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Fatwah / Featured / September 19, 2008
By Mark Ames

John McCain is making a big show of criticizing the government “bailout” of insurance giant AIG. But it turns out that AIG, which received $85 billion in US tax dollars earlier this week, is one of the largest donors to McCain’s pet think tank, the comically named “Reform Institute,” which he co-founded in 2001 “in direct response to the millions of Americans who, during the 2000 presidential campaign, expressed profound disillusionment with corrupt fundraising activities.” Indeed.

Apparently, AIG was so troubled over the issue of corrupt fundraising activities that they loaded in as one of the top VIP donors in McCain’s nonprofit think-tank, whose website lists AIG in the “over $50,000” donor category–although exactly how much over that $50,000 is still unclear. Why the hell an insurance company like AIG was doing pouring money into think tank whose state goal had no connection to insurance whatsoever–unless, of course, that money was just meant to gain access to McCain. Perish the thought.

The “Reform Institute” has taken a lot of heat as a front organization designed to funnel money to McCain’s political career. As Ari Berman wrote, McCain’s campaign co-chair, Rick Davis, served as the president of the nonprofit Reform Institute for three years, earning $395,000 in salary. Davis also headquartered his lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, in the Reform Institute’s offices at that time. He is just one of several McCain people who passed through the Reform Institute’s revolving door while McCain prepared for the 2008 campaign. McCain formally stepped down from his own institute in 2005, but he remains deeply linked to the Reform Institute to this day.

So when McCain declared this week that “The government was forced to commit $85 billion” to his mega-donor AIG, the question becomes, “What forced you to do it?” The American taxpayers never got a red cent in donations from AIG–but now, they’re being forced by people like McCain, whose career profited from AIG donations, to buy his backer’s massively indebted trash heap in what can only be described as the worst business deal in this nation’s history, or the worst example of crony nationalization. AIG isn’t just funding McCain’s policy think tank, it’s also quite literally thinking for the presidential hopeful. Martin Feldstein, who serves on the board of AIG, is one of McCain’s top economic advisers. Earlier this month, Feldstein gushed in the Wall Street Journal over McCain’s plans to cut taxes even further, and to shift healthcare costs from employers to employees in a “tax credit” scheme that many believe will solely benefit insurance companies, at the expense of workers. Since AIG is–or was–the world’s largest insurance company, it stood to gain from McCain’s policies.

The one thing Feldstein does understand is insurance. Feldstein and his cronies at AIG essentially bought themselves an insurance policy–you might call this type of insurance “in case our insanely corrupt, hyper-leveraged operation should ever go bankrupt” insurance–with donations like the “over $50,000” given to McCain’s Reform Institute. That insurance paid off handsomely and like clockwork with the government’s $85 billion nationalization. It’s exactly the kind of insurance policy deal that every American has dreamed about, but never known. And never will know.

Now that Feldstein and McCain have successfully worked the American public in the AIG scheme, they have a plan for the entire American economy. They’re calling it “reform.” And the first thing they want to get their hands on is your health insurance, or what’s left of it.

As McCain himself wrote in the current issue of Contingencies magazine:

“Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

So if you’ve been asking yourself lately, “Can it get any worse?” the answer was put best in a horrible ’70s classic rock song by Bachman-Turner Overdrive: “B-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”

This article first appeared in The Nation.

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