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Class War For Idiots / January 9, 2010

blood sucking1

This article first appeared in Alternet.

Wall Street Vampires: Lately, a lot of Americans, myself included, have used the blood-sucking freaks as a metaphor to describe the Wall Street billionaires who rule us, and who are ruining us.  Like so many awful stories of the past few years, it turns out that these Wall Street vampire-billionaires really exist, literally. Like all vampires, they live in remote castles, and feed themselves by luring poor, desperate humans into their dens, hooking them into blood-pumping machines, and sucking out their plasma for mind-boggling profits.

Cerberus Capital, one of Wall Street’s most notoriously ruthless leveraged-buyout firms (or “private equity firms” in PC-speak), recently made a $1.8 billion killing on their human plasma investment, a company called Talecris, which they bought for a mere $82.5 million just four years earlier.  Meaning Cerberus made 23 times their investment on human plasma. They did it by the most savage, heartless means possible: by paying peanuts to their impoverished human plasma donors, who increasingly come from Mexican border towns to blood-pumping stations set up on the American side, jacking up the price of plasma by restricting supply (a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission accused Cerberus Plasma Holdings of “operat[ing] as an oligopoly”), and then selling the refined products to the most desperately ill, patients suffering from hemophilia, severe burns, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune deficiencies. The products cost so much—one, IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin) cost twice the price of gold as of last summer — that American health insurance companies have been dropping or denying their policy holders in increasing numbers, endangering untold numbers.

Tomas Asher, chairman of a company that trades in plasma, described the business this way:

“It’s like selling hog bellies or wheat or beef. It gets sold all over.”

Profiting from ruined American lives is nothing new to Cerberus — which takes its name from the legendary three-headed attack dog of Greek legend who guards the gates of Hell, making sure no condemned soul ever escapes. How appropriate too.

Cerberus is the same shady fund that bought Chrysler and GMAC in 2007 and drove them into the ground, blamed everything on unions (even after firing 30,000 Chrysler employees), and dumped the companies onto American taxpayers—but only after lining up tens of billions in taxpayer-funded bailout funds. Cerberus is led by some of the most aggressive “free market” Republicans of our time. The chairman of Cerberus is former Treasury Secretary John Snow—who oversaw the destruction of America’s economy while serving under Bush from 2003 to 2006, bragging during his tenure, “We are the envy of the world.”

Snow bragged again in 2007 after Cerberus acquired Chrysler: “Over 25 years ago, when Chrysler faced bankruptcy, it turned to the United States government for assistance. Today, Chrysler again faces new financial challenges. But it is private investment stepping in to inject much needed support.” A year later, Snow was running around Washington begging and screaming for government handouts like some balding Bob Geldof.

snow1

Treasury Secty Jack Snow thinking, “God, I envy us.”

Joining Snow as international chairman for Cerberus is former Republican Vice President Dan Quayle, the pampered imbecile who couldn’t spell “potato” correctly. Two more perfect vampires couldn’t have been invented than Quayle and Snow for the America of the Bush Era — peanut-brained, sleazy jerks.

The top vampire in Cerberus is the fund’s founder, billionaire Stephen Feinberg, a major Republican Party campaign donor with a hardcore fetish for Harleys and big guns, and despite being a rich Upper East Side Princeton grad, he drives a Ford pickup (not a GM or Chrysler, mind you) and tells everyone he’s “blue collar.” Supposedly Feinberg was very uncomfortable with taking all those socialism-esque billions from American taxpayers. The New York Times described him as “a longtime free-market enthusiast and a Republican who never envisioned himself needing the government for help.” What he did envision was callously taking control of Chrysler, stripping it down and making a killing off of it, as Feinberg himself coldly noted in an early 2008 memo to his investors:

“We do not need to be heroes to earn a good return on the investment in Chrysler,” he wrote. “We do not need to transition the car industry or even to return Chrysler to a much stronger relative position in the U.S. car market in order to be successful.”

After Feinberg siphoned away billions of taxpayer dollars to pay off his bad investments, he told reporters, “From the day we bought it, we worked hard to improve it.” Patriotism, not profit, he bleated: “I love this country. I feel it’s been great to me. I had a great chance.”

To understand how Cerberus has profited from human blood and misery, here’s some background: the United States is one just a handful of nations around the world where companies can legally pay humans for their blood and then sell it for a profit. Human plasma is a particularly valuable component of human blood — it’s harder to extract, and can be used to manufacture all sorts of expensive therapeutic products. The market for human plasma products has swelled from just $2 billion in 1988 to over $12 billion per year, and according to a recent Morgan Stanley report, it’s a fast-growing business.

Despite all the billions that Wall Street’s vampires earn from plasma, the hapless humans whose veins they milk make barely a pittance–$30 dollars or so for spending an hour hooked up to a pumping machine that sucks the blood, sifts out the valuable plasma through a cold filtering process, and reverse-pumps the debased, icy blood back into the plasma donor’s veins.

It’s such a miserable way to make cash that Cerberus and its fellow oligopolists have resorted to setting up plasma-sucking franchises along the US-Mexico border, which have mushroomed like Starbucks’ once did in the ‘90s. In the latter part of 2009 alone, Cerberus-owned Talecris opened four new plasma-milking factories. They and their oligopolist colleagues plaster the Mexican side of the border with advertisements promising easy cash, and they even have special plasma-farm buses waiting on the American side of the border to haul their human cargo to those milking dens not within walking distance of the Rio Grande.

plasma-donor

Last summer, a reporter for The National newspaper followed an unemployed 46-year-old Mexican manager from his border town to the pumping station in Brownsville, Texas, which has the highest poverty rate of any city in America:

“After entering the United States, Castillo didn’t have to walk far to sell his plasma. A few hundred feet up International Boulevard from the border, the IBR Plasma building sits on Washington Street, across from a Duty Free shop. The plasma centre still looks very much like the bulk second-hand clothing store it used to be, though long white vertical blinds now hide what goes on behind its windows. Inside, the waiting room is divided into two sections marked by sheets of paper taped to the wall: one for “new donors” and another for “return donors”. This was Castillo’s first visit, which meant he could make $30 – about 400 Mexican pesos. Signs in Spanish and English offered an additional $10 to those who recruited other donors.

“Castillo lay in the big soft chair, he said, while they inserted the needle and his blood started pumping out. It was cycled into a machine that spun the red cells from the liquid, as if squeezing whey from curds. The whey, the watery plasma, was stored in a big plastic bag, while the red blood cells were periodically reinjected into his arm. While he laid there, he later told me, he wondered about what his plasma was really worth – and where it would end up. Castillo is an educated man with a degree in business administration; before coming to Brownsville he had done some research and found, among other things, that in Mexico donating plasma for money is illegal – as is the case in much of the rest of the world.”

You might think that America would be ashamed of being the world’s top vampire nation. But actually, to the faux-market freaks like Cerberus Capital’s honchos, it just means locking in profits and locking out competition. Thomas Hecht, who heads a plasma products distribution company in Montreal, quipped:

“The U. S. is the OPEC of the plasma business. You know what that stands for: the Organization of Plasma Exporting Countries.”

But Cerberus is more than just about sucking people’s blood and government handouts. Stephen Feinberg also loves killing deer. In fact he loves shooting deer so much that, like the old Gillette commercial, he bought America’s guns ‘n’ ammo industry. Two years ago, Cerberus bought Remington, America’s oldest firearms manufacturer, and since then they’ve snapped companies making everything from bullets to silencers, which they’re combining into a new firearms monolith called “Freedom Group.” Cuz you know, those free-marketeers at Cerberus, they’re all about freedom.

Luckily for Cerberus, weapons sales are “flying off the store shelves,” thanks to all the paranoia about Obama socialism, fed by all the bailout money that rightwing billionaires like Cerberus have looted. Sales have also been boosted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — in other words, more government handouts for the billionaires, now that they own the guns ‘n’ ammo business. It’s all going so well that Cerberus is planning a huge IPO this year for Freedom Group, which should net them another massive payout.

So Cerberus profits on both ends: From the bailouts, and from the backlash against bailouts; from the wars against Muslim terrorists, and from the paranoia back home about an alleged socialist-Muslim-terrorist president.

Either way, the vampires have us where they want us.

This article first appeared in Alternet.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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33 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. gyges  |  January 9th, 2010 at 9:35 am

    2009: The Year of the Great Vampire Squid … someone who would agree with you.

  • 2. Kevin Andrews  |  January 9th, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Bush’s wall just channelled the poor to the collection points. At least we still have some value in the besotted brains of the oligarchy.
    Exit the system and rule your own world.

  • 3. earl pudd  |  January 9th, 2010 at 11:49 am

    So how should hospitals get blood/plasma for the millions of people who require it? Should the government mandate that all people have to relinquish plasma on the second Tuesday of every month? Should people waiting for plasma just hope that others will donate it out of the goodness of their hearts? This is not organ harvesting or anything as severe as you make it out to be. Plasma regenerates. Those sitting in “the big soft chair” are making a calculated business decision, and one that ultimately does very little harm to donors especially in light of the benefits conferred upon those receiving the plasma.

  • 4. Alex_C  |  January 9th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Exit the system indeed.

    The third-world model of getting your friends and family to donate blood for your surgery is looking pretty good compared to the vampire-capitalist model. I’d gladly give blood for a friend in need, and many in the US give blood to the red cross. If you’re male, it’s said to be good for you, even. You can end up with too many red blood cells. Giving whole blood helps correct this. Very active people, athletes, can literally use up red blood cells, wear ‘em out, and keep in balance. But how many Americans walk 10 miles a day these days? Most of us are sedentary and can spare some.

    I only tried selling my plasma once, to give you an idea of how long ago it was, I think I’d have gotten less than $20. But, I was very poor and so skinny, I didn’t weigh enough!

    Interestingly, selling your plasma to the maximum amount, 2X a week, would give you $200 a month, the maximum food stamp allowance for an individual. Without the micro-management and paperwork and anxiety due to the sheer caprice of the food stamp officials. I *personally* would sell my plasma before I’d tangle with the hated food stamp system, but then I’d rather babysit or detail cars or scrub bathrooms than get stuck with all those needles!

  • 5. Natty Dread  |  January 9th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    You made my plasma boil.

    Good job.

  • 6. Alexius  |  January 9th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Damn, Ames. Came back from the knockdown with a wicked punch to the ear. Well played.

  • 7. captain america  |  January 9th, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    can you really donate plasma 2x a week?!!! i remember it being limited to once a month when i used to do it in college. the needles are pretty thick. seems like 2x a week for a few months would tear your arm up pretty good.

  • 8. Alex_C  |  January 10th, 2010 at 12:11 am

    I’m pretty new on this site and well, Ames seems to be some kind of a genius.

    Once upon a time, he’d be working for a major paper and winning Pulitzer Prizes, or am I wrong?

  • 9. Mac  |  January 10th, 2010 at 8:29 am

    @3

    “Should people waiting for plasma just hope that others will donate it out of the goodness of their hearts?”

    Well, it works in much of the rest of the world. You, obviously, wouldn’t donate blood if there wasn’t something in it for you. Says a lot about you methinks.

  • 10. solfish  |  January 10th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I used to donate x2 a week. The needles are indeed big, but the bigger issue is that they are wielded by teenage nursing students who will routinely miss the vein, stab through the vien or turn the pressure up too high and spray your blood everywhere. Needless to say you aren’t compensated for pain and suffering, you just sit their feeling awkward while the little miss training bra slinks away to get the one actual nurse on staff, who will hopefully stick you properly and give you a bag on anticoagulant to get the bloodstains off your clothes.

  • 11. Alex_C  |  January 10th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Bring a little hydrogen peroxide, it’s great for bloodstains. Gotta use it while the blood is still wet though. Fortunately a little bottle of it doesn’t cost much.

    Damn, I have wonderful standout veins and I’m staying away. But if a friend/family etc need my blood, that’s a different thing.

  • 12. Antonio Garcia  |  January 10th, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Then there’s a lot of fat blood suckers in this world

  • 13. captain america  |  January 10th, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    regular old blood donation is no big deal. if you qualify to donate, you should do it regularly.

    plasma is a little more intense, though. it’s not as horrible as ames makes it out to be in this article (as a heavy heroin user, he wouldn’t qualify to donate so probably doesn’t quite know what he’s talking about), but it’s unpleasant enough that i wouldn’t do it for $30 now that i’ve got a real job.

  • 14. Old Exile Fan  |  January 11th, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Y A W N . . .

  • 15. Oscar Z  |  January 11th, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Cerberus, the three headed hell hound from Greek mythology

    britannica-
    “In Greek mythology, the monstrous watchdog of the underworld. He was usually said to have three heads, though the poet Hesiod said he had 50. Heads of snakes grew from his back, and he had a serpent’s tail. He devoured anyone who tried to escape the kingdom of Hades, the lord of the underworld, and he refused entrance to living humans, though the mythic hero Orpheus gained passage by charming him with music. One of the labours of the warrior Heracles was to bring Cerberus up to the land of the living; after succeeding, he returned the creature to Hades.”

  • 16. Myf  |  January 11th, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Hm well, if they’re vampires, and we’re their cattle or dogs or Lycans, and we’re chained up in their castle to protect them , I think I know what to do. I saw this movie. All we need is to get out of the castle and run into the woods. They’ll try to get us but we’ll be too fast for them. Then at the end we’ll get one of them to betray the others and shine light on them and they’ll all burn to ash.

    I think this will work

  • 17. Alex_C  |  January 11th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Captain america – I’ve had to panhandle and I can tell you, raising $30 asking politely for spare change is easy. Of course it helps to be recently showered, decently dressed (clean and working class is the dress code I’m fated to wear anyway) and have the right accent (Dear old Dad had an Ivy degree in English, and it rubbed off on us).

    I think the really skanky types can do as well, as long as they are polite. The problem is, many panhandlers are nasty, persistent, they cuss, etc.

    Now, as a kid I’ve hitch-hiked, and it never fails to amaze me, seeing the poor hitch-hiking skills around today. They don’t even know enough to find a natural pause point for traffic! Sheesh! And likewise, my childhood experiences selling Almond Roca door to door etc set me up well for panhandling. You have to learn to relate to the public.

    I can only come to the conclusion that the folks selling plasma really have no alternative or THINK they don’t.

    But all of this is a digression; WHY do you accuse Ames of being a heavy heroin user? This site seems to be pretty much a free-for-all, but why do you level this particular accusation? Are you one?

  • 18. Erik  |  January 11th, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    @#9

    Yes. I donate four times a year myself, but the point here is, what about the commercial plasma market? I’d never donate to Big Pharma.

    I think this is a bit sub-standard, Ames, but that’s because you standard is high. You are milking the vampire associations to death.

    The problem is not people selling blood, it’s the oligopoly. Everyday, people sell their life and freedom by the hour in the corporate slave farms, selling a substance you don’t have to lift a finger to produce, seems like a sweet deal to me. But 30 bucks? Forget it.

    But then, I’m not a wetback.

  • 19. wow  |  January 11th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    this site has really gone down hill. more teen angst than MTV. we need an army of middlebrows to correct this social injustice post haste!

    if you don’t like it, why don’t you start up a clinic and give away the stuff for free? bitch bitch bitch…

  • 20. captain america  |  January 11th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    alex, i am a heavy poppers user mostly because of all the gerbil sex that I love to engage in. the exiled dudes consider poppers and gerbils a girly man’s drug. smack seems to be their drug of choice and the tough guys they, apparently, are.

    not that there’s anything right with that. i mean, i hate gerbils personally, which is why I shove them into my ass every time i snort poppers. i was just pointing out that, unless you’ve used poppers and gerbils like I have, you really shouldn’t knock it.

  • 21. Erik  |  January 11th, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Ames has never disclosed use of the Big H., although another eXile writer did some features on smack.

    Your poor mastery of Ames-trivia betrays the fact that you are a neophyte worshipper, and therefore not worth listening to. I bet you are unable to answer even simple questions like, for instance, who won the Whores vs. eXile chess tournament?

    And, Wow, the site is better than ever. I regret the demise of the old eXile, just like any red-blooded man would do, but the new Exiled rocks, now that they’ve gotten around to actually posting stuff.

  • 22. Alex_C  |  January 11th, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    Captain america – Interestingly, the pay for plasma is $30 and according to street types I’ve managed to hide my horror from and casually interview, the price of keeping high for the day on H or something like it is …. $30.

    They use “black tar” heroin which has so much junk in it “it tattoos you” as on gal put it, and collapses the vein so you see these randomly placed “bruises” on their legs etc. They have to pick a different place each time. Or, they’ll buy Oxycontin (sp?) from someone selling their prescription for $30 a pill, because that pill makes a day’s worth of injections.

    Haha 30 pieces of silver.

  • 23. captain america  |  January 12th, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    erik, trick question, they were sex slaves, not whores!

    nice try.

  • 24. Lupo  |  January 13th, 2010 at 1:30 am

    I know I’m supposed to get into some kind of high moral dudgeon from all this, but it mostly makes me want to get a job at Cerberus.

  • 25. Fakename  |  January 13th, 2010 at 9:15 am

    @Alex_C
    You’re talking shit. Injecting black tar heroin isn’t as easy as powder, but after some processing, it can be done without damaging the vein. The main adulterant in black tar heroin is lactose. American drugs are mainly adulterated with things that are cheap, not things that kill the users. And of course, it’s easier to just smoke.

    And if you’re buying oxycontin for 30 a pill you’re being robbed. No heroin user in the world could just inject a pill all day (which would do much more damage to the vein than black tar heroin) without starting withdrawals. The efficacy of a single oxy vs just one bag of heroin is tiny. I don’t know what you heard, maybe a junkie buying 30 dollars worth ofoxycontin pills or something, but this is the exile. You need to step your game up.

  • 26. Alex_C  |  January 14th, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Fake – I’m not willing to step my game enough to get the REAL story I guess, this is what the friendly druggies of Santa Cruz tell me. And half of these crusty kids would inject Sanford’s Marker ink if they thought it would get them high.

    I did see the random black blotches on a gal’s legs though, the young chick who panhandles with a black cat on a leash.

    I don’t take any drugs if you don’t count coffee. I’ll take a cold pill but only if my head is really stuffed up – those ones you have to sign and show ID for, pseudoephidrine? $6 buys a package of the bitter little things, and really, I can grow the plant (“Mormon Tea”) I’m just too lazy I guess.

    I did some searching, Yasha Levine’s article on seeking heroin in Los Angeles and discovering the gay resort meth culture is too good a read to not mention here.

  • 27. ACCER  |  February 10th, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Can someone explain what they use the blood plasma for? The article is too long.

  • 28. Uncle B  |  February 21st, 2010 at 5:01 am

    High-jacked site by junkies??? Canada does not allow sale of blood – we volunteer at the “Red Cross” whenever a local hospital runs low, TV announces and we line up to donate! Works well in civilized countries but not the U.S.A.??? How cum???

  • 29. Ellen MacInnis  |  March 25th, 2010 at 9:41 am

    The Catholic, non-profit hospital where I work has just been purchased by Cerberus. I’m very apprehensive.
    Plasma is used to make medicines for people with auto-immune diseases, clotting disorders and a number of other pathologies. Plasma is “raw” and requires a lot of processing to become therapeutic. The US is one of the few countries that has the technology to make these plasma safe for transfusion which means it is absolutely free of viruses, bacteria, white cells and other debris which can be harmful. The components are truly life-saving. Unfortunately for the “donor” plasma is largely composed of the protein albumin, so frequent “donations” will cause problems associated with malnutrition or starvation. Problems which already afflict the poor.

  • 30. Me  |  May 16th, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    My grandfather receives plasma from Talecris for Alpha one.
    I have gone to a Talecris collection agency, ALL the donors had smiles on their faces.
    They are allowed to give up to 104 times a year and are paid each time. It is an hour of their time and they are treated to a lounge chair and a movie. Drinks are provided. They are even allowed to take naps. Talecris works hard to insure the safety of their product. Plasma they remove today will not enter someone’s body for a minimum of 6 months because of the care they take to insure a quality product. They are notorious for putting the collection agencies in poor communities, but rich people have no reason to give consistently. Poorer people will give. My grandpa never complains. Yes it is $2000 a week. But talecris does everything they can to lower that cost. And to keep my grandfather alive.
    The donors get free physicals, their health is closely monitored and they are paid for it.
    The prices for plasma are so high because they pay so many people for their plasma. $35-40 a person when a collection bank gets say 200 people a day is a lot of money.

    Talecris saves lives. I have nothing to say about Cerberus, but i have all the respect in the world for the people of Talecris Plasma Resources.

  • 31. Ike  |  March 28th, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Hi y’alls. I’m an Astroturf troll hired by the folks at Cerberus to pose as a “working class” little guy who owes my life to Cerberus plasma draining machines. In reality of course I work for a PR company, but to be honest, I love nothing more than getting on my knees, shoving my nose as far up a billionaire’s ass as he asks, and sniffing. Just sniffing in. God, I love the smell of billionaire ass. It smells like…slavery.

    And now, folks, I present to you my job for the day, in which I pretend to be outraged. Ready? Here goes:

    This is such BS. As a newly kicked out of the nest 18-year old trying to survive on a 30 hour a week minimum wage job, I was able to pay my rent every month by donating plasma twice a week and sperm once a week. Without having these options, I would have starved before finding a better paying job.

    I agree these companies could afford to pay much more than they do for the plasma, but what they do pay helps a lot of people survive.

    Let me ask you a question Mr. Ames; when was the last time you had to make the choice between food and rent? It’s been within a year for me, and I have a wife and two kids to feed. Unless you can make the same claim, then you have no business speaking on the plights of the poor. Especially since your only aim is to use them to advance your political agenda.

    You’re just as bad as the “Evil Right Wingers” you seem to harbor so much animosity for.

    Oh, and killing deer keeps the freezers of hundreds of poor working class Americans full of meat all winter long, so climb down off that high horse little man.

  • 32. Ike  |  April 1st, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Wow Mark, I wish I had the balls to be you rather than me, an anonymous cowardly troll. What’s it like to be famous, on TV, profiled in Vanity Fair? Me, I’m still just commenting here, sucking up to billionaires by carrying their water here in the comments section. Yeah, I don’t get laid. That’s why I comment

  • 33. Ike  |  April 2nd, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Is that the scale that you measure value by? Obviously you didn’t get my previous response.
    I have been live on Fox,several local stations, written up in USA Today, Huffington Post, and countless other blogs, and all I had to do was say “fuck”. Look me up; just Google “Isaac Rosenbloom” and you’ll find me.

    Getting laid? Seriously, what are you 15? IF you put that much stock in having sex; obviously your the one not getting enough.

    I save live 50+ hours a week buddy, my mark is here to stay. When was the last time you resuscitated a 2 year old? It was last week for me. Dozens of people are alive directly because of me, can you say the same. No, I don’t think so.

    Feel that twinge? That’s the realization that your life is meaningless, as is your little blog.

    You say billionare like it’s a dirty word. What the hell is up with that. I hope one day to see 9 figures in my bank account. Probably won’t happen, but hell, it’s worth shooting for.

    Maybe one day we’ll meet in the back of my ambulance; till then enjoy your empty life.


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