Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dance Away from Crowd’s Taunting of Saddam at Hanging

The stories keep getting better. Saddam’s hanging went from a solemn, remorseful scene to one where individuals in the crowd taunted the man paying the ultimate price for his crimes. The problem arises from the words exchanged and captured on a camera video phone. People chanted the name of Moqtada al-Sadr in reference to the firebrand Shia cleric while Saddam mocked their bravery. In defense of the behavior, an Iraqi Presidential spokesman suggested the taunts came from “bystanders”.

Recall the execution occurred on in a secure facility known as Camp Justice. American helicopters ferried in 14 witnesses from the Green Zone. There were no bystanders who happened along the scene. Anyone in attendance had a clear invitation and likely went through numerous security checks. This makes the official position even more unsettling.

"We don't quite know who was shouting at Saddam or with whom he was exchanging the insults but I do not think it was any members of the government who were doing this," Presidential advisor Hiwa Osman said. He said he understood why many Iraqis - including those heard on the video - would have such strong feelings.

"There are hundreds and millions of victims of Saddam in Iraq and they might have made it to the courtroom under one capacity or the other. And that moment might have been quite emotional for those victims that they might not have been able to hold themselves," Mr Osman said.

With a small number of cleared people in the room, they certainly know who shouted at Saddam. However, the Iraqi’s displayed the Bush skill of “I don’t think” followed by “any members of government who were doing this”. It raises shades of Hurricane Katrina “I don’t think” anyone anticipated a levee breach.

I can just hear Bush after his “new way forward” in Iraq speech. “I don’t think anybody could have anticipated Saddam’s interchange with a government official would be the gasoline on the fire of ethnic sectarian violence sprouting into full blown civil war…”

Saddam’s Execution Site

Details in news reports on Saddam’s hanging are already being questioned. The relatively calm prayer scene is now known to have been hostile as camera phone video hit the web. His execution at a secure site with “no U.S. involvement” known as Camp Justice is also in question. While turned over to Iraq control in 2005, a significant American presence remains at the camp. Pictures on the web show some of America’s finest at the facility. The New York Times referred to the site as an American base.

Two American helicopters flew 14 witnesses from the Green Zone to the execution site — a former headquarters of the Istikhbarat, the deposed government’s much feared military intelligence outfit, now inside the American base.”

In no time I found more American connections to Camp Justice and Iraq’s legal system. Camp AT&T shows 12 phones at Camp Justice and internet service for American soldiers is also available.. The U.S. is spending $2.3 million to retrofit a building for the nation’s highest court (which happened to try Saddam Hussein).

It appears to have been a very American execution, overseen by a sleeping U.S. President. Yet, much of the rest of the world found it barbaric. Only the U.S. and Iran cheered…

Bush’s Reaction to Saddam’s Execution

After arising from a good night’s sleep, the U.S. President weighed in on the execution by hanging of Saddam Hussein. A White House spokesman offered the following the day President Bush planned to clear cedar, take a bike ride, spend time with Laura and continue his three week pondering of “the way forward” in Iraq.

"The president was pleased with the culmination of the Iraqi judicial process and that justice was done."

If I let my mind wander in a David Letterman like scene, I can see President Bush on a tractor pushing cedar into a huge pile to burn. Saddam Hussein is carried onto the Western White House and tied to a long pole rising out of the mountain of brush. Karl Rove’s assignment is to toss gasoline on the now dried out wood. An unknown CIA agent strikes the match as Bush says, “I haven’t enjoyed a frying this much since Karla Faye.” World leaders gathered around shake their heads at the sadism just displayed. One says “What’s the point of all this killing? And why are some people pleased?”

As I return to reality, the last question rattles through my head. Why are some people pleased? Especially when the President said Saddam’s execution will not halt the bloodshed. Might it increase it? He offered no prediction on that despite being briefed on world reaction and getting his daily intelligence briefing.

Is there any symbolism to the U.S. President’s being asleep as Saddam dangled from a rope? If so, when will we wake from our long national nightmare?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Oil Corruption in “I______”?

The latest investigation into possible oil corruption involves an entity that begins with an “I”. You might be thinking Iraq and while true, that isn’t the correct answer. It’s the Interior Department right here at home.

The news reported federal investigators have zeroed in on the royalties the U.S. government collects from Big Oil. Apparently some public workers accepted consulting gigs with oil and gas companies concerned about the government’s take on royalties. Oil Execs figure if taxes are “our money” according to President Bush, then royalty payments are “their money” and they want it back. Investigations are looking at multi-billion shortfalls in royalty payments.

How does Big Oil keep making those huge profits? Is it on the back of the average citizen and from lifting the pockets of the formerly clueless, now shifty federal government? (In light of the public's desire for improved health coverage, recall hospital uncompensated care in 2004 amounted to $26.9 billion. Exxon Mobile alone brought home $36 billion in profits in 2005.)

As usual the Bush administration’s Interior Department had no comment. Didn’t Kathleen Clark, its Chief just resign? A livestock man said Mrs. Clarke “faced tremendous pressure to keep the focus on minerals”. With a strong focus, how could there be a multi-billion dollar shortfall in royalties? Don’t tell me yet another Bush higher up benefited financially from her public service…

Merger & Acquisition Activity Sets Record, Financial Community Giggly with Results

While conservatives worked hard to prevent mergers between loving monogamous couples of the same sex, America set a record for business marriages on Wall Street. Hedge funds and private equity firms met many fine dates during 2006, consummating a record $4 trillion in mergers and acquisitions. Funny in the press releases they don’t indicate which company is the male and which the female.

Private equity firms contributed to 18.4 percent of all the deals in 2006, spending a record $725.3 billion to take companies private. Participation by these buyout shops has injected the market with a massive amount of liquidity, analysts said. And companies, many fed up with scrutiny from investors and regulators, have been willing to become private companies.

Isn’t it funny how companies can go private to keep the public out of their boardrooms? After the consummation, it matters not which was the male or female because the public no longer has access. How do corporations get more rights than individuals in America?

So who got married in 2006? Which of those firms comprising the new lobbying group, the Private Equity Council, sealed the deal and with who?

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts - along with Bain Capital Partners and the buyout unit of Merrill Lynch & Co. - in July secured the biggest deal in history with the acquisition of hospital operator HCA Inc. The deal was valued at $30.6 billion, including the assumption of debt, and set the bar higher.

And bankers worked until the final days of 2006 in pulling off the seventh-largest private equity deal of the year. Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group secured a $17.1 billion agreement to take Harrah's Entertainment Inc. private.

The big five Wall Street investment banks had record profits in 2006, and their chief financial officers all say there are still plenty of deals to be made.

What happens if a private equity firm purchases more than one company? Are they being polygamous? As many are known for purchasing undervalued firms, are they literally buying “a dog”? Is it an ugly woman or man’s best friend? And how are those deals consummated? I don’t want to know. What happens in the “board room” should be private…

Friday, December 29, 2006

ST Benefit to a Deeply Divided Iraq Post Saddam Execution?

The news says it’s a matter of hours before Saddam Hussein’s execution. Violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq will likely escalate afterwards. Who stands to benefit? President Bush for one. The consultative Chief Executive will have data on its impact in short order. This can be used as he plans his new “way forward.”

Israel also benefits as the Muslim Middle East continues to divide and war amongst itself. While Hamas and Fatah duke it out in the Palestinian Territories, Shia and Sunni will battle in Iraq. War ravaged Lebanon has its own low level civil strife. Will any muster a coordinated response after the Jewish state raids Iran’s nuclear facilities? Nope and that just might be the plan…

PEC Hits K Street

A new trade group, the Private Equity Council just hit our nation’s capital. Its purpose will be to conduct research and provide information about the industry to policy makers and others interested in understanding what private equity is, how it operates and the increasingly important role this alternative asset class plays in the U.S. and global economy. This new consortium of private investment houses is reflective of their rapid growth under Bush administration.

Who is involved? You may recognize some of names if you read the business papers.

Apollo Management, Bain Capital, The Blackstone Group, The Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Silver Lake Partners, Texas Pacific Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners.

Many of America’s finest corporations are going private with the aid of these firms. A number of these private equity corporations already have heavy political hitters on the inside as managers or board members. Ex-Senator Tom Daschle is on the board of Apollo Management and The Carlyle Group with its “A list” of insiders already has a Pennsylvania Avenue address. Pete Peterson of The Blackstone Group is also Chair of the influential Council on Foreign Relations. The two founders of Silver Lake Partners have official or Democratic sounding credentials. One even advised President Bill Clinton on the economy and health care.

At least one Texas Pacific Group founder had roots with the famous Texas Bass family, known for their investment canny. Another serves on the board of Neiman Marcus. Thomas H. Lee Partners founder bears the same name as his company. Mr. Lee will speak at Brandeis University in February 2007 to the Alumni Club of New York City. His bio notes he also manages a hedge fund called Blue Star LLC. I guess one investment vehicle isn’t enough.

One might think these politically connected companies wouldn’t need a trade association or lobbying group. Most can pick up the phone and connect to most any elected official in short order. But according to the press release, the PEC will launch research, public affairs and government outreach initiatives to explain the multiple contributions private equity makes to investors, to companies and their employees, to the economic well-being of communities and to public employee pension funds.

Two markets stand out as I read their laundry list of initiatives, “government outreach” and “public employee pension funds”. Yes, they want more of “our money” as President Bush calls it. Taxes fund government programs and public employee pension funds.

What they don’t want you to know are the reduced reporting requirements private companies have as they are no longer public companies. They do note the incredible growth the industry has enjoyed under the Bush years with this statement.

In 2006, private equity managers around the world will raise more than $300 billion. Today the estimated available capital of the private equity industry exceeds $700 billion.

As hospital uncompensated care in 2004 stood at $26.9 billion, it seems embarrassing that America provides innovative ways for private equity firms to make boatloads of money but can’t ensure its citizen’s receive health care…

Apple Admits CEO Steve Jobs Recommended Stock Option Backdates

Corporate stock option backdating is as widespread as looting in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. From Apple’s Steve Jobs to UnitedHealth’s William McGuire, widely known CEO’s have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Apple just released the results of their internal investigation exonerating their Chief Executive.

Its investigation of stock-option grants found no misconduct by current management, but it did find that Chief Executive Steve Jobs recommended or was aware of the selection of some favorable grant dates. However, Apple said Jobs did not financially benefit from the grants and the special committee that investigated the company said it has "complete confidence" in the CEO.

Of two option grants awarded to Jobs, one was improperly dated Oct. 19, 2001, with an exercise price of $18.03, instead of the correct date on Dec. 18, when Apple shares were trading at $21.01. That stock-option grant was for 7.5 million shares. Jobs later surrendered those options without exercising them and realized no financial benefit.

Three bucks a share times 7.5 million shares… that would equal $22.5 million in additional compensation courtesy of Apple shareholders. Can one really return a half eaten cookie to the cookie jar?

Might other analogies apply? If someone stole a big screen TV after Hurricane Katrina and never plugged it in would they have the “complete confidence” of local police? If a thief purloined a diamond but never fenced it should they regain the public’s “complete confidence”?

Securities laws require companies to properly disclose the practice in its accounting.

An illegal act occurred over a dozen years in thousands of publicly traded companies and most companies wants to call it “an error”. What companies call “no misconduct” would land one in jail under slightly different circumstances. Just drop the income level drastically and change the goodie…

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Crafty, Happy, Clueless Bush Works on Middle East

What’s going on behind the scenes while the Bush team crafts a new way forward in Iraq? What’s happening back stage while the Treasury Department smiles about “the success” of their financial embargo of Iran and North Korea? Yet might something more sinister be occurring while a pleased and deliberating front is presented to the American public? White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend even appeared on TV this morning to reinforce the false front by saying “relax, everybody party!”

In the meantime serious political and military moves happen almost hourly in the Middle East. Israel just allowed Egypt to deliver significant arms to Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas and his supporters. Why the need to arm? It seems reducing weapons in the Palestinian territories would be a better strategy for peace. The Israeli Prime Minister has been talking up a storm with leaders from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories. P.M. Olmert came loaded with lots of carrots for these discussions, $100 million in withheld taxes, the possibility of prisoner releases, reduced checkpoints in the West Bank, and land for peace.

However, Israel needs to show its independence from the deliberating American President so as to deflect its protector from foreknowledge of its planned surprise attack on Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities. A settlement approval (which contradicts the Jewish states commitments in the roadmap to peace) does the trick! Before the Bush announcement on Iraq, serious American military firepower will already be in the region. A new division is on its way to Kuwait and a carrier group to the Persian Gulf.

While the U.S. likely will let Israel conduct the raid on Iranian nuclear facilities, it stands ready to mute any Iranian response. Bush loves to hold people accountable and might especially enjoy containing the threat from Iranian President Ahmadinejad. In a huge déjà vu, the administration will claim no foreknowledge of the planned attack. Will he then accelerate bomb shipments to Israel? Congress just paved the way for a doubling of U.S. emergency military supplies stored in Israel. Hmmmmmm…..

Bush Has Zero Tolerance for Store Break-Ins

Post Hurricane Katrina President Bush stated his “zero tolerance” for people breaking into stores for water, food and shoes. Will he hold corporate CEO’s found looting “the company store” to the same standard?

UnitedHealth chief William McGuire and Apple icon Stephen Jobs already admitted errors in the handling of their executive stock options. Jobs apologized while William sacrificed his job. Will either man go to jail for their illegal activities? Who will spend more time in the clink, the grandmother getting sausage from the trunk of her car outside New Orleans or a corporate icon? Time will tell…

White House Says “Party on Garth”

Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend encouraged Americans to celebrate the New Year without worry of a terrorists attack on ABC’s Good Morning America.

"People ought to come, have a good time, they ought to feel confident"

The White House has heard no plot or plan that should cause alarm as the nation celebrates New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. What about the big pot of terrorist stew President Bush cited just months ago? Of the threatening hordes, Frances only mentioned al-Qaeda in reassuring the country.

"We hear statements all the time" from the al-Qaeda terrorist network, among others, “rarely are they attached to actions."

What about Hamas, Hezbollah, & the Mahdi Army as the Pentagon says radical Cleric al-Sadr is now a larger threat than Osama bin Laden?

Did Frances talk about anything else on the program? Did she mention the White House Lessons Learned report post Hurricane Katrina? Did Robin Roberts ask the following ?

"Why does the Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned report omit any mention of the hospital with the largest number of patient deaths? Carlyle Group affiliate LifeCare Hospitals received not one mention in the White House post mortem on its handling of the crisis. Care to comment Frances?"

Had Mrs. Roberts asked the question, might she have received a profanity laced tirade for which Mrs. Townsend is famous (according to Time magazine)? Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the media interview her for that poor performance

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

U.S. National Nightmare Continues

With the death of President Ford the current White House occupant had this to say:

"President Ford was a great American who gave many years of dedicated service to our country. On August 9, 1974, after a long career in the House of Representatives and service as Vice President, he assumed the Presidency in an hour of national turmoil and division. With his quiet integrity, common sense, and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the Presidency."

-President George W. Bush

If only America's White House had one of these:

"I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself. ... In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end. My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."

- President Gerald R. Ford, upon taking the oath of office following the resignation of Richard Nixon. Ford passed away this week at the age of 93. (Source: American Rhetoric)

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."

-Art Buchwald

How Long before Israel Acts?

How close is an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities? This summer the Jerusalem Post reported that the Jewish state may have “to go it alone” in stopping Iran.

One month later Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke at the United Nations about this threat to her country. She implored the international community to stand up against Iran, which she claimed is pursuing weapons to destroy Israel.

"There is no greater challenge to our values than that posed by the leaders of Iran," Ms. Livni said. "They deny and mock the Holocaust. They speak proudly and openly of their desire to wipe Israel off the map. And now, by their actions, they pursue the weapons to achieve this objective, to imperil the region and to threaten the world."

Just two weeks ago at a meeting of the European Union she said:

“This Iranian regime is a clear and present strategic threat to Israel… the delaying tactics of the Iranian regime have bought them significant leverage, and time is of the essence. The breakthrough in their technological capability can happen sooner then we think.”

Yes, and the intervention to address this threat could be likewise? How long before Israel goes it alone? The U.S. rushed a bomb shipment complete with at least 25 bunker busters to our ally this summer in their war against their democratic neighbor to the north. We currently are moving troops to Kuwait and ships to the Persian Gulf. Just weeks ago, Congress authorized a doubling of emergency military equipment to be stored in Israel. Should Israel bomb or even take over Iran’s nuclear facilities, the U.S. will be nearby to help contain any retaliatory response.

Double Mission?

Even before President Bush can unveil his new way forward in Iraq, Defense Chief Robert Gates ordered an Army division to Kuwait.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed orders that will send the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade to Kuwait shortly after the New Year, senior defense officials said Tuesday.

Are they there to beef up the Iraq mission or to contain Iran’s vengeful actions post Israel’s bombing of their nuclear enrichment facilities? Time will tell, but my money says sometime before January 9th as America’s new Congress meets that day. Then again I rarely win the Texas Lottery…

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

U.S. Financial Sanctions against “Axis of Evil” Working

Yet another article figures into the chess match that is the Middle East. The United States reported “the success” of financial sanctions against North Korea and Iran for their nuclear programs. The piece took the opportunity to dig the U.N. for its largely inadequate and ineffective financial sanctions against the two countries.

However, U.S. actions have worked swimmingly? The only tangible success to date is bringing North Korea back to the bargaining table. Meetings ended before Christmas with no agreement. As Iran has done nothing to back down from its nuclear enrichment program, it is difficult to see any impact.

So why would the U.S. brag at this stage? To show it “needs” no other strategies at this point. This helps get America off the hook after our ally Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities. I can just see President Bush saying “we had no idea Israel would do this, our financial sanctions were working fine”. Yes, of course our clueless Commander in Chief had no idea…

Answer for Erekat

Israel’s approval of a new settlement in the West Bank has the Palestinian leadership puzzled. After ten days of courting and hand holding, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bitch slapped the object of his wooing. The move left Palestinian’s shaking their head over the promised $100 million in tax revenues, the dangling of prisoner releases, and the dismantling of West Bank blockages. One leader summed it up:

“What message are they trying to send?" Saeb Erekat asked.

Here’s my interpretation Saeb. Israel is showing its independence from the U.S. by violating a Roadmap to Peace commitment. Why does the Jewish state need to public thumb its nose at President Bush? So it can show it takes orders from no one.

This works well for Bush post Israel’s bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities. As he sashays away from the unilateral, pre-emptive act, the U.S. President can point to the weeks old recalcitrant Jewish state’s act before calling it a critical ally and mobilizing all America’s resources in the region to contain Iran’s retaliatory impulse…

Waste a Lot, Expect Little from Bush Administration Post Katrina

The oversight reports continue to roll in on the progress post our national, head hanging disaster response, otherwise known as Hurricane Katrina. To date auditors estimate $1 billion in fraudulent individual assistance and over $2 billion in corporate inefficiency, malfeasance or just plain waste from a taxpayer perspective. Businesses call the money “profits”, which are celebrated quarterly on Wall Street.

As the Bush administration has little internal capabilities anymore, “your tax money” is stacked up, sorted and subsequently moved out to businesses performing the work of government. Next time you hear of Bechtel’s, Fluor’s, CH2M Hill’s or Shaw’s record quarterly profits know some of that is courtesy of your hard earned money.

You say you never spent your money with any of those organizations? Well, President Bush did it for you. The man can spend money, but that doesn’t mean he gets anything for it. Ask the board at Harkin Energy.

The latest oversight report to Congress has one glaring omission from my perspective. Once again the responsibility for hospital evacuations in future unprecedented, catastrophic events is not addressed. An audit on nursing home evacuations got ink, but hospitals once again received short shrift. President Bush’s Lessons Learned report made no mention of the trade group that coordinated hospital evacuations, the Louisiana Hospital Association.

Somehow, Frances Townsend’s keyboard couldn’t type the keys required to include the hospital with the largest number of patient deaths post Katrina. Lifecare Hospitals, a brand new Carlyle Group affiliate received not one mention in the Bush tome despite its 24 deaths.

Now Congress follows up with a similar goose egg. Why do I continue to expect our leaders from the two elected branches of government to serve the people? They are accountable, aren’t they…

Bush’s Christmas Present

What are the odds that the number of Americans killed in Iraq would equal the number killed on 9-11 on Christmas Day, nearly 4 years after the start of the war? By that very night the total of 2,973 had been exceeded.

What message is the divine trying to send to our American leaders? Is it that revenge inspired use of force can be more destructive than its precipitating event? Our President claims to talk with God, so this can’t be a new message. That is if our nation’s CEO has the right number. Might he be talking to a disguised Prince of Darkness instead? If so, that would explain much…

Moving Middle East Chess Pieces

The match continues with the forces of light against those of extremism (black). The Palestinian pawns continue to be sacrificed on both sides. To bolster the white front line, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert recently announced the release of $100 million in withheld taxes. Other steps to strengthen the good pawns include a possible prisoner release and reducing the number of checkpoints in the West Bank.

The Egyptian foreign minister dressed as a rook, took a shot at the Iranian King by denouncing President Ahmadinejad’s recent statement that Iran is "a nuclear state". Might the Israeli leader be planning to check the “forces of darkness” via a surprise attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities?

What will the pawns do after the surprise move as they need money to survive, with only a pittance of that $100 million released? The Prime Minister is contemplating some prisoner releases while proposing to reduce only a fraction of the over 400 permanent barriers in the West Bank. Will the dangling carrots of prisoner releases and reduced checkpoints have the white pawns thinking twice about a retaliatory response?

The board is clearly divided from the West’s point of view. White includes the U.S., Britain, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Black represents Syria and Iran. The ones in play are the newest Middle Eastern democracies, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. Watch each one after the looming Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Carrot and stick diplomacy may soon be front and center in your living room…

Monday, December 25, 2006

Johnson Coal this Christmas Morn

I awoke to find White House “small business owner”, Bob Johnson, delivering lumps of coal to the people of Charlotte, North Carolina. The managing partner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats stood in the way of the giving of $1.34 million in team stock to a charity. The foundation that supports Carolinas Healthcare System sits with their handout waiting the modern day Scrooge’s approval.

Bob is the founder of BET, owner of an NBA team, and joint venture partner with The Carlyle Group. Having sold BET for $ 3 billion , he can’t be worried about money despite his designation as “a small business owner” by the White House. President Bush’s health care plans shift more and more health care costs to the individual, so the need for charitable assistance is much greater than when he took office.

Why the holdup? Both men need to answer for their actions. I hope they are visited by three ghosts soon…

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Burns Promotes Tougher Measures on Iran by “Individual Countries”

U.S. State Department representative Nicolas Burns hopes Santa brings Iran large lumps of coal this Christmas. He wants the world to go farther than the United Nations resolution penalizing Iran for its nuclear enrichment program.

"We don't think this resolution is enough in itself," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. "We want the international community to take further action. We're certainly not going to put all our eggs in the U.N. basket."

Tougher measures by individual countries? Would an Israeli bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities fit under this rubric?

Recall the Jewish state’s Foreign Secretary’s statement in September that the world had only months before Iran acquired key nuclear processing capabilities and President Bush’s demand that the country not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

Note the buildup of ground troops and naval capabilities on Iran’s western and southern flanks.

Focus on Israel’s sudden hard press to engage the Palestinians, even releasing $100 million in frozen tax funds. Expect less than half of this amount to have been distributed when the likely attack occurs. Add the carrots of West Bank land and Israel hopes to bribe the Palestinians into a muted response.

Watch the diplomatic efforts in the region. The Israeli P.M. makes a surprise visit to Jordan. British P.M. Tony Blair visits encouraging moderate countries to clearly side against extremists. The Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. quits with a replacement not coming until late February.

Recall the Israeli invasion of Lebanon this past summer, intended to wipe out the threat from their due north. Should everything go as planned post attack, Israel expects Egypt and Jordan to side “against extremism”, leaving only their border with Syria exposed to major conflict.

Sure Israel expects rioting in the Palestinian Territories and Southern Lebanon, but not a coordinated full scale military response. The United States will rush to fill the Lebanese and Palestinian diplomatic voids on behalf of Israel post attack.

Iran will be hotter than a hornet’s nest but might think twice about reaching out the long distance to retaliate against Israel. Much U.S. firepower will stand in their path to enact revenge against the Jewish state.

Note any feelings of déjà vu after the Israeli war machine invades another sovereign country by air. The U.S. will dance away from any knowledge or responsibility. The U.N. foot dragging will feel similar as America blocks for its ally. What will be different is heavy diplomatic pressure with major inducements to Israel’s neighbors pursuing moderation. Stay tuned for what may come…

P.S. News just released stated Israeli P.M. Olmert is considering Palestinian prisoner releases. He told his Cabinet "the time has come to show flexibility and generosity," associates said. Olmert had previously said he would not consider releasing prisoners until Hamas-linked militants freed Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid from Gaza in June.

P.P.S Prime Minister Olmert called Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarek Sunday and the two agreed to meet soon.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Serious Israeli Carrot Being Dangled

Just days ago I suggested the pieces were coming together for an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear processing facilities. Bush and Blair called for moderates in the Middle East to declare their “open and clear commitment” against extremism. A troop buildup in Iraq, Kuwait and the Gulf of Hormuz is under way to contain any Iranian response.

But there are more signs, the most significant announced today. Israel will release $100 million of frozen tax funds to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Prime Minister Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin said the Israeli leader agreed to transfer $100 million in frozen tax rebates and other Palestinian funds to Abbas' control, giving the Palestinian leader an important achievement. The Palestinian economy has suffered from the cutoff of funds, along with a Western aid freeze, which began after Hamas took control of the Palestinian government after winning legislative elections early in the year.

Eisin said Israel plans to transfer the money soon, but that it wants to make sure the funds do not reach Hamas, which has refused Western demands to recognize Israel and end violence.

How might the dangling of this carrot impact the official Palestinian response to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities?

Other hints something major is in the works include Omert’s secret surprise visit to Jordan to visit with King Abdullah. Also, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. quit and a replacement won’t be available until February (likely after the attack).

Israel might have to face conflict with Syria post bombing but that isn’t for certain given President Bush’s strong backing. Just months ago he said an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States.

Santa’s Stocking Full of Political Ads?

Thinking the midterm elections ancient history, to my surprise I noted aspiring Presidential candidates will be running promotional ads this Christmas! Yes, just after “The Answer” was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Denver Nuggets, “The Democratic Answer” will be shown giving a speech under the theme of “Believe Again”. Barack Obama could well be in your living room as you open gifts Christmas morn.

Some states with a North or South prefix will hear Rep. Duncan Hunter denouncing China’s trade deficit with the U.S. Will Duncan ask us to turn over that toy or check the clothing label for the “Made in” label as he peers under your Christmas tree?

While noting a portion of the Chinese trade surplus is spent on “ships and planes and missiles”, Mr. Hunter fails to point out the real reason for the Red Storm being the new epicenter of the manufacturing world. U.S. firms have consciously moved production to their country to increase profitability.

Never mind America’s military spending being 10 times that of “heinous” China. For U.S. military contractors to get new work, they need a significant threat. What happened to the War on Terror?

Back to the new development of Santa bringing political ads to American’s homes this holiday season. A political consultant has this to say.

"This is the new world order of campaigns. There is no such thing as too early anymore."

Have so many people been so bad, we deserve these collective lumps of coal? And why are so many elected leaders around the world ready to deliver?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Pre-Christmas Phone Call from Justice Department

Just yesterday I received a phone call from Ryan Banks with the Justice Department. Despite returning his call twice, we are yet to connect. Why is Mr. Bank’s calling? Is it in regard to:

1. The White House’s complete omission of Carlyle affiliate LifeCare Holdings’ 24 patient deaths post Hurricane Katrina in Bush’s Lessons Learned report

2. The peculiar pattern of for profit hospital donations and a hearing on one of their pet issues by House Ways & Means Chair Bill Thomas

3. Any of the government/industry connections I stumbled across in my year and a half blogging

4. Their concern about my belief that Israel will soon attack Iran’s nuclear facilities while beefed up American forces in Iraq, Kuwait and the Gulf contain the Iranian retaliatory impulse

Who knows what Ryan wants to chat about and whether he found it using EagleForce’s sophisticated pattern analysis technology? I’ll let you know after we talk.

Santa Needs to Know Who’s Lying? Bush or Media

As Santa evaluates the spin on the administration’s announcement of its new Iraq strategy, Mr. Claus doesn’t know whether Tony Snow & Co. or the liberal mainstream media are lying. He knows a fib is out there just not who threw it to the public for Christmas consumption.

Consider the timing of the unwrapping of the Iraq strategy (all from White House sources):

December 8th recommendations may be ready “by the end of the year”

December 9th talk of pre-Christmas unveiling comes from White House. This is now presented in the news as “the original date”.

Originally aiming to unveil his new Iraq policy before Christmas, Bush has put it off until January

(Heaven forbid our President flip-flop or send a shiver of middle fingers toward the Iraq Study Group with its urgent end of 2006 recommendations.)

December 12th the Bush team moved the date back to give Dr. Gates a chance to offer advice. Apparently the President didn’t factor in his new Defense Chief’s advice when he moved the date forward from his original year end time frame.

Should the public hold our collective breath while the Three Stooges bump into each other working on the new way forward in Iraq? Or should we go on living, breathing and spending, trusting Santa will figure out who really is naughty or nice…

Bush Administration: Not Nice, Definitely Naughty

Santa determined the White House needs a big lump of coal this Christmas. After checking reports by both the General Accounting Office and Department of Homeland Security’s own internal response, Mr. Claus concluded the Bush team to have been naughty for several years.

It turns out Homeland Security rifled through American’s information drawers without permission. It sought more tidbits than promised and on people it said it wouldn’t. That would be two checks in the naughty column.

DHS acknowledged they did not comply with the law, but in Bush like form refused to admit they broke it! That deserves another check in the not nice column, doesn’t it Santa?

Homeland Security used a contractor, EagleForce Associates in conducting the analysis. The company’s website is bare bones but a little luck produced more information. One press release stated “The company was founded in 2001 by a group of world renowned information management scientists.” Their first online news available on the company showed up in 2002. It appears EagleForce benefited from $57 million in Defense appropriations.

EagleForce Associates has been selected by SAIC to serve as the Transition/Commercialization agents for the Advanced Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Management (AIM) Program. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Program Administration (DARPA), the AIM system represents the state of the art in providing Intelligence and Operational Commanders with the ability to dynamically manage and synchronize a wide range of tactical information gathering and weapons deployment assets. AIM integrates the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Collection Strategies with Multi-Asset Synchronization components to optimize and task information gathering assets, whether in space, in the air or on the ground. By using AIM, Commanders can quickly and easily test their asset allocation strategies and get maximum utility from their resources. The AIM Program represents a $57M research and development investment by DARPA.

To be clear on this, DARPA developed the system and then selected EagleForce to commercialize it? How many companies would like the Feds to conduct and pay for their R&D? Santa delivered quite a present to the executives at EagleForce that year.

In four short years, the company expanded their client base to include the Air Force, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Missile Intelligence Agency and the Transportation Security Agency. EagleForce has since partnered with Google to sell their combined technological capabilities. A news release on their partnership stated:

Essentially, EagleForce has engineered the next generation of search engine technology that goes beyond key word retrieval. EagleForce technology combines key word and concept search with pattern analysis. The partnership with Google will be a launching pad to make use of this groundbreaking technology for government, as well as the private sector and general public.

Welcome to BushWorld, where Big Brother is watching. Heck, our President even brags about it! A round of coal for all involved…

Better Watch Out, Better Not Cry!

‘Tis the season of rampant extrinsic motivation. We are all familiar with “do this, to get that”. At least four powerful fatherly figures stand ready to reward or punish the holy season, God, Santa, Jesus, and Father Time. All have the ability to fulfill prayers, deliver presents and grant wishes, even resolutions.

What underlies these patriarchal goodie granters? Most have the expectation of good behavior, past, present and future. Without good intentions and action come consequences. Santa makes a list and checks it twice to find out who has been naughty and nice. Misbehavers get a lump of coal.

Christians believe God expects people to be good followers of Christ, to follow both the letter and the spirit of the law. Fundamentalists believe those who fail at these tasks will spend eternity in a “lake of fire”. Those who succeed will have eternal reward alongside Christ and the Father (who are one).

Father Time closes out the year. Different practices around the world ensure the blessings of the New Year and keeping evil at bay. In all cases something greater than the individual watches, keeps score and acts accordingly.

Returning to children, a large focus of the season, how might they be treated by the varying fathers this year? Given all the problems mentioned in America’s school system, high levels of childhood obesity, growing mental health problems which explode into school violence, might more lumps of coal be delivered?

As for adults, world leaders consistently show their inability to solve their problems peacefully. War and the ever expanding threat of war cover the horizon. Spending another $170 billion on war while people need food, shelter, clothing and healing seems against the Great Commission.

What will happen to all those lumps of coal Santa could deliver this year? Does he have a coal mine at the North Pole? Or does he contract that out like most federal services nowadays? If so, does he use NACCO with Defense Chief Robert Gates’ old board suite? If yes, could Bob drive more of Santa’s business to his buddies by expanding the war theater?

What will the people do with all those lumps of coal? Do they throw them away? Wear them around their neck like a yellow star of scarlet letter? Or does God collect them for use in his lake of fire? Santa’s coal and eternal damnation are but two sides of the same coin, one you don’t get to spend…

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Memories

As thoughts turn to Christmas, I wanted to share a work of poetry I created for our San Angelo Writer's Club meeting. We broke bread together, sharing pieces of our past.

Christmas Memories

One out of 12 Christmas’s in Richmond, Virginia might be white.
On Christmas Eve the challenge for 5 young Prests came in saying goodnight
Which one would wake the other four for the stocking search?
To the chimney we’d go, once found we’d drag the prize back to our bed top perch.

The tissue paper would fly as treats appeared before our sparkling eyes.
Childhood excitement filled the air, still hazy dark before dawn’s light.
A sleepy adult would enter the room shaking their head while asking for calm
A simultaneous gulp all five of us would try to hold down while listening to

“Back to bed you go, no present opening until after the sun is up.”
With a handful of goodies we’d retreat under the covers waiting for the light to dawn.

As an adult I find Christmas different now.
Giving is more fun than receiving.
Seeing and hugging long separated relatives beats a pile of presents hand’s down.

As I think back to that childhood admonition
“No present opening until the sun comes up”
With the change of a few words it morphs into
“The present opening is the Son comes.”

Merry Christmas to all,
I’d hate to think we need to retreat under the covers
waiting for the light of peace to dawn throughout the world,
but we may.

Peace on Earth.
Goodwill Man to Man,
Woman to Woman,
Child to Child

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

IBM Ditches Lauded Stock Options

The widely practiced “impersonal rewarder” of executive performance, stock options are on their way out at IBM. The company chose to double pay for members of its governing board while dropping option grants altogether.

An article on executive pay states the logic behind stock options:

Industry's conventional wisdom is that options tie executive compensation directly to the long-term fortunes of the company: If the stock price goes up, executives and shareholders all benefit. If the stock price drops, executives get nothing.

So what happened during the dozen or so years that options comprised a significant chunk of executive and board compensation? Nearly 1/3 or 2,000 publicly traded companies manipulated their stock option grants by backdating them. Picking the stock’s lowest price of the quarter enabled execs to maximize their pay without doing much other than using hindsight.

Of course the consultants who design such pay for performance systems have advice to improve their implementation. These include restricted stock grants and more specific performance measures. However, if the people at the top cheated with the simpler program, why wouldn’t they cheat with their more complex successors?

Notice no one is talking about eliminating such performance plans altogether. Dr. Deming would if he were still with us. The man who rebuilt Japanese industry after World War II would be appalled by the goings on in corporate executive suites and board rooms. That our federal government picked up on pay for performance as way to solve America’s education problems must have Dr. Deming fuming in the afterlife. “When will they ever learn?!!”

With managerial reward systems that distort behavior, learning will become ever more difficult in our public schools. Will the students learn how to cheat from their teachers? Educators have to be near as smart as America's CEO's…

Al-Zawahri Throws Big Oily Wrench into Bush’s Pot of Terrorist Stew

Al Qaeda’s number 2 man appeared on videotape with advice to the U.S. that it is talking to the wrong folks to make peace in the Middle East. Al-Zawahri dissed both the Fatah and Hamas leaders in Palestine, calling President Abbas “America’s man in Palestine”. Just passed Congressional legislation would seem to confirm this assertion.

Previously Hamas distanced itself from Al Qaeda saying its struggle is against Israel, not the West at large. Both Fatah and Hamas spokesmen brushed off Osama #2’s criticism.

Al-Zawahri had more ammunition as he criticized Iran and Shiites support of American backed governments in Afghanistan and Iraq while backing anti-Israeli forces in Lebanon and Palestine.

This is yet more information that a monolithic extremist Islamic threat does not exist, except in the eyes of George Bush. The President’s big pot of terrorist stew is not thickening and may just be a boiling cauldron.

Illegal Treatment of Stock Options “Embarrassing”?

UnitedHealth, the large health insurer stands as the poster child for widespread white collar crime in companies’ handling of their stock option grants. The company announced an earnings restatement of between $400 million and $1.7 billion for its fraudulent handling of stock options. The CEO, William McGuire already stepped down.

The new Chief Executive Stephen J. Hemsley apologized before adding this about the company’s 12 year history of abuse:

"I can only say how deeply we regret the shortcomings in the administration of our stock option programs. How sincerely we apologize for the difficulty this has caused for so many. It was embarrassing and we regret it."

His audience, investment analysts ponder the impact of this scandal on the UnitedHealth’s stock price. The key is not so much the earnings restatements but later monies paid for lawsuits, fines, and penalties.

In true "shortcomings" and "embarrassments" a simple apology is enough. Lawsuits, fines and penalties are the result of crimes. Watch the feds handling of these cases. A study indicated over 2,000 publicly traded companies likely backdated their stock option grants. The Justice Department is investigating only 100. How many will actually be charged with criminal acts? How many of those will settle? How many individuals will go to jail for widespread corporate corruption over a dozen years under a “pay for performance plan”?

After you watch this, ponder what’s happening now under the “No Child Left Behind” educational program as it's built on the same sandy foundation…

Blair Foreshadows Attack on Iran?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair while touring the Middle East called on moderate leaders to join a “monumental struggle” between democracy and terrorism. He specifically identified Iran as under “the forces of extremism”.

"Our response should be to expose what they are doing, build the alliances to prevent it and pin them back across the whole of the region. To do this we need the open and clear backing of the countries in this region.”

The moderate countries of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have seen a number of significant dignitaries visiting recently. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dropped in for a two hour meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan just the other day. Tony Blair gave his speech from Dubai, the Emirates’ Emerald City.

It would be helpful to have countries lined up on one side or the other should Israel take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Significant carrots could be dangled for those on the borderline. Tony even trolled one in front of the crowd during his visit by announcing his plans to hold talks with world leaders in early 2007 on delivering a package of aid to Palestinian President Abbas.

"We must mobilize our alliance of moderation in this region and outside it and defeat the extremists" whose ideas are based on a "warped" interpretation of Islam, Blair said.

It appears to be happening quickly…

And the Winner Is?

After three years of “Mission Accomplished” and we’re winning the war in Iraq, President Bush changed his tune. The United States is now “not winning, yet we’re also not losing.” Thus to break the tie logjam, more troops in country are needed. That and a bigger military overall will shake the scourge of terrorism from our planet.

Did anyone detect the irony of the recent Pentagon assessment of who represented the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S.? Eclipsing Osama bin Laden is firebrand cleric al Sadr. In other words the war in Iraq created our greatest current terrorist threat.

Iraqi President al-Maliki, “the right man for the job” came to power as a result of the cleric’s support. Now our President wants us to believe that leaders who come to power as a result of terrorist support are good for the country? Please, some of us are old enough to remember Gov. George Wallace and his Alabama reign courtesy of the KKK.

Our President’s words from this morning’s speech:

“I believe we’re going to win”

So, Mr. Bush our increased troops are going to do what in Iraq to finally “win”?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wall Street Bonuses vs. Hospital Uncompensated Care this Holiday Season

After a banner 2006, Wall Street investment banks are slated to pay out a record $23.9 billion in bonuses this holiday season. These payments are in addition to already generous salary and benefit packages.

Recall the story of the Match Stick Girl, the young child who froze to death selling matches on a wintry European street? The modern day American version may not freeze to death, but many stand in line for health care services.

How do these record bonuses compare to the care hospitals provide but for which they receive no compensation? The latest data available showed in 2004 the amount stood at $26.9 billion.

As the investment house bonuses grew 17% from last year, it might not take long to make up the gap. That is, if the Bush administration hasn’t been creating more uninsureds?

Unfortunately the numbers without health insurance in America grow as fast as terrorists. Another 1.3 million were added to the rolls in 2005. It’s clear the U.S. economy has the wherewithal to fund health care for all its citizens, especially given this one industry bonus comparison. Only $3 billion separate the two figures.

What U.S. leaders lack is the will to do anything about it…

Bush Gives 360 Degree Middle Finger

With the ordered development of a plan for escalation of troops in Iraq, President Bush symbolically waved his favorite finger to most of the world. At the top of the list are the American mid-term election voters, followed by the Iraq Study Group. Not far behind stands most of the Pentagon brass, Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton. All accepted their “Bush Birds” graciously.

The President employed a David Blaine sleight of finger move, foreshadowing a much larger middle finger salute to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahaminejad. With troops on the western border of Iran and two carrier groups off its southern border, the U.S. will have some serious firepower ready post-Israel’s bombing of the rogue country’s nuclear facilities.

Really, isn’t that what it’s all about? Iraq happens to be great cover for the Israel/U.S. tag team on Iranian nuclear capabilities. Bush can look like his same old stubborn self, while surreptitiously setting a trap for the Little Man.

Bibles vs. Mommies

James Dobson, head of Focus on the Biblical Family, wrote a column in the December 18th edition of Time magazine titled “Two Mommies is One Too Many” in reference to Mary Cheney’s pregnancy within a committed same sex relationship.

While James and his followers oppose same sex couples using their God given reproductive capabilities, why should the whole country adopt his stand? His Bible based morality can be chosen by Christian Americans, but should it be the law of the land for everyone?

What if more than one Bible were a bad thing? How would James choose between the King James or Good News versions?

As for the new social experiment Mr. Dobson mentions, how does he know same sex families have not been part of our human experience?

Second Big Business Democrat Bails on Presidential Bid

Ex-Senator Tom Daschle joins Senator Evan Bayh in dropping out of contention for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination. Tom’s exploration lasted a bit longer than Evan’s two week water testing. The South Dakota native suggested he enjoyed his current work and didn’t want to spend the next two years fundraising.

As a special policy adviser for Alston & Bird, the powerhouse D.C. legal/lobbying firm, Tom should bring home some serious dough. He works alongside Senator Bob Dole and ex. Medicare Chief Tom Scully. The junior of the three, Scully reportedly got high six figure income when he left public service in late 2003. An ex-Senate Majority Leader should do better than that salary wise.

But Tom doesn’t have to live off his Alston & Bird salary as he serves on several the board of Apollo Management, an investment house. Such positions come with substantial cash and stock compensation. Ask new Defense Department Chief Robert Gates about his take from the Fidelity Funds? Ten days a month work netted Bob over $350,000 a year for his service as Board Chair.

Tom has been busy as Apollo recently announced three new deals. The investment house will partner with Texas Pacific Group to buy Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest casino company. Instead of rolling the dice for the Presidential nomination, Mr. Daschle can literally roll them in one of his owned operations.

The day before Apollo announced its purchase of Realogy, the parent of Century 21 and Coldwell Banker real estate. Tom won’t be restricted to a Pennsylvania Avenue address with the resources of these two firms. In October they announced a buyout of Jacuzzi Brands, the famed maker of whirlpool baths. Will there be a new “Hot Tub Tom”, as in Daschle vs. DeLay?

Whether Tom has enough personal wealth to fund a Presidential run, only he can decide. I know someone who made $1.2 million in investment gains from the sale of stock options garnered as a WellPoint Board member. Tom Daschle could approach Susan Bayh for a donation…

Kofi Reads the Tea Leaves

U.N. Chief Kofi Annan said military intervention regarding Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “unwise and disastrous”. What does Kofi see that leads him to issue this caution? More U.S. troops in Iraq and increased naval presence come to mind. However these are likely not there to attack.

Israel is the likely interloper to drop bombs on Iranian nuclear facilities to cripple their capabilities. Would Israeli bombs come from their nuclear submarines or their vaunted Air Force? Either way, the U.S. would in a position to contain any Iranian retaliatory impulse with troops on Iran’s western border and two aircraft carrier groups to their south.

What would happen elsewhere in the Middle East? What would the Iraqi Shia do? Widespread protests would be likely but not a coordinated military response. Should one be mounted, the Iraqi army is poorly equipped.

The Palestinian Territories and Hezbollah would likely explode in retaliation. Israel attempted to defang Hezbollah this past summer to reduce the number of fronts it might have to fight simultaneously.

A serious carrot would be needed to stem the Palestinian outrage over Israel’s aggression. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sweetened his peace prize rhetoric the last month. Is he dangling a big orange Palestinian homeland from a stick to occupy their attention while his other hand pulls the launching lever?

As the U.S. and Israel solve their problems outside the U.N. rubric, Kofi knows he or his successor will find out on TV about the bombs dropping. What does he sense that calls him to issue his warning now?

Puppeteers Pull Strings in Palestine

Free elections in the Palestinian Territories in January 2006 marked the acceleration of suffering for the Palestinian people. They voted against corruption by Fatah, the party in power. They voted for leaders with a track record of serving the people given Hamas’ success in establishing public health clinics & completing public projects.

However, the surprised world decided to ignore the people’s motivation and isolate the new government before it could get out the gate. In a move worthy of the British in Northern Ireland, resources were conditionally withheld, dangled in front of the now divided Palestinian people. But only one group could realistically get the prize, the party out of power.

For 11 months the situation deteriorated. A summertime bombing ensured significant damage to Gaza’s only power plant. The last few weeks find the Palestinians approaching civil war between followers of the two parties, a now common development in the Middle East’s fledgling democracies.

Since the British aren’t around to pit the oppressed classes against one another in competition for scarce employment, who are the puppeteers? The U.S. and Israel control the purse strings for the Palestinian authority by virtue of their donations or dispensing tax receipts. Access to food, medicines and basic services declined as a result.

Even under a modern day version of economic siege, people have a breaking point. It appears that happened the last several weeks as evidenced by outright violence between Hamas and Fatah.

Listen to the perpetrators of the siege describe the events as if they had no role:

U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said "He understands that the will of the Palestinian people is that they don't want to see the current situation continue. So he is taking steps that he believes are within his authority to try to resolve the political impasse."

(Never mind the will of the people in electing Hamas overwhelmingly last January. And be sure to ignore the will of the United States and other countries (including Israel) immediately severed all but humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, based on the militants' continued refusal to disavow terror, recognize Israel and accept Fatah agreements with the Jewish state under Yasser Arafat and Abbas. The political situation in the Palestinian territories has deteriorated steadily given the will of all parties involved, U.S. included.)

"We support President Abbas in trying to work through this current impasse, and we certainly hope that the steps that he is taking can lead to a reduction in the violence," McCormack said Monday.

"It's sad to see some of the innocent lives being lost as a collateral effect of the political impasse that you see right now. So hopefully some of the steps that he is taking can lead to a breaking of that impasse and hopefully a calming of the situation in the Gaza."

Never mind the innocent lives lost as a result of withholding funding, taxes and international assistance. Ignore that such violence is the predictable outcome of a divide and conquer strategy started shortly after those “surprising” elections.

So Sean, why are the three fledgling Middle Eastern democracies all boiling, at or near civil war status? What happened to the tonic, the elixir of democracy? Sometimes it has to operate awhile to catch hold. Take the Islamic Republic of Iran. Combative but relatively powerless within his own governmental structure, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently had a Bush like experience after the mid-term elections.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s party suffered losses to a moderate reform group in Iran’s just completed elections. Will he pay any attention to the results? Will he adjust his behavior? Prognosticators think not with some predicting he will ratchet up his rhetoric. That rings familiar to the many Americans. Messages are sent via votes that elected leaders seem incapable of hearing. Bush and Ahmadinejad may just be two sides of the same coin...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Nuclear Chess Match Continues with Naval Buildup for Iran

The pieces are being moved around the board to contain Iran in the Middle East. A military boost in Iraq could be used along that country’s eastern border to contain any Iranian “aggression”. A just announced naval increase along Iran’s coast is intended to send that country a message. While the news specifically said an attack on the country’s nuclear facilities not to be in the works, my guess is we will contract out that job to our 51st state, Israel.

Once it happens, the U.S. would have significant military might along its borders to contain any Iranian retaliatory impulse. Stay tuned, as more moves are yet to come. After the first of the year they may come fast and furious…

Odd Coincidences for “Person of the Year”?

Could several recent actions taken by Republican and Democratic leaders have been prompted by this blogger? First President Bush flip-flopped on the date for his new way forward in Iraq.

On December 8th White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the recommendations may be ready “before the end of the year”. While not expressly in the President’s radio address on Iraq, somehow the White House indicated a pre-Christmas unveiling over that weekend.

On December 9th I shared my concern regarding Dr. Robert Gates’ chance to give meaningful input into the new way forward in Iraq, especially given the President’s moving forward of the announcement date to before Christmas. It didn’t seem the new Defense Chief would have time to meet with commanders on the ground in Iraq before forming his strategy as represented to the Congressional approval committee.

On December 12th the Bush team moved the date back to give Dr. Gates a chance to offer advice. Apparently the President didn’t factor in his new Defense Chief’s advice when he moved the date forward. The White House Press corps picked this up in their December 11th conference with Tony Snow. Whether it resulted from my Dec. 9th e-mail or the press gaggle two days later, the White House adjusted course.

The second odd timing concerned Democratic Senator Evan Bayh’s dropping out of Presidential contention December 16th. Just the day before, I’d written him regarding his wife’s substantial investment income from WellPoint, a large health insurance company. With a $1.2 million gain from exercising stock options over a year and a half, I pondered any impact on the Senator’s health care stands.

It turns out Evan favors “affordable health insurance for all Americans” and offered distinctly Republican free market, health insurance solutions. That Susan Bayh serves on the same board with President Bush’s Uncle Bucky seemed too much of a coincidence.

Did Evan drop out of consideration to allow time for this to become “un-news”? His two week long Presidential exploration likely was pruned by something, the question is what?

Odd coincidences, or can one blogger make a difference in the world? Time Magazine thinks so as We are their “People of the Year”.

Laura Bush Supports the Draft to Spread Good News about Iraq?

First Lady Laura Bush recently lamented the negative news coverage on Iraq and its impact on the nation’s psyche. In an MSNBC interview Mrs. Bush said:

"I do know that there are a lot of good things that are happening that aren't covered. And I think that the drumbeat in the country from the media, from the only way people know what is happening unless they happened to have a loved one deployed there, is discouraging."

Did Laura imply more that only good news comes from soldiers in theater telling their families back home? Well, then to increase the good news the prescription is more soldiers! To ensure a broad demographic representation, those soldiers should come from all American households. Reinstating the draft would bring about the good news Laura recommends. Hail the First Lady!

As 70% of Americans now disapprove of the Iraq War, the Bush team needs something to reverse the two year old slide in support. I can’t imagine the pomp and circumstance over Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation helped in the least. If “the finest Secretary of Defense our nation has ever had" achieved this, what would the worst have done?

With no children in Iraq, our nation’s leader had this to say:

"I must tell you, I'm sleeping a lot better than people would assume”-President George W. Bush

He must not watch the news…

More Jack…

As if anyone could get enough of Jack Cafferty? Today's questions and my responses follow"

Q: What should the incoming Congress do about President Bush's domestic spying program?

A: Congress should order an Executive Spying Program with the White House the target. I never heard back from the President's staff as to why The Carlyle Group's LifeCare Hospitals received not one mention in their Lessons Learned report despite having the largest number of patient deaths post Hurricane Katrina. Domestic spying might be my only chance for an answer!

Q: Should the United States send more troops to Iraq?

A: Since when is the solution to banging one's head against the wall, more banging? Could this be cover to get more troops on the eastern border of Iran to contain that country's outrage post nuclear facility bombing? Bush's Presidency grows more ridiculous and futile by the day.

Q: Would former President Clinton help or hurt his wife's potential run for the White House?

A: With Bill back in the White House we can get heterosexual sex scandals back in the mix. The Republican’s monopoly on corruption and homosexual scandals will finally be broken. Oh, Democrats will continue with the corruption. The recently withdrawn Senator Evan Bayh dropped out the day after his wife’s WellPoint Board position affording them $1.2 million in investment gains since Dec. 2004 hit the blogosphere.

Blair’s Civilized Values Include Western Style Jail Break?

Both President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have spoken about importing Western style values to the fledgling democracy of Iraq. Apparently someone heard Wild Western as a Green Zone jailbreak freed an Iraqi ex-minister of electricity convicted of corruption charges as he awaited another trial. Charges concerned over $2 billion in missing funds intended to rebuild Iraq’s electrical infrastructure. CPA Chief Paul Bremer got an award after $8 billion in reconstruction funds could not be accounted for.

A non-Iraqi security company sprung their ex-client. It happened in the Green Zone by a Western security firm while the prisoner received legal counsel from U.S. for his crimes. Does anyone recall the unclear legal accountability such firms have while working for the U.S. military? Members of their staff aren’t subject to military justice and any legal accountability for their actions in theater may not be governed by local or national laws.

So who did it, how and why? Should the point be to educate Iraqis as to Western style justice where the rich get off easier if not “Scott free”? Paul Bremer should know about such…

Newt Gingrich’s “Cataracts for America”

Three time marital sinner Newt Gingrich has a plan for God to get back in control of our country. What happened that the almighty, omnipresent, omniscient took his eye off the United States? Is Bush’s regular request that “God Bless America” falling on deaf ears? Or does the billion year old deity now have cloudy lenses and our land out of focus?

Newt’s plan is appropriately called “Cataracts for America” and a special committee will be charged with its promotion. Mr. Gingrich’s latest manifesto, a 10-point Cataract for America in the 21st century, includes Social Security privatization, electoral reform, radical streamlining of government, and “patriotic education” for schoolchildren and immigrants. The document also includes a call to “re-center America on the creator from whom all our liberties come” and to appoint judges who understand “the centrality of God in American history.”

What Newt didn’t say is his plans for a radical streamlining of government turns its back on millions of Christ’s least of these. This seems particularly out of focus...

Yet another Record Trade Deficit under Bush’s Reign

The July-September trade deficit hit a record $225 billion, driven in part by higher energy prices and increased China “trade”. The news comes as a black eye to the Bush team who recently came up empty handed in trade talks with China. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, ex. Goldman Sachs Chair, did wrangle one concession from the Asian economic powerhouse. The Red Storm granted permission for the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq to open offices in their country. If investment bankers are to keep their record profits and bonuses flowing, they need international companies to join the private/public game.

However should President Bush or Hank Paulson want to understand the source of America’s blood red deficit with China, they need only ask the new Defense Chief Robert Gates. As a board member of NACCO he oversaw the movement of all small appliance production to China. Any Hamilton Beach Toastation or StayorGo Coffee center sold in the U.S. will have been made in China once their last plant in North Carolina closes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Democrat Dirty Harry Says “Make My Day!”

As the world changed dramatically since the mid-term election, so has Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. He joins the growing list of politicians calling for a surge in troop levels. Harry’s suggestion is for it to be temporary, followed by concrete plans to bring them home in 2008.

Is anyone supporting the report from the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group? Many military leaders have weighed in opposing the increase saying it would further inflame the situation. It matters not the label politicians give the disaster that is Iraq, a “civil war” or “sectarian violence”.

So why is Harry jumping to support that which is not recommended? Is it because another plan is up our violent problem solvers’ sleeves? More troops on the eastern border of Iraq would be helpful in controlling any retaliation from Iran once their nuclear facilities are bombed.

Bush, McCain, Reid, and Al-Maliki are all laying cover for this to happen. The question is whether it comes to pass…

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Senator Bayh Drops Out of Presidential Race

Why did Indiana Senator Evan Bayh drop out of contention for the Democratic 2008 Presidential slot? A Saturday morning announcement indicated Evan had thrown in the towel.

The timing is odd from this blogger's perspective as just yesterday I e-mailed the Senator on his wife's connections to WellPoint, a large health insurance company. Financially Susan Bayh had done quite well from her tenure on the board. Her exercising stock options provided $1.2 million in investment income for the Bayh household the last year and a half. On top of that she receives annual cash payments of over $80,000 and 3,750 shares of stock.

The Senator's health care stand sounds Republican with its focus on providing tax credits for small businesses and the unemployed to buy private health insurance. Could his wife's relationship with a big insurer be why?

And did the Senator drop out because of this blogger's revelation? Only he can answer that...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Iraq Troop Surge Cover for Iran Containment, Post Attack on Nuclear Facilities?

The Pentagon revealed a plan to move a brigade of troops into Kuwait as part of a short term surge of U.S. soldiers to “contain Iraqi violence”. Troops could be in place just after the first of the year. Is that the Bush administration’s true motivation? Or is it to contain the Iranian retaliatory response after America’s 51st state uses bombs Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities?

The Israeli Foreign Minister suggested only months remained to control Iran when she visited with President Bush and Condi Rice this past fall. Might we be nearing the end of the containment window?

Transferring Risk for Rising Health Care Costs to Individual

For over a decade I’ve heard “there is enough money in the healthcare system to cover everyone in America, we just need to spend it differently”. To date the insurers of 250 million people haven’t gotten together to accomplish this task. Business and government have taken countless “strategic actions”, yet healthcare continues to rise more rapidly than overall inflation.

Senator Ron Wyden-D Oregon offered his “Universal Coverage” plan that rehashes the decade old promise. Guess who’s on the hook if it works as well as the past 10 years of innovation? You and me, that’s who. Employers get off "Scott free"...

5 Phone Calls to Get Prescription Partially Filled

President Bush’s health care vision involves educated patients making purchase decisions. This means being able to negotiate one’s way through the health care maze and its provider/insurance bureaucracy. My late afternoon experience might burst this bubble for many.

My primary care doctor is treating me conservatively for a shoulder injury, a possible rotator cuff tear. He started me off with medicine and physical therapy. Just yesterday I had an MRI on my right shoulder and seeing the Celebrex samples would soon run out, I called the office for a prescription.

This afternoon I called the pharmacy, hopeful the doctor called in the script. While he’d done his part, my pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) put a hold on filling the prescription. Apparently they needed more documentation before approving its dispensing. So I dialed the doctor’s office to find they’d already gone for the day. Both the pharmacy and the clinic told me I’d have to wait until next week to get the drugs that would reduce swelling inside my hurt shoulder.

Not satisfied I called my PBM to complain. The Medco representative heard me out and to my surprise gave me the number of the Prior Authorization Department. Kwame instructed me what to do when I reached that automated attendant. It got me to Jackie who started the authorization from her end. She contacted an internal pharmacist who approved a 4 day supply of the medication. I called my local pharmacy back to explain Medco’s change of heart.

After 5 phone calls I got enough medicine to get me through the weekend. How many people would have given up after the first or second call and just gone without? The studies on low medical literacy in the United States translate into few people successfully navigating the system to get their needs met. I think this is what insurers count on.

Bush’s projections of declining demand for care is more likely health needs going unmet in the future. I had to make 1.25 phone calls per pill just to get my weekend medication need met.

The WellPoint Connection: Bayh, Bush, Hubbard

Last week Presidential hopeful Senator Evan Bayh-D, Indiana encouraged his party not to become “ideological” in its pursuit of new policies for America. With recent feedback from the electorate via mid-term elections and a recent poll on healthcare, I decided to dive into Senator Bayh’s “practical vs. ideological” concerns.

88% of Americans support employers expanding health coverage
61% support the government providing coverage to all people

Evan’s website clearly states his healthcare position. “Everyone should have access to quality, affordable health insurance, and I will continue fighting to make this goal a reality”. Senator Bayh skipped access to high quality, affordable health care and jumped straight to the financing mechanism. Conspicuously absent is any mention of health care provider’s burden of caring for the uninsured, however he clearly states the burden on small employers in providing insurance.

Yesterday, the news reported on a “Universal Coverage” Plan proposed by Senator Ron Wyden-D, Oregon. A prominent feature is the shifting of responsibility for health insurance to the individual. All citizens would have to buy insurance through private plans.

In researching the evolution of U.S. health policy and its turn toward favoring private insurers, I ran across a strong WellPoint connection. Al Hubbard, President Bush’s chief economic advisor served on the board of WellPoint before his appointment. President Bush’s Uncle Bucky still provides governance to the company alongside Susan Bayh, the wife of the aforementioned Senator Evan Bayh. While no bios indicate the connection, two pictures do. Is this the same lady as that?

How might Susan Bayh’s board position at WellPoint influence her husband’s healthcare stands? According to SEC documents, Mrs. Bayh received $82,352 and 3,780 shares of stock for her board service in 2005. That is nearly half of her husband’s annual salary for serving in the Senate. However, in addition board members receive stock option grants which may be exercised for a profit.

Susan exercised her options for a profit of $400,000 in December 2004 and nearly $800,000 in February 2006. Stacking almost $1.2 million in investment returns on top of the annual board compensation, WellPoint is a major contributor to the Bayh’s household finances.

While Al Hubbard, Susan Bayh and William H.T. (Bucky) Bush aren’t holding hands in any picture, it is interesting to note 3 Washington insiders by position or family relationship on one corporate board.

Like all good Washington servants, Al had to unload his allegiances to WellPoint and his stock in order to serve the greater good. The White House press release on Al’s appointment is dated January 10, 2005. Mr. Hubbard exercised his WellPoint stock option grants on February 14, 2005 netting $1 million. Mr. Hubbard also served on the board of MSI, Medical Savings Insurance Company which specializes in the President’s lead health care strategy, health savings accounts. Of course none of this impacts Al’s ability to serve all of the American people.

We are back to the old chicken and the egg question. Do these folks serve to advocate their beliefs or benefit themselves financially? How does a plan that allows for both employers and the government to back even further away from health care meet the needs of 60-88% of Americans?

As for a leading Democrat sounding like a conservative Republican on healthcare, does Bayh’s Buy explain Bayh’s Bye?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How Did We Get Here?

How did the U.S. get to 46 million people without health insurance? How is the solution everyone buying their own health insurance as employers and government bail on their commitments?

Did people in power implement changes to address the problems and they just not work? I looked over an agenda from the National Health Policy Conference in 2003 and found some familiar names.

Tom Scully, CMS Chief

In his speech Tom talked about the Bush administration’s plans to cut the number of uninsured by 5-6 million. Since his 2003 talk, the number has not declined but grown by some 6 million (an 11-12 million swing between promise and reality). Mr. Scully would serve 11 more months before leaving to work for Alston & Bird, a D.C. law firm/lobbying house. Tom jumped back in bed with for-profit healthcare via his appointment as Senior Advisor to Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, an investment firm with a strong healthcare niche. He serves on the Board of a number of WCAS affiliates including Select Medical, SHPS Inc., and MemberHealth, while lobbying for another U.S. Oncology.

Uwe Reinhardt, Ph.D, Health Economist

Uwe moderated a panel concerned about the cost of government regulation on hospitals. During lunch his topic was “Concierge Health Care: Using Economic Theory to Peek Deeply into America's Soul”. There is no record of his presentation but his history of serving on boards of for-profit health insurers, hospitals, and medical device makers is clear. As he advised thought and government leaders how did his personal portfolio play into the strategies Uwe recommended?

A 2005 presentation at Princeton sheds light on this question. The longtime economic advisor to government leaders states the growing burden of health care on the U.S. economy, employer moves to cut or eliminate the health insurance benefit, and government’s inability to pick up the slack. His program ends with a bird feeding analogy with citizens being birds and health care the feed. Many will have the money to buy oats and dine nicely in the future. Others without resources will have to scrounge for food. For them to get oats it will have to be second hand, from the back end of a horse. Uwe’s two tiered healthcare vision already exists, and he is positioned to make great money off the birds who can afford oats. Watch his AMERIGROUP Corp, Triad Hospitals and Boston Scientific stock soar.

Senator Max Baucus-D, Montana

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee Max benefits from health care companies largesse. Eight for-profit healthcare companies with no (as in zero) facilities in Montana donated to his 2006 campaign.

In his 2003 talk Sen. Baucus stated his willingness to go down the private insurance road for Medicare Prescription Drugs. He spoke of current reform proposals that wouldn’t extend Medicare solvency into the future but increase private plan participation in Medicare (which he opposed). Has Max flip-flopped since then?

Senator John Breaux-D, Louisiana

John unveiled a Universal Coverage Plan at the 2003 event. Since then Mr. Breaux left the Senate to work for Patton Boggs, another D.C. legal/lobbying firm. The uninsured are still waiting. Since then John landed a spot on the CSX Board of Directors, a company with its own political intrigue. Muddying the bayou water further, John is the managing director of Riverstone Holdings, a private investment firm that struck several deals with the Carlyle Group. While Mr. Breaux grew his personal portfolio, the uninsured just grew in number.

Leonard Schaeffer, Chairman & CEO of WellPoint Health Networks

Also speaking at the meeting was large health insurer Wellpoint’s CEO. He failed to mention in his speech that President Bush’s Uncle Bucky serves on his Board of Directors. WellPoint had a banner third quarter, in part due to their Medicare Prescription Drug plan offerings. Search the list of insiders for other big political last names, Bayh, Boxer, & Bush. While the Boxer isn't politically connected, the other two are. Both Senator Evan Bayh’s wife and the Wellpoint Director share the first name of Susan. Both live in Indianapolis. The wife of future Presidential candidate Evan Bayh serves on 5 corporate boards, 4 of which are in healthcare.

Today a new “Universal Coverage” plan was introduced. Somehow Democrats allowed employers to slip off the yoke of health insurance benefits between Senator John Breaux’s 2003 effort and Senator Ron Wyden’s 2006 unveiling of “Universal coverage”. My guess is they’re most grateful. If all the previous latest and greatest ideas didn’t work to contain healthcare costs, why should the public believe the Wyden plan will? If it fails, each citizen will be the bagholder.

Universal Requirement for Individuals to Purchase Health Insurance

Senator Ron Wyden-D. Oregon introduced a new “universal health care plan”. Business and labor leaders stand squarely behind the proposal dubbed the “Healthy Americans Act”.

The plan would require that employers "cash out" their existing health plans by terminating coverage and paying the amount saved directly to workers as increased wages. Workers then would be required to buy health insurance from a large pool of private plans.

Now I understand the strong business support as employers can finally divorce themselves from that pesky health insurance benefit. Unions must wish to fill the empty seat and negotiate good group rates for their members to purchase.

It appears Mr. Wyden’s plan is simply a requirement for individuals to purchase their own health insurance from a menu of private insurers. Don’t many states have that requirement for automobile liability insurance? My only accident in Texas (which has such a requirement) came due to the fault of an uninsured driver.

What key American beliefs are perpetuated in this package? One, employers need to cut costs which can be accomplished by transferring responsibility for the huge, ever growing health insurance benefit. Two, that private health insurers offer more choice and benefits than traditional government sponsored programs. Never mind private plans ever increasing profit requirements and their nearly double administrative costs.

While some promise exists in Senator Wyden’s plan, it has a long way to go from concept to law with implementing regulations. I for one will be watching to make sure it isn’t another dump on the average citizen and huge profit opportunity for the insurance industry.

Ron Wyden’s Campaign Donation History

2006 Campaign healthcare total $363,326

Health Professionals $154,986
Hospitals/Nursing Homes $88,350
Insurance $60,500
Health Services/HMO’s $59,400

Mr. Wyden would submit any bill to the Senate Finance Committee for approval. This powerful committee will soon be chaired by Senator Max Baucus D-Montana. Max is famous for accepting for-profit hospital donations from companies with no facilities in his state. Who funded Max’s last campaign?

Max Baucus’ Campaign Donation History

2006 Campaign healthcare total $1,504,548

Insurance $467, 834
Health Professionals $379,023
Hospitals/Nursing Homes $219,520
Health Services/HMO’s $167,950
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products $270,221

Is Senator Wyden just doing his boss’ bidding in introducing this legislation, guaranteed to profit his benefactors? In today's Congress such a thing could easily happen...