Sunday, January 31, 2010

Minority Reporting Josey Wales

A disgruntled bank customer wanted justice, after achieving no satisfaction from Bank of America regarding a bank fee. Francis Coleman, an unemployed machinist from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, called his local TV station with a warning. HuffPo reported:

(Francis) told them he wanted a camera crew to film him robbing the bank. "Tomorrow I'm gonna get my satisfaction. I'm gonna rob the place," Coleman said, according to WFMZ producer Dan Rinkus. "Satisfaction is going to be had, one way or another."

The station called the police, who arrested Mr. Coleman. Bank of America commented on the situation:

"Although we can't comment on the incident, since it's under investigation, I can say that the customer was never charged any overdraft fees," said a spokeswoman. "The customer is in the process of being refunded for the service fee originally charged."

Note the customer is in the process of being refunded, i.e. it hadn't happened prior to the incident. However, Mr. Coleman has been charged with making "terroristic threats." His bail is $75,000.

While Francis didn't actually rob a bank, he clearly had outlaw intentions. Consider the words of another outlaw, Josey Wales:

Now remember, things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is.

Times have changed since Josey's day. Who knew banks would do the robbing? How long will they get away with it?

Conversely, how many more mentally unstable will act out in ways undesirable in our society? One thing's for sure, life ain't no picture show.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blue Team's Health Care Conflagration

Health care reform sat on the burner so long, all the water boiled out. The public noticed the burning smell and turned its attention to deals cut in smoke filled, back rooms. The fire department hosed down the twisted pan. It now sits on a trash can behind the Capital.

First responders ignored the politicians, lobbyists, campaign consultants and media professionals responsible for the giant mess. Jim Messina, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, was one of the cooks..

Jim was supposed to sprinkle his Obama campaign magic on health care reform. He gathered dozens of pollsters, campaign gurus, and health representatives (doctors, nurses, hospitals) in his White House digs. They spent millions on ads, benefiting the people and firms that helped President Obama get elected. Bloomberg reported:

Two firms that received $343.3 million to handle advertising for Barack Obama’s White House run last year have profited from his top priority as president by taking on his push for health-care overhaul.

One is AKPD Message and Media, the Chicago-based firm headed by David Axelrod until he left last Dec. 31 to serve as a senior adviser to the president. Axelrod was Obama’s top campaign strategist and is now helping sell the health-care plan. The other firm is Washington-based GMMB Campaign Group, where partner Jim Margolis was also an Obama strategist.

The two firms did $12 million in work for Healthy Economy Now, followed by $12 million more for Americans for Stable Quality Care. Numerous representatives from these two groups (and their lobbyists) visited the White House. At one time, the White House was proud to list their names. But times change.

With the loss of Ted Kennedy's former seat, health care went from the number one to third, according to Rahm Emanuel, Jim Messina's boss. With only nine months left before the 2010 midterm elections, there likely will be little to no action. Might this be part of the campaign? However, blackened pans don't sell. Other images are needed.

The Red team cut their Benjamin Button teeth on their party label, "Don't. I won't, you can't make me!" Republicans have a long record of standing by while America's uninsureds grew by legions. They were joined by numerous Blue Corporacrats, who helped turn the bill into an inducement nightmare.

The Blue team's "Party of Charlie Brown" cried out "Aaarrgghhh," after missing the reform football, yet again. The Blues will frame election opponents as "Lucy." I can hear their campaign consultants. "You tried hard, put forth your best efforts. Lucy pulled the football."

Like Charlie Brown didn't know that would happen. Ironically, both parties will likely be the "party of no" in the permanent campaign, full of paid messages. How much will those ads cost?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama Pre-State of the Union

President Obama dined with corporate icons over lunch the day of his State of the Union speech. He assured them he wasn't anti-business. NyPo reported:

The tone of the meal suggested that the president felt he'd taken his attacks too far, said one person familiar with the private meeting.
JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon and Exxon's Rex Tillerson were among corporate chieftains breaking bread at the White House. The meal was eventful, according to sources:

"Your brand is broken," Shelly Lazarus, chairman of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide cautioned the president at the lunch, sources reported.

That's the immediate history before President Obama's "brand repairing" speech. He noted:

Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history's call.

Isn't history in the past? I'm not sure it calls. Yet, the present screams. Americans rail about widespread leadership dysfunction in our hallowed halls of government and corporate board rooms. Both turn a tin ear.

Does everything have to be "business-ized"? The President of the United States is reduced to "a brand." Education needs a "return on investment," failing to have any intrinsic value. The Pentagon is now "hedging," otherwise known as making risky bets.

Foreign help, run by private entities, is no longer aid, but "investment." The failure to mobilize and coordinate emergency response in Haiti is "a glitch." While tens of thousands slowly eke towards death, President Obama promised "slow and steady improvement," while standing between Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

But the present funk takes no toll on Obama. He said in his State of the Union:

We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit.

Odd, in his first year in office, the "Obama branded" White House drove division.

The following health care narrative emerges from scrubbed White House visitor lists. An army of political consultants and pollsters helped craft health care reform (seen in Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina's visitor logs). Presidential operatives strong armed K Street as it struck back room deals with important players, big pharma, hospitals, provider groups and corporations badly wishing to dump that pesky health insurance benefit (seen in Ezekiel Emanuel, Nancy-Ann DeParle and Peter Orzag's visitor lists).

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel tried to lock up health care and corporate money on behalf of the Blue team. Rahm dangled sweet fruit. The plum for health care providers was better reimbursement, fewer uninsured patients and/or higher fee schedules.

Corporate fruit involved shifting the burden for health insurance to Uncle Sam or the worker. Not told in the reform story, 35.3 million fewer Americans would have employer sponsored health insurance coverage come 2019 (per CBO projections).

The Red team, long inactive on health care, noticed Rahm's strategy. Under the threat of losing their lifeblood (K Street money), Republicans went into hyper-stonewalling. They screamed "Death panels," while sitting on their taxpayer funded, health insured posteriors.

The public is angry because it paid attention. Obama said:

And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, "What's in it for me?"

White House visitor lists show a smattering of health care & business lobbyists, many Tom Daschle's associates at Alston & Bird. How many puffed with pride at making the cut when the partial list was released last year? Given the change in sentiment, they might be hiding.

There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo.

Some stand to make millions from their stock holdings. Health economists Stuart Altman (WH visitor) and Uwe Reinhardt (Nancy-Ann DeParle colleague) sit on the board of health insurers, as does Gail Wilensky, who testified before the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Corporacrat Max Baucus. Here is a partial list of conflicted advisers.

Stuart Altman--Aveta
Uwe Reinhardt--Americhoice

Gail Wilensky--UnitedHealth

Bonus names:

Mrs. Evan Bayh--WellPoint

William H.T. "Uncle Bucky" Bush--WellPoint

Tom Scully--Universal American
The last two players, Bush & Scully, are on the Red side. I included them for bipartisanship.

Last night proved Obama can flat out give a speech. As his lunchtime corporate guests noted, the President often becomes remorseful later. How long before he moonwalks on any State of the Union commitments? Note: the President made no commitments on health care. It might further damage his brand.

There is a year long pattern with President Obama, Populist rhetoric, Corporatist implementation. The public has noticed. Will it continue? Apparently, it only took a day for the White House to invite dreadful lobbyists back inside.

Obama is the new Lucy, holding the football beneath his finger, uprights in the background. The President waves his hand. I run, swing.....Aaarrgghhh! My head hurts, I can't see so well. I can still hear, Mr. President.

What's that? Jim Messina is Max Baucus' ex-Chief of Staff. #!O%#, another political whore.

Enjoy your meetings Mr. President. I'll find a game without you.

Update: Surely Susan Bayh can explain the 39% premium increase for California individual policy holders. She likely approved it as a WellPoint Board member.

Update 2: WellPoint's Foundation promised $30 million toward programs for the uninsured. They failed miserably.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Feds Match Local Indigent Healthcare Funds

The Standard Times highlighted $250,000 in Tom Green County indigent funds will go to Shannon Medical Center (SMC) and San Angelo Community Medical Center (SACMC). It reported:

County Judge Mike Brown said 81 percent of the funds will go to Shannon and 19 percent to Community.
Actually, the motion said up to $250,000.

Moved to approve the next Intergovernmental Transfer (IGT) pursuant to the Upper Payment Limit (UPL) Affiliation Agreement, to be reviewed quarterly utilizing 19% for Community 81% Shannon up to $250,000.00.

This agreement funnels local indigent care money to the state, where it then receives federal matching funds. In his second term President George W. Bush put a hold on expanding the program to Texas. Exactly when the arrangement began in Tom Green County is not clear from the minutes.

The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services can multiply TGC IHC funds by 2.55. It returns the money to the state, which then gives it to the hospitals. That $250,000 could become $637,500, roughly half of the County's $1.2 million annual IHC expenditures in each of the last two years. Here's the split of those leveraged funds:

Shannon Medical Center--$516,375
San Angelo Community Medical Center--$121,125

In the late nineties and 2000 TGC spent an average of $1.7 million on indigent care, requiring hundreds of thousands in state support, aptly delivered by Rep. Rob Junell. Today's story stated:

Once indigent health care reaches 8 percent of the operating budget, which for Tom Green County would be about $1.4 million, then the state helps with the cost, Spieker said.

That hasn't happened in a decade. IHC has been a boon to Tom Green County's general revenue coffers from 2001-2009, contributing $6.3 million or $700,000 annually. Does the UPL deal have the county pulling back further, given the infusion of federal matching funds? That remains to be seen. It certainly wasn't heard.

Congressional Candidates Are Shadow Bankers

Blue hedge fund lawyer, Reshma Saujani, and Red private equity attorney, Chris Cox, are running for Congress in New York.

The big money boys are getting nervous. They want to use anti-incumbent sentiment to install two of their own. Don’t let Corporacrats win. How far down the rabbit hole can we plummet?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

White House Backroom Deals Not Obama's

Politico reported:

OBAMA ON THE BACKROOM DEALS – “I didn't make a bunch of deals."

Nancy-Ann DeParle, Ezekiel Emanuel and Peter Orzag did. DeParle called big pharma "our industry" in an Ezra Klein interview. While describing the deal, Nancy-Ann's slip flew over Klein's head.

I spent the weekend pouring through White House visitor lists for a well known progressive blogger. They'd seen my analysis of Nancy-Ann's visitors and asked for help.

I combed through Ezekial Emanuel's and Peter Orzag's guests. Who knew U2's Bono hung out with Peter? Chip Kahn's visit to Ezekial helps explain the Senate's renaming nonprofit community hospitals as private tax exempt facilities? Chip is chief lobbyist for the Federation of American Hospitals, the for-profit hospital trade group.

I found more than one occasion of taint. As the lists are not complete, I wonder who got scrubbed, Uwe Reinhardt, Denny Shelton (later channeled by Rahm Emanuel and Peter Orzag), Karen Bechtel or any other For-Profiteer? Did anyone from CCMP Capital Advisers or another private equity underwriter (PEU) drop by to say hi and not get recorded? PEU's populated President Obama's and Larry Summer's guest list.

President Obama tried to recover from failing his campaign promise of openness, but releasing scrubbed visitor lists is not televising negotiations on CSPAN. Obama's a good salesman, but not that good.

Now One, Obama Presidency Turns Deficit Hawk

Uncle Sam is tapped out. President Obama's staff admitted as much with his discretionary spending freeze for 2011-2013. Exempted are the Pentagon, Homeland Security and State Department budgets.

Being a deficit hawk has been trendy for some time. Everybody's looking to larger than life Pete Peterson, including the President.

Geithner also gave a hat-tip to Peterson that may rankle some of Peterson's critics on the left, who oppose his push to cut spending on Social Security and Medicare.

"We are all fiscal hawks now because of Pete Peterson," Geithner said, at least half-joking. "There are no doves left."

No doves left? Peterson must have a huge Foghorn. Someone should inform the Nobel committee about the doveless Obama administration.

The announcement came as a surprise, given Indiana Senator Evan Bayh's suggestion. Bayh said the budget was like his household checkbook, which happens to be ample and overflowing. The problem is the government checkbook is bare. It turns out corporations only like to pay big bucks to executives and board members, like Mrs. Evan Bayh. Taxes are a different story.

Update: President Obama appointed a deficit commission, headed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. Mr. Bowles is a Blue corporacrat, founder of PEU Carousel Capital, and board member for Morgan Stanley, Cousins Properties and North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance. Erskine served on GM's board during its financial implosion. He provides governance for its carcass. Bowles board service garnered over $435,000 in 2008 according to SEC filings. That doesn't include his pay from Carousel Capital or the University of North Carolina, where he is President. He holds 33,000 shares of Cousins and 24,500 in Morgan Stanley stock, roughly $900,000 in combined holdings. How will this Corporacrat manage his many conflicts of interest, not mentioned by President Obama? Will he toe the PEU party line on carried interest taxation? Will he undertake the same PEU strategies as he did with Metiom? It's hard to find an ex-government official without a PEU taint.

Update 2: Bowles and Simpson spoke with
Bloomberg about their commission. They plan to add corporate CEO's, who already have strategies shifting health care and retirement costs to the worker. It seems a tapped out Uncle Sam will do likewise, possibly raising the retirement age to 91 for Social Security benefits. Senate health care reform would result in 35 million fewer Americans with employer provided health insurance come 2019. The race to the bottom on worker pay/benefits, taxes and regulations continues. It seems Kent Conrad will join the August panel. He already showed his corporacratic colors.

Update 3: President Obama may appoint Andy Stern, Alice Rivlin and David Cote to his Deficit Panel. Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, stated employer health insurance was "dead and not coming back" in summer 2006. He'll be in a position to make his prediction come true. Alice Rivlin sits on the board of NYSE/Euronext. Her 2008 board compensation was $160,000 and she controls 6,696 shares of stock, worth roughly $170,000. David Cote is the CEO of Honeywell. Surely, he owns yacht-loads of Honeywell stock. Corporations and their lackeys look to lower corporate tax rates, while employees pick up more and more health care costs.
The average citizen has no one fighting on their behalf.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conflicted Health Economists Push Deform

Brandeis' Stuart Altman joins MIT's Jonathan Gruber and Princeton's Uwe Reinhardt as conflicted economic health advisers. Altman, like Reinhardt, is on a number of for-profit health care boards, including health insurer Aveta, which covers 195,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Altman also serves on Lincare's board. Lincare provides respiratory care, infusion therapy and medical equipment to patients in their home.

Lincare's SEC filings state:

Stuart H. Altman, Ph.D. has been a director of the Company since December 2001. Dr. Altman, Professor of National Health Policy at Brandeis University, is a member of the faculty of The Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Dr. Altman is a director of Aveta Inc., a health insurance organization, and several privately-held managed care and disease management companies.

Dr. Altman beneficially owns 215,000 shares of Lincare with 48,000 more options (not exercisable in March 2008). His 2008 board compensation was $572,946. that pales compared to his stock holdings. At $36 a share, 263,000 shares would gross nearly $9.5 million.

Dr. Altman is chairman of the Lincare Board Compensation Committee. Such committees are infected with "pay for performance" thinking. It's sad that CEO's have to be extrinsically motivated to do a good job. Does Dr. Altman want to spread this distorting behavior to doctors and nurses?

Lincare owns $6.7 million in Auction Rate Securities, financial junk purchased from UBS. Did Altman's Compensation Committee award the CEO a bonus for that?

P4P poison is a key element of Obama's health reform. Altman and Reinhardt join Gail Wilensky and Nancy-Ann DeParle as fractals in the mix. Who publicly declared their conflicts of interest? Let the record show no hands.

Update: Altman is on the board of Inspiris, which provides care management services to the elderly, works with more than 400,000 Medicare and Medicaid members in six states. He also serves on the XL Health board, which provides Medicare services for chronically ill beneficiaries.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Supreme Senator Mitch McConnell

Meet the Putz hosted Senator Mitch McConnell this morning. Mitch suggested giving individuals rights every corporation has. It's not to spend unlimited amounts on campaign ads, a right granted corporations this week by the Supreme Court. McConnell wants to allow citizens to deduct health insurance expenses.

Why would the average American need this "right"? Because employers continue shedding their health insurance benefit, when not outright eliminating jobs. The Senate's passed reform bill shows 35.3 million Americans losing employer coverage between 2008 & 2019.

Will Tea Partiers throw their employer sponsored health insurance overboard for the right to deduct it? I don't see that as a rallying cry. Paul Revere needs to ride for a different reason.

Corporacrats, red & blue, infect America's hallowed halls of government. They ride hard to reach the lowest global common denominator on worker pay/benefits, taxes and regulation. Mitch McConnell clearly showed his Red Corporacrat colors this morning. America suffers from abysmal leadership.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bayh Poller

Indiana Senator Evan Bayh met with VP Joe Biden, Treasury Chief Tim Geithner and OMB Director Peter Orzag this past week. They talked budget.

highlighted Bayh's continued support for the Obama economic team.

He (Bayh) said Summers “wants to head us on a better fiscal path,” while Geithner “had to get his sea legs under him in terms of public statements.”

Everybody needs to get their sea legs when listening to head corporacrat Senator Bayh. He crystal balled the Massachusetts Senate upset.

“They’re concerned about rising deficits, the fiscal issue and it feeds into this animosity toward Washington,” he said. “On a personal level people say, ‘well, wait a minute. I’ve got to balance the family checkbook.

Feeding the animosity towards Washington? Might it be the Bayh family checkbook? The Senator's household is millions richer courtesy of for-profit healthcare companies. Wife Susan flipped her WellPoint stock options, grossing over $1.2 million. She stands to shatter that sum with her Dendreon holdings, valued at $3.4 million.

While citizen's checkbooks dwindle, the Bayh's remains ample, overflowing. The Senator faces reelection this year. He prognosticated on the race, which leads to today's quiz:

1. Take the following statement by Senator Bayh and fill in the blank.

“It’s a more challenging environment for every incumbent,” and “probably more for Democrats than Republicans,” Bayh said. “But the reports of my ____ numbers having declined are not accurate. I can tell you that from direct knowledge.”

Is it?

a. portfolio
b. poll
c. both

Only Evan knows, but it's likely "C" with the Dendreon run up.

How might his water carrying for private equity underwriters (PEU's) and sovereign wealth funds (SWF's) impact a buzzing hornet electorate? Having The Carlyle Group as a top lifetime donor doesn't sound soothing to an angry public.

Red Corporacrat Mike Pence may run against Evan Bayh, his Blue counterpart. The public would have a choice, black pot or black pan? Things look good for the corporate kitchen.

Update: Senator Evan Bayh will not run for reelection according to a source. Watch where he lands. His corporate water carrying should pay off nicely. Will he land on K Street like John Breaux or Trent Lott? Will Bayh garner employment with a private equity underwriter or sovereign wealth fund? They could sponsor him in future races, dwarfing his $13 million in campaign money. Evan could finally out earn breadwinner wife, Susan. The Bayh family pocketbook should improve mightily.

Update 2: Evan will have one last chance to block and tackle for the PEU boys. I bet he throws a wicked block on taxing carried interest as income.

Update 3: Evan Bayh suggested an economic crisis or terror attack is the only time Red & Blue leaders could work together to optimize America, i.e. only when scared citizens force them. America has abysmal leadership and Evan is part of the problem.

Update 4: Senator Bayh spoke on using reconciliation to pass reform before the Federation of American Hospitals, the for-profit hospital lobby. It would take the Senate into "unchartered waters." Funny, Bayh voted for the Senate bill renaming nonprofit community hospitals as "private tax exempt facilities." Evan Bayh is a chartered Corporacrat.

Unions Want Health Reform to Become Relevant

SEIU President Andy Stern is quotable. Consider his recent words pressing Congress to not run to the locker room on health reform:

Concluded Stern: “For the 31 million people who don’t have health care, for the 14,000 who lose it every day, for the 120 people who die every day, they elected this Congress to make change, not to set their sights lower when the going gets tough.”

Andy spoke to health insurance before. Summer 2006 found Stern saying:

"We have to recognize that employer-based heath care is ending. It's dying. It will not return," he said Friday at a forum sponsored by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Combine the two quotes and you have health care reform. More people will lose employer coverage than will garner new insurance from 2008 to 2019. While Stern's 31 million get coverage, 35.3 million lose workplace health insurance.

Health reform makes seismic shifts in who pays for coverage. Employers clearly want to do less "to compete in a global economy." Unions stand ready to serve as group health insurance negotiators, thus the need for card check.

Who will back fill previous employer contributions, the individual or a tapped out Uncle Sam? Beware the double dump.

One might expect a generation of mean & greedy leaders to reinvigorate unions, but that hasn't been the case. Maybe health reform will do it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

K Street Has Banner 2009: Record Lobbying Expenditures

2008 Total 2009 Total 08-09 Change
U.S. Chamber of Commerce $91,725,000 $144,456,000 57.5%
Exxon Mobil $29,000,000 $27,430,000 -5.4%
PhRMA $20,220,000 $26,150,520 29.3%
Pfizer Inc. $12,180,000 $21,930,000 80.0%
AARP $27,900,000 $21,010,000 -24.7%
Chevron Corp. $12,994,000 $20,815,000 60.2%
National Assn. of Realtors $17,340,000 $19,497,000 12.4%
ConocoPhillips $8,459,053 $18,069,858 113.6%
Verizon Communications $18,020,000 $17,820,000 -1.1%
Boeing Co. $17,540,000 $16,850,000 -3.9%
BP $10,450,000 $15,990,000 53.0%
Northrop Grumman $20,743,252 $15,180,000 -26.8%
AT&T Inc $15,076,675 $14,729,673 -2.3%
Southern Co. $14,080,000 $13,610,000 -3.3%
Altria Group $13,840,000 $12,770,000 -7.7%
Amgen Inc. $10,150,000 $12,440,000 22.6%
Eli Lilly & Co. $12,485,000 $11,215,000 -10.2%
AHIP $7,540,000 $8,850,000 17.4%
General Motors $13,351,000 $8,680,000 -35.0%
Wells Fargo $2,265,740 $2,880,000 27.1%
Goldman Sachs $3,310,000 $2,830,000 -14.5%
SEIU $2,471,678 $2,670,276 8.0%

Lobbying expenditures soared in 2009. While K Street boomed, citizens suffered. Combine this with the Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates for corporate campaign funding and Americans should be nauseous. The Supreme's threw out campaign restrictions going back to Teddy Roosevelt. He once said:

Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.

How true. The United States already has the best democracy money can buy. Gramm-Leach-Bliley opened the door for Wall Street's greed driven implosion. "Modernization" sends government work to the private sector in virtually every federal niche. Congress creates huge tax loopholes for their corporate sponsors. For all this, citizens suffer greatly.

The top 19 lobbying firms had a banner year, earning huge fees fighting against health care and financial reform. How did the blue lobbying Podesta's fare?

American politics is a monstrous Gordian knot. Today's developments show it growing bigger, even more twisted.

New Dress Code for Congress

Given the Supreme Court decision opening unlimited corporate and union money for candidates, Congress will modernize its dress code. Senators and Representatives are encouraged to line up their sponsors. The size of each patch will be determined by the size of the contribution.

Of course, taxpayers will bear the burden of design and maintenance of new Congressional apparel. Funds will be deducted from the paltry few health care reform plans remaining.

The side benefit of a fire suit comes when angry citizens resort to "tarring and feathering" or attempt to burn a Congressman "not in effigy."

This suit could be Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-VA). He received $10,000 from DuPont's PAC. Might it be Rep. Tim Ryan's (D-OH)? He got $10,000 from Goodyear's PAC. Wear those corporate stripes proudly.

Best Elections Money Can Buy

The Supreme Court granted individual rights to corporations, yet again. Organizations will have few handcuffs in throwing big money to political campaigns, under the guise of free speech.

Funny, when I e-mail Senator Max Baucus I find he only accepts mail from Montana constituents. His contribution list includes many for-profit healthcare companies with no, as in zero, facilities in his state.

Meanwhile, American political consultants advise candidates in Ukraine. How soon before their candidate gets a LL Bean coat and a pickup truck to cover sharing their nuts with a Cosmopolitan electorate?

It's time to tune out. The system is already distorted by big money. The Government-Industrial Monstrosity, Eisenhower's MIC on steroids, will enter "election-roid rage."

Corporations and unions will funnel tax deductible money to campaigns or related 527 organizations. Meanwhile, a Blue Congress tries to rename nonprofit community hospitals as "private tax exempt facilities."

A pox on the Red & Blue houses and their corporate sponsors, both full of meanness & greed.

Inarticulate Democrats on Health Deform

Kaiser Health News reported:

As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to pass a health plan with important benefits for the average American. For the typical family, costs would go down by as much as $2,500 a year. Adults wouldn't be required to buy insurance. No one but the wealthy would face higher taxes.

But a year later, the health care proposals in Congress lack many of those easy-to-sell benefits, which became victims of the lengthy process of trying to win over wavering lawmakers, appeasing powerful special-interest groups and addressing concerns about the heavily burdened Treasury.

While the bill dragged on from summer to fall to winter, many leaves fell, including the public option. The public watched special interests and their Congressional lackeys cut sweetheart deals. By the New Year, people were disgusted with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, and Mary Landrieu for acting like their Republican counterparts, gorging at the money trough.

Certainly, relentless attacks by the Republicans – as well as the Democrats' own inability to clearly articulate the benefits of the legislation – are partly responsible for the legislation's lack of popularity.

The Kaiser piece quoted two people with a personal stake in health reform, Gail Wilensky and Uwe Reinhardt, both on the board of for-profit health insurance companies. White House Health Czar Nancy-Ann DeParle called big pharma "our industry." Even the advisers look dirty.

That makes it particularly hard for Democrats to articulate.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti is the World's Katrina for Patients

One week after the earthquake, hospital patients linger without food, water, and pain killers as they wait for surgery at Port-au-Prince's General Hospital. Doctor Lyon begged on CNN for supplies and operating instruments, mostly for amputations.

Nursing home patients crater outside their fallen facility, cared for by two orderlies and a few family members. Hospital and nursing home patients were ignored for up to five days after Hurricane Katrina. It's now seven in Haiti.

News reports talk of "slow improvement." President Obama promised "slow & steady progress." Be clear, every day of slowness means thousands more die. Authorities say the greatest risk is from untreated wounds and rising disease, not falling debris.

While death toll estimates grew from 30,000 to 100,000 to 200.000, UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon told desperate Haitians to "be patient." It's hell being a patient after a disaster, especially when it seems like no cavalry is coming. Evacuating in place is hell. Words can't dress wounds.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Labadee Luxury 60 miles from Port-au-Prince

Royal Carribean continues operating its exotic resort on Haiti. The heavily guarded resort was not damaged by the earthquake. President Bill Clinton lauded Royal Carribean's investment in Haiti in 2009.

What Labadee resources can the Haitian government leverage in the rescue effort? The world witnessess a dysfunctional, inadequate relief effort six days after the quake struck.

Private nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) have mission but not capacity. The U.S. military has capability, but not the mission. That leaves private organizations as Haiti's savior.

It's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's model for development aid and UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton's solution for Haiti's deep poverty. Obama promised "slow and steady progress." The United Nations did likewise:

When Ban Ki-Moon visited the Champs de Mars (next to ruined Presidential Palace) yesterday, people called out at him that they were dying, they needed food and water. He told them to be patient.

Hang in there Haitians. It's the march of the privates.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti Day 4

NYT reported:

“There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,” said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency’s Haiti effort. “But most of those flights are for the United States military.

He added: “Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.”

I wrote on Day 1:

NGO's have the mission, but less capacity. America's military has the capacity, but not the mission.

That seems to be playing out. Obama promised "slow and steady progress" in this morning's White House event with ex-Presidents George W. Bush & Bill Clinton.

WaPo reported:

A State Department spokesman said the U.S. government is focusing on "what does Haiti need for the next 30 days, what does Haiti need for the next six months."

People in Haiti are in urgent need of water, food, shelter and medical attention. I hope it's better than slow and steady. Many Haitians don't have 30 days, much less 6 months.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti Enters Critical Day 3 After Quake

The Haiti earthquake is Hurricane Katrina cubed. People die after their third day with no water in 90 degree heat. Those with serious injuries or medical conditions may already have perished. President Barack Obama spoke of aid for victims on day 2:

This morning, I can report that the first waves of our rescue and relief workers are on the ground and at work. An airlift has been set up to deliver high-priority items like water and medicine.

The quake devastated Port-au-Prince Tuesday around 5:00 pm. Day 1 news reports highlighted aid being rushed to Haiti. Day 3 news reports are of bottlenecks in aid delivery. NGO's complained in television interviews of a lack of communication, coordination and security.

President Obama sounded eerily like Rev. Pat Robertson in his remarks:

Finally, I want to speak directly to the people of Haiti. Few in the world have endured the hardships that you have known. Long before this tragedy, daily life itself was often a bitter struggle. And after suffering so much for so long, to face this new horror must cause some to look up and ask, have we somehow been forsaken?

Bad form, should anyone believe God is with people in suffering. Then came the Obama pep talk, complete with future tense:

To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten. In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you. We know that you are a strong and resilient people. You have endured a history of slavery and struggle, of natural disaster and recovery. And through it all, your spirit has been unbroken and your faith has been unwavering. So today, you must know that help is arriving -- much, much more help is on the way.

If help were arriving, thirsty, hungry, injured people would know. So would reporters:

But two days after the earthquake, there was little evidence of the aid effort in the capital of the hemisphere's poorest country.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on international aid last week. She lobbied for returning USAID to its place as the "world's preeminent development agency." She called for working with private organizations, like the Clinton Global Initiative. What happened between her speech and the Haiti earthquake to improve USAID's capabilities? Likely very little. It's interesting to note President Bill Clinton's primary fundraising role for Haitian rescue and recovery efforts

President Obama implored the Haitian people (without cell phones or televisions) to understand:

None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who's trapped, if you're sleeping on the streets, if you can't feed your children. But it's important that everybody in Haiti understand, at this very moment one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history is moving towards Haiti. More American search and rescue teams are coming. More food. More water. Doctors, nurses, paramedics. More of the people, equipment and capabilities that can make the difference between life and death.

Like Katrina, there is no local capacity. It must come from elsewhere. Capabilities only make the difference if they arrive in time.

My intent is not to criticize anyone helping with the rescue and recovery effort. People are doing the best they can with what they have. NGO's have mission but not capacity, while the U.S. military has capacity but not mission. That said, Pentagon Chief Bob Gates is much more engaged than Donald Rumsfeld after Katrina. His resources will likely determine the ultimate success of the mission. The AP reported:

The U.S. military has distributed its first aid in the massive effort to help quake-ravaged Haiti.

The first distribution occurred about midday Friday.

That's for an estimated 3 million people. One Haitian man praised the prospect of the U.S. military's arrival. "When the U.S. occupation is good and big, it creates work, builds roads, helps people," he said. Not only that, Milton added, Marines tended to toss the remains of their meals into the city's omnipresent mountains of garbage. "They bring good ham and cheese," he said. "And you know it's good food because they have eaten it."

That "good ham and cheese" now comes from a contractor. Virtually all support services for the American military are privatized, food, water, even shelter. How has this impacted our ability to respond in Haiti? It's a question for another day. The priority is to immediately meet the most basic of human needs.

Help is on the way. It will get there when it gets there. I hope the Haitian people understand.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti Quake a "Katrina like" Test for World

Conditions in Haiti are hauntingly reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. The world sees:

Over a million homeless people without food, water or shelter

Overwhelmed first responders

Devastated, powerless hospitals
While the Godly pontificate, locals do their best without resources. How will the U.S. and the world respond? It remains to be seen, but let's hope it's better than five days. The need is immediate and overwhelming. It's hard to believe NGO's can meet it without massive U.S. military support.

NGO's have the mission, but less capacity. America's military has the capacity, but not the mission. Pentagon Chief Donald Rumsfeld drug his feet post Katrina. Defense Secretary Gates is engaged on Haiti, but order timing is critical.

Is Shannon Trust Watching Lloyd Blankfein?

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission heard testimony from Wall Street's biggest players in the 2008 meltdown. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein stood front and center, given the fact the firm shorted mortgage backed securities (a form of collateralized debt obligation), while packaging and selling the very product to clients.

One client is The Shannon Trust, the estate of J.M. and Margaret Shannon. It established a hospital for treatment regardless of ability to pay. Shannon Medical Center survives in today's difficult environment due to Trust support. The estate's investment returns have an impact on local health care. Wall Street's implosion delivered a major blow to the Trust:

Realized losses on publicly traded securities were $1.7 million, while unrealized investment losses were $9.5 million as of 9-30-08. Investments made a partial comeback since the September swoon. Unfortunately, the trust owned $9.4 million in Goldman Sachs Structured Product.

Dealbook's Andrew Ross Sorkin has a question for commission members to use with Mr. Blankfein:

Could you explain how Goldman bet against C.D.O.’s (structured product) while simultaneously trying to persuade ratings agencies and investors that they were good investments? Were they designed from the outset to be shorted by Goldman and possibly select clients? And were those clients involved in helping design these transactions? What explicit disclosures did you make to Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s about your plans to short these instruments? And should we continue to allow transactions in which you’re betting against what you’re also selling?

Are any trust members watching Lloyd Blankfein's testimony? They may want to hire Janet Tavakoli as they consider legal options.

Update: Chair Phil Angelides asked a version of Sorkin's question. On CNBC Andrew Ross Sorkin noted Blankfein's dance around the issue, essentially not answering the question. Blankfein essentially blamed the "professional" purchaser of the products. The Shannon Trust or their lawyer may have to follow up personally.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poltical Ad Whores' Race

Three stories on political ads combined in a most disturbing way. A NYT piece noted decreased restrictions on corporate and special interest group money.

The end of decades-old restrictions could unleash a torrent of negative advertisements.

Political operatives say (court) rulings and a deadlock at the Federal Election Commission have already opened wide latitude for independent groups to advocate for and against candidates.

The AP suggested Super Bowl style ads on the political race to the bottom.

Possibly coming soon to your TV screen: election-season Super Bowl-style ads promoting congressional and presidential candidates, paid for by some of the nation's largest corporations.

The third story dealt with Illinois political ads, where the Republican primary challenger tries to make the incumbent look gay. When asked about the untruthful ad, its sponsor said:

"It's very simple. It's to inflame the electorate."
Political ads don't need to be true under FCC laws. Combine that with hollow campaign promises and the basis for democracy shutters. The electorate must weed through purposeful lies from leaders.

Anyone believing this to be a new strategy should know Dirty Max Baucus used this very tactic. Max is one of dozens of Corporacrats, Blue & Red. Dirty Max did yeoman's work on behalf of for-profit health care. He even got nonprofit community hospitals reframed. They are now "private tax exempt facilities."

My guess is corporations will repay their lackeys. America's race to the bottom continues, steered by abysmal leadership.

Seismic Shift in Health Reform Shadows

The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) projects the Senate Manager's Amendment will cover millions more Americans. Congressional Budget Office projections (with some digging) reveal a more sinister number. The two are below:

34 million currently without coverage will get it (CMS)

35.3 million will lose employer sponsored health insurance (CBO)

The first number is widely broadcast, the latter a virtual secret.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Know Your Toxic Chinese Supplier

Chinese producers switched from lead in children's jewelry. Many chose the more dangerous heavy metal cadmium, a known carcinogen. The AP reported on their study:

12 per cent of the pieces of jewelry contained at least 10 per cent cadmium.

Note the study was not done by any consumer product safety groups, but by a news organization. Once informed, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said they would open an investigation, bringing back memories of the SEC and Bernie Madoff.

Retailers selling toxic children's jewelry included Walmart, Dollar N' More and Claire's. All the toxic products were produced in China.

Xu Hongli, a cadmium specialist with the Beijing office of Asian Metal Ltd., a market research and consultancy firm, said test results showing high cadmium levels in some Chinese-made metal jewelry did not surprise her. Using cadmium alloys has been "a relatively common practice" among manufacturers in the eastern cities of Yiwu and Qingdao and the southern province of Sichuan, Xu said.

"Some of their products contain 90 per cent cadmium or higher," she acknowledged. "Usually, though, they are more careful with export products."

She said she thought that manufacturers were becoming aware of cadmium's dangers, and are using it less, "But it will still take a while for them to completely shift away from using it."

The Center for Disease Control ranks cadmium #7 on its list of the 275 most hazardous substances. Common in China, cheap and toxic in America. So much for knowing your supplier.

The list of deadly Chinese products grows. Buyer beware continues.

Update: America shed jobs by the millions to China between 2000 and 2008. President Obama wants to obscure future job exports, like GM's shifting jobs and production to the Red Scare.

SNL Skit: DocGruber

Saturday Night Live incorporates the week's news into its skits. In that light I offer:

Two women and one man are trapped inside a basement. Close examination shows the women to be HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius and White House Health Czar Nancy-Ann DeParle. The man is Dr. Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT. He is examining a ticking bomb.

Kathleen Sebellius: It's a Republican health care stink bomb, DocGruber. 30 seconds. Can you disarm it in time?

I think so. Did you bring the check?

Nancy-Ann DeParle
(rooting through her pocketbook): Here it is.

This one's to big pharma. Where's mine?

Kathleen (getting anxious): Time is running short!

I can't run my "stink bomb neutralizing" computer model without the money.

The bomb ticks in the background

(pulling out a stack of checks): Will these do?

(flipping through them): Medical device makers, health insurers, for-profit hospitals, electronic records software, long term care, corporations, unions: Where's my $392,000!

Nancy-Ann: I found it! DocGruber, you can run the model and save the bill.

The Republican stink bomb explodes


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Elvis Lives at Podesta Birthday Bash

Uber Blue lobbyist Heather Podesta celebrated her 40th birthday. Elvis made an appearance at the couple's refurbished home, worthy of a high end art gallery. Husband Tony Podesta slaughters more lobby bacon than his lovely bride. Their 2009 lobbying revenues are projected:

Heather Podesta & Partners--$7 million
Podesta Group (Tony)--$25 million

The combined Podesta take in 2007 was $13 million. The Obama administration has been good for Tony & Healther. Revenues are up 135% in two short years. Those sound like PEU (private equity underwriter) returns.

Good news, the Podesta's can afford fine art and a quality Elvis impersonator. It's the Blue team's turn at the government gravy train. Definitely not small change.

P.S.: Photographer Tammy Haddad takes nice pictures. The friend of Frances Townsend and Susan Axelrod also throws great garden brunches.

New Obama Tool: Double Secret Signing Statements

How dark can the American governing comedy get? The Obama administration will now can disregard aspects of Congressional bills without noting anything. NYT reported:

The administration has decided that Mr. Obama will sometimes sign bills containing provisions it deems problematic without issuing a signing statement that challenges those sections.

Still, the administration will consider itself free to disregard new laws it considers unconstitutional, especially in cases where it has previously voiced objections elsewhere.

Congress, consider yourself on double secret probation. Cue the Supreme Court, it is no longer needed. The Executive determines constitutionality, contrary to Obama's campaign promises.

It's time for a road trip to a democracy with credible transparency and accountability.

Hillary Clinton Speaks from Peter G. Peterson Institute on Foreign Aid

C-SPAN aired Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks at the Peter G. Peterson Institute. Pete Peterson made billions as a private equity underwriter (PEU). He used $1 billion to establish his institute, focused on getting America's financial house of cards in order (without asking corporations or the rich to step up in any major way.)

America believes government cannot do anything competently, thus the private sector is the answer. That goes for international development.

Hillary started with a shout out to Rajiv Shah, Obama's Chief of USAID and former executive with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It's time for a "new mindset for a new century." She envisions rebuilding USAID into "the world's premier development agency."

That requires partners. Giants of philanthropy gathered in New York in 2009. This list included Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Pete Peterson, George Soros, David Rockefeller, and Oprah Winfrey.

Big dollar philanthropists salivate over the possibility of federal government matching money for their pet projects. Change includes U.S. taxpayers establishing a $50 million endowment for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek. Can taxpayers write that off?

Clinton stated in her talk:

Aid chases need, investment chases opportunity.

She mentioned the Clinton Foundation as a partner. President Bill Clinton privatized government functions during his two terms, benefiting multiple private equity underwriters.

OPIC works with USAID. according to Mrs. Clinton. A Carlyle Group Indian affiliate, Repco Home Finance, received $130 million in loans from OPIC.

The opportunity for investors to tap into government assets and lever taxpayer money continues. It has the usual big money taint.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Jonathan Gruber: The Latest Health Reform Money Man

Add health economist John Gruber to the list of profiteers pushing Obama health reform. Gruber joins Uwe Reinhardt, Nancy-Ann DeParle, Gail Wilensky, and Tom Scully.

Gruber failed to disclose $392,000 in sole source contracts with Health & Human Services to consult on President Obama's health reform proposals. Very few people disclose conflicts of interest today. An indignant Gruber defended his non-communicative stance on the issue:

Gruber told POLITICO that he has told reporters of the contract "whenever they asked."

That's transparency we can believe in? Hardly. Dr. Gruber failed to disclose the financial relationship. What about the Obama team? OMB Director Peter Orzag wrote on his White House blog:

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber — who calls himself "sort of a known skeptic on this stuff" — says, "Everything is in here....I can't think of anything I'd do that they are not doing in the bill."

No mention of the $392,000 contracts? One might expect the head of OMB to know of the relationship and disclose it.

It resurfaces the same sinking feeling as hearing White House Health Czar refer to big pharma as "our industry."

(Thanks to Economic Policy Journal)

Employer Health Insurance Under Manager's Amendment

CBO scored the Senate Manager's Amendment. It decreased its estimate for employer sponsored health insurance in 2019 by 4 million people. The absolute numbers of people covered by the workplace are:

1998 168.5 million (Source: Census)

2008 176.3 million (Census)

2010 150 million (CBO projections for Manager's Amendment)

2019 164 million (CBO)

From 2008 to 2019 CBO predicts 43.3 million Americans will lose employer coverage, while 8 million will gain it. That's a net 35.3 million decline in workplace coverage.

The percent of Americans with employer coverage will undergo a seismic shift over the same period:

1998 62.8%
2008 58.3%
2010 48.4%
2019 48.5%

A curve is bending and it clearly favors employers wishing to compete in a global economy. With employers doing less, government or the individual has to do more. A beleaguered Uncle Sam, combined with tapped out state/local governments, points to the individual carrying the load.

An era of personal responsibility for health care and retirement looms. Congress is rewriting the contract and it's not to the average citizen's favor.