near record highs.

5. The White House says corporations will use the extra profits they get from the tax cut to invest in more capacity and jobs. Rubbish. They’re now using a large portion of their profits to buy back their shares of stock and to buy other companies, in order to raise their stock prices. There’s no reason to suppose they’ll do any different with even more profits.

Don’t fall for Trump’s corporate tax giveaway. It will be a huge windfall for corporations and a huge burden on ordinary Americans.

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Digital Redlining: How Major American Communication Companies Are Controlling Who Gets Broadband Access or Not

The good news? Your daughter’s school has been designated an “Apple Distinguished School” and, as such, she and all of her peers will receive brand new iPads for their individual usage.

The bad news? Once your daughter leaves school, she can’t use it — at least not at home. For you live in a lower-income neighborhood without access to Internet or a fast-enough connection to take advantage of her shiny new toy. And given that her scholastic success is intimately tied to this new technology, your daughter is now at a clear disadvantage to her peers in terms of homework, research, engagement and general knowledge. Not good at all.

A 2016 Center for Public Integrity investigation revealed that, across the nation, communities with median household incomes below $34,800 are five times more likely not to have access to broadband than households in areas with a median income above $80,700. This means that over 30 million Americans — the majority of them in areas with a median household income below $47,000 a year — don’t have access to broadband. Such stark disparities equate to a second-class experience where common applications like streaming video, graphics and downloading larger files, as well as online job applications, research and banking functions, are either compromised or negated. This skewed process known as ‘digital redlining’ involves discrimination against Black and lower-income communities in the offering of broadband or upgraded services.

“I don’t know if it is a racial issue or a profit issues but, either way, it’s a problem that has to be solved,” says Angela Siefer, director of the nonprofit National Digital Inclusion Alliance. She doesn’t spend much time theorizing over the incentive for a major communications carrier to not offer their full services to lower-income communities.

“What we see is them not investing in those poorer neighborhoods,” she says, ” and regardless of what is causing it, it cannot continue.”

Last month, her alliance released its own report with a data-mapping analysis of Federal Communications Commission broadband availability that “strongly suggests that AT&T has systematically discriminated against lower-income Cleveland neighborhoods in its deployment of home Internet and video technologies over the past decade.”

“The report does not accurately reflect the investment we’ve made in bringing faster Internet to urban and rural areas across the U.S.,” responded AT&T Senior Public Relations Manager Holly Hollingsworth in a statement. “We’ve invested nearly $1.5 billion in our Ohio wireless and wired networks during 2013-2015, with more than $325 million of that in Cleveland.”

But, Hollingsworth’s statement does not accurately reflect or address the alliance’s report, which was pulled from AT&T’s own data submission to the FCC. It shows suburban and middle-income neighborhoods within Cleveland receive sufficient coverage from AT&T’s fiber-enhanced services while revealing a “glaring correlation” between areas of high poverty and areas where the company has not invested in such services. The report also notes how this failure to invest is particularly problematic given AT&T’s successful lobbying of the Ohio General Assembly to remove the standard requirement it serve 100 percent of its service territories.

“The impact is severe,” Siefer says. “It is not just that those individuals can’t get ahead, it is that those individuals are being pushed further behind.” If an individual can’t simply apply for a job online, she explains, or “can’t even do their homework, they are being pushed further and further back so that access to the equal opportunity we like to think is indicative of the United States” becomes “impossible” without access to at-home, uncapped Internet at an appropriate speed.

As opposed to its later digital manifestation, the practice of redlining is commonly traced back to its institutional beginnings with the National Housing Act of 1934 when the Home Owners Loan Corporation, on behalf of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, produced city maps with color-coded areas to differentiate loan policies. This color-coding was both figurative and literal as groups like African-Americans, Arabs and Eastern Europeans were financially “quarantined” from mortgages and related financial services.

Digital redlining also is a question of equitable access to timely services and resources. Discriminatory treatment regarding access to online services widens the digital divide and has consequences that go far beyond an after-school Internet search. Limiting access to knowledge and resources in communities that desperately need both to transform themselves is, at least, unethical and, at most, unlawful.

While AT&T hopes to avoid the latter designation, it is not the only major communications provider under scrutiny. Google was recently targeted over what some believe is the skewed provision of its high-speed Google Fiber services in urban communities, including Atlanta.

But what can be done about it?

Siefer points to two options in particular — regulation and subsidies. While acknowledging many “are not comfortable with regulation,” she contends the compulsion of companies to serve all communities effectively should be “one option on the table.” The second option, Siefer says, is the granting of “subsidies for those companies to invest equitably. So, if it’s an issue of profit where they don’t have the return they want from poorer neighborhoods, then it is reasonable that the government step in and ensure access is available in all neighborhoods.”

After going on to discuss the nuances of distributing subsidies, Siefer hones in on the democratic implications of such skewed digital practices.

“It is not just an economic question, it is a civic participation question,” Siefer insists, noting “so much of the discussion and education around political issues occurs online.” She acknowledges the “incredible power” of Facebook and Twitter in engaging people on issues. “So, if we are leaving portions of our population out of those discussions, their voices are not being heard,” she says.

And if their voices are not being heard, Siefer adds, “then their experiences in life are not influencing those policy discussions we’d like to think are influencing those policy decisions affecting them.”

By D. Amari Jackson/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist