Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Judge Dread and the Corporate Vampires

When it comes to exploiting and extracting from poor people, one Alabama judge certainly knows how to put the blood back into Churchillian blood, toil, tears and sweat.

In the true spirit of Halloween and turbocharged capitalism, rural Circuit Court Judge Marvin Wiggins has devised a unique form of punishment for minor offenders. If you can't pay the fine, you don't necessarily have to do the time in debtors' prison. All you have to do is open up a vein and relinquish a pint of one of the last personal resources that you still have left.

The New York Times has all the grisly details:
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” began Judge Wiggins, a circuit judge here in rural Alabama since 1999. “For your consideration, there’s a blood drive outside,” he continued, according to a recording of the hearing. “If you don’t have any money, go out there and give blood and bring in a receipt indicating you gave blood.”
For those who had no money or did not want to give blood, the judge concluded: “The sheriff has enough handcuffs.”
Forcing someone to undergo an invasive medical procedure in order to extract revenue for the state is unethical, if not downright illegal, posing as it does a public health danger from an unvetted blood donor population. According to the Times, dozens of "offenders" found guilty of everything from running a stop sign, to poaching, to drug use, dutifully lined up at a blood drive van in the courthouse parking lot. They were issued receipts, and were promised $100 off their fines, or old debts.

Who knows? Some of them perhaps were already employed in the gig economy as "plassers," entrepreneurs who supplement their meager incomes through regular hook-ups at their local blood banks. Even then, the plutocracy must take its cut, as donors are paid their $50-a-pop not by cash or check, but via plastic debit cards. So every time the plasser buys something in Walmart, a bank deducts a fee. That telltale pale bruised look that you see on struggling people is often a result of chronic anemia as well as malnourishment and the fatigue of working two or three minimum wage jobs.

Blood donations as a way of paying fines and bills were more common during wartime, but were largely abandoned by the justice system as outbreaks of hepatitis and H.I.V. scared government officials right out of their sadistic, bloodsucking greed.

Ironically enough, the for-profit mobile blood bank operating from the Alabama courthouse parking lot was run by LifeSouth, which had recently lost a $4 million lawsuit over an H.I.V.-tainted blood transfusion. The thirst for money is like a vampire. It dies hard, if it ever dies at all.

When LifeSouth couldn't contact all of Judge Wiggins' involuntary donors to ask some of the required medical questions ex post facto, the biological collection agency ended up discarding all the blood it had drawn. The Times article doesn't specify whether it disposed of the blood properly, or whether it simply dumped it into the nearest drinking water supply.

And to add insult to injury, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center says Wiggins the Impaler even reneged on his promise to reduce the defendants' fines by $100. His victims may yet have to serve jail time for the crime of hunting for their own food after dark, and other offenses against the oligarchy.

Meanwhile, blood is a very big business. Along with charter schools and EBT food stamp cards, it is just one of the myriad ways for the rich to profit from the poor.  Even so, the onerous chore of sucking the lifeblood out of people makes the corporate vampires kvetch. So much of it ends up spoiling due to those dreaded market inefficiencies.

Ben Bowman, the CEO of a private blood mill originally called "General Blood" told Forbes magazine that more than a million pints of the valuable red stuff get tossed every single year. His business plan is to undercut the Red Cross by operating a one-stop blood sales and distribution hub smack dab in the US Heartland.
Bowman, 33, can offer pints at an ­average price of $229. He’s contracted with donation centers along the Interstate 35 corridor—from Laredo, Tex. to Duluth, Minn.—to ship blood by FedEx  to hospitals that have agreements with General Blood. Bowman and 30-year-old cofounder David Mitchell guarantee delivery of the mix of types (O+, AB and B–) that hospitals prefer for local populations; blood types vary somewhat by ethnicity.
Bowman teamed up with a former investment banker from Wells Fargo (which also made a pile of dough off the poor via its subprime mortgages and foreclosures) to devise his business plan, which is predicated on an excess of the blood supply resulting from the financial collapse which Wells Fargo helped to cause in the first place. Fewer people can afford to have elective surgeries, even necessary surgeries, because of no jobs, no insurance, or junk insurance with sky-high co-pays and deductibles. Forbes reporter Erin Carlyle ghoulishly notes:
 Critics say this gave General Blood an opening: soaking up the excess and ­distributing pints where they were needed. But when the economy eventually turns and more people have those operations, there will be less need for a middleman.
“We’re projecting that as the boomers get into their 70s, you’re going to see a lot more hip replacements, knee replacements,” says Jim MacPherson, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, a network and trade organization. “We project, over the next five to six years, that blood demand will start increasing again and could increase rather dramatically. At that point there’s no more surplus, [and] General Blood probably goes away.”
But the upstart Lestats were not discouraged and soon expanded operations into an Internet blood exchange. It operates like E-bay: hospitals and blood entrepreneurs can compete and bid on batches of Type O-Positive. Goldman Sachs can even get into the act, drawing on its social impact betting formula to place odds on how long a given vat of Type B will stay fresh before it is lost, stolen, sold, transfused or otherwise imbibed.

And don't tell me about those medieval leechers, either, because General Blood was a recent, and proud, semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup contest for venture capitalists. 

  But after a few years in the biz, the CEOs realized that "General Blood" sounded a bit boring and macabre, so they renamed it Hema Vista. (translation: spectacle of blood). And to go with its brand new marketing image of a bright-red sunset, it is now also based in The Cloud! 

Let's face it, folks. Judge Wiggins of Alabama is just a very small vampire in a very big castle.


Pearl said...

OPINION: Don’t expect Justin Trudeau to challenge the status quo http://alj.am/4a4f

Hope you can access this article from al Jazeera with the above. The title says it all and saddest is the destruction of the New Democratic Party along the way.

Pearl said...

Another off topic comment:

Could it be possible that Joe Biden is stringing out his announcement because he is waiting for Hillary to offer him the vice presidency or that it is already a done deal?

Karen Garcia said...

Well at least Justin Trudeau is some new blood. Unlike old anemic Uncle Joe.

I also hear that Trudeau is all for the TPP, which really sucks. I wonder if Barack has sunk his teeth into that tender young corruptible flesh yet, or whether it was born that way. (that is, corrupt)

Anyway, I hear that blood keeps better in the cold Canadian climate. And that surgery and blood transfusions are still free.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Did I hear someone say politics is a blood sport?

Yes, following the Canadian election, which was preceded by the longest campaign in Canadian history (11 weeks––WHEW!), bloodless evangelical neocon Conservative PM Steven Harper is out in the cold. There IS a god.

The Liberals, under new but untested blood Trudeau, swept the field and are now a majority in Parliament because, surprisingly, they kept moving steadily left during the campaign, at least on the little things––sorry, TPP is a Big Thing––while the limp lefty, Mr Mulcair of the New Democratic Party (NDP), to everyone's disgust just kept tacking right. He dragged a lot of fine members of parliament down with him in once-secure NDP ridings.

Think about it: Mulcair of the NDP, supposedly representing the implacable left (but never with a fire in his belly), announced himself as an austerian who promised to deliver a balanced budget over the next four years. To top it off, in mid-campaign he backed away from his early promise to tax the rich and the big corporations. Then he alienated his base, among others, over stupid, low level social issues.

Meanwhile, the usual center-right leader, the Liberal Trudeau, who voted with Harper so very often in recent years, announced he would EMBRACE deficits in order to put people back to work fixing the infrastructure. Behold, Trudeau was a lefty at heart and furthermore he was singing in perfect key "It's Morning in O Canada"! Not as dumb as we thought he was.

Elizabeth May, the charismatic green blood who with good sense heads up the truly uncontaminated hot blood true left, is correct in both the big things and the little things of politics, but you'll need a microscope to find her because she's a fifth party creature. (Bloc Québécois is the fourth; forget them.) Up here it's a Triopoly. Boils down to the same as the Duopoly.

Small party dead ends may be corrected in part if big winner Trudeau stands by his pledge to institute proportional representation (PR). Proportional Representation? Lots of Canadians have petitioned for a switch to PR in seating Parliament. Leaders of all parties, except the Conservatives, pledged to support a constitutional change to PR.

A majority of Canadians (~52%) are now "unrepresented" because the first-across-the-finish-line, winner-take-all system in each riding got Trudeau a majority in Parliament with less than 40% of the popular vote. We'll see how hard Trudeau pushes for PR. If it were to pass, voting for a fourth, or fifth or eleventh party would not be throwing one's vote down a rat hole. On that fine day it will always pay off to vote for whom you really know is the best woman. Or man.

See, many Canadians do love the Greens, but the principal reason people stormed the poles this year was not love but hate: ABH––anything but Harper. Polls made it clear late in the campaign that the best way to insure Harper would be crushed, which was all-important to about 70% of Canadians, was to back the Liberal in one's riding, especially if the Conservatives or NDP made it look like a tight race in that riding. That strategy worked so well that Conservatives and the NDP lost big to the Liberals, who ended up not merely with the plurality they hoped for, but with a majority, which means they are the king of Parliament Hill. No coalition necessary to pass the bills they like.

We'll soon see whether Liberal blood is hopelessly contaminated with the virus of empty promises.

Pearl said...

Yes, Jay: the change of party in charge you describe in Canada is much as I see it. However, I did like Mulcair and thought him a very knowledgeable and caring man. However I did not follow all the nitty gritty but the real tragedy is all the capable NDP people who lost their seats and left wing power in Canada thanks to Harper's unpopularity.

And although Justin Trudeau is personable, and promises good things, I don't think anyone including himself knows what the future holds in store.
I felt stunned by the results hoping that although the Liberals might win it would be without such an NDP left wing loss which diminishes their power considerably.

And now Biden is not running but I still think it has to do with promises of a vice presidency although Hillary might want someone younger and charismatic like Justin Trudeau. So we will have fun in the U.S. this next year and hope the ship of state will still be floating by the time it is over. Obama will be gone at least and can then open his library to the public.

Thanks for he report about Canada.

Meredith NYC said...

Canada has an 11 week campaign? Imagine. How can TV conglomerates make any profits from political ads in only 11 weeks? That's our biggest expense. Short campaigns do better at focusing voter attention than long ones. It was said Canada elections now use a lot of private donations and spend a lot of $. Was it always thus?
How does money spent compare to US?
How's their voter turnout?

Jay–Ottawa said...

POPULATION: Canadian population: ~35 million; electoral districts: 338

REGULAR HOCKEY SEASON: Oct 7, 2015 to Apr 9, 2016

ELECTION PERIOD: Standard election period: 37 days. Dissing tradition, King Harper in Aug 2015 extended this election period to 78 days. Why? In order that the Conservative Party might have more time to receive more money from public and private sources. The Conservatives, who lost big, spent many millions more than the Liberals, who won.

SPENDING: Spending figures are complicated. A party can amass whatever it can stuff into party coffers between election periods. Limits are imposed, however, once an election is called. For this, the 42nd national election, the three major parties together collected and, presumably spent, a total of between $100 and $130 million Canadian dollars.

TURNOUT: In the previous federal election (2011) the turnout was 61%.
Voter turnout this time (2015) was 68%, PLUS absentee voters AND the voters who registered at the polls on election day itself or who registered (a matter of a few minutes) during the four days of "advance polls," which took place about a week earlier than election day itself. About 3.6 million Canadians voted during the advance polls.

Eat your heart out, Yanks.

Lots more detail at these two sites:



Pearl said...

I wonder how the election in Canada would have turned out if it had been a shorter period of 37 days instead of 78 days. A change occurred in the last part of that election time when the NDP starting out evenly with the Liberals but lost ground when Trudeau began to catch fire after a lackluster beginning, and people became more and more alarmed about the possibility of Harper staying in power. Close friends who were NDP members were so happy to be rid of Harper that they were not too disturbed about the NDP loss.

With a year to go in the U.S., almost anything is possible. Trump seems to think he will be in the White House then.

Meredith NYC said...

Jay...thanks for those facts! Our voter turnout is in the low 60s I read online. But it's higher I think in other countries.

What sort of limits on spending does Canada impose before the elections? I've read some countries forbid any privately paid for media ads just before their elections, and they give free media time for all candidates.
That's what I call prudent, conservative, money saving policy. Others call it interference in 'free speech'.

But do media companies abroad lobby politicians to allow privately paid ads? Do they regard limits on these as big govt interference in media profits? I'd really love to know!

Is there any Canadian counterpart to the Kochs? They spent 900 million on Walker alone, I believe. And got no return on investment in that case.

Jay–Ottawa said...

So many questions. So little time, at least in my case. And, besides, I'm so new to Canada. I'm sure answers, or at least pointers, can be found within the two sources I referenced. And from footnotes within those articles a whole new world of information blossoms. Read well, read widely.