Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ex-Exxon CEO Says Those Who Have More, Have No Obligation

In direct contrast to the saying “From those who have much, more is expected”, ex-Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said in reference to the repeal of tax breaks:

"I think the bigger concern I have is not so much the economic direct effect of the fact that they want to take a tax break off here or there. But it's the message it sends the rest of the world that you don't have to provide stable (regulatory) frameworks, and if that happens, none of us are going to be able to take the risk in this business."

What will Exxon do with all that cash, $37.3 billion now that it doesn’t want to take risks in “this business”? After stellar quarters and annual reports, Rex Tillerson offers his version of a threat to the newly elected Congress. Does he not recall President Bush’s recommendation that key parts of the Energy Bill be repealed this past spring?

"Record oil prices and large cash flows also mean that Congress has got to understand that these energy companies don't need unnecessary tax breaks like the write-offs of certain geological and geophysical expenditures."

Why isn’t $60 per barrel oil enough incentive to invest in new oil reserves? Especially as Rex said absent any technological breakthroughs, "Fossil fuels will remain the predominant energy source for the foreseeable future." Given near record profits of $10.49 billion in the third quarter, please remind me again Rex why Exxon needs a dime of my hard earned tax money?

And why does big oil need American foreign policy to intervene on their behalf? Our history of tampering in other countries for access to energy assets is long and clear. It appears Rex wants it to continue.

Update 12-10-16:  President elect Donald Trump named Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State.

Shouldering On at Shannon Medical Center

A visit to my primary care physician for a shoulder injury ended up being most educational. People seemed ready to talk about the challenges facing the hospital after the failed merger with Triad Hospitals. Shannon Managing Trustee Len Mertz implied the Shannon Health System would “disintegrate” when he discussed then system CEO Dr. Dan Stultz’s leaving earlier this fall. My visit indicated he is working hard on that strategy.

In a move worthy of the machinations of any HCA leveraged buy out or later public offering, the Shannon Health System plans to spin off unwanted components. Many say the dire financial predicament of the hospital is driving the unit sell offs. Mr. Mertz clearly shared the level of bad debts and charity care in previous news articles. This could lead one to believe the hospital has a negative bottom line and is cash poor. However, that would be in error as a “little birdie” told me. The just closed fiscal year’s EBDITA and Net Income do not indicate an immediate financial crisis.

So what’s happened to Shannon? From my view, it appears to be a crisis of leadership. Administrators, doctors and Trustees don’t want to work together anymore to serve the health care needs of West Texans. So they will take their separate pieces of the pie and go off on their own.

Doctors on the hospital Board of Directors found out about the merger when the deal was announced. One administrator had a new job before the news broke of the merger’s termination.

When I shared the news of the merger with an old friend who worked closely with the man that integrated the system in the mid 90’s he replied, “Margaret Shannon must be rolling over in her grave. The Shannon Trustees must be giggling in the back room knowing they won't have to mess with the hospital any more.”

As for now it appears the Trustees will have to mess with the hospital for a bit longer. The question is how well it can work to meet the needs of one its big customer groups, the doctors. And who will soon own the Shannon Clinic? Many investment houses have increased their exposure to healthcare. Will the Carlyle Group soon have a San Angelo affiliate? As they like to buy and sell organizations for a profit, what might they need to do to grow revenue? Will they need to offer more services in competition with the hospital?

What happens when Shannon Medical Center’s customers are also their biggest competitor? Bush’s free market solutions for health care are playing out in a sinister way in my hometown. Everyone competes like heck for the insured patients, leaving the 28% of our population without health insurance with significantly less access. I see few stepping up to serve this “market”, especially for their elective hospital needs.

My doctor said a new layer of undesirable patients would soon be added to the legions of the uninsured given the President’s Pay for Performance plans. He predicts physicians will allow healthy patients without complications into their practices while shedding those with chronic conditions. After all it’s easier to show a stellar outcome with a healthy patient.

Let’s see... the Bush health care agenda encourages

1) Healthier patients to migrate to high deductible health plans
2) Pay for performance encourages doctors to see healthier patients with less complications
3) 80-90% of Non-profit community hospitals are in some form of financial distress
4) Republicans want to tax those same non-profit community hospitals

It appears Bush wants insurers and doctors to serve the healthy while many nonprofit community hospitals are at risk of shuttering their doors. Might we need a program titled No Patient Left Behind (that has no actual resemblance to its education counterpart)? Actually we needed it back in 2001, before the ranks of the uninsured grew by 6 million on Bush’s watch…

Hospital Whistleblower Lawsuit & Shannon

While visiting family in Virginia over Thanksgiving, I received a call from an anonymous source about a Justice Department investigation of our local non-profit community hospital. Just days later, the federal government released statistics on such cases. It obtained $3.1 billion in settlements for fraud, mostly against hospitals and health care providers as a result of whistleblower lawsuits.

The caller left documentation of the lawsuit at an agreed upon location. After reviewing the information it appears the Shannon Clinic, the physician multi-specialty group arm of Shannon Health System had both an internal whistleblower and a Justice Department investigation.

From the documents passed to me, the end result of the case isn’t clear, but I found the timing interesting and worthy of mention. The caller suggested this outstanding case to be the cause of the failed merger of Shannon Medical Center and Triad Hospitals. With no inside information, I have no idea if this is true or not. If so, my illusion that my newspaper piece fostered dialogue that caused Trustees to ditch the combination would be shattered.

A case number and any settlement details would confirm the closing of the qui tam lawsuit. Shannon’s leaders would need to speak as to its impact on the organization and any planned strategic moves.

Had the merger remained on track, Shannon would undergo a second Justice Department investigation, this time for anti-trust. It would be nice to know the outcome of the first one to see its bearing on the now unneeded second legal review.

Updated Pentagon Metric

The Defense Department reported a roughly twofold increase in soldiers losing their security clearances due to high debt. Owing others large amounts of money is an identified risk for those in the military. Those struggling to stay afloat could reduce their debts by selling secrets.

Whether it results in bribery or treason, the Pentagon continues to monitor this metric. How many soldiers were just filling their patriotic duty of going shopping for their country as ordered by their Commander in Chief post 9-11? How many did their part to help record corporate profits? How many spent their money on personal body armor to increase their chances of coming home in one piece?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Innovative Way to Help Fund Bush Presidential Library!

President Bush can help his own cause by playing the “New Suits Sweepstakes”. Blogger Lantern Sodden (pen name) has committed to donating 20% of his author proceeds to a charitable group. To enter one must get the notarized signature of 3 leaders, President Bush, Pope Benedict XVI and Rev. Pat Robertson. A picture with each famous leader with the book cover plainly in view is also required (smiles and middle fingers are optional.)

President Bush can increase his library’s chances of getting the donation by driving book sales and happily signing the sweepstakes entry. George W. can order his Secretary of Faith, Rev. Pat to willingly add his John Hancock to the contest page in the back of New Suits for World Leaders: Emperors, Presidents and Popes. The trick will be getting the Pope in town to process entry forms. I have faith that President Bush can work out this minor detail. Maybe he can crash the Supreme Court’s weekly conference call with the Pontiff!

For a preview of the book click here. (New Suits Sweepstakes information resides at the end of the preview)

How does al-Qaeda Foment Violence in Iraq without Safe Haven?

Reading the President’s description of Iraq as not being in Civil War confused me. He placed the blame squarely on al-Qaeda for the latest round of sectarian violence.

Mr. Bush said in regard to his upcoming meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister. “I will assure him that we will continue to pursue Al Qaeda to make sure that they do not establish a safe haven in Iraq.”

How is al-Qaeda fomenting violence without a current safe haven in Iraq? The rumor is the military will soon completely pull 30,000 soldiers out of Anbar province leaving it "a safe haven for al-Qaeda.

The insurgency in Iraq not only has a safe haven, it’s financed by a self sustaining revenue stream according to a classified government report. With land and money, it appears al-Qaeda already has "the safe haven" of which our leader speaks. I will once again ask President Bush to clarify this issue, but his track record in responding to my questions is quite poor.

Strange Coelho Connection

Just before Thanksgiving ex-Democratic Minority Whip Tony Coelho played turkey in several stories. USA Today nailed him for receiving stock options dated 3 years prior to his becoming a board member of Cyberonics.

Across the pond, the Telegraph quoted Tony in a piece suggesting Republicans will turn into attack dogs with the new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Coelho himself resigned in 1989 amid allegations he received preferential treatment in a junk bond deal. Why would a discredited ex-Democratic leader be asked to comment in such a story?

The Telegraph likely had no idea of Tony’s role in the stock option manipulation as the story ran two days after theirs. It noted:

Coelho's first options at Cyberonics, dated April 14, 1994, entitled him to buy 20,000 shares of company stock at a 32% discount to the stock's market price on the grant date, according to a Form 3 stock ownership record he filed later with the SEC. Cyberonics' maximum discount on options it issued at the time was 15%, according to the company's stock-option plan filed separately with the SEC that October.

Recall that extrinsic motivators or pay for performance drive both No Child Left Behind and No CEO Left Uncompensated. Does it also ensure No Legislator Left Uncorrupted?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Corporate Turducken Time

The latest two rages combine this Thanksgiving Day, corporate stock option shennanigans and creative cooking (not using books). An enterprising chef created the turducken, a combination of turkey, duck and chicken to appease the discerning pallets of American families. This parallels a decade long innovation in corporate compensation, to meet the greed needs of already highly paid CEO's, key executives and board members.

The latest stock option scandal involves the discredited ex-CEO of Cyberonics and the newly promoted Board chair, an ex-Congressman forced to step down in the late '80's for not accurately reporting his personal finances.

CEO Robert "Skip" Cummins resigned after an internal investigation revealed the company understated its executive compensation expense by $10 million and would restate their financials going back to 1999. The newly appointed board chair, Tony Coelho received stock options issued nearly three years before joining the board of Cyberonics. Options are taxable in the year in which the option is received.

Cyberonics CFO shared the company's practice regarding stock options to a group of investors. "All stock options are granted the day of approval and are priced at fair market value on the date of the grant". It appears the company did not follow their stated practice given the resignation, the financial restatements for prior periods, and the Board chair's receiving option grants issued 3 years prior to his joining Cyberonics.

Why is this important? Extrinsic motivation programs like incentive compensation are the foundation for President Bush's No Child Left Behind education initiative. If CEO's are smart enough to gain the system to their advantage, what will America's educators do? My guess is most teachers are a quicker study than their business counterparts. How twisted will our education system become under the Bush cabal? Will it look like the turduken, part chicken, part duck, and part turkey? My guess is it will resemble the turkey part, but only time will tell...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Corporate Turkey Time

Ex-KB Homes CEO, Bruce Karatz stepped down last week for his role in manipulating stock option grants. In addition Bruce had to repay the company $13 million as a result of gaming his own incentive pay.

This turned out to be a sweetheart deal as the Chief Executive gets to keep all of his retirement benefits. As Bruce resigned vs. being fired he will receive a severance package valued at 3 years of salary plus incentives (the same ones he illegally gamed) totalling $80 million.

Mr. Karatz also gets a $1 million annual pension and keeps those stock options worth $70 million. Recalling President Bush's comments post Hurricane Katrina, I wonder if he has "zero tolerance" for things like this?

Friday, November 17, 2006

PlayStation3 Debut, Video Games and Violence

Studies show people who play violent video games are more prone to aggression. It turns out the act of purchasing the latest and greatest video game console also leads to violent behavior. The unveiling of the Sony PlayStation3 in the U.S. was marked by destructive acts, some involving firearms.

This is ironic as studies show the handling of guns also makes people more aggressive. Is this America’s new twin foundation, video games and guns? Hopefully not…

Soldiers Kidnapped Warrant What?

In a repeat of summer’s soldier kidnapping for ranson, two nations took very different approaches. Some reports suggest an Israeli soldier was nabbed for leverage in returning a Palestinian physician kidnapped by the Jewish state but a week earlier. This resulted in a one month pummeling of Lebanon punctuated by a final week scattering of carpet bombs.

However, five mercenaries were recently captured in Iraq near the Kuwaiti border. With five times as many taken, one might assume 5 months of bombings closed by a 5 week littering of carpet bombs? If Israel has the right to defend itself, it seems Iraq (our newest democracy in the region) should as well…

However, can anyone explain all the violence between and within the 3 democracies in the region?

Soon “Gay Only” Shelves at Library?

In a throwback to “Coloreds only” water fountains, an Illinois library considers the request to cordon access to a children’s book based on a true story. The offensive "gay oriented" material shows two males penguins from the New York zoo adopting a fertilized egg and raising the chick on their own.

When parents raised concern about the depiction of the male/male relationship, librarians moved the book to nonfiction as it actually happened. However, this did not quell the adult’s hesitancy to show two loving males serving in a parental role. Zoological experts say adoptions are not unusual in the world of penguins.

To think that humans could actually learn about love and compassion from our animal friends? Perish the thought as we’re too busy fighting amongst ourselves…

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How Large is the Problem of the Uninsured? Harry & Louise Now Pleading for Help

Those who remember the health insurance industry’s ads criticizing the specter of universal coverage in the early Clinton years are in for a surprise. Burdened by ever rising deductibles and co-pays (if they have insurance at all), Harry and Louise have thrown up their hands and are begging for federal intervention.

The Association of Health Insurance Plans now says “covering the uninsured should be the nation’s number 1 domestic priority”. Wow, what a change! Will it be heard in Washington? Maybe, since Bush’s Uncle Bucky is on the Board of Wellpoint, a major health insurer.

Democrats Run on Cleaning Up Corruption, then Hand Hold Likely Criminals

In the strangest turn of events, Democratic Party leadership is now hand holding Republican leaders instead of looking into their wallets for illicit bills. After assailing the culture of corruption, it appears Democrats might simply jump in bed with the offenders.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi promised last January to enact an ethics package - including a ban on all gifts from lobbyists, disclosure of earmarks, and a two-year wait before lawmakers leaving office can work as lobbyists - if Democrats took back the House.

Well? Why is this missing from their new agenda? Could it be because Nancy’s desirable number 2, Rep. Jack Murtha, has a cloudy ethics past of his own?

Meanwhile soon to be ex-House Majority leader Rep. John Boehner says Republicans can win back the Congress in 2008 by holding Democrats accountable and enacting ethics reform with teeth.

If both parties want ethics reform and the public sent that clear message via the midterm votes, why is it nowhere to be seen? Might it be both parties are addicted to the campaign money trough and have zero desire or incentive to cut off the money slop?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Top Census Officials Leaving to Find those 500,000 Uninsureds?

The top two officials of the U.S. Census Department announced their leaving amid conflicts with senior members of the Bush administration. Management difference and loss of trust were mentioned by the two men bowing out.

Given the President’s disdain for truth and his twisting of words to misrepresent, can numbers be far behind? A revision dropped a half million people from the ranks of the uninsured just months ago. The 2004 45.8 million without health insurance became 45.3 with the change of an estimating formula. Does anyone believe this given both business long term trend of shedding their insured rolls? Government jumped on that same bandwagon the last year.

Unemployment has now become a fictional number, this point driven home by reports of unemployed soldiers returning from Iraq. Nearly twice as many young veterans are without work compared to the private sector, 15.6% vs. 8.7%. The rationale given to justify this number is veterans actually file for unemployment with others don’t. So the number presented as people without work in the U.S. is actually the number of filers for unemployment insurance benefits.

Will the Census chiefs file for unemployment? Who will the President’s men hire to get them the numbers they need to get re-elected?

“Church’s Gone Wild” Trying to Protect and Control their Flocks!

In their fervor to control homosexuality, a number of denominational gatherings took up the issue of gay persons in their flock. Catholics reiterated their view of same sex love as “intrinsically disordered” but provided room for the celibate faithful at the communion table.

North Carolina Baptists took a more draconian approach when it voted to cut ties with congregations that actually practiced the love of Jesus by affirming or approving of homosexuality. With 4,000 churches and 1.2 million members, it is unclear how many offending parishes will be booted out of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

A Convention spokesman said “It’s not something we wanted to do, but homosexuality is the only sin that has its own advocacy group…those groups are pushing us into this stance.”

Could this be true? How many times has someone else forced you into doing something you really didn’t want to do (without using torture)? How did you respond? OK, maybe in rare situations such a thing could occur, but most of us don’t do things we don’t want to.

Is homosexuality the only sin with its own advocacy group? Ask the folks at NORML, the National Organization for the Removal of Marijuana Laws? The folks at Budweiser have their own advocacy program for drinking alcohol safely. It is called Responsibility Matters. Yet, many people of faith find the drinking of spirits sinful.

Good conservatives (and Catholic priests) know well about the North American Man Boy Love Association. Pedophilia and pederasty are distinctly different than homosexuality. Yet, the N.C. Baptists did not come out against marijuana, alcohol or these other forms of sin with their own advocacy groups.

My advice to the spokesman is to put on your Rev. Fred Phelps cohones and just say “God Hates Fags and We Do Too”. I happen to believe God loves all his children just the way he created them…

Mad Max, Future Chair of Senate Finance Committee

Will the message the American public sent to members of Congress via the 2006 mid-term elections make it into the seamy backrooms where business interests manipulate policy makers? I wonder especially in the case of Senator Max Baucus-D Montana.

As an influential member of the Senate Finance Committee Max votes on key healthcare legislation impacting Medicare and Medicaid. He just spoke of a "public-private initiative" to reduce the already scandalous but ever increasing number of people without health insurance in America.

The "private" for-profit hospital industry knows this choosing to fund Senator Baucus’ campaign. For Max’s 2006 campaign the Federation of American Hospitals donated 5,000, Kindred Healthcare $6,000, HCA $10,000, Triad Hospitals $5,000, Vanguard Health Management $5,000, Sun Healthcare $2,000, Universal Health Services $2,500, Mariner Healthcare $5,000, LifePoint Hospitals $5,000, HCR Manor Care $4,000, Genesis Healthcare $2,000, Beverly Enterprises $10,000, Renal Care Group $3,000, Fresenius Medical Care $2,100, Renal Leadership Council $5,000, HealthSouth Corp $2,500, Gentiva Health Services $2,500, and Ardent Health Services $1,000.

Which of the above for-profit healthcare companies have no, as in ZERO facilities in Senator Baucus’ home state of Montana? Kindred, Vanguard, Triad, LifePoint, Universal, Genesis, Gentiva, and even the monstrous HCA have no hospitals in the Big Sky State. So why donate to Max?

What will $77,600 in for profit healthcare donations get these days? Last summer $30,000 seemed to inspire Chairman Bill Thomas of the House Ways & Means Committee to hold a hearing on the unfair advantage non profit community hospitals have as they are “tax exempt”. Earlier this summer Max’s partner on the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley asked the IRS Commissioner to go after nonprofit community hospitals with the same vigor as their recent clampdown on credit counseling agencies. Shortly thereafter Chuck suggested taxing pimps and whores.

At a time when Congress held the line on America’s minimum wage, it passed special reimbursement increases for kidney dialysis. Did you note 3 of the above companies specialize in dialysis care? They got a 1.6% increase in 2005 followed by another 1.6% increase in 2006. Investors like predictable income streams. The Carlyle Group even hired an ex-dialysis executive to head up their health care ventures. (During this same period Congress passed a law allowing premium sharing, deductibles and co-payments for poor persons on Medicaid.)

Four of Max’s top 12 donating industries are health related. Should the Senator be embarrassed over his windfall from companies not doing business in his state? Not Max as the man is shameless.

He proudly cites the negative ad he used in 2002 to make his opponent drop out of the race. The tactic involved showing old footage of the man at work.

Democrats knew Republican Mike Taylor had once owned hair care schools in Colorado. That led to a newspaper ad that mentioned he had once appeared in an infomercial on the noon news in Denver in the 1980s. That, in turn, led to the basement of a private home where a former television station employee had old videotapes.

For Democrats, the hunt was worth the effort - the party's autumn television commercial showed Taylor wearing an open-front shirt and gold chains, massaging a man's face. Staggered, Taylor briefly dropped out of the race, accusing the Democrats of saying that "anybody in the beauty and hair fashion industry is homosexual.

"But in politics, as the old expression goes, if you're explaining, you're losing. “That was a silver bullet” Max recalls.

It seems Max hasn’t been caught with his hands massaging a man’s face but should an investigation be conducted on donor driven voting patterns, watch out! Max could well have his pants down around his ankles. In that state it could be awful difficult to dodge that silver bullet. After all Max, what goes around, comes around!

P.S. Max, psst! From the map links alone, your pants have fallen to your knees. You might want to do something about it. Just a thought brother! At a minimum it appears you have some explaining to do.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Must Purchase Book of the Political Season!

New Suits for World Leaders: Emperors, Presidents and Popes is now for sale. This collection of letters to the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will entertain and inform.

Click on the link below to check out the preview.

William Rivers Pitt has some catching up to do with Lantern Sodden on The Carlyle Group's connections to the White House!

Monday, November 13, 2006

New Catholic Communion Cost Savings

A struggling U.S. Catholic Church continues to reel under the financial pressures of lawsuit settlements, reduced mass attendance and a shortage of priests. In the midst of this dire situation American Bishops reiterated several key church positions. They reminded their followers of the requirements of Holy Communion, the church’s view of gays as “intrinsically disordered”, and the only natural method of birth control which is followed by just 4% of Catholics.

In order to receive communion, followers must comply with church teachings. Non celibate gays and couples using artificial contraception should be denied communion if the priest has discussed the church’s position with them.

Given that 96% of women in child bearing years don’t comply with church teachings, it looks like the wine and unleavened bread budget can be slashed, especially if their husbands must also abstain from partaking. Throw in the gays with active sex lives and even greater cost savings can be generated.

Have the Catholic bureaucrats learned from their U.S. government counterparts? By throwing in a regulation or two, Congress regularly sheds people from entitlement or voter rolls. Ask American citizens on Medicaid who weren’t born in a hospital and don’t drive a car.

No CEO Left Behind

Yet another big name CEO resigns due to inappropriate handling of stock options. The latest is Bruce Karatz of KB Homes. He follows the executives of Apple and UnitedHealth as admitting to not properly accounting for their stock options. Bruce made $155.9 million in 2005, mostly from exercising those backdated stock options he engineered.

Recall another signature program where "improved performance" merits "increased pay"? While much newer than stock options with their 12 year history, the President’s No Child Left Behind education initiative is built on the same foundation. With evidence that nearly 30% of publicly traded companies deployed shenanigans to optimize executive pay, why would schools be any different?

Unfortunately, KB Homes attended the same school of internal investigations as the Bush White House. Their analysis failed to reach a conclusion as to Mr. Karatz’ motivation and whether the wrongdoing qualified as intentional. Did they not have access to Bruce to ask him?

Or is this a dodge to keep another high dollar political donor out of jail for his crimes. In a rare display of early bi-partisanship will Mr. Karatz get a free pass given his past preference for Democrats? Watch the treatment of Bush pioneer Charles Wyly, William McGuire of UnitedHealth Group, and the Democratic Steve Jobs of Apple.

U.S. Catholic Bishops Talk Louder

As increasing volume always increases comprehension, American Bishops will focus on the many Catholics who misunderstand or disregard church teachings on homosexuality, marriage, contraception, and the Holy Communion.

Only 4% follow the church’s only recommended method of contraception. Not only are the followers not following, the church faces a shortage of priests and low rates of Mass attendance.

Were the Catholic Church a business, it might be classified as “a dog”, signifying a market segment in decline. To survive a corporation would need to listen to its customers and adjust its product to keep it relevant.

The good news is the Church isn’t a business organization. This means the Bishops don’t have to listen to their parishioners. They can keep talking from the pulpit. The question is how long will people keep sitting in the pews?

U.S. Re-making Better Middle East Officially Over

America’s vision for a new democratic Middle East is officially over with the Arab League’s recent action. As democratic governments cannot be imposed from the outside, President Bush’s lead international effort approaches a dead end. The Arab League, incensed by the U.S. veto of the U.N. resolution condemning both sides in Israel’s incursion into Gaza and demanding a withdrawal, decided to start up its own peace process.

In doing so, it rejected the Western led financial blockage against Hamas. Arab countries are now free to financially support the Palestinian government, despite Bush’s labeling of Hamas as a terrorist group. The State Department had no comment of this possibility.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the decision to break the Western-lead financial blockade was a message to the United States. "Our message is loud and clear to those who take unfriendly positions against Arabs."

Just as no Iraqis are represented on the Iraqi Study Group, Middle Eastern countries’ input has not been sought in creating the new vision for the region. Tony Blair however did share his vision. If another round of Western, white man vision is underway, watch out. One only need ask the original natives of America of their experience. It appears the non-Jewish citizens of our 51st state are in for similar treatment.

The Middle East cracks in half as neighboring countries choose sides. Are they with us or against us is President Bush’s favorite question. It gets answered every new day…

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Iraqi Study Group to Meet with White House Officials

The bipartisan, heavily commerce oriented, white Western male dominated Iraqi Study Group will meet with President Bush and his key advisors on Monday. The President’s chief of staff said “The important thing is what do the Iraqis want?”

That is a funny thing to say as no Iraqis made the Study Group.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stopping the Killing of Innocents “Unbalanced” and “Doesn’t Promote Peace”?

Proving once again the United States cannot act as the honest broker for peace in the Middle East, Ambassador John Bolton vetoed a United Nations resolution calling for cessation of violence in Gaza. The resolution called for Israel to immediately stop its military operations in the Palestinian territory.

Qatar, a Middle Eastern country proposed the motion after shelling in Gaza killed 18, mostly women and children. The resolution also condemned Palestinians who fire missiles into Israel.

Bolton said the resolution's text was "unbalanced." "We are disturbed at the language of the resolution that is in many places biased against Israel and politically motivated. Such language does not further the cause of peace and its unacceptability to the United States in previous resolutions is well known."

The United States stood as the only member of the United Nations Security Council voting against the measure. Ten countries voted for it while 4 abstained.

This comes after this summer’s Israeli attack on democratic Lebanon, its northern neighbor. The United Nations remained silent on the matter for 30 days as the U.S. threatened to veto any “premature, egg timer diplomacy” U.N. resolutions. At that time the rest of the world seemed united in its condemnation of Israel’s revenge inspired war machine.

It appears for the second time this year, the United States is the protective parent defending its bully offspring. For the second time we stand alone with Israel, the democracy in the Middle East that gives privileges based on race. Their new Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Leiberman is a poster boy for our KKK in his desire for racial separation. His role involves managing Israel’s “strategic threats”. What happens when his very appointment escalates threats in the region?

What happens when our veto does likewise?

Bush Eats CROW

After demagogue-ing the Democrats before the midterm elections, President Bush has forced down several helpings of days old CROW, Campaign Rhetoric of Outright War. For example, during the heated run up to Election Day, the Campaigner in Chief said:

"The Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses. That's what's at stake in this election. The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq."

Now that the populace voted a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, the President put a different spin on the results.

"The message of this week's elections is clear: The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner and work together to address the challenges facing our nation."

While this resonates with my vote, I wonder “why does he no longer believe his earlier statement?” He did dust off his “bi-partisan” speak, unveiled several times in the past only to be quickly placed back on the shelf.

"This is important work that will demand the hard effort and good faith of leaders from both sides of the aisle, and I pledge to do my part."

How long will it last? And will it only be front stage behavior while behind the curtain, the long practiced, but tiring win/lose, hyper-competitiveness of the permanent campaign continues unchecked?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Americans Convicted of Terrorism in Vietnam

Proof that one’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist comes from Southeast Asia. In a strange twist, the Vietnamese government convicted 3 Vietnamese Americans of terrorism for trying to take over radio airwaves and call for the overthrow of the country’s communist government. The scheme involved smuggling in radio equipment which would then be used to broadcast the call to topple the government. The California based group “Government of Free Vietnam” hatched the plan.

Should Vietnam have the Patriot Act and a Terrorist Surveillance Program, then assets from this group could be seized and any calls from GFV to people in the home country would be monitored. “If you’re talking to GFV, we want to know about it.” Is anyone in Brussels checking the movement of Government of Free Vietnam funds through the international banking system?

Two representatives of the U.S. Consulate attended the trial. My question is who sponsored this group? Did the CIA have a role in this? Did the State Department, currently sponsoring similar groups in Iran, help fund or guide this group of freedom fighters/terrorists?

The judge gave them a lenient sentence despite the seriousness of the crime with one reason cited, their political naiveté. That seems to be a worldwide problem regarding the whole terrorist label and its application.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Odd Finding Regarding Dr. Robert Gates

In searching for the A&M President’s pay I stumbled across this and thought it interesting to share. Just over a year ago Robert said the following:

In sum, it’s been another year of dramatic change – and, I believe, improvement – in every area at Texas A&M as all parts of the University drive toward a higher level of excellence. As some of you know, my role in this process at A&M nearly ended early in the year with a call from Washington, D.C. On January 6, 2005, Andy Card, President Bush’s Chief of Staff (and an old friend), called to see if I would be willing to become the Director of National Intelligence – the “intelligence czar” created by Congress in 2004. I told him that I did not want to leave A&M and did not want to return to Washington. Still, I felt duty-bound to give the request serious consideration. For the next 17 days, including several hours at the White House on the Monday before Inauguration Day, I wrestled with this decision. On Sunday, January 23rd, I decided that if I might be able to help make America safer in a dangerous time, then I must, and therefore had to accept the position – and leave A&M.

That evening, I wrote out what I would say at the traditional introductory press conference in Washington with the President. A press conference I expected would take place within a few days. I also wrote an e-mail to all Aggies explaining my decision, to be issued in College Station at the same time the press conference began. The last sentence of that e-mail read: “For now, though, I only wanted you to know that this appointment was due to no initiative of mine, that the decision was wrenching, and that I can hardly bear the idea of leaving Aggieland.”

I then went for a late night walk around campus. Through the Quad, by the Evans Library, past Sbisa and around the Northside dorms, back by the YMCA building, and finally to Academic Plaza and the statue of Sul Ross. I sat down on a bench there, as thoughts raced through my mind of Ross and Rudder, of Silver Taps and Muster, of the Corps, of the incredible students and faculty and staff here, and of all that is underway to make A&M greater. I realized, sitting there alone in the dark, brushing away tears, how much I had come to love Texas A&M, all it stands for, and all it can become. And I knew at that moment I could not leave.

I called Andy Card at Camp David at 8:00 the next morning, and told him I had to tell the President no.

I have not regretted that decision. Washington, D.C. is my past; Texas A&M is my present and my future (at least for a while). There is no position or opportunity for me now more significant than President of Texas A&M University. And none I would trade it for.

Except the Defense Department Chief's job!

New Defense Chief Gates’ Corporate Connections

While other knowledgeable writers educate us about Robert Gates role in postponing the release of the American Embassy hostages in Iran to favor incoming President Ronald Reagan or arming Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s, I can only offer information on the nominees corporate connections and stock holdings.

The current President of Texas A & M University’s bio offers information on his current corporate directorships. Those include The Fidelity Funds, NACCO Industries, Parker Drilling, and Brinker International. Previous directorships held include TRW Inc., LucasVarsity PLC, and Draper Labs. He is a senior advisor and consultant to several major international firms. Interesting findings include:

1. Under the heading of Military Space, Draper Labs is aiding the Defense Department with its development of advanced space control capabilities.

2. Mr. Gates owns $475,000 in stock in just one company. His 3,318 shares at $143 per share of NACCO Industries are on top of his pay of $40,000 a year for his board services. Their household appliance division has outsourced almost all of its production to China.

3. Directors of the Fidelity Funds reportedly received a $25,000 raise on top of their $262,000 annual compensation in 2004. Robert did better than that raking in $362,250 before his promotion to Chairman of the Fidelity Board. Gates told Texas A&M he needed 10 days a month to earn his pay at Fidelity, half of those would be weekend days.

4. Fidelity Management & Research owns 6.6 million shares of Parker Drilling.

5. Parker Drilling paid Dr. Gates $44,000 for his services in 2005 while giving him a restricted stock award of $55,800 which has since vested. Mr. Gates owns 12,000 shares of the company worth roughly $110,000 at the current share price of $9.10.

6. Robert owns 13,117 shares and 36,954 stock options (8,893 are vested) of Brinker International, a restaurant chain known for its Chili’s & Macaroni Grill franchises. Directors receive $50,000 in annual compensation which may be taken in a number of forms. Robert took his in a mix of cash and stock. At $46 a share Dr. Gates current holdings are valued at just over $600,000 (not including options).

The newly nominated Defense Department Director currently pulls down a half million in annual income just from his board directorships. This is on top of his Texas A&M salary of $525,000 a year. His holdings in those same companies are valued at over $1.1 million.

While Dr. Gates isn’t Donald Rumsfeld, he is yet another Bush high dollar business insider. Between the disturbing revelations of his prior roles in Iran/Iraq and what I discovered in a few hours using corporate websites and SEC filings, I’m not sure America is any better off. Do we have yet another Washington insider ready to send business to his friends? Time will tell…

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bush Frantically Searches Oval Office for his “Uniter, Not a Divider” Skills

Now that at least one House of Congress is no longer in Republican control, President Bush must live up to his promise of 2000 to be a “Uniter, not a Divider”. Those skills had been packed in Texas but never made it out of the box in our nation’s capital. After six years of getting his way on most of his initiatives, Bush must now work with the other party (which shall not be named) to enact legislation.

Will the President have to answer for his poor performance in many areas including the greasing of business to his friends, the free pass given to major Bush fundraisers who violate U.S. tax law, and the series of incompetent “investigations” from his Katrina Lessons Learned report to Army Ranger Pat Tillman’s death?

The nation will get to watch President Bush’s next steps. Will the Campaigner-in-Chief be a gracious loser? Will the Republican Yell Leader be able to set down the megaphone? The group he called wallet lifters (after all it’s your money!) and pansies just got elected to the majority in the House and could control the Senate.

The people will be watching, both at home and abroad. My main consolation is the world now knows the American people don’t like what our leaders are doing internationally. Now the onus is on the new majority party to prove they aren’t just Republican Lite.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dobson Washes His Hands of Haggard

Just days after the White House sashayed as fast as possible from their weekly conference call recipient Rev. Ted Haggard, James (not a Reverend) Dobson bailed on Teddy’s rehab crew. The news had been full of Ted’s admittance and planned restoration process.

James Dobson of Focus on the Biblical Family had volunteered just days ago to shepherd Rev. Haggard through this soul saving procedure. Now that election pretenses are over, the fatwah issuing Dobson decided he doesn’t have time for Ted.

Republican Surge or Democratic Purge?

Over the last year the Republican dominated Congress engineered rational sounding rules that optimize their party's followers but hurt the country as a whole. Two areas this can be seen are elections and healthcare.

Voting apparently isn't every American's right anymore. Greg Palast's analysis shows 4.5 million votes from people of color will be scrubbed via voter ID rules, ballot spoilage, the non-counting of provisional votes and aggressive voter challenge operations.

This past summer Medicaid enacted "proof of citizenship" requirements. Experts estimate 9% of American born persons on Medicaid lack the required identification to continue receiving services. Nonprofit community hospitals, already reeling from the burden of caring for those without health insurance, took another big hit. 80-90% of community hospitals are currently experiencing some form of financial distress. Congress and President Bush twisted the screws even tighter on these fragile organizations.

Republicans don't outright ban certain types of voters or nail shut the doors of your local nonprofit hospital, but given their initiatives they might as well have. My vote is intended to say, toss 'em all.

Monday, November 06, 2006

At Reunion Governor Good Hair Introduces Sneering Bush while Carlyle Affiliates Cheer

Texas Governor Rick Perry introduced crookedly smiling President Bush at a Republican campaign rally at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Watching from their skyboxes were executives from two Carlyle Group affiliates amply supported by state and federal funds or preferential government action. Next to the oversized replay screen stood the Vought Aircraft Industries luxury suite. Vought pulled down over $100 million in local, state and federal subsidies.

Across the way, another Carlyle affiliate toasted their good luck at receiving not a mention in the White House Lessons Learned report despite having the largest number of hospital patient deaths post Hurricane Katrina. LifeCare thanked their lucky stars to have been acquired by Carlyle just weeks before Katrina made landfall. While their corporate parent’s Pennsylvania Avenue address didn’t get patients saved any quicker, it did get them a free pass from mention in the President’s thorough investigation.

During the time the Carlyle Group soaked Dallas, Texas and the federal government for $100 million, the famously connected investment house returned $2.1 billion to its investors. While Bush has been in office Carlyle grew from a $13 billion firm to over $44 billion. Their corporate affiliates cheered extra loudly from their Reunion skyboxes, thankful for all the good work Rick and George have done on their company’s behalf. So what if the citizens of Texas and Louisiana don’t benefit a lick…

P.S. While Vought has a plant in Dallas and LifeCare Hospitals headquarters is in Big D, the author has no information that either company actually has skyboxes in Reunion Arena. Should that actually be true, it would simply be serendipity.

“Stabilize” Turns into 11% One Day Increase

In running errands I found those stabilizing gas prices predicted yesterday, morphed into a .20 increase, a nearly 11% increase in just one day.

One would think big oil would wait until people had already voted before sticking it to the consumer. As for supply and demand driving prices, the news had this to say.

OPEC President Daukoru said “The market is clearly oversupplied, clearly oversupplied.”

If that’s the case, how does San Angelo, Texas get an 11% price increase in less than 24 hours? I’ll keep this and more in mind as I head to the polls tomorrow…

Gas Prices to “Stabilize”

Just two days before the midterm elections, big oil primed the pump to reverse the almost 3 month decline in gas prices. On August 11th gas prices reached an all time high with an average of $3.03 a gallon. On November 3rd they averaged $2.18. And on November 7th the people will vote.

What happens afterwards? I, for one, will be watching the pace of their rise and how quickly they return to record profitability.

P.S. My prediction, that big oil would purposefully cut their profit margins so as not to announce record earnings just two weeks before the election, happened to come true!

New Way for Congress to Deal with Earmarks!

This independent voter believes the light of accountability needs to be shone on earmarks, federal expenditures surreptitiously inserted into bills to benefit member’s districts. This can be achieved by having special identifiers behind the proposed project which indicate which Congressperson submitted the earmark. Examples of such identifiers are below.

Rep. Mark Foley could submit “Leermarks”
Patrick Kennedy “Beermarks”
Tom Delay “Sneermarks”
Dennis Hastert could be “Landmarks1” and Harry ReidLandmarks2(skinny and fat typefaces could also differentiate the two).

Rep. William Jefferson tosses around “freezermarks”
Senator Bill Frist’s pork could be titled “stockmarks”
Rep. Katherine Harris’s submissions can be identified simply by the makeup smudges and tear stains, however not to leave her out they can be called “PsychoBarbiemarks”.

Rep. Don Sherwood could slip in “Sex&chokemarks”
Senator Conrad Burns offers “LittleGuatemalanManmarks”.

Influential people in districts also request earmarks.

Rev. Ted Haggard could ask for a “Queermark”
Rev. Pat Robertson needs funding for a Christian Theme Park in our 51st state, thus a “IsraeliParkmark”.

The Reverend Jerry Falwell is fighting his “War on Christmas” and we know how expensive wars can be. Will Congress give Jerry his “Warmark”?

And what of Presidential pork submitted by our nation's CEO in his budget, should those be called "Karlmarks"? Will Jeff Flake take this request seriously as he pursues his war on earmarks? Time will tell…

Sunday, November 05, 2006

$4 Billion Wasted on Negative Ads

A “news brief” stated political candidates surpassed $4 billion in campaign spending for the 2006 midterms. Is anyone in favor of these sums being spent on mostly negative ads? My local nonprofit community hospital struggles financially under the burden of huge numbers of uninsured patients. It even considered selling out to a for profit chain.

In 2004 hospital uncompensated care totaled $26 billion dollars. Exxon will make well more than that this fiscal year. Where are America’s priorities? It appears the U.S. no longer wants the world’s poor, the downtrodden, the marginalized as we can make them right here at home.

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Suggests Arabs Wear Yellow Crescents?

The strange state of Israel appointed a well known ethnic separatist to the Deputy Prime Minister spot. After taking office a week ago, Avigdor Lieberman promptly revealed his previously stated positions on Arab/Jew separation in the Jewish state.

In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Lieberman said there was no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, so physically separating the two peoples was the best solution. He said Israel should give Israeli Arab villages near the West Bank to the Palestinians - stripping many of the residents of their citizenship in the process - in exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The Arabs remaining in Israel would be allowed to keep their citizenship if they passed a loyalty test. Arabs make up roughly one-fifth of Israel's population.

"The answer is exchanges of land and populations and making a homogeneous, Jewish country as much as possible," said Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement. "I don't know why the Palestinians deserve a country that is clean of Jews ... and we are becoming a binational country, where 20 percent of the population are minorities. If we want to keep this a Jewish, Zionist country, there is no other solution," he said.

The surprise is that Israeli politicians acted as if this information happened to be new. The race to distance themselves from Avigdor resembled Republicans after the Mark Foley scandal broke.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister recruited the racist Mr. Lieberman to shore up his shaky coalition. After welcoming him to the fold, Olmert assigned his new deputy to handle “strategic threats” Israel faces including Iran, Hezbollah and the Palestinian issue. Avigdor’s comments put the already on life support peace processes underwater, which is likely where the PM wants them until “bombs over Tehran”. Then in a largely symbolic move, Olmert will jettison Lieberman as he works on his preferred two state solution with the Palestinians.

As for the title, all Avi wants is for Arabs to sign a loyalty oath (as he is saving the yellow crescents for later). One needs a system to know who failed the loyalty test...

Open Ended Curfew Lasts Until Election Day?

One wire report said lost in the Saddam Hussein verdict is the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the Bush rationale for precipitating the Iraq War. Another report suggested Sunni revenge inspired violence could escalate after the open ended curfew is lifted “in coming days”. A Sunni political leader said:

"This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed."

Might the curfew tamping down sectarian strife last through America’s Election Day? It would not do to have an inflamed Iraq on the news as people head to the polls irritated over Bush’s consistently failed execution in that theater. It might be time for another application of Freedhem.

Overseas Reports on Saddam Verdict Differ from U.S.

European reports on the Saddam Hussein verdict read distinctly different than those stateside. Items not mentioned in the rosy U.S. reports on the historic verdict include:

a. As the judge read the verdict, Saddam shouted, denouncing the court, the judge, and the U.S. led occupation force in Iraq.

b. Few Iraqis think the trial will ease the sectarian conflict pushing Iraq to the brink of civil war.

c. Critics dismiss the trial as a form of victor’s justice. The first judge resigned over government interference and 3 defense lawyers were assassinated during the trial.

d. The judge ejected U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark at sentencing for handing him a note calling the trial a “travesty”.

Bush called the verdict "a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law." Yes, clearly Mr. President.

And what made Saddam change his stripes post sentencing outburst in calling for his supporters to “reject sectarian violence and refrain from revenge against U.S. forces”? Could it be some of those non-tyrannical “tough” interrogation techniques?

Celebrate Saddam Verdict with Some Red…

How will President Bush celebrate the Saddam Hussein verdict as the country of Iraq spirals downward towards chaos? A recent New York Times article revealed the military’s assessment of conditions on the ground to be the worst yet. Their classification showed the country deep in the red zone marked at its extreme by chaos.

How will the American leader celebrate “violence at an all time high, spreading geographically”? How will Bush rejoice in the “spreading activity of militias” when he and President al-Maliki unearthed a program to tackle such private armies months ago?

Will the President toast the verdict with some red wine, a glass of red grape juice, or a juicy red steak? What will happen in Iraq post verdict and execution? What red will flow there? Unfortunately I think I already know the answer…

Democracy without Upgrades

Riverbend of Baghdad Burning reported on the Saddam verdict and its aftermath. It turns out freedom of the press is absent from the Iraqi version of democracy.

Some questions also exist regarding the justice application. It appears the version that complies with international legal requirements has a few “bugs” or as President Bush or Texas Governor Rick Perry would say, “glitches”. Check out Riverbend’s remarks in “When All Else Fails…”.

Quiz: Haggard or Bush?

Who said the following words and in what context?

“…And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.”

Is this:

a. President Bush taking responsibility for misrepresenting the state of dual eligibles under the Medicare Prescription Drug program

b. Bush apologizing for suggesting a joint venture partner with the $44 billion Carlyle Group is a small business owner

c. Rev. Ted Haggard owning up to some gay sex while the White House backpedals from their tight relationship like Lance Armstrong attacking the French Alps?

The correct answer is C as only Rev. Haggard will eventually acknowledge his lies after incontrovertile evidence clearly points to his falsehoods.

Saddam Convicted, Bush Next?

A judge convicted ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and sentenced him to death by hanging for killing many innocent Iraqi people. The guilty party’s response included “Long live the people and death to their enemies. Long live the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!"

All throughout the trial the strongman referred to the United States as illegal occupier and the enemy of Iraq. So why would I believe his government appointed lawyer’s statement that the embodiment of evil encouraged his supporters to “reject sectarian violence and refrain from revenge against U.S. forces”? That doesn’t sound at all like the belligerent, blustery Saddam.

As for convicting people responsible for the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis, one need not look far for the next suspect. 1999 “Desert Crossing” war games suggested a force of 400,000 soldiers would be necessary to take Iraq and even then it could devolve into sectarian violence. Some of their 7 year old prescient advice is below:

"A change in regimes does not guarantee stability. A number of factors including aggressive neighbors, fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines, and chaos created by rival forces bidding for power could adversely affect regional stability."

"Even when civil order is restored and borders are secured, the replacement regime could be problematic - especially if perceived as weak, a puppet, or out-of-step with prevailing regional governments."

"Iran's anti-Americanism could be enflamed by a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq," the briefings read. "The influx of U.S. and other western forces into Iraq would exacerbate worries in Tehran, as would the installation of a pro-western government in Baghdad."

"The debate on post-Saddam Iraq also reveals the paucity of information about the potential and capabilities of the external Iraqi opposition groups. The lack of intelligence concerning their roles hampers U.S. policy development."

"Also, some participants believe that no Arab government will welcome the kind of lengthy U.S. presence that would be required to install and sustain a democratic government."

"A long-term, large-scale military intervention may be at odds with many coalition partners."

If the U.S. didn’t have accurate intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, could it have even the most basic understanding of the country of Iraq?

Not only did President Bush ignore the advice of Saudi leaders, who predicted sectarian strife pre-invasion, it completely blew off the results of the “Desert Crossing” military game on Iraq. Thanks to the folks at George Washington University for sharing this information.

A study done just up the road at Johns Hopkins estimates some 650,000 Iraqis died as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and conditions on the ground for the last three years. Who should go to trial for that?

Bush Promotes “Traditional Values” while Hand Washing in Colo.

President Bush solicited votes for his Republican stable as Election Day neared. He used the mantra of “traditional values”. Evidence shows many political and religious leaders who actively promoted such values fell. My Sunday morning paper had the piece right next to the fallen Rev. Ted Haggard, the hypocrite who spoke against evil while doing crystal meth and sodomizing a male prostitute. At least that’s what his employer concluded before dismissing him. Bush happened to be making his remarks in Colorado, the home state of the dethroned Haggard.

What happened to other bastions of “traditional values”? Ted joins Mark Foley (pederasty & alcoholism), Rev. Jim Baker (sex & fraud), Bill Bennett (gambling), Don Sherwood (sex & charges of physical abuse), Rev. Jimmy Swaggart (sex with prostitute), and Ralph Reed (influence peddling with Jack Abramoff).

I found a 1991 quote from a strong proponent of traditional values that is prophetic to say the least.

"There is a war waging in America. The battle is over values, beliefs and the cultural basis of western civilization.... the elitist avant-garde arts community uses the NEA to advertise and disseminate their political beliefs. The NEA then uses our scarce tax dollars to fund works which are intended to shock Americans into an acceptance of dysfunctional behavioral lifestyles and to destroy the family."

How did the Rev. Louis Sheldon know the head of the National Evangelical Association would shock America with his dysfunctional behavioral lifestyle while preaching against the very same behavior? What’s in Louis’ closet besides the ability to predict the future through demon magic?

Meanwhile President Bush and the White House skated away from Teddy as fast as possible. The weekly conference calls with White House staffers mentioned in Time Magazine and Harper’s now only happened a couple of times. And those visits to the President’s home, they only happened a Jack Abramoff sounding “one or two times”. Get the logs!

The Bush cabal must be hand washing and hand ringing at the moment. Every time I hear him talk about traditional values the word hypocrite will come to mind. After all he is the lead yell leader on that topic at the moment, what’s in his closet? Could it be an addiction to power, to force?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Haggard Canned for “Sexually Immoral Conduct”

The man who conference called with the White House weekly on political faith matters, “resigned” from his position as pastor of the New Hope Church after an investigation revealed “without a doubt” that Pastor Ted Haggard committed “sexually immoral conduct”.

In less than 48 hours Ted went from a man with open access to the White House to a pariah. If he follows the Mark Foley response plan, expect to see him in rehab shortly, socked safely away until after the elections…

Even Democratic Family Members Imitate Republicans

As the midterm elections near with many Democratic candidates a version of Republican Lite, imitation has now spread to family members. Recently, President Bill Clinton announced a $1 billion investment fund specializing in start up clean energy companies. Their clear aim is to make money off such investments.

As the pursuit of green runs in the family, Chelsea Clinton inked an employment deal with Avenue Capital, a $12 billion hedge fund that specializing in purchasing the debt of distressed companies. The owners of Avenue Capital have donated thousands to Democratic candidates, including Chelsea’s mom. Both proud parents declined to comment on the apparent Republicanization of their child.

President Bush has brother Neil making green off his No Child Left Behind initiative, Uncle Bucky turning a profit from many of his nephew's programs including Medicare Part D, and should Dad still be working for The Carlyle Group, their investments have grown from $13 billion to over $44 billion on George’s watch.

I hope all voters note how America’s first families, the Clintons and Bushes are making hay while the sun shines. The question is what do the hay providers expect in return?

Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil

Two stories indicate the lengths the Bush administration is willing to go to keep its military incarceration program confidential. The first involves a Guantanamo detainee requesting a civilian attorney. The Justice Department asserts the person being charged has no right to tell his lawyer of any torture methods used in the secret CIA prison program to extract information. They even protest the possibility of said civilian attorney doing the Vulcan mind meld on his client as this procedure is trademarked by the CIA.

The second case has an American citizen detained in Iraq for 2 months with no charges. The Iranian American went to Iraq to shoot a film. In this case U.S. attorneys want the suit dismissed. Apparently citizen’s constitutional rights don’t extend beyond the physical soil of our native land. In their filing they even show their heavy hand.

In response to the lawsuit, U.S. attorneys cautioned the court to carefully consider getting entangled in military operations overseas and said Kar cannot challenge the government's policies without "a realistic threat that he will again be subject to detention in Iraq by the United States military officers."

If there is one place the Bush administration excels, it is in delivering payback. Otherwise they bumble, stumble, fleece, ignore, steamroll, and generally “Bush up beyond all recognition” anything they touch. “No talk, no trial” can now be added to the Bush strategy of “no information, no invitation” regarding terror.

If you see Bush walking around in a trance like state marked by infrequent tics of “Nt, nt, ni, ni”, you’ll know he just changed his tactics on the war on terror and is directing his minions on the new plan, I mean timetable, ooppss, benchmarks…whatever he is doing that seems to just make matters worse.

Likely GOP Voters Sour

A recent poll revealed likely Republican voters approach the polls with a bad taste in their mouth.

Only 28 percent of the GOP's likely voters said in a recent AP-AOL News poll that they are enthusiastic about the Bush administration.

Just 13 percent said they are enthusiastic about the GOP leadership in Congress.

At the same time, only half of Republicans who are likely to vote say they strongly approve of Bush's job performance.

With the President cited by people around the world as nearly as dangerous as Osama bin Laden and half of the members of his own party not solidly behind him, will voters send a clear message to our nation’s elected leaders?

Meanwhile Bush insisted “Our base is energized.” He didn’t say if that was positive or negative energy. How many will just stay away from the polls come Tuesday?

Ted Haggard’s Transformation from Golden Boy to Leper

Before the at least partially true assertions came forward regarding Rev. Ted Haggard’s interactions with a male prostitute which included some form of massage and methamphetamines, Ted had one powerful resume.

Time Magazine has included Pastor Ted in their list of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America citing his weekly conference call with the White House. The Wall Street Journal noted his advisory role with the Bush White House, calling him one “of the nation’s most politically influential” clergy, and Harper’s Magazine says, “No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted.”

After the news broke, Ted’s stock as leader of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals dissipated like the 1929 Stock Market Crash. He stepped aside from his 14,000 strong church in Colorado Springs. And the White House picture shredding machine once again operated in full whine.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Haggard has visited the White House and has occasionally participated in outreach efforts by Bush aides to the evangelical leadership. But he played down suggestions that Haggard has close ties to the administration.

So much for those weekly phone calls to Bush staffers. Start up those Nixon era tape erasers! The church association also quickly changed tune on their national leader by calling him “a moderate”.

Although non-evangelicals may view Haggard as a diehard conservative, within the evangelical movement he is seen as a moderate, a religious expert said. "If the allegations are proven true, it could discredit a prominent moderate figure in the evangelical community."

Could one hope that religious people actually examine the underlying issues vs. scapegoating the fallen? Would that be too much to ask?

Pressure Built to Where Bush Finally Met with Real Small Business Folks

Less than two weeks ago President Bush met with Bob Johnson to show he meets with small business owners and community bankers. Mr. Johnson founded Black Entertainment Television before selling it for $3 billion. He owns the NBA team in Charlotte, North Carolina and announced a joint venture deal last year with powerhouse investment company, The Carlyle Group.

Desperate to beat the Democrats, President Bush had to produce real small business folks in this morning’s radio address to the country. George did his usual fear mongering, this time over taxes. If the people want “our money”, the Bush word for taxes, to be used wisely then why did the Republican Party engineer the demise of the group monitoring the use of Iraq reconstruction funds? Does he think the American people approve of waste or the ineffective use of government resources?

At the end of his address, the “President” said a few words that deeply resonated, “America needs leaders in Washington”. I suggest we throw as many of the current group out. New folks might be able to provide the leadership, sorely lacking in our nation’s capital and completely absent from the head Republican yell leader.

Iraqi Democracy Bans Movement of People & Vehicles “Until Further Notice”

The Iraqi version of freedom looks a lot like a military dictatorship at present with the total ban on movement in Baghdad and two provinces from 6 a.m. Sunday until further notice. The curfew means no people or cars are allowed to move. The Iraqi military cancelled all leaves and called up reserves.

What happens if the long enduring, democracy loving Iraqi people actually cash in their freedom chips ambling about the city during the curfew? Will they be shot on sight? How many will die Sunday on the streets of Baghdad? How many will perish throughout the internally torn nation hanging together by sheer threads? Will it be more than the 148 people Saddam Hussein is charged with killing in his current trial?

The Saudi’s warned President Bush pre-invasion of the mess he was about to make. But George wanted to go trick or treating for oil and revenge in Iraq. When Saddam wouldn’t offer up the goodies, Bush lit the flaming bag of poo tossing it on the Iraqi porch. The problem is Hussein slipped out the back door, leaving the prankster with the task of putting out his flaming joke. The U.S. President has worn the lit bag for over three years now. The fire just may reach his backside on Election Day.

Will the Saddam verdict, engineered to give Bush and his cabal a boost in the ratings work out as “planned”? My guess is the people will rush madly into the street with bouquets of roses, matching America’s politicians and their rose colored glasses. The problem is the streets won’t flow red flow from rose petals or green from their leaves.

The streets of Baghdad flow red from blood and green from sewage. The U.S. federal budget is deep in the red from the cost of the war while major quantities of green go to Bush insider companies.

Can we have a curfew on all no bid contracts until further notice? And shouldn’t Stuart Bowen’s Office of Iraq Reconstruction get a reprieve? How else will we know to be red in the face for our elected leaders wasting the green, also known as “our money” in Bush tax lingo?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Karl Orders “Have Haggard Cheneyed!”

While some creatures eat their young, Republicans immediately discredit those on the inside who falter. Rev. Ted Haggard went from the leader of the National Evangelical Association with insider access to the White House to a loony fringe minister in a matter of hours. With voting only days away, the word also went out to minimize Haggard’s prior role in voter mobilization.

I’m still waiting for his admission to a drug treatment program. Get him out of public view, away from the cameras and microphones. The leader of a 30 million person Christian organization keeps admitting creepy Mark Foley like stuff, ordering methamphetamine and getting a massage from a gay prostitute. Didn’t Foley’s priestly abuser say he just massaged Mark as a teen?

In just a few hours Ted Haggard went from powerful political insider with the ability to mobilize tens of millions of votes to a fringe character not especially important to the conservative Christian movement. When those folks fall, they find no safety net below. It seems a decidedly unchristian response from this angle. But there is an election to win!

Be careful Ted if you see a bald guy slinking around your house in hunting gear, especially if he turns to anyone and whispers “Sssshhhhh! Be vewwy, vewwy, qwwiet. I’m hunting faggots.”

Economic News Pre-Election

Mortgage foreclosures in the U.S. are up 43% compared to last year. One might think the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill President Bush signed would have cut foreclosures instead of increasing them. Who loses when a foreclosure happens? Not the mortgage company or the realtor as they made money on the first transaction.

How did the Bankruptcy Bill impact the other group of lenders, credit card companies? Their pretax profits rose some 30% to $18.5 billion from 2004 to 2005. Revolving credit debt reached a new record in August of 2006 at $846 billion.

Now what was the major cause of bankruptcies when the bill passed? High medical debt comprised the cause for most Americans historically declaring insolvency. What did the bill do about that? Absolutely nothing, zip, nada. A study of Kansas farmers already on health insurance similar to the President’s solution of high deductible plans revealed growing, not decreasing medical debt.

CNN had a report on exporting a new layer of professional American jobs overseas at a savings to U.S. businesses of $58 billion. The Chamber of Commerce likes to talk about the multiplier effect of bringing in new employers. A dollar in new salaries ends up impacting the community as it is circulated through the community. What happens when those dollars are taken out and sent overseas? What is the ripple effect in that case?

The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests no negative impacts occur in cases where jobs are sent overseas. He went as far to say “the benefits from one displaced job far outweigh the costs”.

Count me confused. How do new jobs in a community create benefits while losing hometown positions to foreign workers do likewise? It appears anything a business does benefits everybody. A little closer scrutiny reveals who benefits, the politicians slinking up to the corporate money trough. It appears Chamber Execs, like politicians lie. Who gets to have it both ways (other than evangelicals preaching against drugs and gay sex, while secretly having both)?

However, despite American’s savings turning negative, mortgage foreclosures increasing, credit card debt soaring, and having nearly 47 million people without health insurance, the economy is humming on all 4 cylinders. The problem is the engine has eight pistons.

What’s growing are corporate profits and corporate scandals. It’s estimated nearly 1/3 of publicly traded companies did something untoward with their stock options. That amounts to 2,000 companies where the top dogs unethically manipulated their incentive performance system for financial gain. In straight talk, they cheated. Nearly 80% of workers said they would switch employers to work for a more ethical concern.

So the worker suffers as more bills are passed on to them by the government/business combo while elected leaders and corporate chiefs manipulate the system to maximize their payola. It’s lever pulling time so keep this in mind as you head to the ballot box.

International Developments Pre-Election

Not content to just peruse domestic news stories, I surfed the international web for information that could help American voters.

One article speaks of U.S. heavy handed interference in Nicaragua’s Presidential elections. Ever the deliverer of punishment, U.S. officials stated $220 million in economic aid and a CAFTA designation are at risk should the wrong candidate win in the upcoming elections.

The U.S. government shut down one of its own web sites as it had information on how to construct nuclear weapons. Iraqi documents had been placed on the site to show how dangerous Saddam Hussein’s regime had been. Credit the United Nation’s IAEA for the head’s up that the information was freely available online.

People in Britain consider President George Bush nearly as dangerous as Osama bin Laden. Citizens in Canada, Mexico, and Israel also found the United States a threat to world peace.

Bad cop visits Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki after spate of public differences with United States leaders. The ever sinister, historically heavy handed John Negroponte conducted a surprise visit to the Iraqi leader. Did he threaten consequences for not playing along with the plan of showing Iraq in its most positive light pre-elections? How dare Mr. al-Maliki hold up the deformed infant born from exposure to depleted uranium for the world to see?

Bechtel Corp pulls out of Iraq leaving a legacy of failed projects. Even Laura’s children’s hospital in Basra never got close to completion. Now that American led and financed reconstruction is officially over, what will happen? If the U.S. role is only security at this point, how can we be seen as anything other than an occupying force? How are the Iraqi people to feel with public services, electricity, sewage, and safe water at lower levels than under Saddam Hussein in many areas? You’d have to ask them in Syria and Jordan as 100,000 people flee the country on a monthly basis.

The Saddam Hussein trial verdict is due November 5th, two days before the U.S. midterm elections. It’s predictable that the Iraqi dictator will be found guilty and ordered to hang for his crimes against the people of his country. The question is the response to this verdict?

Will the people of differing Islamic sects engage in a U.S. like Rodney King riot? Of course Shia’s would be celebrating the sentence while the Sunni’s would be most upset. The Iraq Defense Minister ordered all military officers to return from leave and promised to call up reserves in anticipation of the trial results.

If the country comes apart at the seams just prior to our elections how will people vote? My guess would have the U.S. electorate angry at any official that perpetrated the invasion of Iraq on falsified information before botching the aftermath.

Key Developments Impacting Elections?

I perused the news for the last week or so and found a number of issues that could impact the elections.

Rev. Ted Haggard resigned as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals. Ted reportedly purchased gay sex and used methamphetamine under the pseudonym of “Art”. An e-mail to Ted’s home congregants indicated “some of the accusations against him are true”. Rev. Haggard is a 50 year married father of 5, who had direct connections to the White House on issues like same sex marriage, which Ted vehemently opposes. How will their 30 million members respond? Will they sit at home shaking their heads about leaders claiming the moral high ground but behind the scenes doing a little ditch digging? This question conveniently leads us to our next development.

The House Ethics panel’s only case will conclude after elections. It involves none of the numerous elected officials charged with crimes but the study of who knew what and when in the case of Rep. Mark Foley’s pursuit of young male pages. Absent from investigation since the last election were Tom Delay, Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, William Jefferson, Curt Weldon, and Dennis Hastert. I would add Bill Thomas to the list for his donations from for profit healthcare companies followed by hearings on their behalf. Almost 1/3 of Americans believe their own congressperson is corrupt.

Pennsylvania Rep. Don Sherwood combines payola with sexual impropriety. The incumbent reportedly settled a civil lawsuit with his outside love interest for $500,000. The agreement purportedly required silence until after Election Day. Sherwood admitted having the affair but denies abusing her in the incident that resulted in a 911 call. Sherwood is a 65 year old married father of three and considered a conservative family values Republican candidate.

If politicians are going to buy off their illicit love interests, they need money. Exxon Corporation reported near record quarterly earnings of $10.5 billion. While gas price drops for the quarter paralleled the President’s approval ratings the last two years, Exxon still had a stellar financial performance. While Bush remains hands off on the price of energy, he likes price controls in healthcare as Medicare fixes prices for cardiac pacemakers and portability devices.

Speaking of Medicare, how many Part D patients are currently floating in the donut hole, where they continue to pay both the full cost of drugs and the prescription drug insurance premium? How many “dual eligibles” are livid over his comments just a week or so ago about seniors not having to choose between food, drugs and rent? From my view President Bush has done nothing, zero, zippo on the issue since identifying it as a problem in his February speech in Dublin, Ohio.

A tsunami is forming, the question remains as to its size. Will it wash enough Republicans out of office? The bad news is the Democrats it will deposit on the steps of the Capital are mostly Republican Lite. In their effort to get elected, they’ve mostly become the mirror image of those they wish to unseat. Ask Tom Daschle about imitation. He looks awfully Republican with his high dollar lobbying job with Alston & Bird and his seat on an investment house board. So what if it’s not The Carlyle Group?

Isn’t that what the competition is all about, who can send the book of federal business to their friends? Neither appears to want to serve the people…

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shannon Triad Merger Deal Off

Just three days after Triad CEO Denny Shelton bragged to the investment community about the San Angelo deal, the Shannon Health System Board pulled the plug on the two week old intent to merge creating one for-profit hospital in town. The Standard Times has a report on why.

While relieved that the Shannon mission remains intact, I hoped the merger process would go a bit longer, giving the community time and space to discuss the issues. Health care is very difficult under the Bush health care agenda thus driving such combinations. Citizens in San Angelo could have become more aware of the challenges institutions face and this case could help educate Texans and the greater country.

We will miss that chance, but Mr. Shelton has the opportunity to conduct an even larger stock repurchase with the Shannon deal going down.

Healthcare Prices: Over Seas Health Care & Our Local Hospital Merger

Businesses are exploring sending employees overseas for health care procedures to save money. A fraction, 500,000 of the almost 47 million uninsured, went overseas for treatment. That equates to just over 1% of the uninsured who have the resources to afford travel costs, time off from work and cost of treatment (unless they are going to a country that has a national health system).

The promotion of overseas care to save money strikes me as odd, especially given America’s ban on imported medicines from our neighbors to the north or south due to quality control reasons. If international competition is a viable strategy to reduce medical costs one might think drugs would be included.

The President’s health care plans rely on competition. Health insurers will compete with each other on price and service (the model for Medicare Prescription Drug program). Hospitals and doctors will compete with one another on price as individuals shop around for health care. Under the Bush health care strategy, the nearly 3 million people covered by high deductible health plans will flip behavior in a market of 300 million people. Only 1.2 million have funded health savings accounts with which to pay tax deductible money on those negotiated prices. When was the last time 1% or less of a market flipped prices?

Just yesterday I listened to Triad Hospitals earnings conference call and then perused some of their prior investor presentations. One slide showed hospital prices to be inelastic which means they don’t vary with demand. The company can raise prices with little impact on volume. Triad’s revenue rose 6% the last quarter from price increases alone.

Their strategy is to gain sufficient presence in a market to get better contract pricing from payers. My hometown of San Angelo, Texas is ground zero for this strategy. Just two weeks ago our longtime nonprofit community hospital system, anchored by Shannon Medical Center, announced it would sell out by joining with the local Triad facility in a new for profit joint venture. In the investors Q & A CEO Denny Shelton called the merger “an incredible opportunity on a significant consolidation play in that market”. He stressed “Together we can make it; apart we might be killing each other.” The corporate chief announced that such consolidation gives the company greater leverage in negotiating contracts with insurers.

Our community has 28% of the population without health insurance. Triad made it clear in their conference call with analysts their plans to control bad debts by managing self pay patient accounts better. One strategy is to educate physicians on elective and non emergency care for the uninsured. They plan to implement a credit scoring system to identify patients who can afford to pay. From the conference call it is clear Triad has a plan to manage self pay patients and their corresponding bad debts.

Taking the national figures to our local level of 28,000 uninsured, some 280 might already travel overseas for care. This leaves 27,720 people needing care domestically. Triad will provide emergency care regardless of insurance status for legal reasons. They also recognize their responsibility to do a bit more than the minimum when their facility is the only one in a community. However, they likely will not provide the amount of free care Shannon has historically given, especially as they embark on their bad debt management plans.

So what do the 27,720 people do for care? Will the Antitrust division of the Justice Department look at this issue? What will the Texas Department of Health do in their review? How will the county judge approach changing the will of J.M. and Margaret Shannon, the benefactors who established Shannon Medical Center via their final wishes that those without resources have a place to be treated?

The Triad CEO stated some nonprofit hospitals approached his company as foundation resources supporting the institution had been depleted. Was he referring to the Shannon Trust? Is that why the Trust is doing the deal, to get a $46 million influx of cash? How will they put that money to work fulfilling the Shannon's final wishes? Will the Shannon Trust begin paying for those same folks to travel overseas for care? Will they take the $46 million from Triad and purchase a hospital in Thailand or India to serve the poor in San Angelo? The times they are a changing...